Russian censors have banned a series of political videos on YouTube featuring calls to anti-Putin activism. Notably, officials have banned clips from opposition leader Alexey Navalny’s closing statement in his court case from December 2014, when he was convicted of fraud and money laundering and eventually given a 3.5-year suspended sentence. The trial was widely criticized as a political attack on Navalny, whose closing speech was a powerful indictment of the Putin regime. Censors also banned a video containing footage of a protest allegedly in Nizhny Novgorod “against Putin and the Kremlin occupiers.”
In late December 2014, as Moscow waited to learn if Navalny would be sent to prison, the opposition and the state raced to position themselves for the news. Activists began promoting an unsanctioned protest outside the walls of the Kremlin, and Navalny’s passionate courtroom performance provided the perfect inspirational material for video promotions of the demonstration.
Officials first pressured Facebook into blocking the main event page for the protest, but soon Moscow either lost influence over the social network, or it decided to change tactics. As replacement Facebook event pages starting multiplying and the likely attendance for an illegal rally immediately outside the Kremlin, scheduled for January 15, 2015, only grew, the court unexpectedly announced its suspended-sentence verdict on December 30, 2014, obviating the apparent need for a mass protest two weeks later. As Ilya Klishin of TV Rain put it in a recent column on Slon.ru, “In the end, Navalny’s supporters were mainly left to use the American social networks [Facebook and Twitter] to discuss why so few people attended the January 15 rally.”
The government’s crackdown this week on two dozen YouTube videos primarily targets content related to the December 2014 protest that never really materialized. It’s been more than eight months since Russia’s Attorney General ordered these links banned, but Roskomnadzor, the Kremlin’s media watchdog, has only now added them to its registry of illegal websites. According to Rublacklist.net, censors often “‘forget’ [about orders from the Attorney General] and only start working through requests months or even a year after prosecutors have submitted them, trying to solve the issue with specific services, without resorting to blocking them.”
Roskomnadzor acted today in accordance with a request from prosecutors filed last December. Thanks to amendments passed in 2013, Russia’s Attorney General is permitted to order the immediate blocking of any online resource, if it’s thought to contain “extremist” elements. Roskomnadzor is charged with enforcing these decisions.
Vadim Ampelonsky, Roskomnadzor’s press secretary, told Roem.ru that there’s no danger of Russians losing complete access to YouTube, though the service uses HTTPS protocol, which officials have previously said necessitates blocking an entire website and not only one page.