Russia Introduces Measures against Discriminatory Internet Censorship

Mar 1 2021 - 13:31

Amendments to the Russian Law on Measures against Persons Associated with Human Rights Violations entered into force on January 10, 2021, granting the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor) the authority to block the Internet resources, including social media platforms and websites, which are recognized as discriminatory and violating Russian citizens’ fundamental rights, including the freedom of access to information.

The amended law stipulates the following criteria when identifying discriminatory Internet resources:

  • The resource is either targeted at or used by Russian citizens and legal entities (including registered media) for sharing information in Russian, the official languages of Russian territories or other languages used by the Russian population; and

  • The resource limits the spread of information important for the public (including registered media’s messages and materials) because of the information source’s nationality, language, origin, financial or official position, profession, place of residence or work, attitude towards religion and/or in connection with foreign sanctions against Russia, its citizens and companies; or

  • The resource applies other limitations or restrictions that violate the freedom of the Russian citizens to search, receive, transfer, produce and share information.

Because the list of grounds is not exhaustive, additional types of discriminatory restrictions seem to be subject to interpretation by the authorities.

The draft amendments were suggested in November 2020 as a response to multiple restrictions allegedly imposed by foreign Internet resources on Russian media, limiting Russian citizens’ access to the information they published. According to the Supporting Memorandum to the draft amendments to the Law on Information and the Law on Measures against Persons Associated with Human Rihts Violations, since April 2020, the Russian authorities have received several complaints from Russian media companies regarding censorship by Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. The Supporting Memorandum names Russia Today, RIA Novosti and Crimea24 among the censored media and reports about 20 instances of discrimination.

An Internet resource can be declared discriminatory by the Attorney General or their deputies upon agreement with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The decision is immediately reported to Roskomnadzor, which should publish information regarding the Internet resource in the Register of Discriminatory Resources on their website within 24 hours. Once the Internet resource is included in the Register, Roskomnadzor should notify its owner and request that they stop the violation.

If the owner does not cease the violation, the Internet resource will be partially or entirely blocked. However, if the owner complies with the requirements, Roskomnadzor will notify the Attorney General and their deputies, who can in turn reverse the decision upon agreement with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After receiving the appropriate decision, Roskomnadzor will exclude the Internet resource from the Register.

The law was adopted and entered into force less than two months after its proposal, and the text of the law does not show attention to detail. For example, it does not stipulate the exact term within which the Internet resource owner can react to the notification before being blocked, whether the Attorney General’s decision can be appealed or what happens to the Internet resource during the appeal. However, considering that Roskomnadzor has already addressed several requests to Google LLC to restore access to certain YouTube videos, the development of these cases may provide answers to these questions soon.

By: Mayya Pak

For more information, please contact Mayya Pak at our Russia office.

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