Global Digital Download - Eurasia News
The Global Digital Download is a weekly publication that aggregates resources on Internet freedom, highlighting trends in digital and social media that intersect with freedom of expression, policy, privacy, censorship and new technologies. The GDD includes information about relevant events, news, and research. To find past articles and research, search the archive database.
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The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns today’s conviction and sentencing of Russian opposition blogger Sergei Reznik to 18 months in prison in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don. CPJ urges Russian authorities to scrap the verdict on appeal. The Pervomaiskiy District Court declared Reznik guilty on separate counts of insulting a public official, bribery, and deliberately misleading authorities, and ordered him imprisoned, the regional news website Kavkazsky Uzel reported. According to news reports, after the verdict was announced, authorities placed Reznik in state custody. Yuri Kastrubin, Reznik's defense attorney, told Kavkazsky Uzel that he will appeal the verdict. "Today's verdict muzzling blogger Sergei Reznik is a shameful reminder that critical journalism is not welcome in Russia despite the many high-level assurances and declared commitments to press freedom," said Nina Ognianova, CPJ Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. News reports said Reznik blogged on the popular platform Livejournal and that he also contributed reporting to regional news outlets, including the website Yuzhnyi Federalnyi. His articles for the website criticized municipal and regional authorities and alleged widespread corruption and abuses.
Regional authorities in Russia are cracking down on local opposition bloggers, persecuting them for alleged “extremism.” On November 6, 2013 Andrey Teslenko, a blogger from the Siberian town of Novoaltaisk, announced on his LiveJournal blog [ru] that he was approached by police who questioned him about a video called “Let's remind the crooks and thieves about their 2002-Manifesto,” which appears on his page on the social network VKontakte. Teslenko did not author the video or even upload it — he merely re-posted an October 28, 2013 post [ru] by the leading opposition blogger Alexey Navalny. In his post Navalny was making light of the fact that a regional Novosibirsk court has included the 2011 video (easily found on Navalny's YouTube channel where it has over 2 million views) in the federal list of “extremist” media. It is indeed unclear why the video, which calls on people vote for any party but United Russia because they are “crooks and thieves,” made it to a list that includes an image of a boy, hand raised in a Nazi salute, with a caption “Death to the Jews.”
On the eve of the presidential election in Tajikistan, users of certain Internet providers were unable to access YouTube or the popular news portal Ozodagon. A source close to the Tajik government told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that these partial blocks were ordered by the State Communications Service. The presidential election scheduled for Wednesday was called, by the Associated Press, “an election in name only.” The only real rival to the president has been banned from running, and those “challengers” remaining have praised President Emomali Rakhmon, who has been head of state for more than two decades. Rakhmon came into the position in 1992 when the Soviet Union collapsed. Al Jazeera reports that he “is often seen on state television surrounded by well-wishers who sing him odes and address him as 'your highness.'"
In the latest news from Russia's slow but inexorable march to tighter control over the Internet, the Russian security apparatus is now expanding its surveillance requirements for Russian ISPs. The newspaper Kommersant recently published an article detailing a complaint made by Vympelkom (the owner of the mobile network Beeline) to the Ministry of Communications about a new decree that is due to come into force next year. The decree, which was jointly developed by the Ministry and the FSB (Federal Security Service), will require ISPs to monitor all Internet traffic, including IP addresses, telephone numbers, and usernames. Not only that — the traffic will have to be stored for 12 hours after collection. Vympelkom argues that the decree runs contrary to several articles of the Russian Constitution, including the rights to privacy and due process.
For Azerbaijan’s ruling establishment, the hosting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Baku in Novem- ber 2012 was yet another propaganda coup in a year marked by the Eurovision Song Contest and the launch of Azerbaijan’s bid for Baku to host the 2020 Olympic Games. Azerbaijan’s government has sought to make the internet a new source of economic strength and build the country into the information-technology hub of South Caucasus. With that goal in mind, the government has made some efforts to expand the telecommunications sector, promote internet usage, and improve the internet portals of state entities. At the same time, the authorities apparently fear the internet’s democratizing potential and have attempted to exercise greater control over the Internet, though it remains much less restricted than print and broadcast media, which are the main sources of news for most citizens. Despite hopes that the IGF 2012 would promote multi-stakeholder dialogue for the Internet freedom in Azerbai- jan, the situation changed from bad to worse—in fact, in the post-IGF syndrome, the authorities of Azerbaijan has waged crackdown on Internet freedom.
The Bank of Russia has fined the Mail.ru Group 500,000 rubles (approximately $15,000) for refusing to provide data on users’ personal messages. A leading, LSE-listed Russian Internet company, the Mail.ru Group controls the country’s leading webmail service with one of every two mail boxes in Russia. In August 2013, the Federal Service for Financial Markets of Russia (which has since come under the authority of the Bank of Russia) requested that the Mail.ru Group provide information regarding Mail.ru users’ correspondence, specifically demanding to know with whom users were in contact over a set period. The company refused to provide this information – referring to the Russian Constitution which protects private personal correspondence – and has now been fined. “Information about who the user is in correspondence with for a given period is considered confidential correspondence and is protected by Section 2, Article 23 of the Russian Constitution. The Mail.ru Group has no right to disclose this correspondence without a court order,” said the head of the Mail.ru Group’s legal service, Anton Malginov, in a company statement.
Since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in May 2012, Russia has seen a flurry of restrictive new regulations regarding online freedom of expression, resulting in a score decline for the country in the latest edition of Freedom on the Net, Freedom House’s annual report on online and digital media freedoms. However, even greater deterioration is likely in the coming year as the government continues to enact repressive laws and ramps up its surveillance capabilities ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in the southern city of Sochi. Over the past year, Russia has taken a number of legislative and judicial steps to regulate online content. In July 2012, the State Duma passed a law that recriminalized defamation for both online and offline media, and in the same month passed a law that allows the telecommunications regulatory authority and other government agencies to add domain names and IP addresses to a “blacklist” of websites that internet service providers (ISPs) must block. Most significantly, government agencies are not required to obtain a court order before blocking websites. The past year has also featured increases in requests from local prosecutors to block online content and a rise in the number of prosecutions of internet users, which jumped from 31 cases in 2011 to 103 cases in 2012.
When it comes to technology, the Russian government makes up in ambition for what it lacks in competence. Earlier this week, on October 11, 2013, the Russian newspaper Vedomosti learned [ru] that state-controlled telecom Rostelecom plans to release a government-sponsored Internet search engine early next year. The service, tentatively named Sputnik.ru, would compete with Google and Yandex, and might enjoy certain privileges on government web portals (though the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary, Natalia Timakova, denied the use of any “administrative resources”). Writing on LiveJournal and commenting [ru] on the Russian television station Dozhd, blogger and RuNet guru Anton Nosik has criticized [ru] Sputnik.ru as the latest in a series of the state’s wasteful, doomed online projects. He compares the planned Internet search engine to Russia’s four-year-old effort to create a functioning e-government portal, where citizens can obtain state services (like obtaining licenses, paying fines, and so on) without needing to visit multiple physical offices, where people typically stand in lines for hours. Nosik points out that Rostelecom (which, along with Sputnik.ru, is charged with operating the e-government portal) has integrated only 250 of over 34 thousand government services into the website.
Reporters Without Borders, an international organization that defends freedom of information, would like to draw your attention to the shocking methods used in the past few days in an attempt to intimidate Oksana Romaniuk, a journalist who has long been our representative in Ukraine. The entire contents of her personal computer's disk drive were exposed on a dedicated website on 8 October. A few days before that, hackers posted much of her email correspondence on another site. These actions constitute an unacceptable violation of Romanyuk's right to privacy. We also regard them as a very clear attempt to intimidate and take revenge against Reporters Without Borders for its work in Ukraine. Our concern is increased by the fact that a growing number of independent journalists have been the victims of similar actions in recent months. This trend, of which the potential intimidatory impact should not be underestimated, could have major consequences for the defence of freedom of information in your country. These actions must not go unpunished.
