Online and On All Fronts – Russia’s Assault on Freedom of Expression

18th July 2017

Online and On All Fronts – Russia’s Assault on Freedom of Expression

Since 2012, the Russian authorities have intensified a crackdown on freedom of expression, selectively casting certain kinds of criticism of the government as threats to state security and public stability and introducing significant restrictions to online expression and invasive surveillance of online activity.

While new restrictions on freedom of expression appear to target political opposition or civic groups, they affect all Russians. Curbing free speech denies a voice to anyone dissatisfied with the ongoing economic crisis or even mildly critical of Russia’s foreign policy.

The Russian government’s clampdown on free speech comes as a part of a larger crackdown on civil society, unleashed after the 2011-2012 mass protests and Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in May 2012. Since then, Parliament has adopted numerous laws that limit or can be used to interfere with freedom of speech and information. The authorities have wasted no time in invoking many of these laws. Some of the more recently adopted laws threaten privacy and secure communications on the internet and, in effect, make no digital communication in Russia safe from government interference. Such unchecked surveillance has a stifling effect on freedom of expression online.

Authorities have unjustifiably prosecuted dozens on criminal charges for social media posts, online videos, media articles, and interviews. Today, many Russians are increasingly unsure about what is acceptable speech and what could land them a large fine or prison term.

Report by the Human Rights Watch