The Real Russia. Today. How Roskomsvoboda became Roskomsvoboda, Russia's assault on anarchists, and outlawing the phrase ‘Putin is a thief’

Thursday, April 18, 2019

This day in history: 91 years ago today, on April 19, 1928, Soviet writer Maxim Gorky published a thoroughly racist article in Pravda denouncing jazz as “the music of the fat men,” dismissing the genre as degenerate “negro” culture adopted by whites.
  • How Roskomsvoboda became the primary force standing between the Russian government and Internet censorship
  • Following a suicide attack on the FSB, Russia has cracked down on leftist activists nationwide, sweeping up more than a few random bystanders
  • Federal censor reportedly says it's now illegal to call Putin a ‘thief’ in the news media
  • Kim Jong-un to visit Russia in late April for first-ever meeting with Putin
  • State corporation Rostec fires Chelyabinsk CEO after offices are raided by feds
  • Award-winning writer Dmitry Bykov, hospitalized since Tuesday, to be transported to Moscow for treatment
  • Police raid Moscow newsroom in connection with billionaire's defamation lawsuit

In a perfect world 🔒

In the last seven years, the Russian government has drastically tightened its regulation of the Internet, and it has shown no signs of slowing down: on April 16, 2019, the State Duma passed a new law enabling the isolation of the Russian segment of the Internet from the World Wide Web. Opposition to the government’s onslaught of new laws has come primarily from small organizations and individual activists, and Roskomsvoboda has emerged as the most prominent group among them. The small-scale project, which was founded in 2012 by activists from the Pirate Party of Russia, has transformed itself alongside the growth of Russian censorship into a full-blown advocacy group. Now, Roskomsvoboda fights to unblock websites, soften the language of new bills, and beat back criminal cases against Web users. Meduza special correspondent Pavel Merzlikin took a look at how Roskomsvoboda is structured and asked whether the organization has a chance against the Russian government in the struggle for a free Internet.

Read Meduza's full report: “How Roskomsvoboda became the primary force standing between the Russian government and Internet censorship”

Crushing the anarchists 👮

On Halloween last year, a 17-year-old anarchist set off a bomb inside the Federal Security Service’s office in Arkhangelsk, killing himself in the blast. An investigation into the terrorist attack has led to a sweeping crackdown on leftist activists across Russia, with many arrests, hundreds of raids, and some felony charges. Federal agents have taken a special interest in “Narodnaya Samooborona” (Popular Self-Defense), the country’s biggest anarchist organization, which the authorities blame for the Arkhangelsk bombing and more than 200 other “extremist actions.” Meduza special correspondent Pavel Merzlikin looks at the persecution of anarchists, following the attack on the FSB, and how the campaign has dragged in random bystanders.

Read Meduza's full report: “Following a suicide attack on the FSB, Russia has cracked down on leftist activists nationwide, sweeping up more than a few random bystanders”

Off limits

According to a report by the BBC Russian Service, federal officials recently met with leaders of Russia’s mass media. Representatives of the federal censor, Roskomnadzor, reportedly said that they consider the two phrases listed above to constitute illegal offensive speech. The agency’s spokesperson clarified, however, that each instance of either phrase appearing in the media will be considered in context, and the Attorney General’s Office will be responsible for this evaluation. The government-media meeting took place after Roskomnadzor blocked two news websites in Yaroslavl after they published photographs of graffiti reading, “Putin is a faggot.” The Russian authorities determined that this phrase constitutes an illegal insult directed at a state official.

News briefs

  • 🕊️ North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has reportedly accepted an invitation from Vladimir Putin to visit Russia. According to the Kremlin’s official website, Kim and Putin will meet in late April. It’s still unclear where the two leaders will meet, though the North Korean media has suggested it could happen in Vladivostok, near Russia’s border with China and North Korea. This would be Vladimir Putin’s first meeting with Kim Jong-un, who has led North Korea since 2011.
  • 💸 The state-owned corporation Rostec has fired Alexey Adaev, the CEO of the “Turbine” Special Design Bureau, following a raid by federal agents on the enterprise’s offices in Chelyabinsk. Rostec did not directly tie Adaev’s termination to the FSB searches, which are part of a criminal investigation into the alleged theft of more than 300 million rubles ($4.7 million) allocated to defense contracts. A nonprofit organization owned by “Turbina,” however, previously reported the theft of more than 200 million rubles ($3.1 million). Read the story here.
  • 🚑 The writer and journalist Dmitry Bykov, who was hospitalized in Ufa, Russia, on April 16, will be transported to Moscow for further treatment. Dmitry Muratov, the former editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, told Interfax about the upcoming move. Read the story here.
  • 👮 Police officers raided the Moscow newsroom of the media outlet Rosbalt on Thursday, seizing three computer processing units that contain information about the “Young Shakro” case, Rosbalt Moscow editor Nikolai Ulyanov told the news agency Interfax. Read the story here.

Yours, Meduza