Terrified Of The Internet, Putin Signs Laws Making It Illegal To Criticize Government Leaders Online

from the freedom-is-slavery dept

Russia's efforts to clamp down on anything resembling free speech on the internet continues unabated. Putin's government has spent the last few years effectively making VPNs and private messenger apps illegal. While the government publicly insists the moves are necessary to protect national security, the actual motivators are the same old boring ones we've seen here in the States and elsewhere around the world for decades: fear and control. Russia doesn't want people privately organizing, discussing, or challenging the government's increasingly-authoritarian global impulses.

After taking aim at VPNs, Putin signed two new bills this week that dramatically hamper speech, especially online. One law specifically takes aim at the nebulous concept of "fake news," specifically punishing any online material that "exhibits blatant disrespect for the society, government, official government symbols, constitution or governmental bodies of Russia." In other words, Russia wants to ban criticism of Putin and his corrupt government, with experts telling the Washington Post that the updated law effectively removes the pesky legal system from what was already a fairly draconian system:

"Prosecutors can direct their complaints about online media to the state, which can block access to websites if the offending material isn’t taken down.

This, experts say, is new. “The Prosecutor’s office may now block such fake news sources prior to the judicial decision. It gives the Prosecutor’s office an extremely high authority and almost completely eliminates the Russian (albeit completely non-free) courts from the game,” Maria Snegovaya, an adjunct fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, wrote in an email.

“In other words, it significantly expands the repressive power of Russia’s repressive apparatus. This may be compared to the Stalin’s Troika, a commission of three for express judgment in the Soviet Union during the time of Joseph Stalin who issued sentences to people after simplified, speedy investigations and without a public and fair trial,” she added.

Websites that now spread "fake news" in Russia (defined as anything that criticizes Putin and his coalition of mobster oligarchs) now suddenly face fines of up to 1.5 million rubles ($22,900) for repeat offenses. Another companion law signed by Putin this week is equally problematic; it would update existing laws to make it a federal offense to insult the Russian government or political leaders. Repeat violators of that law face fines up to 300,000 rubles ($4,700) — and 15 days in jail:

"The bills amending existing information laws overwhelmingly passed both chambers of Russian parliament in less than two months. Observers and some lawmakers have criticized the legislation for its vague language and potential to stifle free speech. The legislation will establish punishments for spreading information that “exhibits blatant disrespect for the society, government, official government symbols, constitution or governmental bodies of Russia."

Both law updates quickly passed through the Russian Parliament in less than two months despite widespread condemnation and a petition of more than 100 journalists and academics lambasting the proposal as ham-fisted authoritarianism. It's an amusing and slightly terrifying escalation from a government busted for pushing buckets of hateful and idiotic disinformation online, yet simultaneously pretending to wage a war against inauthentic news coverage and critical thinking. It's clearly a model Putin hopes to export to numerous countries, not least of which being the already-factually-challenged United States.

Of course while Russia would frame this as a show of strength, it's really a show of fear. This, combined with Russia's efforts to disconnect itself from the internet makes it abundantly clear how afraid the government is of not only free speech, but its own people too. A Russian public that has not only been increasingly protesting these obnoxious internet restrictions, but also the underlying Russian economic problems Putin very clearly doesn't want highlighted online.

Filed Under: censorship, fake news, free speech, government criticism, internet, russia, vladimir putin


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2019 @ 6:58am

    shocked?

    Russia is still a communist country; they just changed their flag.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 20 Mar 2019 @ 7:17am

      Re: shocked?

      Well, not communist, but certainly authoritarian. While they practice some broken form of what they call democracy, they appear to be moving to some dictatorial model. When Putin ran out his allowed tenure as President, then seemingly 'appointed' (via various forms of election rigging) a puppet replacement, and then ran again for President, he got around the law but set up a President for life scenario. Making it illegal to criticize the government means that no one will be allowed to do anything to disrupt the continuation of this process, which is certain to be bad for the populace, in the long run if not also currently.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2019 @ 7:32am

      Re: shocked?

      Russia was never a communist country, it was socialist, which was meant to be a step on the road to communism, but once the party got power, it decided to keep it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Hugo S Cunningham (profile), 20 Mar 2019 @ 11:27am

      Re: shocked?

