By Yulia Berezovskaja, Director General of Grani.ru, an independent online media outlet in Russia
In Russia today the space for public debate and free exchange of information is shrinking so quickly that the thinking part of society does not have time to grasp it. In the words of Russian internet expert Anton Nosik, “we are moving full speed to Pyongyang, bypassing Beijing”.
In record-breaking time, the “pocket parliament”, acting at the Kremlin’s behest, has created impressive tools to combat dissent, and that process is continuing.
One of these powerful weapons is the so-called “Lugovoi Law” which allows for the instant blocking of dissenting (undesirable) websites by an order from the Prosecutor’s Office. It entered into force on 1 February 2014. If earlier censors required that we remove specific materials from the website (for example a photo of a T-shirt with the “Pussy Riot icon”), now they blocked the entire website without any warning, for “incitement to participate in unauthorized actions”.
Our attempt to challenge the decision in court showed once again that Russia’s judicial bodies’ reluctance to uphold human rights and justice.
We understood very well that we would be among the first victims of the unconstitutional “Lugovoi Law.” Grani.ru is a website of civic resistance. Since 2000, we have been giving a voice to dissidents amidst a continuous crackdown on constitutional freedoms. Our reporters created the most complete video documentation of demonstrations calling for the release of political prisoners, freedom of assembly and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people. Today we are the voice of that part of Russian society which strongly condemned Putin’s aggression against our south-western neighbour Ukraine.
Our mission is to bring the Russian resistance into the mainstream. Our columnists, bloggers, and video reporters refuse “to wear a yellow star,” or to be denounced as the “Fifth column”, or “national traitors.”
All recent Russian news is a chronicle of the state’s war against civil society. In this war, one side has a monopoly over propaganda. We aim to give a voice to the other side.
Despite our website being blocked, we still have a core audience in Russia.
Our regular readers have mastered the simple tools allowing them to bypass the authorities’ blocks on our online content. We have seen that Grani.ru is needed and has popular support, and this inspires us to not give up.
Today, large media organizations in Russia have no chance to maintain their independence. Only the more flexible, independent media outlets like Grani.ru can fight for freedom. We are accustomed to working with very scant resources, we cannot be strangled by the hands of an owner doing the state’s bidding (since we are owned by the journalists themselves), there is no way to find compromises in editorial policy with us – we can only be obliterated.
Our colleagues are now scattered and intimidated. But we can still turn the tide. It’s time to start a broad international campaign against censorship in Russia.
The Russian authorities have given a green light to a new crackdown on the freedoms of expression and assembly. According to the new Lugovoi Law, independent online media and other websites can be blocked without a court order if they contain “calls to participate in unauthorized actions”. At least four websites have already fallen victim to this law, including the independent news website Grani.ru.
Please send one of the messages below to the Twitter account of the Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev @MedvedevRussiaE urging him to take steps to ensure that Grani.ru is unblocked. Even though Prime Minister Medvedev does not oversee the activity of the Prosecutor General’s office, he oversees the government body responsible for technical implementation of blocking. Prime Minister Medvedev is also a keen user of Twitter and other social networks.
#SpeakOut Free Internet+Free Media=Free #Russia. Unblock Grani.ru bit.ly/1qSrWG3
#SpeakOut Russia: Keep the news flowing. Unblock Grani.ru bit.ly/1qSrWG3
#SpeakOut Let the news through. Unblock Grani.ru bit.ly/1qSrWG3