Russia: Regressive restrictions to freedom of expression online highlighted in new interactive timeline

Russia: Regressive restrictions to freedom of expression online highlighted in new interactive timeline - Digital

ARTICLE 19 has launched an interactive timeline documenting the significant changes to legislation in Russia affecting freedom of expression online over the past six years.

The timeline demonstrates how these changes have steadily escalated, infringing upon on the free flow of information online. Together with arbitrary implementation against those using the Internet to express opinions or critical thought, this regressive legal environment has created a chilling effect on Russian Internet users.

By putting the legislative amendments side by side with significant socio-political events and developments since 2010, the timeline highlights the Russian authorities’ increasingly reactive and excessive attempts to restrict online expression and the public’s right to know. This includes the mass protests in 2011-12 ahead of Putin’s return to the Presidency, the trial of Pussy Riot in 2012, the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the on-going conflict in Ukraine.

While authorities initially focused on gaining control over content generated by online media, their efforts have widely expanded, enabling the extra-judicial blocking and filtering of a wide range of internet resources and an increased targeting of individual Internet users – notably those sharing information through social media.

The timeline, part of ARTICLE 19’s Digital Rights in Russia series, was launched during an ARTICLE 19 joint side event at the United Nations Human Rights Council yesterday, Wednesday 15 June. The event – “The Internet, Free Expression and Private Actors” examined the recent report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, David Kaye, which explores how the private sector should protect and promote freedom of expression in the digital age.

This is particularly pertinent in the Russian context where legislation, such as the 2015 Data Localisation Law and the 2016 Right to Be Forgotten Law, put new requirements on both domestic and international private actors to comply with Russian legislation, that infringes upon individual’s fundamental human rights.

During yesterday’s panel, Irina Borogan, a Russian investigative journalist who specialises on the Russian Internet, said: “The Russian approach to the Internet is based more on intimidation than technology, and many people have been put in prison for posting or liking something on social networks.”

“The Russian parliament has adopted a lot of regressive legislation. Most concerning to Russian Internet users is the data localisation law, which will require companies to move their servers to Russia and provide the authorities with direct access to users’ data. This can have real consequences for opposition activists, journalists and others who demonstrate any form of dissent towards the government.”

“We need greater transparency from the global Internet giants – such as Google and Facebook – as Russians still do not know whether these companies will comply with the law or not. Globally we believe minimum standards are needed for what information should to be disclosed by private companies in the public interest,” added Borogan.

The adoption by the Russian State Duma this week of a new law requiring news aggregators to check the ‘truthfulness’ of information they provide links to, provides further indication that this negative trend for freedom of expression and right to information online is set to continue.

To see the timeline –