Russia blocks website of protest monitoring group OVD-Info

Communication watchdog takes action against ‘foreign agent’ OVD-Info as Kremlin crackdown on dissent rumbles on.

OVD-Info was founded a decade ago during the first mass protests against Russian President Vladimir Putin's rule in December 2011 [File: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters]

Russia’s communication watchdog has blocked the website of the prominent protest monitor OVD-Info after a court ruling, according to the group, as Moscow continues to press ahead with a sweeping crackdown on dissent.

OVD-Info – which has, for years, documented anti-Kremlin protests and provides legal support to victims of political persecution – said on Saturday that the Roskomnadzor media regulator had moved to restrict access to its site earlier this week.

“At the moment, we have not received a notice and do not know the reason for being blocked,” the group tweeted.

The move came after a ruling on blocking the site was issued by a court in the Moscow region on December 20, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.

The website currently shows a message saying access to it is restricted on the basis of a federal law on information, information technologies and data protection.

In September this year, Russia declared OVD-Info, which was founded during the first mass protests against President Vladimir Putin’s rule in December 2011, a “foreign agent” in a move critics say is designed to stifle dissent.

Carrying negative Stalin-era connotations, entities or individuals identified as “foreign agents” must accompany all their texts, videos and social media posts with a disclaimer.

Clampdown on independent media, political opposition

Moscow has recently labelled several outlets “foreign agents”, a legal designation used for what authorities say are foreign-funded organisations engaged in political activity.

The designation has been used in particular against journalists, with the justice ministry’s list of individuals and news outlets ballooning from 17 at the start of the year to 103 as of Saturday.

Critics point to a decision by Putin’s most prominent domestic opponent, Alexey Navalny, to return to Russia in January as triggering the clampdown, which has also seen Russia’s opposition dismantled and several media and independent rights organisations banned outright.

The 45-year-old had been in Germany recovering from a near-fatal poisoning attack he blames on Putin – a claim the Kremlin has repeatedly denied.

Navalny was jailed soon after his return home on old fraud charges and has since seen his organisations banned as “extremist” and all of his top allies flee Russia.

Asked about the crackdown on Thursday, Putin said that it was aimed at curbing foreign influence.

“I remind you of what our adversaries have been saying for centuries: Russia cannot be defeated, it can only be destroyed from within,” he told reporters during his annual marathon news conference.

Putin added that it was domestic dissent that brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union 30 years ago this month.

Source: News Agencies