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Russian Wikipedia protests online censorship with blackout

Published time: July 10, 2012 08:08
Edited time: July 11, 2012 11:00

Screenshot from Russian Wikipedia site

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The Russian version of Wikipedia has declared a 24-hour-long boycott in protest against a child protection bill, which the community says paves the way for internet censorship in Russia.

The front page of the Russian-language branch of the online encyclopedia has been changed on Tuesday. It only carries a notice of the blackout in Russia, while its headline is covered by a black censorship rectangle. Only a handful of some 838,000 articles remain available at the moment, all of which are related to censorship and the cause of the boycott.

The protest move comes as the Russian Parliament discusses a bill which would amend several Russian federal laws related to regulation of information. Sponsors of the bill say they want to provide better protection of children from potentially harmful information on the internet, including web pages advocating substance abuse, suicide and excessively risky behavior, as well as child pornography.

The Russian Wikipedia community has joined critics of the bill, who believe that the blacklist of sites with not-for-children content that the bill introduces will result in internet censorship.

“Lobbyists and activists supporting the amendments claim they are only aimed against content like child pornography and ‘similar things’, but strict adherence to the wording of the bill proposed for consideration will result in the creation in Russia of a system similar to the ‘Great Firewall of China’,” the statement says, adding that if the legislation is approved, access to Wikipedia is likely to be cut all across the country.

The Russian bill currently under discussion in parliament seeks to introduce a non-governmental internet watchdog, which would monitor the web for potentially harmful content and request hosting companies to restrict access to the marked pages. If this is not done, the page would be blacklisted. The bill also has stricter provisions for parental guidance ratings for content.

Several internet giants operating in Russia, including Google, Yandex and Mail.Ru called for a public scrutiny of the bill. Russia’s Information Minister Nikolay Nikiforov also voiced doubt over the legislation, saying it had a dubious enforcement mechanism.

Some rights organizations, including the Presidential Council for Human Rights, have criticized the bill, saying it would lack efficiency in protecting children from inappropriate content and fail to provide necessary safeguards against online censorship.

The Russian blackout is similar to what English-language Wikipedia and thousands of other websites did in January in protest of the SOPA/PIPA bills in the US Congress and Senate respectively. The flagships of online business and non-commercial activity moved in an effort to sink down the bills, which they said would empower intellectual property owners and governmental agencies beyond reason and greatly damage the internet in general. Those bills have since been shelved.

In October 2011, the Italian Wikipedia community successfully opposed a restrictive bill in the national parliament by launching a blackout.

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