Russia Briefly Bans Wikipedia Over Hashish Article

Russia Briefly Bans Wikipedia Over Hashish Article
WikiImages / Pixabay

Russia’s watchdog has cancelled a ban of the Russian version of Wikipedia, which lasted only a few hours.

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The watchdog – Roskomnadzor – started sending out messages to Russian Internet providers on Monday, ordering them to ban the access to Wikipedia in the entire country.

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Wikipedia has come under the attack from Russian authorities after a court in a Russian village called Chyorny Yar with the population of less than 8,000 people ruled that Wikipedia’s page on ‘charas’ – a variety of hashish cannabis made from the resin of the cannabis plant – contained banned content.

A prosecutor in the village did not like Wikipedia’s page on charas, but the reason why this particular village picked a fight with Wikipedia is unknown. One thing is certain: the village itself has no reported major issues with drug abuse, nor does it have cannabis fields.

The Wikipedia’s page defines charas as “hashish form of cannabis which is handmade in India, Lebanon, Pakistan, Nepal and Jamaica.” There is no mention of Chyorny Yar or any other Russian village.

A court in the village endorsed the prosecutor’s order to delete the page on charas from Wikipedia back in June. Roskomnadzor reviewed the ruling of the court and ordered the online encyclopedia to remove the Russian-language page.

Wikipedia refused to comply with the order. And because the Russian version of Wiki uses the secure HTTPS protocol, which means individual pages cannot be banned, Roskomnadzor had to order to ban the entire website.

However, the watchdog lifted the ban early Tuesday morning, explaining that the content of the page had been edited and now complying with Chyorny Yar’s court ruling.

Russia does NOT like growing magic mushrooms

As explained by Roskomnadzor, the charas page violated Russian rules regulating inappropriate content. The strict rules are a part of Russia’s Internet censorship, which continues tightening its grip on Russian content creators.

Wikimedia, the parent company of the website, said that “censorship of Wikipedia content runs contrary to the Wikimedia vision: a world in which everyone can freely access the sum of all knowledge.”

Earlier this month, Russia banned Reddit over a thread that contained tips on how to grow ‘magic’ psilocybin mushrooms. Just like Wikipedia, Reddit uses the HTTPS protocol and was banned only briefly.

In 2014, Russian officials made claims that the country would create its own version of online encyclopedia instead of Wikipedia, on which, they said, people were getting wrong information about Russia.

Roskomnadzor has been under the spotlight for its repeated attempts to put pressure on websites and blog that were not ‘complying’ with Russia’s law. In particular, the watchdog has banned websites and blogs of major Russian opposition figures such as Alexei Navalny, who was placed under house arrest in February 2014.

Russia’s history of Internet censorship

Roskomnadzor also has a long history with Wikipedia. The agency has repeatedly demanded that the website deleted pages. Nearly 50 Wikipedia pages on drugs and suicide have been put in the list of banned pages since 2012. However, Roskomnadzor eventually removed all but four of the pages from the list.

Wikipedia, which never deleted any of the pages ordered to be deleted by the watchdog, has always attempted to engaged in a dialogue with Russian authorities, but the dialogues becomes more and more difficult.

However, it must be noted that it is the first time that the Russian government have asked Russian Internet providers to ban a Wikipedia page.

In 2012, Wikipedia launched a protest over a legislation that empowered Russian authorities to block access to websites without court orders, by shutting down for 24 hours in the entire country.

Tens of thousands of web pages have been put in the list of banned pages since the law was put in place. Roskomnadzor explained that most of the banned pages contained content about drugs, suicide, pornography or the propaganda of homosexuality – all of which Russian authorities consider to be harmful to minors.

Besides, Roskomnadzor has been actively targeting websites or blogs that contain ‘extremist’ content and call for mass meetings not approved by the Russian government. In particular, it is one of the ways Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime tightens its grip on Russian opposition, not allowing it to express an opinion different from the Kremlin’s.

Russians support the ban of Wikipedia

Wikipedia – as well as other websites and blogs – have noted that the strict legislation was written very vaguely, which allows Russian authorities to blacklist web pages under minor pretexts.

Tight Internet censorship has always been a part of the Putin’s regime. One of the rules, which have often been described as ‘dictatorship rules’, obliges bloggers and websites with over 3,000 daily readers to register with the government.

The Russian LGBT propaganda law, signed into law by Putin on 30 June 2013, which bans ‘homosexual propaganda’ from being posted online, triggered a round of tensions between Russia and the West.

Blocking access to Wikipedia is a yet another grip-tightening move, and it seems like it will not be the last. However, Russian people seem to be okay with it.

A poll published in early August found that three-fifths of Russians would support shutting off the Internet in case of a ‘national emergency’.

The poll published by Russia’s VTsIOM found that 58 percent of Russians would support shutting off the Internet, while 49 percent support censorship in the Internet.

The research by VTsIOM also found that almost half of the Russian population – 42 percent – regularly use the Internet, while 38 percent stay away from the Internet.

42 percent of respondents also agreed that foreign governments are using the Internet ‘against Russia and its interests’, while 45 percent of Russians said they would support the idea of banning foreign media outlets’ websites.

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Polina Tikhonova is a writer, journalist and a certified translator. Over the past 7 years, she has worked for a wide variety of top European, American, Russian, and Ukrainian media outlets. Polina holds a Master's Degree in English Philology from the University of Oxford and a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism from the Saint Petersburg State University. Her articles and news reports have been published by many newspapers, magazines, journals, blogs and online media sources across the globe. Polina is fluent in English, German, Ukrainian and Russian.
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