As expected Azerbaijan’s autocratic president Ilham Aliyev was elected to a third term on 9 Oct. This report addresses violations against freedom of expression on the eve of Azerbaijan’s presidential elections. It is based on field research conducted between 16 and 21 September 2013 in Baku. In 2012, international and national civil society groups denounced attempts by the Azerbaijani government to silence critical voices through fabricated charges, barring protests and blackmail. In 2013, the government has introduced a new set of repressive laws, curbs on media and arrests of journalists, political activists and human rights defenders. Laws passed in May 2013 extend existing draconian penalties for criminal defamation and insult to online content and public demonstrations. Intimidation, harassment and violence against journalists continue with impunity. Civil society organisations have raised concerns about the deterioration of the media environment and the number of imprisoned journalists through the intensification of the practice of unjustified criminal prosecution. It is important to note that country is due to assume the chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers in 2014, while it fails to comply with its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Athletes and spectators attending the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February will face some of the most invasive and systematic spying and surveillance in the history of the Games, documents shared with the Guardian show. Russia's powerful FSB security service plans to ensure that no communication by competitors or spectators goes unmonitored during the event, according to a dossier compiled by a team of Russian investigative journalists looking into preparations for the 2014 Games. In a ceremony on Red Square on Sunday afternoon, the president, Vladimir Putin, held the Olympic flame aloft and sent it on its epic journey around the country, saying Russia and its people had always been imbued with the qualities of "openness and friendship", making Sochi the perfect destination for the Olympics.
Two months ago the Russian government activated a new weapon in its war on Internet freedom — a broadly framed anti-piracy law that makes it extremely easy to shut down any online resource on claims of copyright infringement. For now, this law has been exclusively used by copyright owners [ru] to target Russian torrent websites and filesharing forums, making it harder for Russians to watch Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. Other websites, however, can still run afoul of proper censorship from Roskomnadzor, the agency that runs Russia's Internet blacklist registry. Looo.ch [ru, NSFW], a counter-culture art blog and media platform with niche content and readership (its front page features male genitalia wrapped in a string of pearls and a young girl aiming a gun at her mouth) is the most recent victim of a Russian law banning the propaganda of homosexuality. It was presumably blocked for hosting an art project: two multimedia “textbooks” [ru, NSFW] titled “Homosexuality for Children” and “Lesbianism for Children,” which are meant to be a “satire of Russian homophobia” and contain erotic photos and texts explaining why homosexuality is “great.” Looo.ch itself says [ru] on their Facebook page that they received no reason for being included in the “forbidden websites” registry on September 19, 2013, and called on their users to access the website through TOR. Being on the blacklist means that Russian ISPs are obligated to block access to the website in question.
Reporters Without Borders is relieved by journalist and atheist blogger Alexander Kharlamov’s release from prison into house arrest yesterday but reiterates its call for the withdrawal of all the charges against him so that he can recover his full freedom. “Kharlamov’s ordeal has dragged on for too long,” Reporters Without Borders said. “After six months in pre-trial detention, including several weeks in a psychiatric clinic against his will, no hard evidence has been produced to support the grave accusations made against him.
Internet cafes are being shut down in Nakhchivan – an Autonomous Republic under Azerbaijan – where the record on human rights and political liberties has been dismal over the past years, and has grown worse. According to Hakimeldostu Mehdiyev, IRFS' regional correspondent in Nakhchivan, the crackdown on Internet cafes started on 23 August, in what Nakhchivani rights groups believe is yet another attempt of the feudal-style regime to restrict access to information ahead of upcoming presidential election.
With Azerbaijan's October 9 presidential elections rapidly approaching, critical journalists, bloggers and activists are facing growing pressure from a government that is becoming increasingly hostile to criticism and dissent that is expressed online. The Azerbaijani authorities have long been working to punish and silence critical voices in the country, resulting in a broadcast media environment completely dominated by the state, and a print media climate where the few remaining critical publications are struggling for survival. Now, with the ruling elite seeking to further consolidate power as incumbent President Ilham Aliyev seeks a third term in office, authorities are increasingly turning their focus towards silencing online criticism .
The situation for freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association in Russia has deteriorated since the re-election of Vladimir Putin in March 2012. The main issues of concern are repression against Russian NGOs, strict anti-blasphemy laws, increasing limits on digital freedom, the banning of “homosexual propaganda” and the re-criminalisation of libel. Amendments to the law on Non-Governmental Organisations, adopted in July 2012, forced all NGOs that receive funds from abroad to register as “foreign agents” (a highly charged phrase, synonymous with “spy”) if they are involved in “political activities”, the latter term being very broadly defined. During March 2013, dozens of NGOs in Russia were inspected to determine whether their activities comply with current legislation. This potentially endangers the activities of NGOs in Russia including those working on freedom of expression and human rights groups.
A theatre playwright and a former worker from the Minsk Automobile Plant were found guilty of using offensive language online in Belarus. Andrei Karelin, a playwright, was sentenced to an administrative fine of 10 million Belarusian roubles (about £725) for two comments he had made on a forum of a popular Belarusian internet portal TUT.by. The comments reflected his negative attitude toward Belarusian police.
Internet firm CloudFlare has hit back at a technology news site over suggestions that by providing its content delivery network (CDN) services to Chechen news site Kavkaz Center, it is supporting terrorism. CloudFlare was contacted with questions about its policies by journalist James Cook from The Kernel, and chief executive Matthew Prince chose to reply with a sharply-worded blog post on its own site declaring its commitment to free speech.
A self-organized “internet strike” aimed at drawing attention to a new Russian anti-internet piracy law [GV] that came into effect in August was a qualified success, reports [ru] RosKomSvoboda, an internet-freedom watchdog group associated with the Russian Pirate Party. On August 1, websites participating in the “strike” shut down their operations, replacing their front pages with a blackout that would either last for 24 hours or a preset time-period. The scripts facilitating this were developed by volunteers and were made [ru] available [ru] to webmasters through Habrahabr.ru, a popular RuNet tech community akin to Slashdot.org. Other websites simply added banners (also available on Habrahabr [ru]) which linked to a Russian Public Initiative [GV] petition [ru] for the repeal of the contentious law.
Over 1,700 Russian websites had gone dark on Thursday, in a protest against a new anti-piracy law that enables Roskomnadzor (the Federal Supervision Agency for Information Technologies and Communications) to ‘blacklist’ Internet resources before the issue of a court order. The law, widely known as the ‘Russian SOPA’, came into force on Thursday. Freedom of speech campaigners are worried it could be used for political censorship, while digital companies say it will slow down the development of Internet services in the country.
While the Internet's affinity for pornography is an established meme of the blogosphere, Omsk resident Anton Ilyushchenko, known on LiveJournal as snaf-omsk [ru], is learning as a sudden criminal suspect that Russian law enforcement isn't always willing to embrace the Web's seedy underbelly. In April 2013, browsing the social networking page of a local nightclub called “Everest,” Ilyushchenko discovered photo albums of heavily inebriated and half-naked patrons engaged in what appeared to be amateur striptease contests and public sex acts. Writing on his LiveJournal, Ilyushchenko posted 20 of the pictures from a particularly tawdry, bacchanalian evening at Everest, which he described as “one of the seediest places in our city.” The post went viral, generating thousands of comments, hundreds of shares, and as many reposts accross various social media platforms. The post even crossed over into English-speaking media, appearing on Reddit and in translated English [NSFW] on russiaSlam, a site that specializes in popular stories from the RuNet.
Turkmenistan is infamous for its tightly controlled media, and is one of the world's greatest Internet Enemies by Reporters Without Borders’ estimations. With the average Turkmen finding his or her Internet access intermittent, slow, and tightly circumscribed, it is perhaps unsurprising that cyber-optimism among Turkmen internet users is running at an all time low.
