The Russian parliament will soon vote on a law that would empower the Prosecutor General’s office to close any website that hosts content encouraging people to attend unsanctioned rallies. The draft law, № 380323-6, targets nationalist demonstrations, but could potentially apply to unsanctioned rallies of any kind. The bill’s text singles out as prohibited:
[И]нформации, содержащей призывы к массовым беспорядкам, осуществлению экстремистской деятельности, разжиганию межнациональной и (или) межконфессиональной розни, участию в террористической деятельности, участию в публичных массовых мероприятиях, проводимых с нарушением установленного порядка […].
[Online] information containing calls to riots, extremist activities, the incitement of ethnic and (or) sectarian hatred, terrorist activity, or participation in public events held in breach of appropriate procedures […].
Deputies from three different political parties (United Russia, LDPR, and the Communist Party) introduced the legislation in early November, probably in response to an ethnic riot that occurred outside Moscow in mid-October. While the law focuses on demonstrations that threaten to become pogroms, its applicability to all unsanctioned public events [ru] could give the government the power to ban a website for hosting information about rallies of any kind.
The legislation also contains stricter enforcement protocols than any existing Internet regulations. The process for banning access to websites that violate the law would be extrajudicial and immediate. According to the law’s draft text, Web providers would have to block access to offending websites immediately upon receiving notification from the Prosecutor General. There would be no grace period, during which websites might have time to remove the questionable content. (The RuNet blacklist that targets online child pornography and information about suicide and illegal drugs does allow websites a brief window to delete materials flagged as illegal, before regulators add them to the blacklist.)
Only after Web providers have blocked access to a website (at the domain level, no less) does the process of identifying and informing the website’s owners begin.
Several different vectors of Russian politics seem to have converged to produce this legislative initiative. After the riot outside Moscow in October, the government has shown signs that it increasingly considers nationalists to be a growing national security concern. At a conference [ru] with Vladimir Putin shortly after the riot, several members of the Presidential Council on Ethnic Relations criticized nationalists for aggravating ethnic tensions in Russia. Some members even likened nationalists to terrorists. More recently, in Putin’s State of the Federation speech [ru] on December 12, 2013, the President included nationalists in the so-called “Amoral Internationale,” an unholy union of ethnic mobsters, corrupt cops, and nationalist separatists.
The crackdown on online mobilization for offline political activity is also part of what is perceived to be an ongoing campaign to cripple the communication technologies that contributed so crucially to Russia’s “Winter of Discontent” between 2011 and 2012, when the country experienced its biggest anti-government protests in more than a decade. With its eyes to Kiev, where hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have for weeks occupied the city’s square, the Kremlin might warmly welcome a ban on virtual calls to unsanctioned rallies, nationalist or otherwise.