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article imageRussia puts the squeeze on independent media, freedom of speech

By Karen Graham     Mar 14, 2014 in World
A very real fear of censorship has now taken hold in Russia after the federal media watchdog ordered the closing of several major opposition-leaning news sites, as well as the internet sites of prominent Kremlin foes Alexei Navalny and Garry Kasparov.
The moves on Thursday followed the appointment of a pro-Kremlin editor-in-chief at Lenta.ru, a popular independent web site. Analysts say this latest evidence is proof of a crackdown on the Internet, a lone voice for those with dissenting views, in a nation where the government controls the airways.
A new law that allows authorities to restrict access to Web pages without court authorization was signed by President Vladimir Putin in December, 2013, and put into effect on February 1, of this year. Russia used this law to block access to the Internet sites of popular Kremlin foes Alexei Navalny and Garry Kasparov, as well as two other sites, grani.ru and ej.ru.
Navalny's Internet site was blocked late on Thursday because authorities said it was being written in violation of the conditions of the politician's house-arrest, which state he is not allowed to use the Internet. The opposition leader contends he has written his messages on paper, and they have subsequently been posted online by employees of his Anti-Corruption Fund.
Major cable providers have also dropped Dozhd, Russia's leading independent television channel, and under what is assumed to be the orchestration of the Kremlin, have made changes in the editorial policies of other media outlets. Some analysts are saying that taking control of the media is due to "fears of developments similar to the Ukrainian revolution and a lack of economic incentives for boosting support of the government."
Most authorities agree that the volatile situation in Ukraine is the driving force behind the shut-down of Internet sites and radio and television channels not pro-Kremlin in their views. The move to tighten control over Russian society by Putin is seen as his response to growing concerns over sanctions by the U.S. and the European Union.
News will get out of Russia, and it is almost impossible to silence everyone, as shown by messages still getting on the airways. "This is the latest political decision taken as part of the cleansing of the media space," Navalny's spokeswoman Anna Veduta said on Twitter. Another Twitter user called it "Black Thursday."
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