A law requiring popular bloggers in Russia to register as mass media has taken effect today in a move widely considered as an attempt to weaken opposition voices online and control information exchange in the country.
The law, which makes the posting of expletives, false information and extremist material a criminal offence, also obliges bloggers whose sites receive over 3,000 unique views a day to register with Russia’s media watchdog Roskomnadzor.
In an interview with Izvestia today, head of Roskomnadzor Alexander Zharov confirmed that there would be no “national census of bloggers”, and that registration with the watchdog would be on a voluntary basis or the result of public complaints.
However, in a media landscape where editorial reshuffles and slashed funding have hit independent news outlets hard, a number of writers and journalists have slammed the new law as another form of government censorship. Anton Nossik, a popular blogger and founder of news website Lenta.ru, wrote that "the issue of banning all these platforms in Russia is a political one and will be decided by only one person" — a clear reference to President Vladimir Putin.
Earlier this year, Russia passed a bill giving the government power to block any website without explanation, with several opposition-minded websites, including the blog of opposiiton activist Alexei Navalny, shut down soon after. Today, Russian prosecutors have asked the courts to issue an arrest warrant for Navalny for using Twitter, which he is banned from doing under the terms of his house arrest terms.
Zharov added: “I believe that any user should be responsible for what he publishes. If a person has no intention to publish false information, slander, extremist material or provocative content, why not publicise yourself? This measure will restore order on the internet.”
A document listing the first seven bloggers to who have been contacted by Roskomnadzor, seen by Izvestia, includes novelist Boris Akunin, a frequent and popular critic of the government, comedian and screenwriter Mikhail Galustyan and head of NewsMedia holding Ashot Gabrelyanov.