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Russian President Vladimir Putin has gradually cracked down on web freedoms in Russia over the past decade. (file photo)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for the Internet in Russia to be bound by "moral laws" that he says will stop society from "collapsing" -- suggesting that Russian children are being exploited by his political opponents at anti-Kremlin demonstrations.

Putin's televised remarks on March 4 come amid mounting efforts by Moscow to exert greater influence over U.S. social media giants and frustration from Russian authorities over what they say is the failure of U.S. social media firms to follow Russian laws.

As tens of thousands of Russians demonstrated across Russia to protest the jailing of Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny, Moscow accused U.S. social networks of failing to take down what it says are fake posts about anti-Kremlin demonstrations.

In December, the State Duma, the parliament's lower house, backed substantial new fines on platforms that fail to delete banned content and a separate bill that would allow U.S. social media giants to be restricted if they "discriminate" against Russian media.

Russian authorities have also accused Putin's political opponents in Russia of getting children to take part in unsanctioned opposition protests.

"We encounter [online] child pornography, child prostitution, and drug dealing where it is precisely children and teenagers who are the target audience," Putin said.

He accused the organizers of anti-government demonstrations of bringing children "out onto the street to be hooligans" who "fight with the police, and then hiding behind the children, actually putting them in front."

But Russian opposition leaders say that is a false and deliberate smear tactic.

The remarks by Putin, who has gradually cracked down on web freedoms in Russia over the past decade, appear to signal another effort to restrict the Internet even further in the face of a new wave of dissent following the August poisoning and subsequent imprisonment of Navalny.

With reporting by Reuters and Interfax
RFE / RL's Tajik Service reporters attacked in Dushanbe
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DUSHANBE -- Two correspondents from RFE/RL's Tajik service have been attacked in the capital, Dushanbe, while preparing a report on gasoline price hikes.

Shahlo Abdullo and Mullorajab Yusufi were assaulted on March 4 as they interviewed a driver at a gas station.

"The attack on two of our reporters in Tajikistan who were only doing their jobs is absolutely unacceptable," RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said.

"We expect Tajik police to fully investigate this incident and make sure the rights of journalists to report openly and without obstruction is protected now and in the future," he added.

The two correspondents said an employee of the gas station approached and demanded they stop the interview. The employee then pushed Abdullo while trying to cover the lens of her video camera.

As Yusufi intervened while filming the incident with his mobile phone, the attacker assaulted him while saying that the journalists had no right to film on the property without written permission from the company.

Yusufi denied they were filming on the company’s land, saying they were only talking with several drivers who complained about an abrupt increase in the price of gasoline in the Central Asian nation.

Yusufi was treated by a doctor for minor facial injuries.

Investigators at Dushanbe's Sino district police department launched a preliminary investigation into the incident after the two journalists filed a complaint.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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