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Harsh climate for free expression in Russia

(CPJ/IFEX) - 7 September 2012 - The following is a CPJ Blog post:

By Nina Ognianova/Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator

Record-high temperatures swept most of Europe this summer, but in Moscow the weather, much like the political climate, was chilly. I spent three months in the capital at the invitation of the Russian Union of Journalists, and witnessed how Vladimir Putin's third term in office kicked off with the passage of restrictive laws, harassment and prosecution of dissent, the jailing of an irreverent punk-rock band, and death threats by a top-ranking official against a prominent editor.

On Sunday, May 6, the day before Putin's inauguration, an estimated 20,000 gathered in downtown Moscow for a march toward Bolotnaya Ploshchad, a square within walking distance of the Kremlin, to protest what they saw as Putin's illegitimate claim on Russia's top office. That day, authorities limited access to Moscow's downtown, closing adjacent metro stations and streets. The explanation? - a scheduled rehearsal of the May 9 Victory Day parade, an annual demonstration of Russia's military might. In the preceding days, opposition activists from Russia's regions reported being prevented from traveling to Moscow to attend the protest. The websites of several independent and pro-opposition media outlets, including the prominent business daily Kommersant, the radio station Ekho Moskvy, and the online television channel Dozhd, all experienced distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks that disabled them on May 6.

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