Russia took its infamous Internet blacklist law to new heights Thursday evening, blocking four independent news sources.
It’s perhaps the most blatant show power yet from Russia’s Rospotrebnadzor, a sprawling government “consumer rights” body that in 2012 was granted the controversial power to block Russians from seeing certain websites if they advocated drug use, child pornography, or self-harm. Critics in the Russian Parliament called it a clear means to censorship at the time, and the Rospotrebnadzor quickly built up a reputation for blocking non-problematic sites.
Three of the newly-blocked sites, grani.ru, ej.ru, and former chess champion Garry Kasparov’s kasparov.ru, function as news portals. In its official statement, the Rospotrebnadzor claimed that “these sites contain incitement to illegal activity and participation in public events held in violation of the established order.” [Translated with Google Translate.]
The front page of ej.ru currently displays a story about an upcoming “March for peace and freeedom” parade, scheduled for Saturday in Moscow.
The fourth blocked site is the personal LiveJournal of Alexei Navalny, a political activist and vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Navalny is currently under house arrest on what he claims were trumped up theft charges; Rospotrebnadzor said the blog violated his terms of house arrest.
As noted by the Russian anti-censorship site rublacklist.net, Rospotrebnadzor’s censorship often takes the simple form of instructing the country’s Internet service providers to not allow its customers to access the sites on its blacklist. That’s the case for these four sites as of the time of this writing, and all four are currently visible to Internet users outside of Russia.
For those in Russia, it’s still remarkably easy to get around. All it takes is installing the right Firefox or Chrome plugin, or using the anonymity-protecting Tor browser. And that appears to be working: according to The Interpreter, Russians are increasingly using such methods to get around Rospotrebnadzor.