Europe of Human Rights

The Russian Duma adopted on 12 July 2012 a law limiting freedom of expression on the Internet. The law “on the protection of children from information harmful to their health and development” makes it possible for any website to be listed in a forbidden pages register and closed down. The list of reasons, besides child pornography, which enable the closing of a website is very broad and imprecise. It will be possible to expand the register’s listing criteria to include other materials which, according to the register’s operators, could potentially harm children. This in turn could lead to politically motivated closures of websites. The closure is possible without any court order.

Site owners will have a day to delete offensive websites or else the internet service provider will be required to delete the website. The list will include not just URLs but IP addresses, meaning an entire web portal such as Wikipedia could be added to the list.

Moreover, the law refers to all users of the Internet and does not foresee any possibility of appeal or re-examination of the decision to list a website in the registry. The law indirectly imposes on Internet service providers the obligation to filter Internet content.

The adoption of such a law restricts people’s right to freedom of expression and access to information enshrined in the Russian Constitution (prohibition of censorship) and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. The law will give to the Government access to the by now free channel of communication, which was Internet.

The adoption of the law causes protests among Russian NGOs and Internet service providers. The Russian version of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia closed its site on Tuesday in a one-day protest against the new regulation.

The adopted law is one of the series of bills that have been passed rapidly by the Parliament and seem to be aimed at opposition groups. These are the measures taken by the Russian Government after the mass demonstrations following the presidential elections. In early June, Duma adopted the “anti-demonstration” law and at the beginning of July – a new law labelling NGOs as “foreign agents”. The new anti-NGOs bill stipulates that any NGO shall be termed a “foreign agent” if it ever received funding from abroad. This significantly increases the administrative burden for such NGOs. After limiting the right to peaceful assembly and association, here came the time for freedom of expression on the Internet, the channel used by demonstrators and oppositionists in their daily activity.

The law adopted in Russia seems to be in line with the Eastern European trend. Similar regulation were designed earlier in Ukraine, Belarus (possibility to impose fines on providers introducing “illegal” content) and earlier in Hungary and Poland (without success, after Internet users and NGOs protested).

Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska, “Europe of Human Rights”

 

 

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