Netizen Report: Russia Shutters Independent News Sites

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
March 19 2014 9:10 AM

Netizen Report: Russia Shutters Independent News Sites

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Pro-Kremlin activists rally at the Red Square in Moscow

Photo by DMITRY SEREBRYAKOV/AFP/Getty Images

The Netizen Report originally appears each week on Global Voices Advocacy. Ellery Roberts Biddle, Lisa Ferguson, Weiping Li, Hae-in Lim, Bojan Perkov, and Sarah Myers contributed to this report.

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Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins in Russia, where pressure on independent news sites spiked last week amid rapidly rising tensions surrounding Crimea.

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Under an order from the attorney general, three opposition news portals—Kasparov.ru, Grani.ru, and EJ.ru—were blocked on accusations that they called for “illegal activity and participation in mass events that are conducted contrary to the established order.” Also blocked was the immensely popular website of blogger and opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who is currently under house arrest in relation to embezzlement charges. In addition, the editor of the leading news website Lenta.ru was fired from her job following pressure from the Kremlin. According to a letter [link in Russian] posted on the site by Lenta.ru employees, her dismissal violates Russian media laws. Russian journalist Alexander Erenko was also fired from his job after reposting a critical Facebook comment calling on Putin to "occupy" Russia's Vologodsk Region, where public infrastructure is in disrepair and many are without access to health care.

Free Expression: We don't chat? Writers’ social media accounts deactivated in China.
The public instant messaging accounts of several popular writers on the Chinese social media platform WeChat were deactivated on March 13, the last day of the National People’s Congress session. In 2013, WeChat’s popularity rose dramatically—social media experts attributed the shift to the platform’s status as a popular alternative for those wishing to avoid censorship on platforms such as Sina Weibo. According to the China Internet Information Centre, 37 percent of users who quit Weibo last year started using WeChat, which is run by Internet giant Tencent. The Chinese government has a history of tightening its control over speech during politically sensitive moments like the NPC meetings.

Last week in Venezuela, numerous TunnelBear users reported they were unable to access the VPN service. This comes several weeks after TunnelBear became free for Venezuelans, in response to reports of Web blocking at the start of the ongoing protest movement. The Canadian company has already created a new download page for Venezuelans to circumvent the apparent blockage.

Thuggery: The Internet has a lot of enemies.
For the first time in the history of the report, Reporters Without Borders labeled three government bodies in democracies as Enemies of the Internet: the U.S. National Security Agency, the U.K. Government Communications Headquarters, and the Indian Centre for Development of Telematics. The list also names “usual suspects” such as Syria, Iran, China, and Vietnam, as well as newcomers Russia, Pakistan, and Ethiopia. Jillian York points out that Turkey, Morocco, and Jordan are curiously absent from the list—Global Voices authors noted that Algeria, Bangladesh, Venezuela, and several other countries known for online censorship and blogger oppression were also omitted from the roster.

Zambian journalist Thomas Zgambo, who is currently facing what are likely trumped-up charges for pornography possession, was reportedly beaten by Kazim Sata, son of Zambian President Michael Sata. The reason for the attack is unknown, but the ruling Patriotic Front political party tried to charge Zgambo with sedition last year when he was found in possession of information about the president. Zgambo is also facing allegations that he is affiliated with the blocked independent news site the Zambian Watchdog, which has become prominent critic of the Sata administration.

Privacy: No safe harbor for you, U.S.
The European Parliament voted in favor of Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding’s proposed data protection reform, which would suspend the EU-U.S. Safe Harbor Principles as well as the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program. The new regulations include higher fines for data protection violations, limitations on citizens' rights to demand the erasure of their personal data, and limitations on what can be done with EU citizens’ data outside of the EU.

Internet Insecurity: Ukrainians hack NATO.
Ukrainian hackers claimed responsibility for an attack on NATO websites ahead of a vote in Crimea to secede from the Ukraine. Members of hacktivist group Cyber Berkut protested Western leaders’ contention that the vote was “illegal” by taking down NATO’s primary website and that of its cyber defense center.

Netizen Activism: The Web turns 25!
The World Wide Web, not to be confused with the Internet, turned 25 last week. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, reminisced about how his invention has revolutionized society since it was originally developed in 1989. Global Voices marked the Web’s birthday with a special GV Face live video hangout featuring GV technical director Jeremy Clarke, Web We Want campaign leaders Renata Avila and Josh Levy, and Alan Emtage, creator of the first Internet search engine.

Activists and allies gathered in Berlin, San Francisco and other cities around the world to honor Bassel Khartabil, a Syrian Web developer and Creative Commons leader who was arrested and imprisoned two years ago this past Saturday. Dutch writer and media expert Monique Doppert, who recently authored a book that tells Khartabil’s story, described her relationship with Bassel in piece for Global Voices Advocacy last week.

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