Infringement of Internet Freedom in Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus. Overview for February 27 — March 12

Ukrainian authorities are preparing a list of websites to be blocked as soon as the corresponding mechanism is in place. The unlawful authorities in Donetsk seized Ukrtelecom office, which left tens of thousands of users without mobile Internet and connection. In Belarus, users report blocking of the popular informal encyclopedia, Lurkmore.to. A Russian citizen was sentenced to 160 hours of community work for ‘humiliation of human dignity’ for using the words ‘vata’ and ‘vatnik’ in the comments. Read about these and other events that may impact Internet freedom in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia in a periodic overview for the first half of March, 2017.

Between February 27 and March 12, 12 incidents and violations of Internet freedom on the territory of Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus were reported on the Internet Freedom Monitoring map.

Ukraine

The Ministry of Information Policy of Ukraine will prepare a list of websites that ‘undermine the sovereignty of Ukraine’ to block them in the future. At the press conference on March 2, Minister Yuriy Stets has named only one website so far — Russkaya Vesna [‘Russian Spring’]. It is unclear how, who, and for how long will block the web resources, and when this happens. Deputy Minister Dmytro Zolotukhin has been tasked with compiling the list, which will be finalized together with the SSU and the experts.

The officer of the Security Service of Ukraine detained a local citizen in Pryluky, Chernihiv oblast, who has been spreading anti-Ukrainian materials through the Russian social networks. SSU’s press service reported on March 9 that a man regularly posted propaganda materials that called for changing the state border of Ukraine and popularizing terrorist organizations ‘DNR’ and ‘LNR’ on his personal profile pages. The details of the case are not disclosed.

‘Ukrainian cyber troops’ volunteer community has helped block or close 173 websites related to anti-Ukrainian activities in three years. The websites were blocked or closed thanks to hacker attacks of volunteers, complaints made to hosting or domain providers, as well as cooperation with the Security Service of Ukraine, the founder of the volunteer organization Yevhen Dokukin informed on March 9.

In February, 2017, the Institut of Mass Information recorded five incidents of making threats, infringing rights of journalists of online media, as well as two cyber attacks on Internet editions.

Occupied Donbas

The office of telecommunication operator Ukrtelecom was seized in Donetsk on March 1. The company has disconnected part of Donetsk oblast from the national network, which left about 200,000 subscribers without connection or access to mobile Internet. According to the press service of Ukrtelecom, unidentified armed persons intervened into the work of the company and seized their office with all the equipment.

Ukrtelecom subscribers who lost Internet access soon regained it via a new local network. According to the Russian media, as of March 5, about 90 users of Ukrainian operator were given Internet access.

Belarus

Belarusian users reported blocking of a popular Russian Internet resource Lurkmore.to. When trying to access the website, users see the message that “access to this Internet resource has been restricted”. Lurkmore is an informal, non-traditional and humoristic Internet encyclopedia, which mostly covers topics related to contemporary culture. The reason for restricting access is unknown.

Russia

In Tumen, the deputies of oblast duma created a working group on March 1 that is aimed to restrict anonymous Internet access. The deputies think that there is more and more ‘prohibited content’ that has ‘destructive power’ on the Internet, and there is a need for identification mechanisms. This idea came from the deputy head of oblast duma, a deputy from the United Russia [‘Yedinaya Rossiya’] Viktor Reyn. The changes to legislation allow for ‘finding users’ who write under fictitious names.

For using the words ‘vata’ and ‘vatnik’ [‘slang neologism meant to disparage someone as a blindly patriotic and not very smart Russian’, Wikipedia] in the comments, Russian citizen Oleksandr Gozenko, 19, was sentenced to 160 hours of community work for ‘humiliation of human dignity’, a Saratov court ruled on February 27. The comments date back to 2015.

Roskomnadzor [the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, responsible for regulating the Internet] included Swiss protected messenger Threema to the Registry of organizers of information dissemination. Russian law obliges information disseminators to collect, store and provide information about the actions of users at their resource to competent state bodies. Threema works on such platforms as iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.

Russia has partially blocked access to the popular Ukrainian news website Ukrayinska Pravda [‘Ukrainian Truth’], journalist Kseniya Babich reported on Facebook. Some of her Russian colleagues have confirmed in the comments that a number of providers block access to this website. Access to Ukrayinska Pravda’s website is officially not restricted in Russia.

The previous report about incidents and violations of Internet freedom is available here.

The overview has been written by NGO “Internews Ukraine” as part of implementing the project Internet Freedom in Ukraine: Supporting the Principles of Freedom of Speech and Security in the Time of Conflict.”

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