NEW YORK—A bill in the Russian Duma this week to ban online anonymizers and VPN services will chill free expression for all Russian netizens and put government critics and human rights advocates at grave risk, PEN America said in a statement today.

The bill, proposed by Russian State Duma Committee on Information Policy, Information Technologies, and Communications, would ban the use of technologies that allow Internet users to access websites blocked in Russia, including secure and anonymous messenger services. Under this proposal, VPN services, proxies, mirror sites, and other anonymizers would be expected to block access to certain websites at the request of the government. Services that don’t comply could be fined up to seven hundred thousand rubles ($12,000 USD) and blocked by Russian ISPs, in effect removing them from the internet.

“Anonymity and security on the internet are important for all netizens, but especially crucial for government critics, dissenters, and human rights advocates working under oppressive regimes,” said Polina Kovaleva, PEN America Free Expression Program Manager for Eurasia. “This bill would further the government’s bid for total control over the internet and all expression in Russia, and should be dropped immediately.”

The bill passed its first of three hearings in the Duma this week and is expected to be signed into law. On Friday, the Federal Security Service (FSB) recommended accelerating the adoption process.

Increased access to the internet has played a significant role in mobilizing Russia’s youth, known as Generation Z, in protest movements against government corruption and other abuses. Authorities have met recent demonstrations with violence and mass arrests.


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