The anti-corruption campaigner and blogger has been charged with embezzling 16 million roubles (£330,000) from a state-owned timber company in 2009. The activist also filed to run for Moscow’s mayor on Wednesday, but his conviction will disqualify him for the race. However, Navalny will not be formally removed from the race until the ruling goes into effect. Navalny has insisted that the charges are politically motivated, as he has been a vocal critic of Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party. The 37-year-old was also one of the prominent voices of the country’s historic mass protests against Putin last year.
Reporters Without Borders is appalled by journalist and human rights activist Alexander Kharlamov’s detention on trumped up charges for the past four months for writing articles critical of the local authorities and judicial system in his hometown, the eastern city of Ridder. Aged in his 60s, he is facing a possible seven-year jail sentence on a charge of inciting hatred under article 164 of the criminal code. The prosecutor said he “spread atheist ideas” and “displayed a negative attitude towards religion.”
On 9 July, the Russian Constitutional Court in St. Petersburg ruled that website owners are responsible for the removal of defamatory information from their sites even if it was posted by a third party. However, they will not have to assume any financial responsibility.
Russia's controversial anti-piracy law may cause the biggest online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, to be blocked in the country, the executive director of Wikimedia Russia said. The legislation was pushed through parliament in less than three weeks and will come into force on August 1.
The trial of Aleksei Navalny is coming to an end at the Leninsky District Court in the river city of Kirov, 500 miles northeast of Moscow. Navalny, a charismatic 37-year-old lawyer, was propelled to fame through his activities as an anti-corruption blogger, activist, and a leader of Russia's opposition movement.
Access recently released a paper by Peter Bourgelais, an Access Tech Fellow, highlighting the growing electronic surveillance in post-Soviet Central Asia and the difficulties of regulating its manufacture and distribution.
Between continuing accusations of enabling music piracy and the legal troubles of its young CEO Pavel Durov [GV], Russian Facebook clone VKontaktehas recently seen more than its fair share of trouble from the Russian government. The most recent batch, however, comes courtesy of the Ukrainians.
Access recently released a paper by Peter Bourgelais, an Access Tech Fellow, highlighting the growing electronic surveillance in post-Soviet Central Asia and the difficulties of regulating its manufacture and distribution. In Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, Russian-made technologies and companies dominate the market, and techniques that have limited regulatory efficacy elsewhere -- such as export controls and public campaigning -- are much less effective.
Prosecution and court authorities in the central Russian city of Ulyanovsk should act immediately to rescind an order that blocks public access to an independent news site, among several others, in a case notably lacking in evidence, legal basis, and fair play, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
As tensions surrounding elections slated for November continue to poison the political mood in Tajikistan, a video of President Emomali Rahmon singing and dancing at his son's wedding has gone viral, giving opposition figures yet another reason to criticize the excesses of the ruling family and the Tajik authorities yet another reason to block the video-sharing platform YouTube. The wedding took place in 2007, but the video was uploaded to YouTube on May 18, 2013.
Russia's leading online social network was banned briefly on Friday in a move dismissed as a "mistake" but which follows intensifying official pressure on the company as President Vladimir Putin consolidates his power. VKontakte, Europe's largest homegrown social network with 210 million registered users, overnight was put on a "blacklist" of sites barred from distributing content inside Russia. Hours later the ban was lifted.
The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS) is appalled by reports that Ministry of Interior officials – as yet unnamed – tortured blogger and activist Rashad Ramazanov (a.k.a. Hagigat Agaadin) during a custodial interrogation. The Azerbaijani authorities should establish an immediate and independent investigation into this barbaric case and hold those responsible for Agaadin's arrest, torture and ill-treatment accountable. They must also immediately release the blogger, who was arrested for a crime no greater than expressing his political opinion online.
Human rights groups criticised Azerbaijan on Wednesday for legislation that will make defamation over the Internet a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment ahead of a presidential election in the tightly controlled nation. Amnesty International and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) accused the oil-producing former Soviet state of tightening curbs on free expression before October's vote.
Azerbaijani parliament's approval to extend criminal defamation laws to include Internet speech is a serious setback for press freedom in a country that severely curtails free expression already, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. CPJ calls on President Ilham Aliyev to veto the bill.
Just as Azerbaijan is being criticized in the Freedom House report, the country’s legislature is considering a measure that would punish untoward statements on the Internet, EurasiaNet.org reports. The bill has reached the floor of the Milli Majlis, or national assembly, and would make profanity or libel on the web a crime – just as such things are when delivered via other methods of communication.
The Russian version of Facebook has had its offices searched and its ownership structure shaken amid fears the Kremlin is looking to tighten its grip on the internet. Investigators searched the office of VKontakte, Russia's most popular social network, as well as the home of its young founder, Pavel Durov, this week, following allegations he was involved in a traffic incident earlier this month.
Pussy Riot, eat your heart out. Later this week, on Wednesday, April 17, 2013, Russia’s most polarizing blogger, Alexey Navalny (often described as the opposition’s greatest hope for electoral breakthrough, should it ever happen), will stand trial for embezzling roughly half a million dollars from a state-owned timber company in the city of Kirov, home to about as many people as dollars Navalny allegedly stole. In a country constantly plagued by politicized legal proceedings, prosecuting the nation’s most prominent netizen promises fireworks.
Smoking cannabis is dangerous business for people the world over. In Russia, just writing about it online is apparently enough to run afoul of federal anti-drug police, as that nation’s Wikipedians learned last Friday, April 5, 2013. It was then that state officials first informed Wikimedia Russia, the Wikimedia Foundation’s local chapter, that the government has placed its “Cannabis Smoking” article on its blacklist of illegal websites.
Lawyers for Ferghana News, a website blocked in Kyrgyzstan for more than a year, have filed an appeal urging the courts to overturn the ban that they say violates fundamental civil rights. The Committee to Protect Journalists urges the court to find in favor of the website and order restoration of domestic access immediately.
In the run up to the presidential elections in October 2013, there have been increased attacks on free expression in Azerbaijan. And social media has become a new target for the country’s authorities, says Idrak Abbasov. Azerbaijan’s next presidential elections are scheduled for October this year and the country’s authorities have already begun silencing dissent, extending the already alarming restrictions on freedom of expression and other civil and political freedoms.
An Azerbaijani court has sentenced the editor of a religious news website to eight years in prison on charges related to his coverage of events involving the Muslim community. The Committee to Protect Journalists considers the charges to be fabricated and calls on the courts to overturn the conviction on appeal.
Reporters Without Borders calls for an end to Kyrgyzstan’s 13-month-old blocking of the Ferghana news website and urges the Kyrgyz judicial system to overturn last week’s court decision dismissing Ferghana’s attempt to get the blocking declared illegal.
The New York Times reports that Russia has begun censoring the Internet inside its borders, acting on a law that was passed back in November. The intention of the censorship act is to prevent easy access to information that could potentially harm children or that contravenes the law. Facebook, for example, was asked by Russia's regulators to take down a page that they were concerned promoted suicide. The social network had until Sunday to comply, and did so, having decided that the page was not in the interest of general public health.
The Russian government in recent weeks has been making use of a new law that gives it the power to block Internet content that it deems illegal or harmful to children. The country’s communications regulators have required Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to remove material that the officials determined was objectionable, with only YouTube, owned by Google, resisting. The video-sharing site complied with a Russian agency’s order to block a video that officials said promoted suicide. But YouTube filed a lawsuit in Russian court in February saying the video, showing how to make a fake wound with makeup materials and a razor blade, was intended for entertainment and should not be restricted.
Recent statements by Vladimir Putin and Russian Member of Parliament (MP) Aleksey Mitrofanov, as well as raids on human rights organizations, signal that the threat hanging over civil society and freedom of expression in Russia has become reality. Since Putin returned to presidential office in May, the Kremlin has passed a series of restrictive laws and provisions, but until recently authorities had not acted upon many of them.
