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Russian Wikipedia shuts down in protest of ‘censorship’ bill

In January, Wikipedia shuttered its English sites for 24 hours in protest of anti-piracy laws that were being discussed in the U.S. Congress. That action was cited as evidence of a new wave of political power for the technology and Internet industries. Google and others joined in that protest, which essentially derailed two anti-piracy bills in the United States.

The Russian Wikipedia site compares proposed amendments to an “On Information” law to China’s hyper-restrictive firewall. If implemented, the changes to the law could result in access to Wikipedia being cut off permanently, the group says.

“Lobbyists and activists who support the given amendments are claiming that they are directed exclusively against content like child pornography ‘and the like,’ but according to presented reports and statements, a prototype of ‘The Great Firewall of China’ will be created in Russia,” Wikipedia says in a statement on its site, which was translated from Russian. “The practice of implementing existing Russian laws suggests a high chance of a worse scenario, in which access to Wikipedia will be denied across the country.

“Given the precedent, there’s a good chance access to Wikipedia will be denied across the country.”

The bills, according to news reports, would allow the government to blacklist certain websites. The aim, the government says, is to protect Internet users from harmful content like child pornography and websites that promote substance abuse.

“The Russian bill currently under discussion in parliament seeks to introduce a non-governmental Internet watchdog, which would monitor the Web for potentially harmful content and request hosting companies to restrict access to the marked pages,” reports, a Russian news site that receives government funding. “If this is not done, the page would be blacklisted. The bill also has stricter provisions for parental guidance ratings for content.”

The updates do not have universal support in the Russian government, the news site says. The country’s information minister, for example, has “voiced doubt” about the changes, saying they would be difficult to enforce.

Another Russian site, however, reports that the bill has broad support in the Duma, Russia’s parliament. The state-owned news agency RIA Novosti elaborates on the bill’s provisions:

“According to the draft document, submitted to the State Duma on June 7, the unified roster of banned websites will be run by a federal agency to be appointed by the government,” that news site says. “The agency will have the right to add items to the blacklist, as will the courts, which already have the authority to ban extremist and other types of content that violates Russian legislation.”

On Twitter, Russia’s communications minister appeared to say the criticism from Wikipedia was healthy. “I don’t support Wiki’s intentions to close,” Nikolay Nikiforov wrote in a message translated from Russian. “But this step is an important reaction of our society and a sign that we need to improve.”

Wikipedia’s political stance and temporary shutdown could be viewed by some as hypocritical. The digital encyclopedia, run by a nonprofit, is dedicated to the spread of free information.

In January, however, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales told CNN that it is the encyclopedia’s role to stand up when free speech and Internet freedoms are threatened.

“Free speech includes the right to not speak,” he said. “We are a community of volunteers. We have written this thing that we believe to be a gift to the world. We don’t charge people for it. It’s freely available to anybody who wants to (use it). We are a charity. And I think it’s important for people to realize that the ability of our community to come together and give this kind of gift to the world depends on a certain legal infrastructure that makes it possible for people to share knowledge freely.”



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