Transitions Online 05.12.2014
Internet freedom has declined around the world for the fourth consecutive year, with some of the biggest deterioration seen in Ukraine and Russia, according to U.S.-based watchdog group Freedom House.
The annual “Freedom on The Net” survey of 65 countries shows that Internet users in Ukraine and Russia experienced significantly less online freedom between May 2013 and May 2014.
Freedom House ranks countries as free (0-30 points), partly free (31-60 points), or not free (61-100 points).
Russia received 60 points, the worst possible score in the “party free” range and an increase of 11 points since 2009.
Since Vladimir Putin was re-elected president in 2012, critical websites have been blocked, sometimes with no explanation, the report notes. Further, “surveillance and detentions of online activists have increased.” In December 2013, Putin signed a law creating a blacklist of sites that contain “extremist” content or call for unsanctioned public protests.
“One of the more troubling cases of politically motivated prosecution involved Sergei Reznik, a well-known blogger who reported on alleged corruption involving local officials. In November 2013, a court sentenced Reznik to 18 months in a labor camp on charges of bribery, insulting an official, and misleading the authorities,” the report states.
Damir Gainutdinov, co-founder of Russia’s Association of Internet Users and a legal analyst at the Agora human rights group, wrote in May that “everything has changed drastically” in regard to online freedom in Russia the last few years, with security agencies increasingly controlling the Internet.
Ukraine went from “free” to “partly free,” falling from 28 last year to 33 due to violence against journalists and bloggers during the EuroMaidan protests, the consolidation of media ownership into “progovernment hands,” and “extensive evidence of targeted surveillance of media and civil society actors” by the administration of former President Viktor Yanukovych.
Among other countries in TOL’s region, four – Estonia (8), Hungary (24), Georgia (26), and Armenia (28) – were deemed “free.”
Kyrgyzstan (34), Azerbaijan (55), and Kazakhstan (60) were labeled “partly free,” and Belarus (62) and Uzbekistan (79) were judged “not free,” despite a slight improvement in Belarus due to “generally fewer attempts to limit content,” the report says.
Scores worsened over the past year for 36 of the 65 countries surveyed.
Russia and Ukraine ‘hit by worsening Internet freedom’