On 15 March, a Russian court holds preliminary hearings for YouTube’s case against Rospotrebnadzor – the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Welfare. YouTube is the first organisation to take one of the most controversial laws passed by the State Duma - one which imposes internet censorship - to court.
Last week, blogger and corruption fighter Alexey Navalny was on top of the world, after he published information that led to the eventual resignation of a Duma deputy. The Russian Internet, however, is a fickle mistress. Today, Navalny is himself the victim of bloggers. On February 27, 2013, Investigative Committee spokesperson Vladimir Markin tweeted : " An investigation determined that Alexey Navalny has unlawfully received his attorney's credentials. Details to follow on sledcom.ru." This was an odd statement to come from the Russian agency sometimes compared to the FBI. Although Navalny is indeed a lawyer, and is being investigated by the Committee on several matters (investigations many say are politically motivated), his credentials as an attorney are irrelevant to those cases and are outside the scope of the Committee's jurisdiction.
Marat Tazhin, a senior government official in Kazakhstan ordered yesterday the creation of a database of the most popular bloggers and moderators of major social media networks in the country. He also ordered state-run media and press services of key ministries to “work closely” with the bloggers and use their expertise. Blogger Bravo Oscar suggests that the initiative amounts to a “recognition of Internet media, blogs, and social media as major players in the country's information space”. It also gives bloggers a chance to prove that they can work better than state-run media which they often criticize. Baglan Aidashov has collected the most interesting tweets, Facebook posts, and memes inspired by Tashin's initiative.
Russia's vast and freewheeling Internet, known as Ru.net, is facing stepped up official and semi-official efforts to rein it in. But experts point to a couple of recent clashes in cyberspace to argue that it's not going to be easy to shut down one of the world's most diverse and raucous free-speech zones. Many Russian bloggers say they're reluctantly willing to live with the Russian government's often ham-handed attempts to "blacklist" sites deemed to be socially dangerous, such as child pornography, under a law passed by the State Duma last year.
For a long time, Russians enjoyed complete freedom of activity online. Despite the government’s many anti-democratic steps in the period up till 2007, the RuNet was generally speaking wild territory, where freedom reigned supreme. Vladimir Putin himself didn’t believe in the Internet, and for a long time had convinced himself that only an insignificant minority had access to it, and that any problems which might arise could be settled by clamping down on the owners of internet media and other sites. Even when the government came up with the idea of limiting the freedom of the internet, the proposed measures were initially only targeted at ‘the promotion of terrorism or extremism.’
The Russian government has blocked access to a blog-hosting site that publishes reports from at least two prominent independent journalists often critical of the Kremlin. The site has been added to the country’s recently established official “internet blacklist.” LJRossia.org, also known as InsaneJournal, is “a non-profit project created to support freedom of speech, civil society and encourage the free exchange of ideas.” The site was censored today, reportedly over two posts that contained “child pornography elements.” But instead of blocking or removing the two posts in question, the entire site is inaccessible on at least one Russian ISP, RosTelekom.
On February 1, the Russian human rights group Agora released a report on RuNet censorship in 2012, titled “Russia As a Global Threat to a Free Internet,” documenting various limitations on Internet usage in Russia, including violence, administrative pressure, and other forms of intimidation and punishment used against netizens by state authorities. Agora has also created a “map of free Internet violations” for 2012, showing which areas of Russia are least friendly to bloggers and netizen journalists.
A Russian federal region is about to embark on an “experimental” project aimed at censoring the internet. A joint effort by the Kostroma regional government and an NGO called the League of Safe Internet, it is similar in spirit to Russia's new internet blacklist [GV] and other censorship measures championed by the League in the name of protecting children. (The governor of Kostroma region, Sergey Sitnikov, also happens to be the former head of Roskomnadzor, which runs the blacklist.) However, in a bizarre case of life imitating art, the League's new venture also fulfills a satirical prophecy covered by RuNet Echo last December.
In the last year, CPJ has documented a disturbing trend of attacks against the press in Tajikistan: the frequent blocking orders that the State Communications Agency has issued to local Internet service providers. Delivered in most instances via text message, the orders urge the ISPs to block nationwide access to local and international news websites that criticize President Emomali Rahmon and his authoritarian policies, and publicize issues like widespread government corruption and rising unemployment.
This past week has been particularly difficult for human rights activists in Azerbaijan, the host country of the 2012 UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF). Last Wednesday January 23, protests over corruption erupted in Ismayilli, northwest of the Azerbaijani capital Baku, culminating in calls for the local mayor to step down. In response, authorities arrested approximately 150 protesters according to Human Rights Watch. That following Saturday, January 26, a demonstration that drew hundreds of people in solidarity with Ismayilli protest was brutally dispersed, with more than 50 demonstrators arrested, including many digital rights activists.
Dozens of peaceful protesters were detained following yesterday's rally in Baku, the capital of oil-rich Azerbaijan. The demonstration was organized to express solidarity with recent protests in the town of Ismayilli. A Facebook page has been created in support of prominent blogger Emin Milli as well as other protesters sentenced to ‘administrative' detention after the rally.
The beginning of 2013 has been rich on news about Turkmenistan, with human rights and media freedoms in the country once more under the international spotlight. On January 4, the country enacted its first ever media law, which the global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders called a ‘fiction'.
RFE/RL's Tajik Service, Radio Ozodi, is back online today following an Internet blackout that included its website, Facebook, and several other independent news sites. Authorities attributed the incident, which began on January 18, to "technical problems," although Asia Plus reported the blackout was coordinated by Tajik authorities. This is the second time in six weeks that Radio Ozodi and major news and social media websites in Tajikistan have been blocked. The Russian version of Ozodi's website remains blocked.
International Partnership Group, coordinated by ARTICLE 19, along with Amnesty International, several Azerbaijani NGOs and other international organisations urge the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to make a strong call for Azerbaijan to improve its deteriorating human rights record. On Wednesday 23 January, the vote on two crucial resolutions on Azerbaijan will be an opportunity for the Assembly to show its genuine commitment to its human rights principles.
Tajik authorities must lift their order blocking domestic access to at least three news websites that have reported critically about issues such as energy shortages, rising unemployment, and human rights abuses, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The order, which also applied to Facebook, is at least the fourth such ban since the beginning of 2012.
The first hearing in a defamation lawsuit against blogger, Edgar Barseghyan, was held in Armenia on December 24, 2012. Barseghyan, the creator of satire photo website, Demotivator.am is on trial for publishing a photo of a model's body with the superimposed face of Tigran Urikhanyan, an MP and spokesperson for Prosperous Armenia Party, with the caption “Stylish Politician of the Year”.
This topic seems to have no answer actually. While some people (especially foreigners) find the local dependence of Internet highly visible, the others (Azerbaijanis mainly) explain that even if it’s a complicated issue, the Internet still could be seen as the platform of free communication. What can we, the Europeans accustomed to the endless and presumably free Internet access, think about these contradictory opinions? Parvin Alizada and Toghrul Valiyev, both from Baku, Azerbaijan, would respond to the questions stated above. You can find below their comments written in reply to my last article (published here in their original forms).
Belarus has one of the most hostile media environments in the world and one of the worst records on freedom of expression. New digital technologies, in particular the internet, have provided new opportunities for freedom of expression but have also given the authoritarian regime new tools to silence free voices and track down dissent. As the internet has become an increasingly important source of information, the Belarus authorities have used a variety of different means to control it. Keeping a tight rein on information remains at the core of their policy of self-preservation.
While suspicions about money and sponsorship plague all Russian politics, the RuNet is a particularly contentious battleground. The rift between the oppositionist and pro-government camps is a hotbed of accusations about illicit funding, with each side desperately professing its own honesty and insisting on the other's deception. When it comes to news developments about cash in the RuNet, the stories usually spring from illegal hacks.
