Monday, February 4, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russian Government Now Views Internet as Main Threat to Its Position, Agora Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 4 – The growth in Internet use in the Russian Federation over the last year has meant that “for the first time, the Internet began to be considered by the Russian government as the main source of threat to its well-being and stability,” according to the annual report of the Agora Inter-Regional Human Rights Organization.

            The 12-page, heavily footnoted report by Damir Gaynutdinov and Pavel Chikov is at A partial summary of its contents can be found at

            The report notes that there were both “an increasing number of cases” in which the state imposed restrictions” and “the growth by an order of magnitude of the number of proposals for regulating the Internet, not one of which contained a guarantee of freedom but rather were directed exclusively at increasing control … and the introduction of new forms of censorship.”

            In 2012, there were 1197 instances in Russia of limiting freedom of the Internet, including 103 criminal prosecutions, 208 of administrative pressure, and 609 involving limiting access to sites.  Each of these was significantly larger than the year before, with some of them having increased by more than two times.

            Acts of repression against use of the Internet also spread across the country, with 38 regions now involved in such actions compared to 35 a year before.  And the number of federal subjects where the authorities employed “serious pressure” increased from four to nine, with the most dangerous regions being Stavropol kray, Tyumen Oblat and then Moscow.

            2012 thus became “a turning point for the Runet, which has rapidly gone from the periphery of social-political life to the center and demonstrated the broadest possibility for self-organization of active citizens,” the report continues, and thus it “has attracted”  more than ever before the attention of the authorities.

            Gaynutdinov and Chikov say they are cerain that “this trend will continue” in 2013, and they express regret that “not a single organization represented in the Internet community in Russia is speaking out clearly and in a principled fashion in defense of the freedom of use and dissemination of information on the Net.”

            “The ‘ostrich-like’ strategy of Internet business and Internet community,” they suggest, “is explained by their direct … or indirect … dependency on the Russian authorities.”  And that too, they argue, is unlikely to change, even though the issues are gaining attention with some high profile people like Aleksey Navalny affected and other Web activists fleeing abroad.

            For the first time, last year featured “the massive flight” of such activists to other countries. At the same time, the authors of the report note, “the owners of sites also began actively to choose foreign jurisdictions” for their IPs.

            No one should be under any illusion that this is a purely domestic problem, Gaynutdinov and Chikov argues.  Moscow’s policy at home increasingly during 2012 found expression in its foreign policy actions, even though it suffered defeats in 2011 at the UN and in December 2012 at Dubai, when its ideas on “net sovereignty” were rejected by the international community.

            Indeed, they conclude, it is entirely fair to say that “namely Russia represents for the free and open Internet a global threat to the extent that far more than China it is interested in the adoption of international acts regulating the Net.”  That will continue and should provide common ground for Internet users inside the Russian Federation and those abroad.

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