- The Washington Times - Friday, March 31, 2017

The Russian government on Friday ordered its media watchdog to censor websites advertising nationwide demonstrations scheduled for this weekend on the heels of last Sunday’s historic anti-corruption protests.

Viktor Grin, Russia’s deputy prosecutor general, sent a letter to the watchdog, Roskomnadzor, on Friday, requesting it block access to five particular websites that are “calling for participation in mass (public) events on April 2, 2017 on Red Square in Moscow and in all other major cities of the Russian Federation.”

The targeted sites include two YouTube videos, a LiveJournal posting and two pages hosted on VKontakte, or VK, a Russian social network, each containing details concerning unsanctioned rallies scheduled to take place this Sunday.

A spokesperson for Roskomnadzor on Friday acknowledged receiving a request from the prosecutor general’s office to block websites hosting “illegal information about an unauthorized mass event,” Russia’s TASS news wire reported.

The internet watchdog will outright block access to the websites if the offending content isn’t removed within the day, Roskomnadzor spokesman Vadim Ampelonsky told TASS.

Controversial anti-protest laws make it a crime to hold unauthorized rallies in Russia, but officials expect demonstrators will swarm the streets on Sunday in the aftermath of nationwide anti-corruption protests waged last week across the country against the government in Moscow, particularly Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Roughly 1,000 individuals were arrested in Moscow alone last Sunday, including Alexei Navalny, a leading opposition activist and potential presidential hopeful.

The two VK pages deemed illegal by Russian authorities include that of a group, “We Demand Systemic Changes in the Country,” and the profile of an organizer, Viktoria Potapova, a 21-year old from Moscow.

Also ordered blocked are a YouTube video, “‘Young people of Moscow’ Are Gathering for a Rally on Red Square to Demand that Medvedev Resign,” a LiveJournal post promoting the clip and a second video, “Will There Be a Rally or a Picket on Red Square on April 2, 2017?”

“The organizer of a public event is not entitled to carry out a public demonstration without notifying the appropriate authorities,” a spokesperson for the General Prosecutor’s Office told the Interfax news agency.

Nonetheless, Moscow police warned Friday that it’ll “take all necessary measures” to ensure the safety of residents and visitors in anticipation of this weekend’s expected second round of protest.

The U.S. State Department condemned Russia for arresting peaceful protesters last week, with spokesman Mark Toner calling law enforcement’s actions “an affront to core democratic values.”

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

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