Almost a year ago exactly, the Kremlin’s media watchdog agency, Roskomnadzor, warned a series of news outlets against publishing reports about a protest that took place in Siberia on August 17, 2014. Last weekend, in an appeals case by one newspaper against the government, state censors finally revealed specifically why they banned several news stories last year about the rally in Siberia. According to some reports, Roskomnadzor even falsified some of the evidence it claims against one newspaper, though the court ruled in its favor, anyway.
The demonstration last year was called the “March for the Federalization of Siberia,” and it was the brainchild of a small group of former Nationalist Bolshevik activists, who’d soured on that movement, after leader Eduard Limonov’s “turn to the dark side” on the Ukraine question. (Limonov has supported Russia’s intervention.) The “federalization” march was a push for greater autonomy, focused on allowing Siberia to keep more of its tax revenues for the local government, and promote “regional politics independent from Moscow’s.”
According to the website Ovdinfo.org, which says it monitors “state violence,” the appeals case that wrapped up this past weekend marks the first time Roskomnadzor has explained — even vaguely — what it was in the news reports about the Siberian protest that it found illegal. The newspaper that challenged Roskomnadzor’s ban was The New Times, a liberal publication headed by Yevgenia Albats. (The paper lost its initial trial in January 2015, when a Tver court upheld officials’ decision to censor an article published on August 15, 2014, titled “The Parade of Sovereignties 2.0.”)
In that first trial earlier this year, Roskomnadzor offered no specifics about why it banned The New Times’ report on the protest, though the public did learn that Russia’s Attorney General wasn’t directly responsible for cracking down on The New Times. While the Attorney General is charged with combating extremism and “calls to unsanctioned rallies,” it turns out that Roskomnadzor identified “The Parade of Sovereignties 2.0” on its own, acting on broad advice from prosecutors to ban any media content about “rallies in favor of federalization.”
In the appeals trial, Roskomnadzor finally clarified its position. Ovdinfo.org reports:
In the opinion of Roskomnadzor, the phrases about the fact that people were being called out in Novosibirsk to an unsanctioned rally, and about the fact that [organizers] wanted the march for federalization to occur “along the city’s usual protest route” constituted an [illegal] call to participate in an unsanctioned rally.
Ovdinfo.org also says Roskomnadzor “falsified quotes from the article [in The New Times],” offering to the court as evidence against the newspaper “phrases that do not appear in the text” of its story.
Though Roskomnadzor has been vigilant in its campaign against reports about last summer’s Siberian protest, smaller websites have demonstrated that the government’s censorship campaign is less impressive, when it comes to enforcement. In fact, The New Times’ banned article (which the newspaper deleted from its website after receiving a warning from Roskomnadzor) is still available to Russian Internet users, republished immediately on a site called Free Zone. Last summer, officials sent a warning to Free Zone, too, but the website refused to remove the content. Nevertheless, it’s still accessible in Russia today.
By Kevin Rothrock, Global Voices