In 2015, a a human rights organization that monitors web-censorship and pirate site blockades in Russia was itself ordered to be blocked by a local court for offering advice on how to use tools including Tor and VPNs.
Court of Human Rights has now ruled that the order to disable access to that advice was illegal and a violation of the freedom to receive and impart information.
ECHR Russsia-based project RosComSvoboda advocates human rights and
freedoms on the Internet. Part of that work involves monitoring and publishing data on website blockades and providing assistance to Internet users and site operators who are wrongfully subjected to restrictions.
In 2015, it found
itself in a battle of its own when a local court ordered its advice portal to be blocked by local ISPs. RosComSvoboda's crime was to provide information on tools that can circumvent censorship. While it didn't offer any for direct download, the resource
offered advice on VPNs , proxies, TOR, The Pirate Bay's Pirate Browser, I2P and Opera's turbo mode.
According to the ruling by the Anapa Town Court, the resource allowed people to access content banned in Russia so it too became
prohibited content. Subsequently, telecoms watchdog Roscomnadzor contacted RosComSvoboda with an order to remove its anti-censorship tools information page or face being completely blocked.
The site's operator complied and filed
an appeal against the decision, arguing that providing information about such tools isn't illegal under Russian law. The Krasnodar Regional Court rejected the appeal without addressing this defense so in 2016, RosComSvoboda's operator, German national
Gregory Engels, took his case to the European Court of Human Rights.
This week the ECHR handed down its decision, siding with Engels' assertion that the order for him to remove the content from his site was in breach of Article 10
of the European Convention on Human Rights. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers, the Article reads.
The ECHR found that the action against Engels breached Article 10. It also declared a breach of Article 13 due to a failure by the Russian court to involve him in the blocking action or consider the merits of his arguments on appeal. The Russian state
was ordered to pay 10,000 euros in damages to Engels plus interest.