Russian Wikipedia goes dark for 24 hours in protest against new laws

Wikipedia's Russian site has gone dark for 24 hours in protest against a new law that could lead to the "extra-judicial censorship of the Internet in Russia," according a message published to accompany the takedown.

The decision to temporarily shut the popular free information portal is being taken in response to proposed amendments to Russia's 'Law on Information,' which is due to be reviewed tomorrow by the country's parliamentary body, the Duma.

An amended bill is thought to enjoy good support in the superpower's political circles, with advocates saying it will increase the government's ability to block harmful sites, such as those that host child pornography, promote teenage suicide, or encourage drug use.

Critics, however, argue that the scope of any revised law would be too wide and that the government's ability to blacklist sites would be subjective. Some opponents ultimately see it as a means to silence elements of society that seek to challenge reigning President Vladimir Putin.

The controversial Mr Putin has held high political office - either the position of President or Prime Minister - since 2000, with some observers claiming that Russia is regressing to authoritarianism as a result of his monopoly on power.

Saying that the proposals could mark the beginnings of widespread government content-filtering akin to the 'Great Firewall of China,' Wikipedia calls on its supporters to raise awareness about the potential misuses of a revised law, and to appeal directly to the Duma.

"These amendments may become the basis for a real censorship on the Internet - generate a list of banned sites and IP-addresses with subsequent filtration," a Google translation of a statement posted on Wikipedia's Russian site reads.

Proponents of the bill claim that content blocking will be overseen by an independent body.

"The Russian bill currently under discussion in parliament seeks to introduce a non-governmental Internet watchdog, which would monitor the Web for potentially harmful content and request hosting companies to restrict access to the marked pages," reports RT.com, an English language Russian news site that receives government funding and is consequently thought by some to demonstrate a pro-Kremlin, anti-Western bias.

The proposals do not enjoy universal support, however, with Russia's Communications Minister, Nikolai Kikiforov, appearing to register his concern via Twitter, calling Wikipedia's takedown protest "an important community response" and "a sign that [the proposals] need to improve."

The Russian Human Rights Council, which advises President Putin, has also suggested that parliamentarians should remove the bill from immediate consideration and instead discuss the changes at hearings open to members of the public.

Wikipedia staged a similar protest against controversial US legislation targeted at the digital arena, shutting down its main site in opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a law it said amounted to a "frightening" censorship effort at the time.

Image source: Global Voices Online