      Under Stalin, you would have got ten years in prison for an anti-regime message, not fifteen days. Still, this is a disappointing step back. Unfortunately, Russia's most open decade and pro-Western decade, the 1990s, was marked by gut-wrenching economic decline, leaving Russians with a sour view of Western influence.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2019 @ 11:32am

        Re: Re: shocked?

        The American system has many flaws which we refuse to address. We practice a form of capitalism that borders on being The Hunger Games, where the losers live in poverty unfit for humans, and are blamed for not succeeding in a game of economic musical chairs which guarantees atrocities against the "weak."

        China prefers conformism over speech, and Putin is very similar to an old-fashioned Russian Czar. These systems can function just as ours can. Free speech is not necessary for them the way we think it is for us.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 20 Mar 2019 @ 3:48pm

          A dictatorship is great for the dictator and his buddies

          China prefers conformism over speech, and Putin is very similar to an old-fashioned Russian Czar. These systems can function just as ours can. Free speech is not necessary for them the way we think it is for us.

          That it can work for parts of the system does not make it a good system. The fact that the ones at the top prefer obedience and conformity from those below them and don't care for people being able to speak their minds(unless said speech is in favor of the ones at the top anyway) is hardly surprising if those at the top can't handle challenges; being able to speak your mind includes the possibility of challenging those at the top after all, and for those currently at the top, and who can't defend themselves/their actions honestly, that simply won't do.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 21 Mar 2019 @ 7:20am

          Re: Re: Re: shocked?

          "We practice a form of capitalism that borders on being The Hunger Games, where the losers live in poverty unfit for humans, and are blamed for not succeeding in a game of economic musical chairs which guarantees atrocities against the "weak.""

          Welfare for the rich, capitalism for the not rich all wrapped up in gaslighting its victims - brilliant!

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Poul Monary -- now pull my other one!, 20 Mar 2019 @ 7:10am

    Terrified of dissent, MM provides code here to "hide" it.

    While trotting out the LIE that it's "the community" with a "voting system" that has no upvotes even possible, and he has no hand in it. Must be an Administrator making final decision, but Masnick won't admit that, either. It's a black box, actually worse in kind than this Rooski law.

    And by the way, Masnick: what are you doing on "white male privilege" here besides enjoying your despotism to the max? Where are your re-writers of different sex or color?

    Specifically on topic: Russia ain't crazy enough to allow Western-funded (CIA, MI-whatever, Mossad) "dissent" to just do as please. -- No sane society does. In the US, House committee found and exposed actual Commies, effectively ending their subversion.

    AND this'll be capped off by yet another phony exercise of "the community" acting out of sight to "hide" it. You have NO place from which to criticize Putin, Techdirt, re-writers, fanboys, and astro-turfers, since cannot stand a little on-topic dissent! Phooey on you masnocrits!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2019 @ 7:15am

      Re: Terrified of dissent, MM provides code here to "hide" it.

      Don't you have a job or hobby or something?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2019 @ 7:23am

      Re: Terrified of dissent, MM provides code here to "hide&qu

      What does your rant have to do with this piece?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 20 Mar 2019 @ 7:26am

        Re: Re: Terrified of dissent, MM provides code here to "hid

        We don't expect coherence from this one, but he does like to hear him/herself bloviate, and the more nonsensical the better, from his/her point of view.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2019 @ 8:44am

        Re: Re: Terrified of dissent, MM provides code here to "hid

        I think John went past the limits of contrarianism and what you and others just read was a human mind expressing....how do I say this? Something completely foreign and beyond what it is capable of doing. Like the brain trying to understand alien experiences if you will.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Shufflepants (profile), 20 Mar 2019 @ 8:33am

      Re: Terrified of dissent, MM provides code here to "hide" it.

      I've never seen some one before obsessed with such a tiny and specific conspiracy theory.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Gary (profile), 20 Mar 2019 @ 10:23am

      Re: Terrified of dissent, MM provides code here to "hide" it.

      While trotting out the LIE that it's "the community" with a "voting system" that has no upvotes even possible

      see, you just lied again. There is Insightful and Humorous. I just gave you a LOL upvote because your statement is laughable.