Turkmenistan is slowly emerging from decades of darkness. President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov has vowed to modernize the country by encouraging the uptake of new technology for economic development and more ef cient governance. Hundreds of thousands of Turkmen citizens are now online. However, the country faces serious challenges as it prepares to go digital. Infrastructure is primitive, and public access is fully controlled by a state-owned monopoly. Slow speeds, exorbitant pricing, and technological illiteracy all constitute major hurdles.
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is the latest demi-celebrity to find himself embroiled in a Kazakhstan-related controversy. The widely celebrated creator of the non-profit, freely editable website closed a Wikipedia discussion on December 21, 18 hours after a user asked Wales to explain his upcoming visit to Kazakhstan in connection with Wikibilim, a local NGO working to develop the Kazakh-language Wikipedia. “As far as I know, the Wikibilim organization is not politicized,” replied Wales. He maintained his belief that there are “no particularly difficult issues” with neutrality in the Kazakh-language Wikipedia, and promised to stress press freedom and openness during a visit to Kazakhstan in 2013.
Tajikistan blocked access to more than 100 websites on Tuesday, in what a government source said was a dress rehearsal for a crackdown on online dissent before next year's election when President Imomali Rakhmon will again run for office. Rakhmon, a 60-year-old former head of a Soviet cotton farm, has ruled the impoverished Central Asian nation of 7.5 million for 20 years. He has overseen constitutional amendments that allow him to seek a new seven-year term in November 2013.
Chronicles of Turkmenistan (www.chrono-tm.org), the website run by Turkmen human rights activists in exile, has been hacked [ru] for the third time this year and remains down. Catherine Fitzpatrick on Different Stans blog suggests that the “way too important” website was hacked by “Turkmen Secret Police”. She also lists alternative social media where the authors of Chronicles of Turkmenistan post content.
An aggressive push to gain greater control over the Internet and restrict free speech is underway in Russia. Recently, a Russian-led coalition introduced a plan that would give the United Nations (U.N.) vast power to censor, regulate and essentially control the Internet. The U.S. government is strongly opposed to this proposal, as it would violate the very foundation of free speech and undermine the free flow of information and open conversation that the Internet provides.
It has now been more than a month since the blacklist of the Russian Internet [ru] went live. During this time, ROSKOMNADZOR (the agency in charge of administering the registry of websites deemed unlawful) has blocked more than 600 websites. Some of these were blocked legitimately (online narcotics distributors and the like), but others highlight the absurdity of the blacklist's premise. Such was the case with satirical wiki Lurkmore (covered by RuNet Echo). A more recent example is a banned web-comic that intentionally satirized the registry.
In connection with a larger research paper, I recently emailed with Maksim Kononenko (@kononenkome), to learn more about his views on “non-oppositionist” blogging and online social movements. Kononenko is widely considered to be one of the RuNet’s pioneers, and has worked as a publicist, a columnist, a programmer, and a television host, among other things. He is a self-described “liberal,” though his political positions place him squarely outside the Russian opposition.
A Kyrgyz lawmaker has kick-started a debate in Kyrgyzstan about when journalists should and shouldn't be able to quote a Twitter feed to inform a news report. Shirin Aimatova, currently from the Ata-Meken faction, was outraged when local news blog and citizen media portal Kloop.kg cited her tweets during the latest parliamentary crisis in the country. Aitmatova argues that her tweets were used without permission and fished from her “private” and now discontinued twitter account @thelostroom.
New proposals submitted to the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) aim to redefine the Internet as a system of government-controlled, state-supervised networks, according to a leaked document. The WCIT-12 summit in Dubai is currently where the U.N.'s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is being held, where member state countries are going head-to-head about proposed revisions to the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITR), a legally binding international treaty signed by 178 countries.
A court in Kazakhstan has banned an independent news outlet on charges of extremism, a ruling that comes within weeks of the country's election to the U.N. Human Rights Council, according to news reports. Dozens of other independent and opposition news outlets face similar charges that could result in their being shut down.
Russia’s federal communications and media watchdog says it has so far blocked access to 640 web sites under a recently passed law that allows the government to blacklist sites that post content deemed harmful to children. The government agency says it has received 19,000 applications suggesting that sites be shut down since the controversial law went into effect on Nov. 1.
Tajikistan unblocked Facebook on Tuesday, a week after ordering Internet service providers to restrict access to the social-networking site because of “slanderous” content. The head of the Central Asian republic’s Office of Telecommunications said on Nov. 26 that he had moved to shut the “hotbed of slander,” after receiving a flurry of calls “from the citizens of Tajikistan” who were angry about posts on the site that insulted the country’s leader.
Since November 26, more than 41,000 Facebook users in Tajikistan have not been able to access the social-network site. For the second time over the last ten months, Tajik authorities ordered that the country's internet providers and mobile operators block access to Facebook for ‘technical reasons'.
RuNet Echo has recently reported on Lurkmore [GV], a satirical Russian Wikipedia-like website which was briefly blacklisted by Russian Internet Service Providers due to new censorship laws.
Google, Facebook, Twitter, and LiveJournal are among the defendants in a lawsuit filed by Kazakh prosecutors seeking to shutdown some opposition media outlets in the republic. The prosecutors are demanding the websites stop publishing material from Kazakh opposition sources. "The company Google is a defendant. I don't know if they know it or not, but they are on trial and they need to present their comment on this lawsuit," Sergey Utkin, a lawyer for information portal Respublika (Republic) told journalists on Friday.
When internet domains are hijacked, the theft is usually facilitated by hackers. A stolen email password, a virus, or compromised server can wreak havoc on the ability of owners to maintain control of a website. However, it now appears that technological savvy is unnecessary for such a hostile takeover. Yesterday Aksana Panova, editor-in-chief of Yekaterinburg news website URA.ru, reported on her Facebook [ru] that someone filed paperwork with Russian domain registrar RU-CENTER [ru], requesting that the domain www.ura.ru [ru] be reissued to unknown third-parties. Panova only found out about this request when RU-CENTER informed her that website passwords have been changed.
The Russian-language news service Ferghana News is pressing ahead with two lawsuits seeking to overturn a ban imposed earlier this year by authorities in Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz Internet service providers have blocked Moscow-based, Ferghana News (formerly Ferghana.ru), a leading independent news source in Central Asia, since late February, according to managing editor Daniil Kislov. A 2011 parliamentary resolution, adopted after an investigation into the new website’s coverage of the 2010 inter-ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan, reportedly served as the basis for the ban.
The Russian Federation is calling on the United Nations to take over key aspects of Internet governance, including addressing and naming, according to documents leaked on Friday from an upcoming treaty conference. The Russians made their proposal on November 13 in the lead-up to December's World Conference on International Communications in Dubai. The conference will consider revisions to the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs), a treaty overseen by the UN's International Telecommunications Union (ITU). The treaty has not been revised since 1988, before the emergence of the commercial Internet.
It was a controversial decision from the very beginning. The annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is a UN-sponsored multi-stakeholder event fostering discussion of important internet policy issues. Holding this year’s forum in Azerbaijan, with its penchant for locking up anti-government bloggers and an appalling human-rights record, was always going to tread a fine line. Making the location doubly controversial, the forum prefigured an important meeting on internet regulation to be held next month in Dubai.
Political instability is rarely good for business, but Russia's recent wave of antigovernment protests has created a golden opportunity for one local software company. From a tiny basement office in the shadows of Russia's Foreign Ministry, about 20 engineers at Highload Labs have become a lifeline for Russian media companies that have found themselves routinely knocked offline. Highload specializes in stopping the crude but highly effective form of cyberwarfare called distributed denial of service, or DDoS, attacks that can shut down websites.
