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State Duma lawmakers propose blocking websites accused of censoring Russian news media

A group of lawmakers from the Russian State Duma have proposed giving Russia’s state censorship agency, Roskomnadzor, the right to block access to websites that “discriminate against” or censor information coming from the Russian news media.

Led by Alexander Khinshtein and Sergey Boyarsky, the lawmakers have submitted draft amendments to the laws “On Information” and “On measures impacting persons involved in violations of the fundamental human rights and freedoms of citizens of the Russian Federation.” 

The bill proposes imposing sanctions on websites accused of “discriminating against” Russian news media and giving Roskomnadzor the right to fully or partially restrict access to these sites.

An explanatory note to the draft law maintains that there is “ample evidence” of certain Internet sites, including ones registered outside of Russia, placing “unreasonable access restrictions” on Russian citizens seeking information from the Russian news media:

Since April 2020, the authorized bodies of the Russian Federation have been recording the receipt of complaints from the editorial offices of media outlets on evidence of censorship of their accounts by the foreign Internet sites Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Media outlets such as Russia Today, RIA Novosti, [and] Krym 24 were censored. In total, 20 acts of discrimination were recorded.

The fine for “censorship against Russia media” is set to amount up to three million rubles ($39,345), reports RIA Novosti. The news agency added that the Russian Attorney General’s Office, in consultation with the Foreign Affairs Ministry, will be able to designate outlets as “discriminatory against Russian media,” while Roskomnadzor will maintain a registry of these sites.

In conversation with journalists later in the day, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the Kremlin is aware of attempts by major Internet sites to infringe on the interests of Russian users and considers it necessary to develop a mechanism to counter this.

Discriminatory actions against the Russian clients of these services take place, definitely. We have witnessed such actions [...] We have seen them in recent weeks, months. And, of course, this must be counteracted. But the development of mechanisms is another matter. Of course, this is a subject for careful consideration. I think that such a mechanism will be worked out in the process of discussing this bill.

Roskomnadzor has accused foreign Internet companies of censorship repeatedly, including major sites like Twitter and YouTube. On November 18, for example, the agency sent a letter to Google (YouTube’s parent company) demanding that it lift restrictions on talk show host Vladimir Solovyov’s YouTube show “Solovyov LIVE”

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