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Kremlin 'Tightening Its Grip' On The Internet Ahead Of Elections, Group Says

Russian police detain a journalist holding a sign that reads "You are afraid of the truth" near the headquarters of the Federal Security Service in Moscow on August 21.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says the Russian state is "tightening its grip" on the Internet, "drastically" restricting freedom of the press and of expression ahead of next month's parliamentary elections.

In a report published on August 31, RSF noted that at least five independent sites had to cease their activity this year, and more media were "arbitrarily" declared "foreign agents" by the authorities, including TV Dozhd, the Latvian-based news portal Meduza, and several investigative sites.

The Russian authorities have also signaled with the expulsion of longtime BBC correspondent Sarah Rainsford earlier this month that "foreign reporters will only be allowed to go about their work unhindered as long as they refrain from criticizing those in power in the Kremlin too strongly," according to the Paris-based media-freedom watchdog.

RSF Germany director Christian Mihr urged democratic governments to "vigorously defend the fundamental right to freedom of expression in their future relations with Russia."

"Without independent media reporting social reality in Russia, the elections lose all their meaning," Mihr said in a statement.

"If political alternatives and social issues are not allowed to be reported and discussed in public, any 'vote' only confirms the distorted perception of the rulers -- instead of reflecting the will of the people."

In its report, RSF said that the Russian authorities can suppress any information going against the official version of events using multiple laws adopted by parliament in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, such as those on "foreign agents" and new regulations on defamation or "fake news."

In addition to repeated attacks on media workers and outfits, RSF said the Kremlin was exerting increasing pressure on social media operators, with Western platforms receiving "huge" fines for failing to localize the storage of personal data of its Russian users or to block content banned by Russia’s media regulator.

Russia ranks 150th out of 180 countries on the RSF 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

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