As the number of websites banned or blocked under the new Internet law continues to grow, the country's media watchdog backpedaled Tuesday by acknowledging that censoring content was technically and legally difficult, and it promised to remove popular sites from the blacklist.
I am in an authoritarian state listening to a panel about human rights, at an internet conference without internet access. It is November 5, 2012 and I am in Azerbaijan for the Internet Governance Forum, an annual conference sponsored by the United Nations to encourage dialogue on internet policy issues. This year's IGF takes place in the Baku Expo Center, a warehouse-style building on an isolated compound on the outskirts of the city.
Azerbaijan has a shocking record on free expression. Nine journalists and three human rights defenders are currently in jail — five of these cases are linked to online criticism of authorities. Others have been subject to sustained harassment, including one prominent female journalist who has been the victim of a vicious blackmail attempt.
The Russian state has created a blacklist of blocked websites and internet addresses - but the list itself is secret. It was drawn up following the enactment of a statute called the "law to protect children from information detrimental to their health and development", which is ostensibly aimed at protecting minors from harmful content.
The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is a UN-sponsored conference which aims to “bring[ ] together all stakeholders in the internet governance debate.” This year it is held in Baku, the capital of the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan where, starting on Tuesday, government officials, representatives of the private sector, the civil society and academia are to discuss major issues related to the use, policing, management and future of the internet. Also on Tuesday, Emin Milli, a well known Azerbaijani youth activist and former political prisoner, is publishing an open letter to President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan. The document is meant to coincide with the opening of the IGF, and is published by the London-based The Independent newspaper. In it, Mr. Milli challenges claims by the government that the internet is free is his country.
The Right To Remain Silent: Freedom Of Expression In Azerbaijan Ahead Of The 7th Internet Governance Forum
As this report shows, freedom of expression is under serious threat in Azerbaijan, as are the other fundamental freedoms of assembly and association. The authorities must stop curtailing these rights and take immediate action to address this situation in accordance with the country's international human rights obligations. To that end, the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS) has developed a set of recommendations outlining steps needed to protect the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.
Three months after the Russian Duma passed a law that gives the government sweeping powers to censor Internet content, it has gone into effect. The law is supposed to apply to child pornography, drug-related material, extremist material, but the vague wording of the law has led most observers and analysts to conclude that the law is manifestly for the purpose of censoring freedom of speech.
This report highlights the need for a robust internet freedom strategy which would establish the environmental, institutional and profession conditions necessary to guarantee internet freedom for every citizen of Azerbaijan. A number of recommendations are provided to the authorities for steps needed to improve internet freedom in Azerbaijan. The Expression Online Initiative emphasizes that achieving full internet freedom - and indeed broader democratic freedom in the country - will require serious political will by the authorities.
A law that allows authorities to take websites offline and force them to close has come into effect in Russia. The legislation was passed by the Russian Parliament and signed off by President Vladimir Putin in July. The Russian government had said the law is to protect children from harmful online content but human rights groups say that it will enable further censorship and the stifling of dissent.
On the surface, it’s all about protecting Russian kids from internet pedophiles. In reality, the Kremlin’s new “Single Register” of banned websites, which goes into effect today, will wind up blocking all kinds of online political speech. And, thanks to the spread of new internet-monitoring technologies, the Register could well become a tool for spying on millions of Russians. Signed into law by Vladimir Putin on July 28, the internet-filtering measure contains a single, innocuous-sounding paragraph that allows those compiling the Register to draw on court decisions relating to the banning of websites.
Demonstrators held a protest against internet censorship in Russia's second city of St. Petersburg on Sunday, local police said.
The event passed off peacefully "with no infringements of the law," the police said. The Russian government is currently considering a law "On protection of children from information causing harm to health and development," limiting publication of a range of information in the media.
Eight hours after online voting for the Russian opposition's “Coordinating Council” began, unknown assailants launched a sustained Denial-of-Service attack against the Election Commission's website, disabling the primary voting portal. Candidates and bloggers Alexey Navalny and Vladislav Naganov were quick to accuse the Kremlin of financing the assault, though they assure voters that the election site will be restored soon.
In the echo-chamber of RuNet it is easy for bloggers to fall prey to sensationalist headlines. A case in point: a few days ago several bloggers were incensed by the idea that a Duma committee responsible for legislating the internet was going to propose a new law [ru] requiring passport identification for users of social networks.
Almost two-thirds of Russians believe that Internet censorship is a necessary measure to restrict access to harmful online content, a poll released Wednesday said. Sixty-three percent of respondents backed Internet censorship in the independent Levada Center poll, while only 19 percent said the dangers of the Web are overrated, Interfax reported. A further 17 percent were undecided one way or another.
The national Internet services provider Uztelecom has blocked web proxy clients, further restricting access to alternative views on the web. Several internet services providers’ clients in Uzbekistan have reported that access to proxy servers have been blocked in the country.
The Communications and Press Ministry has proposed banning children from using Wi-Fi networks in public, potentially making cafes, restaurants and other locations providing the service responsible for enforcing the law. An official with the ministry’s Federal Mass Media Inspection Service, known as Roskomnadzor, said the ban should apply to people under 18 years old. Locations providing Wi-Fi access would be held legally responsible for implementing the rule, and failing to meet the proposed measure would result in a fine ranging from 20,000 rubles to 50,000 rubles ($640 to $1,600), Vedomosti reported Thursday.
Reporters Without Borders roundly condemns the well-known blogger and opposition activist Zaur Gurbanli’s arbitrary detention for the past four days and calls for his immediate release. "There is little doubt that Gurbanli’s arrest is linked to his blogging and political activities," Reporters Without Borders said. "Harassment of the media and civil society was reinforced when the international media left after the Eurovision song contest and the government seems less willing than ever to relax it again with just a year to go to the October 2013 presidential election.
Google said it would obey a pending court order to censor access in Russia to a controversial anti-Islamic film clip posted on YouTube, after Russian politicians threatened to completely block access to the website using a new media blacklist law (ru). Internet service providers in Chechnya, where there is a large Muslim population, blocked access to YouTube in response to the controversial film clip of “Innocence of Muslims.” A court reviewing the legality of the block ruled the film was extremist, which under Russian law could potentially extend the ban nationwide. For updates, check Google’s Russian Office blog.
On September 27th Yekaterinburg-based internet news portal URA.ru was raided by city police, reports [ru] Evgeny Roizman, local anti-drug campaigner. Roizman is dating the editor-in-chief of the portal, Aksana Panova, who has apparently managed to leave the country before masked operatives arrived at her apartment and scared her mother and young son [ru]. URA.ru has in the past done original reporting critical of the recently appointed local heads of police and prosecutor's office, a story which Global Voices has previously covered.
A United States advocacy group has rated the Internet in Ukraine as "free" in a new report, grouping the country in the same category as Germany and the United Kingdom. The global survey 'Freedom on the Net 2012', released this week, ranked Ukraine 12th in the world in Internet freedom. "As we are approaching parliamentary elections in late October, this survey reaffirms Ukraine's position as a hub of online freedom in the region, with our citizens able to access an Internet that is as free as countries in Western Europe," said Oleg Voloshyn, the spokesperson of Ukraine's Foreign Ministry.
The Uzbek Cabinet of Ministers' information and analysis department has been granted new powers to tighten government control over information networks. A new wording of a statute on the information and analysis department for information systems and telecommunications, a special government unit, has extended its power to control information, including on the Internet, according to an anonymous source at the Uzbek Agency for Communications and Information (UzACI).
The only parliamentarian republic in Central Asia – Kyrgyzstan– has become the scene of a growing attack on Internet freedom. In the beginning of September, parliamentarians and security services proposed two new measures which, according to opinion leaders and experts, would increase censorship in an already restricted Internet landscape.
