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A depressing chronology of the 2017 prohibitions in Russia

By Simon Davies

Russia’s quest to prohibit personal freedoms has reached a level that many people may not yet comprehend. The past year has seen the persecution of a vast spectrum of human rights that extend way beyond the digital domain.The past few months, in particular, have also seen the further deterioration of Russia’s global participation and a closing in of its borders.

The country’s bans on free expression and open communication are rarely far from the headlines. Only this week, the Russian Federal Council approved a bill that will severely restrict the use of security services such as proxies, VPN’s and ToR.

Of course most people are aware of the horrific persecution of activities of gay people. The “gay propaganda law” has created state endorsed violence and hurt to millions of LGBT Russian people. In June the European Court of human Rights ruled the legislation unlawful.

The escalating paranoia in the Kremlin about foreign entities has also become perilous. This has particular relevance to international news reporting and the Internet.  In May, the communications regulator banned four instant messaging platforms, including Blackberry and Vchat.


The malaise, however, runs far broader and deeper. It’s instructive to look at a partial chronology of the prohibition mania so far in 2017 – just in case you missed some of it.

One of he important developments in recent times has been the 2015 “undesirable organisations law” which gives prosecutors the power to shut down foreign and international groups which are deemed to be a threat to Russian stability. This legislation provides for jail penalties for up to six years for anyone maintaining links with the banned organisations.

This year, the extensive list of prohibited organisations expanded. In July, Russia banned the Bucharest-based organisation Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation. In April it banned three opposition-linked political groups. That same month, the Prosecutor General declared Open Russia a prohibited organisation and blocked planned protests against the Kremlin.

There has also been a wide spectrum of people who have been banned from visiting Russia. These range from the Rothschild family, which in June Putin banned from entering the country, to International Poker figure Antanas Guoga, which authorities also banned from entering Russia.

The escalating paranoia in the Kremlin about foreign entities has also become perilous. This has particular relevance to international news reporting and the Internet.  In May, the communications regulator banned four instant messaging platforms, including Blackberry and Vchat. In the same month, Putin signed an Executive Order clamping down on online media services. This followed the January purge of online services which saw a total ban on the popular video service DailyMotion and the global business site LinkedIn.

Freedom of expression and of association have also further deteriorated. For example, in April. the  Supreme Court prohibited the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In January, a Prohibition was declared of planned protests against the decriminalisation of domestic violence against women.

The extent of this repression has few limits. A specific ban was imposed on sharing images of Putin as a gay clown. Putin later signed into law a ban on the (undefined) use of obscene language on media. The Duma, hilariously for some, passed a law prohibiting the use of “excessively original” names for their babies.

The moral purge continued. There is a Ban on anyone under 16 viewing the Disney remake of the fairytale Beauty and the Beast. The new Power Rangers film was given a restrictive 18+ rating. Apparently both these films are gay propaganda. Even cigarette smoking has come under fire. In January, plans were unveiled to institute a total ban on the sale and use of tobacco by 2030. It seems few activities or products are immune from such action. There is even a  full prohibition on wine from Montenegro in retaliation for that country joining NATO.

It’s easy to dismiss some of these actions as absurd,  but the cumulative effect on Russian people is profound and dangerous. For a wider picture of the human rights implications, see the most recent Human Rights Watch report on Russia..