Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Russia Moves to Restrict Web Sites and Nonprofits

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Russia Moves to Restrict Web Sites and Nonprofits

Article excerpt

The United Nations said legislation that allows the government to block certain Web sites and requires some nonprofits to identify themselves as foreign agents signaled a "worrying shift."

Russia's upper house of Parliament has moved to strengthen controls over the Internet and nonprofit organizations, prompting a warning from the U.N. human rights chief that the Kremlin is sliding back into Soviet ways.

A series of initiatives has been introduced as President Vladimir V. Putin begins a six-year term, facing an increasingly assertive opposition. The government has imposed draconian fines for people who participate in unsanctioned protests, and legislators voted to reinstitute criminal charges for slander, rolling back changes adopted seven months ago by Dmitri A. Medvedev, Mr. Putin's predecessor.

The bills approved Wednesday would allow the government to block Web sites deemed dangerous to children and require nonprofits to identify themselves as "foreign agents" if they receive financing from outside Russia and are considered by the government to be engaged in political activities.

"In just two months, we have seen a worrying shift in the legislative environment governing the enjoyment of the freedoms of assembly, association, speech and information in the Russian Federation," Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said in a statement released in Geneva.

The criminalization of slander could "stifle all criticism of government authorities and limit the ability of individuals to address issues of transparency, corruption and abuse of power," she said. "I urge the government of the Russian Federation to avoid taking further steps backward to a more restrictive era."

The Russian Foreign Ministry responded angrily. "We consider Ms. Pillay's statement as unbefitting to her status as high commissioner and attempts to publicly accuse the leaders of the Russian state of failing to carry out some kinds of 'promises' -- as outside the framework of diplomatic ethics," the ministry said in a statement. …

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