January 10th-16th 2015
Prominent Russian public figures call for a “Patriotic Internet”
The Russian Military History Society released an official statement calling for the creation of a “Patriotic Internet” and “Patriotic Radio”. In its statement the Society claims: “We must wake up our youth. We must use our historic values to strengthen our state and society. We must have a social awareness based on patriotism. This requires films, books, exhibitions, videogames, a patriotic internet, patriotic radio etc. We are facing a new blitzkrieg, against us and against our values. In this war of minds we must support the actions of the President and launch an ideological counter offensive on all fronts.” The statement was released after Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk during his recent visit to Berlin referred to the post-WWII Soviet occupation of East Germany as a “Soviet invasion of Ukraine, as well as of Germany.” In Russia, 15 people, including Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky, and the filmmakers Nikita Mikhalkov and Mikhail Porechenkov signed the Society’s statement. This raises additional concerns with regard to the freedom of Russian Internet. Further, recent research shows that since 2013 Internet freedom in Russia has declined dramatically.
Roskomnadzor warns media against publishing caricatures
Russian regulator Roskomnadzor warned local and federal Media sources against publishing caricatures after Charlie Hebdo attack on January 7th, when two masked gunmen entered the satiric journal offices killing 12 people and injuring 11. The regulator issued letters informing newspapers and websites that the “inclusion in any media of caricatures of the religious leaders is unacceptable; placing online media links to other media materials (including foreign), copyright material justifying these events, caricatures of religious figures will be considered as a violation of the Federal Law On Countering Extremist activity which is also known as the Lugovoi Law. Roskomnadzor’s press secretary, Vadim Ampelonskiy, confirmed that this is an official position of the regulator. Mr. Ampelonskiy also confirmed that the regulator communicated its official position with the media mainly verbally and in some cases issued written notices. According to the Lugovoi Law Roskomnadzor and the Prosecutor’s General Office have powers to blacklist and block any website without prior court order. Further, the law imposes criminal liability which may lead to up to 5 years imprisonment. Notably, the dissemination of any information that is contrary to the Lugovoi law using the Internet is considered as an aggravating factor.
Kazakhstan to adopt new law protecting children from harmful information
On January 14th, the Parliament of Kazakhstan passed a new bill On modification and addition in some acts of Kazakhstan concerning protection of children from information doing harm to their health and development. The document aims to protect children from programs, movies, and Internet resources that negatively affect their health and development. The bill is now passed to the Upper House of Parliament for approval. The new law introduces specific age categories to be attached to all kinds of information on the Internet and in media. Age categories will also apply to video games, movies and TV shows. Each age category will have certain compliance requirements and introduce strict liability for violation of the regulation. Repeated violation will lead to fines, cancellation of TV licences or blacklisting and block of websites. Further, experts criticised the bill for establishing a process of preliminary expertise of information before its dissemination. Only government authorities will have power to conduct such expertise and categorise information. Thus, the government will be able to control all information sources within the country. In the US and Europe such powers are usually delegated to independent regulators.
Navalny appeals to the European Court of Human Rights
Alexey Navalny appeals to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Roskomnadzor has been blocking Mr. Navalny’s blog on LiveJournal since March 13th 2014. Russian regulator blocked Mr. Navalny’s blog on the ground of the Prosecutor General’s Office request. The Prosecutor General’s office issued the request claiming that the blog is violating the Law On Amendments to Article 280.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation on public calls for action aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation also known as the Lugovoi law. The prosecutors and Roskomnadzor declined to specify which posts violated the law before specifying illegal posts before the court. Mr. Navalny appealed the decision twice but without success. In his appeal to the ECHR, Mr. Navalny claims that the Regulator made an unlawful decision and the Lugovoi law is too vaguely formulated which leads to unpredictable results in practice. Digital Report experts emphasized the shortcomings of the Lugovoi law.
Belarus introduces website registration fee
On January 1st 2015 Belarus introduced a compulsory registration fee for websites (8 USD), information systems and networks in its national Internet segment. Further, website owners must inform their service providers of any registration information or website status changes within 5 days or pay additional fees. This requirement introduces additional financial burdens for website owners and hosting providers. Major hosting providers expressed their disagreement with new fees and claimed that the fees are unreasonable and contradict international practice. For instance, there are no such fees in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.
Ukraine establishes the Ministry of Information Policy
On January 14th 2015, Ukrainian Parliament passed a decree on the establishment of the Ministry of Information Policy (MIP). The MIP declared five key missions: countering information aggression by Russia, the development strategy of information policy of the state, the concept of information security of Ukraine, coordination of government in matters of communication, and the dissemination of information. In the near future the MIP will also include a Public Council. The Council will include the representatives of non-governmental organizations, media representatives, media experts, and will monitor the activities of the Ministry. The establishment of the MIP led to heated debates. Opponents of the MIP argue that it will undermine the freedom of speech.