On Thursday, Russian ISPs were told to block access to a number of sites, including the personal website of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and also that of chess legend Garry Kasparov, another vocal critic of Putin and his government. The order to block these sites was given by the prosecutor general’s office, and announced in a statement by the Roskomnadzo state regulator.
“These sites contain incitement to illegal activity and participation in public events held in violation of the established order,” stated the agency. Also banned were two popular opposition news portals, Ej.ru., and Grani.ru.
According to reports, Navalny’s blog was ordered offline because it violated a house arrest order recently imposed on him.
The move comes at a time when Putin’s government is facing intense criticism for its military aggression in the Crimea. It seems that regulators are attempting to clamp down on internal dissent to its actions, utilizing a controversial law that was passed in 2012, and allows the Russian government to selectively block certain web pages if it deems their content to be illegal or harmful to children.
Russia has been one of the most vocal countries pushing for greater controls over the internet in recent years. Only last year, it was one of several nations that proposed amendments to the UN’s telecommunications treaty. It’s carefully worded proposal said that people should be able to enjoy unrestricted access to the web, “except in cases where international telecommunication services are used for the purpose of interfering in the internal affairs or undermining the sovereignty, national security, territorial integrity and public safety of other states, or to divulge information of a sensitive nature.”
Rights advocates have been quick to criticize Russia’s move. On Thursday, The Electronic Freedom Foundation said that Russia’s actions were a violation of the right to freedom of expression, that’s enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“EFF is profoundly opposed to government censorship of the Internet, which violates its citizens right to freedom of expression, guaranteed under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” said the EFF in statement.
“We are especially concerned about the censorship of independent news and opposing political views, which are essential to a thriving civil society.”
In order to access the banned website, those living in Russia will need to circumvent the block using a VPN, or else visit them using the Tor browser.