Russian Bloggers against Authoritarian Regime–Discussion in US Helsinki Commission
A briefing was held last Thursday in the US Helsinki Commission (officially named the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe) dedicated to the use of microblogs and new media to promote freedom in authoritarian countries. A lot was said about Russia, and I’ll just cite Daniel Calingaert of Freedom House, who referred to a few recent examples of how we utilized Web 2.0 to spread information about electoral fraud:
Citizens in the former Soviet Union have used new media to assert their rights and to challenge abuses of power. In Russia, for example, the Internet was the primary means for drawing attention to fraud in this month’s local elections. When observers in the Moscow district of Zyablikovo found a group of individuals hired to vote for United Russia multiple times, they used Twitter and Livejournal blogs to spread the news immediately and to publish photos of the violators.
A member of that district’s electoral commission, [Andrey Klyukin] gave an online interview to describe in detail the plan behind this fraud. The interview was widely viewed on Russian YouTube and covered by several traditional media outlets. Another group of observers published video footage of a polling-station chairman in the city of Azov as he tried to mix fraudulent ballots which had already been filled in for United Russia with legitimate ballots. This video became a hit in the Russian blogosphere and prompted a criminal investigation of the polling-station chairman. Digital media spread the news of voter fraud in Russia’s local elections and contributed to a real-world response. The news triggered a public demonstration on October 12th
in Moscow’s Pushkin Square and prompted all three opposition parties to walk out of Parliament in protest.
Authoratian governments are aware of the threat that new media pose to them and they use a wide arsenal to silent online criticism, Mr Calingaert continues:
Authoritarian regimes in the former Soviet republics and elsewhere continue to repress their citizens, and this repression extends to digital media. In Russia, for example, Internet freedom has declined significantly in recent years, as bloggers have become subject to hacker attacks, legal prosecution and physical violence. Although there is no technical filtering in Russia, officials often make phone calls to pressure web hosts or Internet service providers to remove unwanted content. The director of a leading hosting company, Master Host, admitted that his company gets about 100 requests a day to remove content from inconvenient – so-called “inconvenient” Web sites.