- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating is associate editor at Foreign Policy and the editor of the Passport blog. He has worked as a researcher, editorial assistant, and deputy Web editor since joining the FP staff in 2007. In addition to being featured in Foreign Policy, his writing has been published by the Washington Post, Newsweek International, Radio Prague, the Center for Defense Information, and Romania's Adevarul newspaper. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN International, C-Span, ABC News, Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC radio, and others. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he studied comparative politics at Oberlin College.
When Russia passed a new internet law billed as a crackdown on online child pornography back in July, critics worried that the law was vague enough that it could be used as a pretext to block political speech. It looks like the first test case for the law may not be anti-Putin agitators, but "The Innocence of Muslims":
MOSCOW, Sept 18 (Reuters) – Access to YouTube across Russia could be blocked under a new law that takes effect on Nov. 1 if the portal does not remove a video mocking the Prophet Mohammad, the country’s communications minister said on Tuesday.[…]
"Because of this video, YouTube could be blocked throughout the territory of Russia," Communications Minister Nikolai Nikiforov, one of the opponents of the new law, wrote in his Twitter microblog. "If a law is passed it should be enforced."
The video does contain discussions of pedophilia by Mohammed’s followers, but it’s not clear if that’s the reason for the ban, as Leonid Bershidsky writes:
Some Internet users in the Chechen Republic joined a three-day boycott of Google and YouTube to protest against The Innocence of Muslims. “We will not allow these devils to insult Muslims,” Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said.
Suddenly, Russia’s new Internet law wasn’t just about children anymore. On September 17, Senator Ruslan Gattarov that the Prosecutor General act against the film, reasoning that The Innocence of Muslims was “no better than child pornography, only this was directed against Muslims.” The Prosecutor General’s Office immediately proclaimed the movie “extremist” and filed suit to ban it. Communications Minister Nikolai Nikiforov tweeted: “This is no joke. Because of this clip, YouTube as a whole could be completely blocked in Russia."
Pakistan and Bangladesh have reportedly blocked access to YouTube because of the video. Google has agreed to block access to the clip itself in India, Indonesia, Libya, and Egypt, to comply with local laws.
Russian courts now have five days to determine whether the video is "extremist," but blocking all of YouTube will seem like a pretty drastic step by Nov. 1, when the furor over the video will, hopefully, have died down. In this case, my money is on Moscow blinking before Mountain View does.
But Nikiforov has also seemingly tipped the government’s hand here: It’s now pretty clear that the new Internet law is about more than just porn.