Human rights activists report Runet’s transition under martial law

Human rights activists report Runet’s transition under martial law

Agora analyst Damir Gainutdinov: in part, a sharp increase in restrictions on the freedom of the Internet is due to the fact that Roskomnadzor has published comprehensive statistics on decisions about blocking websites for 2016 for the first time.

The international human rights group Agora presented the annual report on the restriction of Internet freedom in Russia on Tuesday, February 7. According to the human rights activists, over the past year, the Russians were "in the rear of the State belligerent in Cyberspace." Runet is in fact under "a martial law with strong censorship and harsh response to any disagreement" when "the most inoffensive criticism of leadership or an attempt to challenge its actions is considered as an armed attack", the report said.

According to Agora, 116.103 cases of freedom limitation of the Internet were recorded in 2016. The number of prosecutions has increased by 1.5 times (from 202 to 298), the information injunction by 3 times (from 7.3 thousand to 24 thousand), restriction of access to the network by 20 times (from 1721 to 35 019). The full report is published by Meduza.

As Agora analyst Damir Gainutdinov explained to Vedomosti, in part, a sharp increase in restrictions on the Internet freedom is due to the fact that Roskomnadzor has published comprehensive statistics on decisions about blocking websites for 2016 for the first time. Up to this point, only cases of which human rights defenders could keep track were recorded.

But also the actual growth of limitations was noted: the these limitations are becoming more common. So, the number of prosecution incidents for the Internet activity objectively increased: the number of known prison sentences rose from 18 to 29; three users were subjected to compulsory medical measures. The vast majority of the criminal cases concern the right-wing statements which are not covered by the guarantee of the freedom of expression, the report said. But the practice of bringing to justice "for the words" is all the more noticeable.

We can see more cases where the ‘promotion of separatism’ article that was included in the Criminal Code in 2014 to intimidate those who called the Crimea-related events ‘annexation’. Eight of the currently known fifteen cases were about the status of Crimea, while others were related to Karelia, Siberia and the Urals, unified Mongolia, Chechnya, the Republic of Komi, the Krasnodar Region, the Kaliningrad Region.

Prosecution for inciting hatred against the "officials", "police" and other social groups is on the rise. At the same time, human rights activists pointed out that there are two groups of extremists prosecution: for extremist statements and justifications or for incitement to terrorism. Within the first group, as a rule, there are the political and civil society activists, and the second one includes radical Muslims.

The human rights activists have come to the conclusion that Russia's policy in relation to the Internet in the last five years, "was characterized, in fact, by the words "attack", "campaign", "enemies", which virtually became a military campaign against the free Runet." "All this allows us to make a confident conclusion: Runet is under the martial law", says Agora’s report.

At that, in the long term, "Russian authorities are seriously considering the possibility of isolation of the Russian segment of the Internet", the activists say. In May, the Ministry of Communications published amendments to the "Information Society" state program developed on the initiative of the Safety Council. According to them, by 2020, 99% of the Internet traffic must be within the country.

Aleksandr Verkhovsky, the director of Sova informational and analytical center, binds a sharp increase in extremism cases with a mobilizing effect. While before 2014 the number of sentences for statements was limited to dozens, in 2015 there were about 300 cases, and in 2016, according to preliminary statistics, the number will be even bigger. The numbers cannot be reduced, the expert explained.

Verkhovsky said that along with each convicted for a radical statement, one can find about a dozen people who wrote pretty much the same thing and faced no punishment. The expert explained that mainly the activists who are already watched by the law enforcement agencies are those who are in the risk envelope.

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