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November 01, 2012

Russia's Internet Censor Law Goes Into Effect

by VOA News

Russia has begun enforcing a new law that allows the government to ban websites containing what it considers objectionable material.

Supporters say the law, which was signed by President Vladimir Putin earlier this year, is meant to protect young people from child pornography and information about suicide and drug use.

But critics says the vague wording could be used to block opposition websites and enables the government to selectively choose which sites to blacklist.

The Internet law follows the swift passage of a series of other Russian laws this year restricting civic freedoms and foreign influence. Lawmakers on Wednesday passed a treason bill that makes it a crime to give information deemed harmful to foreign-based non-governmental organizations. Other recently passed measures include laws that criminalize slander, tighten restrictions on non-governmental groups with foreign funding, and curb public protests.

Jeffrey Mankoff, from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says that in light of recent protests and demonstrations, the new laws and recent actions are signs that someone in the Kremlin is worried about the durability of the system.

"They're trying to lash out in ways to shore up what they think are their weak points," said Mankoff. "It is unfortunate because I think they misunderstand the nature of the challenge they face. It's not divided opposition, it's not State Department funding for democracy promotion that's really the source of the problem. It's a question of can they establish a legitimacy with the public?"

Mankoff says it appears as though the government does not have a plan for where to take the country and for convincing people they can get there.

"Putin's in power for at least another six years, but what he wants to do over the course of those six years seems completely undefined," he said.

The Kremlin has consistently maintained that it is operating within the law and is merely taking action against violent, unsanctioned protests in an attempt to strengthen security, and keep the public safe.

Critics say the new legislation is designed to suppress information and stifle dissent.