Putin to censor websites and WhatsApps criticising Russia in Soviet-style crackdown

Putin to censor websites and WhatsApps criticising Russia in Soviet-style crackdown

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Software developed to bypass blocked websites and any reference to those websites on search engines will be banned under the new law.

Operators of messaging apps, including encrypted WhatsApp and Telegram, will also be required to identify who their users are.

They would also have to block certain messages at the Russian state’s request and would have to allow the authorities to circulate their own propaganda messages.
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Those who do not comply could be fined up to £13,000 each time.

Until a few years ago the internet in Russia was relatively free, but following a wave of large demonstrations against electoral fraud in 2011 and 2012, the government has reined in users.

In 2016, 29 internet users were handed jail sentences for commenting or posting images, or even reposting, on social networks - twice the amount as the year before.
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A bill banning blocking software and the other bill affecting messaging apps were given the go-ahead this week during their first readings in record time after Alexander Bortnikov, the head of the country’s Federal Security Service, asked for the bills to be sped up so they can become law as soon as possible.

They are set to be adopted during their second readings which are imminent.

Journalists and freedom of speech campaigners have hit out at the Kremlin as they believe President Putin is ridding Russia of the last vestiges of freedom in a communist China-style crackdown which would have been seen in the Soviet Union if the internet had been in use.
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Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which campaigns for global press freedom, has called on the Duma to reject the two bills.

Johann Bihr, head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, said: “If they take effect, these bills will drive one of the last nails into the coffin of internet freedom in Russia.

“By seeking to perfect Russia’s mechanisms of digital censorship and surveillance, these bills trample on the freedoms guaranteed by the constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. 
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“We call on the Duma to reject them on second reading.”

Messaging apps have been facing increasing censorship from the Kremlin, with all “information distribution organisers” having to register in Russia, store all user connection data for six months and make it available for inspection by Russian authorities on request since 2014.

Last month, Roskomnadzor, the federal communications surveillance agency threatened to block Telegram in Russia which led to a showdown between the encrypted messaging app’s founder, Pavel Durov and the agency’s chief, Alexander Zharov.
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Mr Durov refused to comply with the 2014 law, but after much pressure he finally agreed to register Telegram, but still insists he will not share user data.

Five less widely-used messaging services, BlackBerry Messenger, Imo, Line, VChat and WeChat, were blocked in early May for not registering and as a way of increasing pressure on the more popular services.

Russia is ranked 148th out of 180 countries in the RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.
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