Reporters Without Borders is deeply disturbed by Kazakh information minister Darkhan Mynbai’s announcement of measures designed to drastically restrict the flow of information in emergencies. "The information minister is proposing nothing less than to strictly censor coverage of the most dramatic events," Reporters Without Borders said. "We urge the authorities to abandon this project, which is extremely dangerous for the Kazakh public’s right to information. "Controlling the flow of news and information is not the way to end rumours – quite the opposite. The way to stop rumours is for the government itself to provide information in a timely and responsible manner and to be as transparent as possible.
The Belarusian authorities are keeping up the pressure on independent and pro-opposition journalists and news outlets in the run-up to the parliamentary elections scheduled for 23 September. "As usual, the regime is ’preparing’ the elections with an all-out crackdown," Reporters Without Borders said. "The judicial harassment of journalists and Internet users critical of the government has just one aim – to keep them under pressure and make them feel permanently threatened.
Belarusian police have hacked thousands of opposition group members’ social network accounts and detained the moderators of the groups’ online pages, demanding that they turn over the passwords to the pages. The groups dubbed “We are tired of this Lukashenko,” which claims 37,000 members, and “Only ShOS,” which claims over 15,000 members, were hacked, the Charter 97 opposition website reported. (ShOS is an abbreviation translating roughly to “wish he were dead.”)
Earlier this month, a Russian court locked up three members of feminist punk rock outfit Pussy Riot, sparking international outrage on a scale that's become increasingly familiar since the beginnings of Arab Spring and Occupy. The group's "crimes" — a guerrilla punk prayer set inside a Moscow cathedral to highlight the blurring lines between church and state under Vladimir Putin's rule — were a prime cut of anti-authoritarian mockery.
Russia’s parliamentary majority party announced it will support amendments to a hotly contested libel law in order to find and punish those who post anonymous insults on the Internet. Deputy speaker of the Lower House and member of the Culture Committee Sergey Zheleznyak told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the new amendments would allow police officers to ascertain the identity of anonymous slanderers and other criminals. The law will apply to Internet users, not journalists, he said.
The reserved Russian businessman who recently moved his team into a loft in London’s Soho district, between the gay bars and esoterica stores, is driven by an ambitious goal: he wants to make his Internet startup the next Facebook, he says, “the next $100 billion company.”
The massive street protests, which started in December 2011, have proved a very considerable stress-test for Russia’s autocratic political system, built and steered by Putin for over a decade. Russia-watchers in Europe and the US debated how the Kremlin would respond. A few months ago the usual cohort of useful wishful thinkers argued that Putin, swayed by the rising middle classes, would accelerate Russia’s modernisation. In a sense they were right. Putin is modernising, but his efforts are directed at the repressive apparatus of laws and, possibly, institutions, rather than at the economy or the political system.
On August 6, the Ukrainian authorities shut down Demonoid, one of the world's largest BitTorrent tracker sites, whose servers were hosted by a data center in Kyiv (all Ukrainian IP addresses had been blocked from accessing Demonoid, however, to avoid violating Ukraine’s copyright laws). The shutdown was allegedly connected with first deputy PM Valery Khoroshkovsky's recent visit to the United States: a number of online news outlets and bloggers described it as an attempt to show Ukraine's tough stance on copyright infringements.
APCNews has interviewed Rebecca Vincent, a human rights consultant and a former U.S. diplomat. She is currently working with ARTICLE 19 to coordinate the International Partnership Group for Azerbaijan, a coalition of international organisations working to promote and protect freedom of expression in Azerbaijan. We were particularly interested in her point of view on the human rights situation on Azerbaijan’s internet.
Due to political unrest in the Badakshan region in Eastern Tajikistan all operators’ communication networks in the region have been shut down at the request of the government from July 25. The network closure initially affected around 115 thousand of Tcell’s (part of TeliaSonera) subscribers, or about 5% of Tcell’s subscriber base. Since then some of the base stations have been switched on.
Think Skype is a secure way to make a call? Think again. That smartphone in your pocket? It could be a portable bug. And the camera on your laptop screen? You might consider covering it with duct tape. Disguised as regular software updates, sophisticated British-made spyware – sometimes described as “malware” – is ending up in the hands of human rights abusers, a London-based watchdog group is alleging.
Access to the leading independent news website Asia-Plus has been blocked for the third time in two months. It was last blocked on 23 July and had only just been restored when it was blocked again yesterday. Tajikistan's Internet Service Providers are doing the blocking at the behest of the Communications Agency, which cites "technical reasons."
Observers have questioned the need for Kyrgyzstan’s security service to monitor websites to identify hate speech. The State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, is setting up a system to monitor the internet, with a particular focus on news sites with the .kg domain name, and plans to launch it in early autumn. Using a web search engine that looks for certain words or phrases, the agency will seek to identify content liable to incite hatred on grounds of ethnicity, religion and even regional origin, in the wake of the ethnic violence that rocked southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010.
Tajikistan’s government has blocked the websites of the British Broadcasting Corporation and Russian TV channel Vesti, local internet providers told RIA Novosti on Monday. “The decision has been taken by the Governmental Communications Service,” an internet provider company spokesman said. Tajikistan’s internet users say access to Vesti and BBC has been blocked since July 29. Earlier authorities severed access to YouTube.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has called on Tajikistan to unblock the video-sharing website YouTube and ensure the free flow of information. Local media reported that Tajikistan's state-run communication service asked Internet providers on July 26 to block access to YouTube.
There are indications that Russian lawmakers might soon consider levying a tax [ru] on bloggers who profit from advertisements on their sites. Blogger Oleg Kozyrev [ru] argues that such a crackdown could backfire on the Kremlin, as pro-government RuNet “trolls” could then be compelled to report illicit income received from the state coffers.
Russian authorities have ordered Internet provider Netis Telekom to shut off access to various blogs, including popular microblogging platform Livejournal. The Russian authorities found a neo-nazi blog on the website, and ordered the "the filtration of the specific blog," which led to the shutting down of the IP address that happens to be the portal to the entire Livejournal site.
The upper house of the Russian Parliament passed a bill on Wednesday that the Russian IT industry believes has high potential to lead to Internet censorship. The bill, including amendments to several laws, was adopted by the upper house of the Russian Parliament, the Federation Council of Russia. The adoption of the bill makes it easier to block sites that host child pornography, promote drugs and provide instructions about how to commit suicide, as well as other information that affects health and development, the Council said. In particular, the law includes the creation of mechanisms for the rapid removal of web pages that contain materials prohibited from circulation within Russia, the Council said.
Reporters Without Borders demands the immediate release of Anton Surapin, the head of a news website who was arrested during a raid on his home on 13 July by members of the State Security Committee (KGB) investigating his role in a publicity stunt by a Swedish advertising agency designed to promote free expression.
The 2011 uprisings in the Middle East have prompted speculation about whether digital technology can and will be used to foment similar uprisings in former Soviet authoritarian states. This paper examines the relationship between political activism and internet freedom in Uzbekistan. It argues that while the internet is a critical tool for political expression, its utility as a tool for activism is challenged both by threats from the government and by fear and apathy among Uzbek internet users. It further discusses how the Uzbek government has responded to these technologies and the problems Uzbeks face when using them for political purposes.
Russia's new law on the Internet was passed today in the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament. The law, which will come into force on November 1, gives authorities the power to blacklist certain websites. While ostensibly the law's goal is to tackle child pornography or undesirable websites, pertaining to drugs or suicide for example, Russian critics have said it could be loosely interpreted by the courts and will be used to clamp down on the opposition. One of the "NGOs" doing the monitoring is Russia's League for a Safe Internet. According to RFE/RL's Russian Service, the league was set up in 2011 by government-controlled Rostelekom, privately owned phone companies, Internet service providers, and Russian software developers. It's probably no coincidence that it was established after the Arab Spring and the much-discussed role of social media.
Russia's State Duma has passed a number of new laws in the past week, all seemingly aimed at reining in civil society and criticism of public figures. The bills would re-criminalize defamation and impose limits and labels on NGOs. They follow the introduction last month of excessive fines for unauthorized protests.
