Russian Government's new attempts to censor the Internet

By EDRi · December 14, 2011

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: [Die neuesten Versuche der russischen Regierung das Internet zu zensieren |]

Especially during the period before and immediately after the Russian
parliamentary elections of 4 December 2011, government censorship
attacked not only traditional media, but also the Internet, which plays
now a very important role in the political debate in Russia with more than
51 million users.

An order from the Federal Security Service (FSB) asked social network
Vkontakte, with more than 5 million Russian users, to block the websites of
seven groups calling for demonstrations during the election days. As the
network refused to obey, Pavel Durov, its founder and director general, was
summoned to the Saint Petersburg prosecutor’s office.

“This unreasonable order aims to deprive Internet users of the freedom of
expression, opinion and assembly. The authorities are using prevention of
violence as a pretext for reinforcing control of the Internet,” Reporters
Without Borders said.

The Ria Novosti news agency was also allegedly ordered to clear its website
of any foreign news reports critical of Putin. Grigory Okhotin, recently
resigned from Inosmi, a Ria Novosti offshoot translating foreign media
articles into Russian and posting them on its website, stated on 26 November
that he had received an internal email from the head of the Internet
department asking all employees “not to post any article hostile to Putin
and United Russia on the site” during the week prior to the elections.

Also, reporters, photographers and bloggers that are critical to the
government were arrested either in the days previous to the elections or
while peacefully protesting in Moscow against the results of the
parliamentary elections and the irregularities that accompanied the polling.

Even regional forums were targeted. On 15 November, the police went to the
web-hosting company Agava Hosting and seized the server of Kostroma Jedis,
the region’s most popular forum with 12 000 daily visitors, for having
posted two satirical videos criticizing governor Igor Slyunyayev.

Besides these attempts to stop protests directly, the Government also used
cyber attacks against blogs and Twitter accounts which have been flooded
with pro-government messages. Furthermore, several websites that are
critical of the government were blocked by Distributed Denial of Service
attacks before and during the elections. For instance, LiveJournal, a blog
platform hosting many anti-government blogs, was made inaccessible for three
days starting with 1 December.

Russia is classified as a “country under surveillance” in the latest
Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, and is part of the “Enemies
of the Internet” list in its latest report.

Vkontakte social network targeted by security services (9.12.2011),41519.html

Political debate disrupted by cyber-attacks and arrests (5.12.2011),41489.html

Russia: Election Day DDoS-alypse (5.12.2011)

Russia: The Revolt of “Net Hamsters” (5.12.2011)