Russia hopes to improve its image domestically by blocking access to opposing news sites across the nation. Censorship in Russia is nothing new, but the timing of the Crimean referendum and the new sites on the ban list seems too coincidental. The flimsy reasoning behind the bans are not enough to justify the attack on free speech against the people. Some specific authors are targeted for their “calls for participation in unauthorized rallies” or having supposed banned information.
Sites on the list include opposition writer Garry Kasparov’s www.kasparov.ru as well as the web pages of Ekho Moskvy. The later ban is peculiar due to the radio station having their editor be replaced with a more government friendly one. The legality in Russia of internet censorship is young. Only enacted in 2012, the bans were meant to curb illegal activities such as child pornography, suicide encouragement and drug related materials. This is a prime example of people giving up some of their freedoms for some sense of security and governments taking much more than the people had bargained for, though morally, one will find it difficult to argue with the banning of a web page the solicit young children for pornographic purposes.
The announcement made this week by Russia’s prosecutor general has already caused swift reaction. Chess champion Garry Kasparov tweeted that the targeted sites are not political in any way, as they are simply news sources. The plans for the removal of the sites from Russia’s internet have been in motion for a short while as some were asked by government officials to turn off their servers entirely. The targeting, some say, can be a revenge agenda by Vladimir Putin who, during his 2012 election, was criticized by the blocked sites.
The block on the news websites are in fact against international laws of human rights. Specifically, according to the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, nations may not limit the free speech of its people outlined in article 19 of said document. Though it is but a small number of targeted web pages, it is possible Russia blocking access to news sites could only be done due to the international communities focus on the Crimean crisis. Were this news come at a more peaceful time, the White House, now famous for their hypocrisy, would be up in arms about the bans.
The slow transition from private news companies to state-owned companies tarnish the reporter’s spirit and damage the integrity of the Russian media. The sudden stepping down of major news outlet workers attributed to the Russian stance on many issues most famously Russia Today’s Liz Whal who quit on live television due to Putin’s actions in Crimea. Like any government, the Kremlin is denying the accusations of censorship even though many of these websites are indeed inaccessible through many Russian ISPs and multiple reputable news reporters have been stepping down due to government pressure.
Attacks on private independent media sources is nothing to brush off. The censorship or denunciation of opposition information creates an indoctrinated public. Russia’s choice to block off access to news sites is something Russians need to be wary of in the future and something that should be in the minds of the Crimean people as they vote on joining the Russian Federation.
Opinion By Andy Diaz