A law allowing the Russian government to take websites offline went into effect Thursday. It was designed to target websites harmful to children—but also targets sites deemed extremist.
Critics accuse the government of creating a tool that could shut down opposition websites and would create a climate of widespread censorship in Russia.
When the bill was proposed in July, Wikipedia’s Russian language website blacked itself out to protest the measure. It passed in July and was signed by President Vladimir Putin. Court approval is not necessary to block a site.
Press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders said the Kremlin will likely misuse the law.
“We are forced to conclude that no political will exists to resolve the law’s contradictions and to eliminate those that pose threats to freedom, despite criticism of the law from many quarters,” the group said in a statement.
The group said that Russia is looking to redefine the meaning of what treason means and is looking to increase penalties for blasphemy convictions.
“Taken as a whole, the latest legislative initiatives in the Duma [Russian Parliament] give all the appearance of a concerted attack on freedom to disseminate information,” it said. “In each of these bills, imprecise language and vague definitions are far too open to interpretation. We call on members of parliament to revise their proposals in light of the fundamental right to freedom of information.”
Some worry that authorities could plant banned material and content on opposition websites, creating a reason to shut down the sites, according to Radio Free Europe.
The agency in charge of implementing the law, Roskomnadzor, will notify a website operator when illegal content is discovered, explains an article by state-funded publication Russia Today. If the content is not removed within 48 hours, the site will be blocked by Russian Internet providers.
But the head of the Russian agency in charge of implementing the law stressed that some fears are unfounded.
“There was information that YouTube [the largest video-sharing website] and other sources would be blocked. Obviously, it won’t happen,” Roskomnadzor chief Aleksandr Zharov was quoted as saying by RT.
Zharov was responded to a concern expressed by Russian Communications Minister Nikolai Nikiforov. “It sounds like a joke, but because of this video, all of YouTube could be blocked throughout Russia,” he said on Twitter, referring to the anti-Islam “Innocence of Muslims” video that triggered widespread protests, according to RFE.
The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 19 languages. Subscribe to our e-newsletter.