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Friday, April 18, 2008

EDITORIAL: Putin's Virtual Iron Curtain


Putin's Virtual Iron Curtain

Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has declared total war on the Russian Internet. If he has his way, Russians will soon be as ignorant of reality as they were in Soviet times.

On April 11th, the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported that "the Prosecutor General's Office has sent in draft amendments to Russia's lower house of Parliament, the State Duma. The text, in part, suggests rigid new standards for holding websites accountable, and asks for increased government control of religious education programs in an effort to fight racist and nationalist crimes."

Just three days later, the blog reported that "officials of Russia's media and communications agency believe that every wireless user must obtain permission and register their Wi-Fi devices before they can go online. The agency, Rossvyazokhrankultura (short for the Russian Mass Media, Communications and Cultural Protection Service), believes that it can lawfully confiscate wireless devices from anyone violating this directive."

We've previously reported on the other aspect of Vladimir Putin's ferocious crackdown on Russia's Internet, the last bastion of free information and opposition politics in Russia -- namely direct physical attacks on the content writers themselves.

The consequences of this crazed, paranoid Stalin-like crackdown are immediately apparent, and totally devastating.

We report today on two stories about how Russia is desperately in need of basic environmental protection reforms. The country is being poisoned, it is not in the top 100 countries of the world for male adult lifespan, and yet the vast majority of its citizens are pathetically unaware of the realities because Putin's government has not only failed to act but has choked off the flow of information on television and in newspapers regarding the crisis.

The last vestigial where those few Russians lucky enough to have regular access could turn to actually find out what is going on around them, and maybe learn how to do something about it, is rapidly being destroyed -- the Internet. Soon, Russians will have no resource whatsoever to tell them about how they are being poisoned -- just as was the case in Soviet times.

And make no mistake: Even now, before the final crackdown has been completed, Russia's pathetic economy, where people work for an average wage of $4 per hour, denies the vast majority of citizens the ability to access the Internet regardless of how free it is. For this reason, it's directly in Putin's interest to keep Russians poor. So it's only a small minority of elites that Putin is now pursuing with his Internet purges -- and yet he understands that empowered by a rich and diverse Internet resource, such people could still be dangerous to him.

How long will it be before we are back in the days of Samizdat, secret meetings in safe houses and passing crude pamphlets in dark corners, whispering about freedom as the secret police listen at every keyhole?

Russians, you have brought a horrible new darkness to the world.

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