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Russian Duma Backs Legislation Targeting Suspected Online Suicide Groups

Russian authorities say minors are being encouraged to commit suicide by taking part in an online "game" driven by Russian-language hashtags, including "blue whale." (file photo)

Russian lawmakers have given preliminary approval to a bill that that would enable courts to imprison people convicted of using the Internet to encourage minors to commit suicide.

The bill was passed in the second of three votes in the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, on May 24.

The bill would make attracting children younger than 18 to online games deemed to propagate suicide punishable by up to three years in prison.

Persuading children to commit suicide, via the Internet or otherwise, would carry a prison term of up to seven years in prison.

A separate bill, also approved in the second reading, obliges state media regulator Roskomnadzor to inform the Interior Ministry about websites propagating suicide within 24 hours of such websites being found.

The bills are a response to concerns about a shadowy phenomenon known as Blue Whale.

Authorities in Russia and other former Soviet republics say teenagers and younger children are being encouraged to commit suicide through participation in an online "game" driven by Russian-language hashtags, including "blue whale."

Critics of such legislation say no deaths in the region have been definitively tied to Blue Whale.

They contend that officials should be tackling factors that drive young people's interest in such games rather than tightening government control over the Internet.

With reporting by TASS and Interfax
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