Tajikistan plans to create a volunteer-run body to monitor Internet use and reprimand those who openly criticize President Imomali Rakhmon and his government, the head of the Central Asian country's state-run communications service said on Friday.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has used an appearance at a conference in Turkmenistan to urge member states not to block Internet resources from public access. Many websites, including social media platforms and foreign-based opposition news sites, are inaccessible in Central Asia, particularly in authoritarian Turkmenistan.
Russia is next on the list of developed nations pushing for widespread Web site blocking and censorship capabilities in the wake of an online uprising prior to the inauguration of Russian president Vladimir Putin. Thousands of protesters took to the streets, set up blogs, and disseminated demands for a fresh ballot over social networks following claims of a rigged votes and electoral corruption in the recent presidential elections. Under the draft bill, all Web sites that contain pornography or drug references, or that promote suicide or other "extremist ideas," will face blacklisting, Russian legislators said yesterday, according to news agency Ria Novosti.
A blacklist of internet sites being debated by Russia’s parliament could create “real censorship” of the internet, according to a human rights watchdog set up by the Kremlin. “We believe it is very important to stop the implementation of censorship on the Russian-language section of the internet,” Russia’s Presidential Council for Human Rights said in a statement on Tuesday.
A draft proposal circulating in the Russian parliament would put Russia’s largest Internet companies under the auspices of its Strategic Investment Law – and give the government the right to limit foreign ownership. While the legislation will almost certainly become law, the immediate impact on investors in Internet companies will be fairly limited. But the Kremlin’s critics fear the authorities are plotting to increase their influence over the Internet in ways that investors in Russia in general would be foolish to ignore.
The Kremlin is planning to create its own Facebook-style social network, where users with personal accounts will be able to upload content and discuss the issues of the day. Social networks have been the tool of choice for opposition activists since street demonstrations broke out in December, but the popularity of the internet in Russia means any Chinese-style attempt to assert control from above would be doomed. So the authorities appear to have been forced to play the socially networked activists at their own game.
There are growing signs that the Russian government is trying to tightening its control of the Internet while a new wave of Distributed Denial of Service attacks on independent news websites accompanied the latest major opposition demonstration, on 12 June. The authorities are trying to give a legal underpinning to attempts to reinforce online controls, citing the need to combat extremism and protect minors. Article 4 of a bill that parliamentarians from all four parties in the Duma submitted to the family commission on 7 June proposes a unified register of Internet domains and websites containing banned content. The commission has until 30 June to discuss and amend the bill before sending it to the Duma.
Center for Internet Development in Serbia reports that Serbs use the Internet mostly for current news (63%) and educational purposes. The research was conducted in April 2012, with a sample of 1,239 respondents: 80% of them considered communication and info-exchange with government institutions via Internet very relevant, while 68% considered it equally important to access meaningful info to monitor public officials work.
On Tuesday, at the same time that thousands of Russians marched through Moscow to protest President Vladimir Putin, the websites of three independent Russian news organizations suffered distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, rendering them temporarily inaccessible during the height of the protests. The coordination of such attacks with organized mass protests or elections has become increasingly common in Russia over the last year.
Internet access to Tajikistan's leading independent news agency Asia Plus remains cut off for a second day. In an interview with RFE/RL's Tajik Service, Tajik Communications Ministry official Beg Zuhurov claimed "maintenance reasons" were behind the loss of access, which began Tuesday. Asia Plus, however, accuses authorities of blocking access because of some readers' comments, which were published on the website and seen by officials as being critical of authorities.
Nearly all Western Internet users believe in the general principles of information-sharing that date back to the Enlightenment-era values of freedom of expression. Or, expressed more succinctly in the 20th century: information wants to be free. But, says Keir Giles, a veteran Russia analyst at the Conflict Studies Research Center in the United Kingdom, the Kremlin doesn’t quite see things the same way. “The main principles are reversed,” he said, speaking at the opening day of the International Conference on Cyber Conflict in the Estonian capital, which will continue throughout the week. “Whereas we [in the West] have a tendency to treat [cyber policy] in isolation, Russia and China take it more holistically, as part of information policy.”
The Azerbaijani Supreme Court lessened a serious injustice by ordering the release on parole on June 4, 2012, of a prominent activist, Human Rights Watch said today. The activist, Bakhtiar Hajiyev, had been imprisoned after using social media to promote peaceful demonstrations.
Reporters' Freedom and Safety strongly condemns the Azerbaijani government's plan to pass amendments to the laws “On the right to obtain information”, “On commercial secrets” and “On state registration and state registry of legal entities.” IRFS believes these amendments are an attack on the principles of freedom of expression and the right of society, and particularly the media, to access information, and calls on the Parliament to refuse to pass this regressive bill into law. IRFS states that these amendments will also increase the level of corruption.
YouFace is a new social networking site launched in Uzbekistan. Its interface is strikingly similar to that of Facebook except that YouFace quotes Uzbek President Islam Karimov on its welcome page. Another local social networking platform, the Uzbek-language Muloqot.uz, was established about a year ago.
Over the past few years, the Azerbaijani government has waged an aggressive media campaign against the Internet. Social media has become synonymous with deviance, criminality, and treason. Television programs show ‘‘family tragedies’’ and ‘‘criminal incidents’’ after young people join Facebook and Twitter. In March 2011, the country’s chief psychiatrist proclaimed that social media users suffer mental disorders and cannot maintain relationships.
On the morning of May 9, 2012, unknown parties launched a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack on the live feed website Ustream.tv. According to Victoria Levy of Ustream.tv, the attack took place from thousands of unique IPs, based in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Iran. It was centered on one particular user, reggamortis1 [ru], who for the past four days has been covering opposition rallies and protests in Moscow. Although Ustream.tv began operating normally after ten hours of downtime, the reggamortis1 channel remained inaccessible for several more hours. CEO Brad Hunstable said in an interview with Global Voices that this was the most serious DDoS attack on the website ever.
The Internet helped power the massive protests that unsettled the Kremlin this winter, but as the tech-savvy opposition movement struggles to expand beyond Russia’s biggest cities, leaders are finding that old-fashioned shoe leather is still the best way to spread their message.
Social media sites like Twitter enable users to engage in the spread of contagious phenomena: everything from information and rumors to social movements and virally marketed products. In particular, Twitter has been observed to function as a platform for political discourse, allowing political movements to spread their message and engage supporters, and also as a platform for information diffusion, allowing everyone from mass media to citizens to reach a wide audience with a critical piece of news. Previous work1 suggests that different contagious phenomena will display distinct propagation dynamics, and in particular that news will spread differently through a population than other phenomena. We leverage this theory to construct a system for classifying contagious phenomena based on the properties of their propagation dynamics, by combining temporal and network features. Our system, applicable to phenomena in any social media platform or genre, is applied to a dataset of news-related and political hashtags diffusing through the population of Russian Twitter users. Our results show that news-related hashtags have a distinctive pattern of propagation across the spectrum of Russian Twitter users. In contrast, we find that political hashtags display a number of different dynamic signatures corresponding to different politically active sub-communities. Analysis using ‘chronotopes’ sharpens these findings and reveals an important propagation pattern we call ‘resonant salience.’
The diffusion of digital media does not always have democratic consequences. This mixed-methods study examines how the government of Azerbaijan dissuaded Internet users from political activism. We examine how digital media were used for networked authoritarianism, a form of Internet control common in former Soviet states where manipulation over digitally mediated social networks is used more than outright censorship. Through a content analysis of 3 years of Azerbaijani media, a 2-year structural equation model of the relationship between Internet use and attitudes toward protest, and interviews with Azerbaijani online activists, we find that the government has successfully dissuaded frequent Internet users from supporting protest and average Internet users from using social media for political purposes.
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