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Russia internet law approved

July 12, 2012

The Russian parliament has approved a controversial law which activists say could be used to censor the internet. Russia says the law, which blacklists undesirable sites, is necessary to combat child pornography.

A keyboard with a lock placed where the return key should be
Image: Fotolia/m.schuckart

Russia's lower house of parliament passed the bill in the third and final reading on Wednesday.

Due to come into force on November 1, a single register of websites containing information deemed to be harmful or illegal will be created. Site owners and providers will be required to close all blacklisted pages.

President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party has argued that the law is necessary to crackdown on child pornography, dismissing criticism as "groundless."

But activists say it could be used to censor the internet, warning that social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter could be closed without a court order. These sites are regularly used to organize Russia's anti-Putin protest movement and arrange demonstrations.

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny described the vote on Twitter on Wednesday as "mind boggling." He dismissed opposition deputies, who voted in favor of the law, as "idiots."

The US State Department also expressed concern that the law could be used to violate human rights.

"As Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton has noted, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees the right 'to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,'" said State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell.

Online protest

In response to the vote on Wednesday Russian search engine Yandex published a link to a statement saying the bill needed to be discussed with Internet experts.

"The proposed methods of child protection allow for potential misuse and raise numerous questions from Internet users and companies," said Yandex spokesman Ochir Mandzhikov.

"In a bill like this, it is necessary to maintain the balance of public interests while taking into account the technological aspects of the Internet," he said.

The Russian-language version of online encyclopedia Wikipedia, meanwhile, closed its web pages on Tuesday in protest against the upcoming vote. "Imagine a world without free knowledge," it said.

Russian newspapers said the final version of the bill, which was softened slightly following criticism, narrowed the previously broad term "harmful information." They reported that only child pornography, suicide how-to instructions and drugs propaganda can lead to website closure without a trial.

The law still needs to be signed by Putin before it secures final approval. It follows the introduction of a measure which has increased fines for protesters and preliminary approval of a bill that would brand internationally funded non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as "foreign agents."

ccp/av (AFP, Reuters)