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Thousands protest Russia’s ‘internet isolation’

Updated March 11, 2019

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MOSCOW: People attend an opposition rally to demand internet freedom in Russia.—AFP
MOSCOW: People attend an opposition rally to demand internet freedom in Russia.—AFP

MOSCOW: Thousands of people rallied against Russia’s increasingly restrictive internet policies on Sunday which some say will eventually lead to “total censorship” and isolate the country from the world.

The mass rally in Moscow and smaller events in other cities across the country was called after the Russian lower house of parliament backed a bill to stop Russian internet traffic from being routed on foreign servers, in a bid to boost cybersecurity.

The move was labelled by critics as the latest attempt to control online content under President Vladimir Putin, with some fearing the country is on track to completely isolate its network like in North Korea.

Activists counting people said more than 15,000 people have turned up to listen to internet and media rights activists as well as music performers who have complained of government pressure in recent months.

“The government is battling freedom, including freedom on the internet, I can tell you this as somebody who spent a month in jail for a tweet,” one of the rally speakers Sergei Boiko, an internet freedom activist from Siberia, said. Police detained several people without explanation. A correspondent saw a man being dragged away by arms and legs near the entrance to the rally. The popular Telegram messaging app, which Russian authorities have been unsuccessfully trying to block for many months, called on its users to attend the rally last week.

A message in Russian on its official account said that the bill on internet centralisation aims to “cut off Russia from the rest of the world, after which they can block foreign social networks and messengers.” The goal of the bill is “total censorship,” it said. The bill has not yet been voted on in key second reading.

Published in Dawn, March 11th, 2019