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Putin Signs Controversial Law Tightening Internet Restrictions

Vladimir Putin signed the new law on July 29. It is due to come into effect on November 1. (file photo)
Vladimir Putin signed the new law on July 29. It is due to come into effect on November 1. (file photo)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed controversial legislation prohibiting the use of Internet proxy services -- including virtual private networks, or VPNs -- and cracking down on the anonymous use of instant messaging services.

The law on proxy services, signed by Putin on July 29 and published by the government on July 30, was promoted by lawmakers who said it is needed to prevent the spread of extremist materials and ideas.

Critics say Putin's government often uses that justification to suppress political dissent.

Almost all of the changes under the law are set to take effect on November 1, months ahead of a March 2018 presidential election in which Putin is widely expected to seek and win a new six-year term.

Under the law, Internet providers will be ordered to block websites that offer VPNs and other proxy services. Russians frequently use such websites to access blocked content by routing connections through servers abroad.

A second law also signed by Putin on July 29 -- and published July 30 -- will require operators of instant messaging services, such as messenger apps, to establish the identity of those using the services by their phone numbers.

This law, set to take effect on January 1, 2018, will also require operators to restrict access to users at the authorities' request if the users are disseminating content deemed illegal in Russia.

Russian authorities in recent years have escalated efforts to prosecute Internet users for online content considered extremist or insulting to religious believers.

In one recent high-profile case, a Russian blogger was convicted of inciting hatred and insulting religious believers' feelings with videos he posted on YouTube -- including one showing him playing Pokemon Go in a church.

The blogger, Ruslan Sokolovsky, was handed a 3 1/2 year suspended sentence that was later reduced by more than a year.

Sokolovsky was also added to an official list of "terrorists and extremists" maintained by Russia's Federal Financial Monitoring Service.

With reporting by RIA-Novosti, TASS, Interfax, Meduza, and AP

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