Pavel Durov, the founder and director general of the Russian online social network Vkontakte, was summoned to the Saint Petersburg prosecutor’s office today after a spokesman for Vkontakte said it would not censor the network and would not comply with an order from the Federal Security Service (FSB) to block seven groups calling for demonstrations in the next few days.
Most are opposition groups that are protesting against the results of the parliamentary elections. One is a group calling on supporters to defend the ruling party. Vkontakte has more than 5 million users in Russia.
“This unreasonable order aims to deprive Internet users of the freedom of expression, opinion and assembly,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The authorities are using prevention of violence as a pretext for reinforcing control of the Internet. Most of the online groups that the FSB wants to shut down have been clearly urging their members to respect the law and not respond to provocation.”
According to one Russian blogger’s estimate, up to 185,000 people are registered with the protests groups.
As well trying to suppress online protests directly, the Kremlin is using cyber-warfare. Thousands of Twitter accounts have reportedly been flooded with pro-government messages by hackers using hashtags popular with protesters – such as #navalny (referring to a leading opposition blogger) or #триумфальная (Moscow’s Triumfalnaya Square) – in order to swamp the flow of information on social networks.
Journalists and bloggers arrested during Moscow demonstration
Reporters Without Borders condemns yesterday’s arrests of reporters, photographers and bloggers while covering a street protest in Moscow against the results of the previous day’s parliamentary elections and the irregularities that accompanied the polling.
“There was no justification for preventing journalists from covering a political event of this importance.” Reporters Without Borders said. “It was their job to cover it. The media should not have to pay the price of the government’s paranoia. The judicial authorities should immediately release the journalists and bloggers still in police custody.”
Yesterday’s protest by between 5,000 and 10,000 people on Chistye Prudy Boulevard was authorized, but the police used force to disperse them when they began to march towards the Central Electoral Commission’s headquarters.
Around 300 demonstrators were arrested, including the leading opposition blogger Alexey Navalny. Several journalists who were there to cover the protest were also arrested. They included Ilya Barabanov (The New Times), Yevgeny Ershov (Izvestya), Aleksandr Borzenko (Echo of Moscow), Ilya Vasyunin (Dozhd TV), the blogger and photographer Ilya Varlamov and the correspondents of the Reuters and Bloomberg news agencies.
The police released most of the reporters almost immediately after verifying that they were journalists. But Alexey Kamensky, the publisher of the magazine Forbes Russia, is still being held. Like Navalny, he has been charged with refusing to comply with police instructions and is facing the possible of 15 days in detention.
Forbes Russia editor Grigory Punanov told Reporters Without Borders: “The police refuse to tell us when he may be brought before a judge. We demand his immediate release. As a journalist, he had every right to be at the scene of the demonstration. He did not break any law.”
With both the ruling United Russia party and the opposition announcing more demonstrations, the police have been reinforced in Moscow and surrounding areas and special forces have been deployed on the city’s main thoroughfares.
Around 5,000 people have responded to a call on the Russian online social network Vkontakte to demonstrate this evening on Moscow’s Triumfalnaya Square. More disturbances are likely and Reporters Without Borders urges the security forces to act with restraint and to respect the right to news and information.
Read our previous press releases on the Russian elections:
- 05.12.2011: Political debate disrupted by cyber-attacks and arrests
- 30.11.2011: Authorities tighten control of all media in run-up to elections
Pictures: Ekho Moskvy, Yuri Timofeyev (RFE/RL), Ridus