Google Will Censor Film After Russia Threatened YouTube Ban


Russia’s new blacklist law threatens widespread censorship. Image credit ~si via Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Google said it would obey a pending court order to censor access in Russia to a controversial anti-Islamic film clip posted on YouTube, after Russian politicians threatened to completely block access to the website using a new media blacklist law (ru).

Internet service providers in Chechnya, where there is a large Muslim population, blocked access to YouTube in response to the controversial film clip of “Innocence of Muslims.” A court reviewing the legality of the block ruled the film was extremist, which under Russian law could potentially extend the ban nationwide. For updates, check Google’s Russian Office blog.

The ban was upheld because the film could cause destabilization of the political situation in the region with a significant Muslim population, stated Murat Tagiyev, Chechnya’s Minister of National Policy, Press and Information.

“The film tells the story of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions in a distorted and insulting manner,” said Tagiyev. “Therefore, we turned to the Leninsky district court to recognize this movie as extremist with the potential for inflaming sectarian and ethnic hatred on religious grounds.”

Communications Minister Nikolai Nikiforov had threatened to shut down YouTube if the anti-Islam film were not censored in Russia. Nikiforv advocated using the law passed in July with its stated intent to protect against child pornography and censor content deemed inappropriate for children.

This proposal to block YouTube was the most dramatic test of the nation’s new law, which takes effect on Nov. 1. Senator Ruslan Gattarov of the pro-Kremlin United Russia Party also called for censorship of the film, according to Voice of America.

“Content that is insulting to the people, of low quality, that is simply gaudy and which may be considered similar to pedophilia, should not be present on the Web, let alone on such big portals as YouTube,” he said.

Free speech advocates are concerned that use of the new law might become an extension of President Vladimir Putin’s recent crackdown against government critics using means that include restrictions on Internet freedom.

A ban on YouTube would severely damage free expression in Russia, where media is very influenced by the government. Another video website, Ustream has been an incredibly useful tool for Russian activists to spread information about protests, for instance. Websites hosting content criticizing the government are already hit with distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks that slow access to keep people from using them.

The law could be a tool to block websites of activists or independent media that are interpreted to be linked with content such as child pornography, drugs, instructions about suicide or other information affecting health and development of children.

Targets of the censorship under the law intended to protect children include children’s cartoons such as Soviet-era “Tom and Jerry” analogue “Nu, Pogodi,” or even “The Simpsons,” because they were deemed too violent.

In the Freedom on the Net 2012 report released last week by free speech advocacy group Freedom House, Russia was listed as among the nations considered “particularly vulnerable to deterioration in the coming months.”

For background on nations where Google censored the video or where governments blocked YouTube, see the Netizen Report: You Tube Edition

Access to YouTube was limited on Sept. 27 in the North Caucuses region, after protests against the film were reported in the region and in Ukraine’s Crimea republic.

Russian telecom Rostelecom also blocked YouTube access temporarily to the Omsk region, which includes Siberia, which the company claimed was because illegal content had been posted on YouTube. The prosecutor’s office for the Omsk region urged Rostelecom to block the anti-Islam film, in a statement which was published on the telecom’s website signed by the acting Omsk region prosecutor stating “free access to (YouTube) may result in the dissemination of extremist ideas in the region, as well as extremist crimes.”

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