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Russia29 March 2006

Authorities harass independent news sites, citing need to combat extremism

Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about government harassment of three of Russia’s leading news websites since the start of the March. One, Pravda.ru, was temporarily closed down. Another, Bankfax.ru, is being prosecuted. A third, Gazeta.ru, has received a public warning. All three are accused of spreading extremist ideas.

“It is unacceptable that the Russian security service or any other government agency should be able on their own to close down or filter a website whose content they do not like,” the press freedom organisation said. “Only a judicial authority acting independently should be able to take such a decision.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “The authorities already control most of the traditional media and now it seems they are trying to get control of the Internet, using the need to combat extremism as an argument for censoring the news websites that are still independent.”

In mid-March, the Federal Security Service (FSB) contacted the company that hosts Pravda.ru and asked it to eliminate “all content likely to stir up sectarian hatred.” This intervention resulted in the site being closed for half a day on 23 March. The FSB was supposedly trying to block publication of Mohammed cartoons. But Vadim Gorshenin, the chairman of the Pravda.ru board, told Reporters Without Borders that the cartoons had never been posted on the site.

The prosecutor of the city of Barnaul, in the central Altai region, began an investigation into the regional news site Bankfax.ru on 10 March at the request of the Rosokhrankultura, a government agency that regulates the news media. Bankfax.ru was alleged to have “incited religious hatred” by posting supposedly “anti-Muslim” comments by an anonymous visitor to one of the site’s forums in February. The site, which is very popular with the Altai public, is now threatened with closure while the person who wrote the comments faces up to four years in prison.

It was the Rosokhrankultura that issued a public warning on 9 March to Gazeta.ru, Russia’s leading news website, for posting the Mohammed cartoons. Site editor Mikhail Mikhailin said the cartoons had to be published in order to understand what the controversy was about.


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