Vladimir Putin has often expressed his disregard for the internet, once even claiming that it was “50 percent porn”, but new legislation passed Monday marks a renewal of the Russian offensive against the internet. The new legislation, signed by Putin on Monday, has been dubbed the ‘bloggers law’, and it would require all writers with more than 3000 readers to report directly to the Roskomnadzor, a Russian media watchdog. The legislation would also subject these writers to mass media regulations, such as the obligation to publish their names, something which could be very dangerous indeed for political dissenters. Putin, who famously asserted that the internet was started as a CIA project, has long attempted to control the internet in Russia, but these new laws may finally accomplish his goal.
Perhaps the most worrying thing about the new legislation is that it means the absolute end of anonymity for bloggers in Russia. Irina Yarovaya, a key proponent of the new law, has been reported as saying that internet anonymity is always an act of deception, and that there is no legitimate reason for anyone to wish to hide their identity on the internet. However, in a country with a less than optimal track record when it comes to human rights, this is simply not the case, and this point is clearly supported by the terminology of the new legislation.
Under the new legislation, the Russian government has the ability to press charges against bloggers for ‘defamation’, and for ‘inciting hatred’. Kirill Martynov, a Russian journalist, has said that this proposed legislation makes it impossible for bloggers to express any opinion at all, as the law is so vaguely constructed as to be applicable to any situation. This attack by Putin on the internet in Russia is by no means a new phenomenon, as the Kremlin has recently blocked access to websites run by Garry Kasparov and Alexei Navalny, both of whom are important Russian dissidents, on the grounds that the websites encouraged citizens to break the law. However, the fact that Putin has chosen this moment to renew his attack on the internet, when the attention of the entire world is focused on Russia because of tensions in the Ukraine, shows how confident Putin feels in his power.
The ‘bloggers law’ is not the only representation of Putin’s attack on freedom of speech either, as Putin introduced a law banning cursing in books, music, and other media at the same time as the ‘bloggers law’. Furthermore, it is not yet clear if the new Russian legislation will apply only to Russian based websites, or if websites such as Google and Facebook will need to comply with Russian regulations in order to remain in operation. Russia, it should be noted, is not the only country to crack down on internet freedoms, with the most readily apparent example being Phem Viet Dao, of Vietnam, who recently received a 15 month jail term for his dissident activities. However, the major concerns surrounding this renewed attack by Russia on the internet is the fact that it seems to merely be part of a larger process, with more restrictive legislation dreaded by Russian citizens.
By: Nicholas Grabe