A human rights organization that monitors web-censorship and pirate site blockades in Russia has been ordered to be blocked by a local court. After a legal challenge failed to convince prosecutors, RuBlacklist was advised this week that it has just three days left before local Internet service providers block the site .
When it comes to blocking websites, Russia is becoming somewhat of a world leader. Although not in the same league as China, the country blocks thousands of websites on grounds ranging from copyright infringement to the publication of extremist material, suicide discussion and the promotion of illegal drugs.
The scale of the censorship is closely monitored by local website Roscomsvoboda. More commonly recognized by its Western-friendly URL RuBlacklist.net, the project advocates freedom on the Internet, monitors and publishes data on blockades, and provides assistance to Internet users and site operators who are wrongfully subjected to restrictions.
Sadly, however, the website’s work has now become the source of its own problems. By this weekend and like thousands of other sites before it, RuBlacklist will become blocked by the very government mechanism it aims to expose.
The imminent blocking became apparent on Wednesday when RuBlacklist’s webhost was advised by government telecoms watchdog Roskomnadzor that a URL on the monitoring group’s website had been placed on Russia’s banned websites register.
The URL in question, rublacklist.net/bypass/, offers advice and information on how Russian citizens can use VPNs, proxies, TOR and The Pirate Bay’s Pirate Browser to circumvent blockades.
This advice appears to have irked authorities, prompting a court process against the site that began in the first half of 2015. However, while the courts want the circumvention advice URL banned, it is standard practice in Russia to block URLs and IP addresses, meaning that RuBlocklist will be blocked in its entirety.
Nevertheless, RuBlocklist are not giving up. Last year the group filed an appeal with the Krasnodar Regional Court which did discuss the case but notably without representatives from the site being present. That effort failed so now the site will push forward again, all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.
“We have collected a number of expert opinions, including from representatives of government agencies and industry organizations, which explain that the information we distribute on [the URL in question] cannot be banned in Russia and does not violate the current legislation of our country,” the site explains.
RuBlacklist says they’re convinced that the information they disseminate via their resource is not only in compliance with the laws of Russia, but also in the public interest.
“All the information that we publish is socially important. We conduct an open monitoring of the legislation regulating the sphere of the Internet, information technology, media, and the media, follow the practice of its enforcement and publish relevant news. We also publish analytical, statistical and expert materials into the public domain for free distribution,” RuBlacklist continues.
“In addition, our team provides legal assistance to Internet users, website owners, bloggers and journalists, who believe that their rights have been violated in the Internet space.”
While RuBlacklist being blocked is somewhat ironic in itself, their situation is drawing attention to the very issues at the core of the site’s mission. According to the site around 96% of the sites currently blocked in Russia are victims of blanket IP address blocking, something the site itself will now be subjected to.
“Perhaps [the blocking of RuBlacklist] is even a good thing, if we are able through the higher courts to confirm the right of any Internet resource to inform Internet users of the methods they can use to restore their constitutional rights in the network space,” the site says.
“However, this will only happen if the court makes a fair decision based on the laws of the Russian Federation, and not the private opinion of the local prosecutor, who we would advise to take a closer look at the relevant regulations governing the online space.”
Only time will tell whether RuBlacklist will be able to continue its mission as before but in the meantime the project’s cause will receive much-needed attention, even if the site itself will only be available via proxy.