Internet freedom violations in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. January-2017 review

Russian authorities want to penalize Internet Service Providers (ISP) in case they refuse to block banned websites. Russian Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Information Technologies (Roscomnadzor) pushed on Ukrainian ISP to block Kharkiv online-media. Read more about major violations and threats for the Internet freedom in our brief January review.

Ukraine

Russia blocks Ukrainian sites. Kharkiv ISP “Anlim” on January 23 blocked access to “Evening Uman”, local online media, after Russian official complaint. Roscomnadzor did not like an article about “Right Sector” (organization that is forbidden in Russian Federation) published in 2014. It is said article “contains calls to mass disorder”. Kharkiv editor-in-chief  Vladimir Hamalytsya thinks that “Anlim” blocked website because it did not have unique IP-address (more expensive than changable IP), so potencially many websites that use the same IP, might be banned too.

EX.UA is back. The largest Ukrainian file sharing website EX.UA (that stopped operating in December 2016) is back as FEX.NET. It is still free and anonymous to exchange files, but no movies or software are available. Owners of mail @EX.UA are automatically transferred to the address @FEX.NET with old logins.

Occupied Donbas

Arrested blogger Edward Nedelyaev gave new testimonies. Luhansk blogger Edward Ned (nickname) was arrested last November by authorities of so called “Luhansk People’s Republic” (LPR). Edward Nedelyayev told in “court” that he received offers from Ukrainian Secutiry Service to take a hacker attack on website linked with Donal Trump election campaign. In “LPR” blogger is accused of “espionage”. In social networks he regularly criticized the “LPR” and Russian authorities.

OSCE is deeply concerned. OSCE condemns continued deterioration of media freedom and safety of journalists in areas not controlled by Ukrainian government. In report said that OSCE is deeply concerned about ban of over 350 websites and continued restriction of access to Ukrainian media outlets, both in print and broadcast. Particularly worrying is the continued threats and intimidation of media workers, as well as the arrests of bloggers Eduard Nedelyaev and Gennadiy Benitskiy by “LPR” members.

Crimea (annexed by the Russian Federation)

Detained lawyer. Crimean lawyer Emile Kurbedinova (of arrested Radio Free Europe journalist Nicholas Semeni) was arrested on January 26 in Bakhchisarai.  Kurbedinov was sentenced for ten days after accused of publishing in 2013 video in “Vkontakte” of some “Hizb ut-Tahrir” event. The last one is the name of Muslim ogranization banned in Russia (but not in Ukraine). American human rights organization Freedom House called on Russia for immediate release of Kurbedinova.

Systematic violations of freedom of speech. “Centre of Human Rights Information”, humag rights NGO, released a report on press freedom violations in the occupied Crimean peninsula in the second half of 2016. There were documented 37 cases of violations of freedom of speech. During last half year in Crimea were blocked those websites like “Krym.Realiyi”, “Events Crimea”, “Meridian Sevastopol”, “Witted”, “Browser”, “ATR”, “Public Radio” and others.

No “historical truth”. Ukrainian website Istorychna Pravda (“historical truth”) regulary publishes articles that contrary to Russian official history treatment. But Roskomnadzor has not yet gave any explanations why website was blocked.

The Russian Federation

Like in China. German Klimenko, advisor of Vladimir Putin on Internet issues,  said that Russia needs more control above Internet and Internet organizations, like in China People’s Republic.

“Pokemon catcher” has new accusation. Russian blogger Ruslan Sokolovsky, known as the “Pokemon catcher”, will stay in jail minimum till February 23. Russian Court also accused Ekaterinburg blogger that he used storage pen with a hidden camera that is illegal.  Ruslan Sokolovsky in Summer 2016 played online game “PokemonGo” in local church. Also some of his Youtube-movies inclueded harsh criticism of Russian Orthodox Church and laws.

Dangerous poem. In the Russian town of Krom, Orel region, on January 17 former school taecher Alexander Byvshev got new accusations: in February 2015 Byvshev published in “Vkontakte” poem about Ukrainian independence. This was not the first time. In July 2015 Kromskyy District Court sentenced him to 300 hours of correctional labor for the poem “Ukrainian patriots” in which he urged the Ukrainian fight for occupied Crimea. In 2015 he was denied the right to practice teaching.

Controlled messengers. Russian government through legislative changes trying to get more access to users correspondence in WhatsApp, Telegram or Viber. Kremlin officially claimed that drugdealers use those applications. So in order to fight drugdealing Roskomnadzor needs more control. “Roskomsvoboda”, NGO that monitors Internet freedom in Russia, is concerned about this bill because its adoption might begin a new wave of censorship in Russian Internet. About 50-60 million of Russians use messengers. The most popular are Viber, WhatsApp and Skype.

Belarus

Offensive for Belarusian language. Vasyl Voruschenko, a former policeman, called in “VKontakte” comments Belarusian language  a “decomposing and decaying corpse”. Soon Homel court will decide the size of the fine.

Locked blogger. Belarus authorities decided to send a Russian-Israeli blogger Alexander Lapshin (nickname Puerrtto) to Azerbaijan. Lapshin was captured in Minsk after Azerbaujan accused blogger of illegal visit few years ago to “occupied territories of Azerbaijan” (Nagorno-Karabakh) that is controlled now by Armenia.  Bloggers threatens imprisonment for up to 8 years.

December-2016 report is available here.

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