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Court orders YouTube and four other sites blocked over "extremist" content

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns the draconian and disproportionate ruling issued by judge Anna Eisenberg in the Russian far-east city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur on 16 July 2010 ordering local Internet Service Provider RA-RTS Rosnet to block access to video-sharing website YouTube and four other websites from 3 August onwards.

YouTube is to be blocked because of a nationalist video called "Russia for the Russians," which is on a list of extremist content banned by the justice ministry. The other four sites - three online libraries ( http://www.Lib.rus.ec , http://www.Thelib.ru and http://www.Zhurnal.ru ) and http://Web.archives.org , which keeps copies of old or suppressed web pages - are to be blocked for having copies of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf."

"This unilateral decision, blocking entire websites instead of targeting the offending web pages, violates freedom of information and could affect all of Russia's Internet users," Reporters Without Borders said. "Russia's laws on extremism are much criticised because they are used arbitrarily and because they can have such dire consequences as the blocking of independent websites."

The press freedom organisation added: "There are other mechanisms, envisaged in YouTube's user conditions, for obtaining the withdrawal of videos that pose a problem. Why did the prosecutor take this case directly to court? Why didn't he just contact YouTube's moderators or those in charge of the online libraries to request withdrawal of the offending content?"

The head of the Russian ISP, Alexandre Ermakov, said he would appeal against the ruling and would not execute it because, in his view, he did not have the right to restrict access to information in the absence of any violation of the user conditions of the service offered. He added that he proposed several ways for filtering out access to the offending content, without blocking the entire domain name, but the court ignored him.

Describing the ruling as "contrary to the constitution," Google said the content of the "Russia for the Russians" video could have been reported to the YouTube moderator as a violation of the user conditions.

Reporters Without Borders added Russia to its "Countries under surveillance" list in the March 2010 update of its "Enemies of the Internet" report. The Internet became Russia's freest medium for sharing information after the Kremlin brought the broadcast media under control at the start of the Putin era.

But the Internet's independence is being threatened by arrests and prosecutions of bloggers and by the blocking of independent websites on the grounds of "extremist" content. The authorities are also themselves now using the Internet extensively for propaganda purposes.

YouTube has a lot of content, including the Russian president's TV station.

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