      Since you won't stop endlessly repeating yourself like a little kid, you must have an example of a better commenting system. Please cite. Seriously, just one like to a comment system you don't think violates Colander Law or whatever it is you go on about.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2019 @ 11:07am

      Re: Terrified your gay lust you try to "hide" it.

      Trumps still not gonna touch your dingle.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Cho Seung-Hui, 20 Mar 2019 @ 7:10am

    thanks murica

    Thanks USA, your fake journalism fueled russian censorship, just because you did the same in Latin America

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2019 @ 7:28am

      Re: thanks murica

      Please define "fake journalism".
      afaik, the rest of the world refers to it as propaganda, yellow journalism.

      Or maybe you are referring to the continuous spewing forth of bullshit by the far right wingnuts. These people have a lot in common with those they claim to hate. American taliban are a crazy bunch - no, really, they are insane.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Toom1275 (profile), 20 Mar 2019 @ 8:55am

      Re: thanks murica

      [Asserts facts not in evidence]

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Cho Seung-Hui, 20 Mar 2019 @ 3:39pm

        Re: Re: thanks murica

        Ask EFF why in peru they let Katitza Rodríguez to join in the same event with our equivalent of AT&T to wash their presence (Claro), while that ISP was lobbying the end of net neutrality, just months before the same crap in USA.

        If at USA this happened, EFF would be bullied

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Melvin Chudwaters, 20 Mar 2019 @ 7:16am

    This isn't "fear of the internet".

    Putin uses the internet as a weapon to attack and destabilize other nations. Interferes in their elections, stirs up partisanship that didn't exist beforehand. Instigates riots and coups.

    This policy of banning VPNs and private messenger apps is him preemptively denying foreign governments the same strategy against Russia. It's not paranoid or hysterical, it's not neurotic or fearful. It's calculated.

    There will probably be another instigated attack in a western country in the next week. New Zealand, Holland, and a yet-to-be-announced.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2019 @ 7:31am

      Re:

      "stirs up partisanship that didn't exist beforehand."

      • Oh, I think those problems were there all along - and they are not going away anytime soon.

      Some people just want to watch the world burn, and that is how they plan on doing it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Cho Seung-Hui, 20 Mar 2019 @ 3:41pm

      Re:

      same agenda than murican NDI and ISP linked to them outside USA

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2019 @ 8:14am

    Who knew Vladimir Putin wad Russian for "thinner skin than Recep Tayyip Erdoğan"?

    So if Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is Gollum, what does that make Putin?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2019 @ 2:04pm

      Re:

      a 5yr old afraid someone will see how weak he is without all his bullies standing up for him. Puppet master are always afraid the puppets will revolt.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 20 Mar 2019 @ 2:13pm

    Respect is earned, not owed

    The legislation will establish punishments for spreading information that “exhibits blatant disrespect for the society, government, official government symbols, constitution or governmental bodies of Russia."

    When those things aren't worthy of respect, it would be dishonest not to 'exhibit blatant disrespect' for them, and it should go without saying that a dictator(and the gutless/complicit politicians that let him) clamping down on free speech to keep people from saying mean(but true) things about him deserves all the 'disrespect' and/or contempt he gets.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Mar 2019 @ 7:30am

      Re: Respect is earned, not owed

      I do not think they are looking for respect, as they do not understand its meaning. They seek adulation and reverence, they call it respect.

      I understand that language is a dynamic construct and it is in continual change, however - it gets annoying at times. For example, the word literally is misused to mean figuratively, which is its antonym. Many lols from that one.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2019 @ 4:02pm

    Is that a BuzzFeed headline? The world has too much BuzzFeed click-bait content as it is. Dropping projection of what other people are feeling improves this submission.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2019 @ 7:39pm

      Re:

      I suppose a better title would be Putin attempts to censor disapproval by blocking the internet because he's a crybaby?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 20 Mar 2019 @ 7:55pm

        Re: Re:

        'Putin, too gutless to deal with criticism and/or unable to honestly defend his actions and the actions of his government, makes it illegal to say mean things about him/his government' perhaps?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Gary (profile), 20 Mar 2019 @ 9:58pm

    Putin on the Ritz

    No biggie. Putin is a "Great Guy" and best buf of the Cheeto. So everything he does has Trump's full support.
    Criminalizing dissent, murdering reporters. Trump or Putin? Who can tell...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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