Staunton, February 16 – Moscow blocked nine times as many websites on the Runet in 2015 than it had in 2014 and earlier years, according to the Agora human rights organization; but at the same time, the authorities increasingly recognize that they are losing this battle as Russian Internet users turn to workarounds and foreign sites.
Agora, which the Russian authorities are currently working through the courts to close down (day.kiev.ua/ru/blog/politika/pristupit-k-likvidacii), has released what may be its last annual report about the state of the Internet in Russia. Its conclusions are disturbing (echo.msk.ru/news/1713536-echo.html, kasparov.ru/material.php?id=56C2E6641E89D and meduza.io/feature/2016/02/16/malo-idey-no-mnogo-blokirovok).
The key numbers are these: In 2014, the Russian government blocked 1019 Runet sites, approximately the same number that it had been blocking in recent years; but in 2015, it blocked 9022. Moreover, it sent people to prison for the first time for publishing on the Internet and dramatically expanded the number of people subject to criminal and administrative sanctions.
Most of these official actions were taken on the basis of legislation adopted earlier as evidenced by the fact that the number of new laws proposed in this sector fell to 48, just over half as many as had been pushed through a year earlier. But as in earlier years, judges rubber stamped almost all executive branch calls for censorship.
At the same time, Agora reports, officials increasingly recognized that they were not gaining ground by their actions given that Russian Internet users were increasingly using workarounds – earlier this month, a group of Duma deputies proposed criminalizing that – or turning to foreign sites which Moscow has not yet decided to block.
As before, the organization continues, Moscow, St. Petersburg and Tatarstan were the leaders in suppressing Internet freedom. But this year, they were joined by Mordvinia, Ulyanovsk oblast, and Chechnya. It appears, Agora says, that some of the increase is the result of bureaucratic competition for recognition rather than direct demands from the center.
Like Human Rights Watch and other groups, Agora says that the situation regarding Internet freedom in Russia is only going to get worse at least in the near term. And officials are going to make more mistakes in this area because their numbers have been cut back because of budget shortages but demands from above for action show no sign of cutting back.
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