Reporters Without Borders (RSF) supports the complaint that Ferghana, a leading source of Central Asian news coverage, has filed with a Moscow arbitration court challenging the blocking of its website in Russia. The Russian state’s growing control over the Internet is very worrying, RSF says.
The complaint filed by the Ferghana news agency on 11 December accuses Roskomnadzor, the federal agency responsible for communications and media control, of failing to respect the procedure for blocking a site. Russian Internet users have been unable to access Ferghana since 10 October, when it was added to the "blacklist" without warning.
"This act of censorship has increased the pressure on independent media outlets even more," RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk said. "Roskomnadzor’s arbitrary decisions threaten online freedom of expression and trample on the public’s right to news and information, a right guaranteed by the constitution."
The (confidential) list of websites banned by Roskomnadzor keeps on getting longer. According to the tally kept by RosKomSvoboda, an NGO that combats online censorship, the number of websites that have been blocked without respecting legal procedure now exceeds 510,000.
The number of employees at Roskomnadzor has meanwhile grown from 12 in 2012 to more than 2,700 now. Many laws aimed at controlling the Internet and increasing the scope for digital surveillance have been adopted during this period. A law establishing a "sovereign Internet" in Russia took effect on 1 November.
This is far from the first time that a government agency has blocked access to Ferghana. An unusually outspoken and critical media outlet in Central Asia, it is already blocked in several countries including Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. It was unblocked in Uzbekistan in May. And it was blocked in Kyrgyzstan in 2012 and again in 2017.
Russia is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, one place lower than in 2018.