Russia's Internet watchdog is apparently not impressed with Wikipedia's attempts to combat censorship. On Saturday, August 22, Wikipedia made a daring move to avoid taking down content at the request of the censors—but now, it seems, the website is bound for a ban despite the cunning loophole.
On August 20 Roskomnadzor, the Kremlin's media censor, announced that it had ordered Wikipedia to remove Russian Internet users’ access to an article about charas hashish, which a court in Astrakhan banned last June. If Wikipedia refused to comply with the order, it would be banned entirely, officials said. Wikipedia refused to comply with the request and instead made a small change to the URL of the charas hashish article, technically putting it in compliance with Russian law. The old page now features a list of seven different Wikipedia entries on the various meanings of the word “charas,” while the original text about charas hashish is completely intact, but is now accessible at a new URL on the encyclopedia's website.
On Monday, August 24, Izvestia reported that Roscomnadzor was still intent on blocking Wikipedia (see update at bottom of post) for refusing to abide by Russian laws and not deleting the Russian-language article about charas hashish.
According to Izvestia‘s sources within the agency, some Internet experts, including Denis Davydov of the pro-Kremlin Safe Internet League, accused Wikipedia's Russian office of engaging in “political activity” instead of “bringing knowledge to the world,” as a “free encyclopedia” should. Roscomnadzor suggested this gave them no other choice but to block Wikipedia, acting in accordance with the earlier court ruling.
Roscomnadzor's press-office also said they didn't intend to block the whole website, and would be able to only block the offending content and pages, provided Wikipedia's management “cooperated” and removed the HTTPS encryption protocol that puts the whole website in danger of being blocked.
Wikipedia's Russian office reacted to the news on Twitter early on Monday.
Доброе утро, страна! Возможно, это наше с вами последнее утро.
— Русская Википедия (@ru_wikipedia) August 24, 2015
Good morning, country! This might well be our last morning with you!
Wikipedia stood by its decision to not take down the article, which it claims to have revised in accordance with the website’s internal quality standards (with information “based on credible sources”). Izvestia also cites Wikipedia as saying they do not plan to remove the HTTPS encryption protocol from the website, since “no state institutions or ISPs should have the means to know what the website's users are reading.”
Vladimir Medeyko, head of Wikimedia RU, told Izvestia that should the website be blocked, the RuNet users will still be able to access the online encyclopedia, as “there are lots of ways to read blocked websites.”
Если государство заблокирует «Википедию», то оно сделает хуже только себе.
If the state [Russia] blocks Wikipedia, it will only make things worse for itself.
News about Russian censors adding pages from websites like YouTube and Wikipedia to the country's Internet blacklist are now an almost daily occurrence, so it's probably safe to say that websites will continue to come up with interesting ways of circumventing censorship and remaining accessible to Russians—and Roscomnadzor will keep trying to find new pretexts to block them.
Update (8:26 PM GMT, August 24, 2015): Roscomnadzor has officially added the Wikipedia URL for the charas article to its banned websites registry. Wikipedia responded by publishing a page with instructions on how to circumvent the block and said it would be allowing Russian-language administrators and reviewers to edit the website using anonymizing proxy services and Tor.