PEN International is deeply concerned by the news that the Russian Parliament has passed a bill that threatens to stifle freedom of expression online. If the bill is ratified by President Vladimir Putin, popular bloggers will be required to comply with the same onerous standards imposed on traditional media outlets in Russia. PEN calls on President Putin to veto the new law and uphold freedom of expression online in accordance with Russia’s obligations under international treaties.
The bill, which was passed by the lower house of the Russian Parliament on 22 April 2014 and by the Upper House on 29 April 2014, as part of an amendment to an anti-terror law, imposes strict rules on blogs and websites that attract more than 3,000 visitors per day. Under the new bill, bloggers that pass the 3,000 visitor threshold are not allowed to post anonymously and face fines of up to 500,000 rubles ($14,000) for publishing ‘unchecked facts’. Bans on ‘obscene language’, ‘electoral propaganda’, ‘extremism’ and ‘pornography’ are amongst the broadly defined restrictions that already affect mass media that would also apply to bloggers from 1 August 2014 if the bill is ratified.
The bill has been described by critics as a crackdown on one of the few remaining bastions of free speech in the country. PEN is concerned that Russia’s vibrant political blogosphere will be pushed to self-censorship and that the government is attempting to control online content under the guise of the fight against extremism. Blogging has become a sanctuary for lively political debate in Russia as the scope for freedom of expression has narrowed in recent times.
Technologically-minded Russian bloggers and internet users have already started exploring ways of getting round the restrictions imposed by the new bill, including various means of online anonymisation. Online services, meanwhile, are moving to shield users’ page view data. Russia’s most popular search engine Yandex shut down its blogger popularity rankings on 18 April. The popular blogging service LiveJournal followed suit just five days later, before replacing the actual number of subscribers to its most popular Russian blogs with ‘2500+’.
As ingenuous as internet users and service providers may be in getting round restrictions on online activity, they shouldn’t have to resort to such methods to overcome unfair limitations of their rights to freedom of expression online. If ratified, the new bill would represent a major threat to all Russian bloggers, who are likely to self-censor to avoid the kind of costly penalties that are normally imposed on major media enterprises.
PEN International is calling on President Vladimir Putin to:
- prevent the undue restriction of freedom of expression online by vetoing the bill and to
- ensure that Russia complies fully with its international obligations under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Please send appeals reiterating PEN’s calls (listed above) to:
23, Ilyinka Street
Email: Via website http://eng.letters.kremlin.ru/send
Twitter address: @PutinRF_Eng (don’t forget to copy in PEN International @pen_int)
Please send copies to the Embassy of Russia in your country. You can find the address here.
For further details contact Cathal Sheerin at the Writers in Prison Committee London Office: PEN International, Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER UK Tel: + 44 (0) 20 7405 0338 Fax: + 44 (0) 20 7405 0339 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org