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The Iron Curtain for the Russian Internet

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Experts believe that total isolation of the Russian Internet is impossible. But the inner circle businessmen will make a good profit trying

On May 1, President Putin signed the law on “sustainable, secure and fully functioning Internet.” It has been derided as “the law on isolating the Internet.” The law states that in case Russia is cut off from the global infrastructure, the Russian segment of the Internet must be able to function autonomously without interruption. Providers must install special technical devices (back doors) to protect against possible threats; the equipment will be controlled by Roskomnadzor, Russia’s telecoms agency. Implementing the law will require 30 billion rubles ($150 million). Previously the law was harshly criticized by experts, human rights organizations, Internet providers, the Council on Human Rights of the Russian Federation, a number of deputies in the State Duma, and even Roskomnadzor itself.

The law on “secure Internet” was the final chord in a number of recent legislative initiatives regarding media in Russia, known also as the “Klishas laws” (named for Senator Andrei Klishas, who introduced them), passed in spring 2019. They include the law on fake news and the law on showing disrespect for the authorities. Both affect the Internet. The first bans distribution of information that can harm citizens or the work of life-supporting agencies and so on. The accuracy of information must be determined by the Prosecutor General or his deputies, and on the demand of the Prosecutor, Roskomnadzor will block access to those sites. The fine for distributing “fake news” in the Internet can be as high as 1.5 million rubles ($23,000). The second law has a fine up to 300,00 rubles ($5,000) or arrest.

The new laws are an attempt to introduce direct censorship, which had been banned by the Law on Mass Media back in 1990. This is the warning given by PEN-Moscow, PEN- St. Petersburg, and more than a hundred writers, scholars and scientists, and intellectuals who support the organizations. Their anxiety is shared by such international organizations as PEN International, the European Federation of Journalists, and OSCE.

“The Klishas Laws,” says Galina Arapova, director of the Center for the Protection of the Rights of the Mass Media, “are an attempt to shut the last open window of freedom of speech in the country.” While the media is afraid to criticize the authorities, the social networks have become the real field of live discussion. “The new laws, like the ones on fake news and insulting authorities, are aimed against specific people who post information in the networks, aimed at frightening them.”

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