- The Washington Times - Friday, August 21, 2015

The Kremlin says it will ban Wikipedia within Russia unless the website blocks access to an article about drugs. The warning from Roskomnadzor, the government’s online regulator, comes weeks after similar threats were made over content on Reddit and YouTube.

Roskomnadzor said through one of its social media accounts on Thursday that Wikipedia’s administrators had been warned over a page on “how to prepare narcotic-containing substances” that had been deemed illegal by the District Court of Astrakhan on June 25.

Specifically, the offending page is an article on charas, a type of cannabis, according to Meduza, a primarily Russian-language news portal that often posts content in English critical of the policies of President Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin’s increasingly strict censorship laws have sought to keep Russians from being able to access pages dealing with topics ranging from drugs to dissent in recent years.

Earlier this month the entirety of Reddit, one of the most popular websites in the world, was briefly banned because its administrators did not immediately heed calls to block access to a single, two-year-old post on hallucinogenic mushrooms that ran afoul of Internet regulators.

In the case of Reddit, Roskomnadzor said that the website had to take action to block Internet users in Russia from accessing the lone page deemed unlawful. But because of the nature of HTTPS, the secure protocol many sites use to encrypt traffic, selective filtering becomes problematic for Internet Service Providers that find themselves ordered by Moscow to block access to only certain pages within a single domain.

“In the event that [Wikipedia] refuses to comply with the court’s ruling, Roskomnadzor will block the webpage on Russian territory using the registry of illegal information,” Roskomnadzor stated this week. “In this case, insofar as Wikipedia has decided to function on the basis of https, which doesn’t allow restricting access to individual pages on its site, the entire website would be blocked.”

When Reddit did not outright delete the mushroom post, all of the site was briefly blocked by Russian ISPs until arrangements were made to restrict access to the lone page.

Weeks earlier, YouTube was told that the Web addresses of videos containing copyright-protected material had been nominated for the blacklist and that all of the site could expect to become blocked if the infringing content wasn’t purged before the ban went into effect.

“We believe that the owners and administrators of [Wikipedia] will take a constructive and only correct position with respect to the decision of the court, and illegal content will be removed,” Roskomnadzor said Thursday. In a follow-up, the censors said that Wikipedia’s failure to act “jeopardizes the interests of many members of the Russian version of the site,” according to an online translation.

In a further post, “to clarify the tough stance of state bodies in relation to drugs and drug addiction,” Roskomnadzor claimed that roughly 50,000 Russians under the age of 35 die each year from drug-related causes, and that 80 percent of all thefts nationwide are committed by drug addicts.

Internet users can use the Tor Browser or Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to route their traffic through other nations in order to often bypass regional restrictions. 

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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