The Russian-language edition of community-sourced online encyclopedia Wikipedia has made itself temporarily unavailable to users to protest proposed amendments to the Russian information law.
Ru.wikipedia.org appeared on July 10 with a black slash across its main page that said: "Imagine a world without free knowledge."
The website says the amendments to be discussed in the State Duma in the second reading later in the day "could lead to the creation of extrajudicial censorship of the whole Russian-language Internet."
Russian Wikipedia warns the amendments could "prompt the creation of a Russian version of the Great China Firewall," a reference to a system of firewalls, filters, and other obstructions to employed by Beijing in an effort to control the Internet browsing of its citizenry.
The Russian amendments were discussed in a first reading on July 6.
They call for the creation of a federal register that would publish rulings on websites carrying allegedly prohibited information and oblige website owners and providers to close down the offending sites.
The legislation highlights websites carrying child pornography, promoting drug use, and giving advice on suicide.
But ru.wikipedia.org says it believes that there is a high probability that a scenario could develop wherein access to Wikipedia could be blocked all over the country.
The website says Russia already has a law "on protecting children from information that causes harm to their health and development" that was used to promote age certification for material not deemed suitable minors.
"Some countries have similar [regulations] -- countries like China and North Korea," Stanislav Kozlovsky, executive director of Wikimedia Russia and administrator of Wikipedia Russia, said on Dozhd TV in Moscow.
The OSCE representative on freedom of the media, Dunja Mijatovic, also said on July 10 that Russia's plans to set up a new national registry of websites containing allegedly harmful Internet content could restrict Internet freedom.
The changes envisage not only blacklisting websites that contain allegedly harmful content but also introducing additional restrictive measures without court orders or due judicial process.
Moves Against Opposition
In Russia, the Internet plays a crucial role in disseminating opposition views through social-networking sites including Facebook, Twitter, and Live Journal. The Internet is also used to coordinate protests by groups opposed to the continued rule of Russia by President Vladimir Putin and his allies.
The Wikipedia protest comes as State Duma lawmakers are also expected this week to debate legislation that aims to control nongovernmental organizations.
Russia's lower house of parliament gave preliminary approval on July 6 to a law that would brand many rights and campaign groups "foreign agents," a move opponents fear is a further attempt to stifle the anti-Putin movement.
The measure, presented by the president's ruling United Russia party, would tighten controls on nongovernmental organizations that receive foreign funding by forcing them to submit reports on their activities twice a year.
The amendments to the Russian information law and the law on NGOs follow the rapid passage of a law that increased the potential fines for protesters.
They also follow June police raids on the homes of protest organizers, who are accused by authorities of fomenting unrest in connection with protests against Putin's May 7 return to the Kremlin to start his unprecedented third term as president.
With reporting by AFP, ITAR-TASS, and RFE/RL