Пресс-релизы:Wikipedia Blocking

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On August 25, 2015 Wikipedia was blocked in Russia for several hours. It caused enormous public outcry. Hereby Wikimedia RU offers a description of its understanding concerning this. The comment consists of two parts i.e. a common position on the attempts to censor Wikipedia all around the world and an opinion on the situation with the "Charas" article and Wikipedia facing the possibility of being blocked in Russia.

Common position on attempts to censor Wikipedia[править]

Our general position is that Wikipedia is but a mirror, which reflects the encyclopedic knowledge, accumulated by mankind in the form of open reputable publications and resources materials (not just those placed on the Internet, but necessarily publicly available and those considered authoritative in their category). Wikipedia does not assume responsibility for creating new knowledge or trying to distinguish the "right" from the "wrong" – in this matter Wikipedia relies entirely on the sources. If reputable sources - academic, governmental, international, news and the like - contain information that meets the encyclopedic format, this information get considered as worth presenting to the readers.

We believe that the position of the Russian legislator is similar – not the dissemination of whatever information as such is prohibited, but only a distribution that includes the promotion of harmful acts or other unfair actions.

Wikipedia is an international project, managed by the international community of authors. All the language versions of Wikipedia apply to the entire world; it is not divided according to whatever territories or jurisdictions. Knowledge is universal, regardless of the language in which it is expressed.

That is why Wikipedia cannot and will not meet the censorship requirements in individual countries. Wherever they occur, and whatever the motivation is – religion, politics, state or private interests – in either China or Uzbekistan, the UK or Iran, Pakistan or France, Germany or Saudi Arabia, the Wikipedia community has always reacted the same way – refusing to comply with whatever censorship requirements beyond the rules of Wikipedia and improving the articles in accordance with its rules. It's exactly the same work that the community is constantly and continuously doing: improvement and correction caused by error reports no matter who is the author of a given report – an anonymous user, the press or public authorities; although, of course, the more attention is attracted by such reports, the more users notice the situation, and the faster goes the work.

Wikipedia cannot be ethically blamed: no one has ever reliably shown that accurate encyclopedic information on drugs increases the total number of consumers. At least, we have not heard about a scientific research having produced such results, and in fact there is no doubt that if such work existed, it would be widely known. But the problems with the concealment of information are known: people are becoming more vulnerable to deception; they do not trust the official propaganda, but get more susceptible to fraud on behalf of drug dealers. It is also known that the level of drug abuse among low-educated people is the biggest problem.

Wikipedia is a non-political project, its goal is to collect, manage and disseminate encyclopedic knowledge, to make it available to all the mankind. And the Wikimedia community is going to do it, whatever horrible things may occur in the world.

Specific position concerning the "Charas" article[править]

Most popular Russian Wikipedia Articles on 2015-08-25. Article «Чарас (наркотическое вещество)» (Charas, narcotic substance) is highlighted. It became the second popular article due to the Streisand effect.
Statistics of views of article «Чарас» (Charas) in Russian Wikipedia on 2015-08-25. Levels of popularity of the article before and after the announcement of its blocking, at the time of its blocking and after unblocking are marked.


In order to clarify the position concerning the situation with "Charas" and blocked access to Wikipedia in Russia, one must make a glance at the history of the establishment of Russia's technical and administrative site-blocking infrastructure. On July 28, 2012, there came to exist the so-called Federal Law № 139-FZ, which involved a filtration of Internet resources according to the "black list" and block forbidden Internet -resources (as a whole or individual pages) which was deemed to protect children from the information harmful to their health and development.

The adoption of the law was accompanied by an outrage in the Internet community. The experts, including the representatives of Wikimedia RU, stated that the law allowed a too broad interpretation, and did not introduce adequate mechanisms as to protect the interests of the society against excessive use and the collateral damage coming from blocking mechanism, and that its scope of application would inevitably expand with the time. The new law was adopted shortly: the first reading took place on July 6, followed by the second and third (final) readings already on July 11. In fact, the Russian society did not have a chance to be heard, but on July 10 it still managed to hold a protest action against Internet censorship, initiated by the Russian Wikipedia and supported by a number of major online resources.

In response, the proponents of the law publicly and repeatedly stated that the law would not infringe projects like Wikipedia in any circumstances, as it was solely directed against resources wishfully promoting actions illegal or harmful to children's health, and not against the dissemination of academic sources.

Such logic was set forth in the discussion of the draft law by its legislators, and, if based on public statements, it was adopted by the State Duma in view of this logic and was approved by the Federation Council and the President. If, in the course of the adoption of the law, it was stated that there was a plan to censor not only explicitly harmful sites, but academic sources as well, it seems, the public outcry would have been much stronger, and the law would not have likely been adopted at all.

From the point of view of legal technique, the aims pursued by the legislator with the introduction of the law, are very important when interpreting the latter. No one can write a law so that it can always be interpreted but in a very straightforward manner. When applying a law, courts and public authorities should consider the goals the legislator was pursuing, and thus base their decision not on the literal reading of the text, mind those initial goals.

Also, from the point of view of legal technique, it is important for the law interpretation to correspond as closely as possible to the existing social and legal system. With this approach, the information from the documents of the United Nations - a body in which Russia is a key member - cannot be regarded as promoting illegal activities.

The logic, declared by the legislator, was respected long enough: since the adoption of the law, Roscomnadzor filed 30 complaints. The reaction of the community of the authors of Wikipedia was always the same - to shift their attention to the articles in question, and to carefully edit them so that the information used would come from reputable sources only. Accordingly, in 26 cases out of 30 the claims were withdrawn.

In the case of the article "Charas", it was the first time when the claims from Roskomnadzor were raised not on the complaints of a specialized governmental services, regulated internally, but on the basis of a court ruling; the failure to enforce it would cause criminal prosecution. There were earlier court hearings. On December 4, 2012 the Orel District Court dismissed the Orel Prosecutor’s request to block Wikipedia. In October 2013 the court dismissed the request to block Wikipedia from the prosecutor of the city of Kulebaki of Nizhny Novgorod Region, he tried to challenge the court's decision, but surrendered after an outrage in the press. A request to block Wikipedia The Khabarovsk Regional Court complied with the request to block the Wikipedia, coming from the prosecutor of Vyazemsky District of Khabarovsk Region, on February 5, 2014, but that decision was appealed by Rostelecom and finally overruled. Thus, in the previous cases the defense mechanisms in the legal system of the Russian Federation worked.

This time the situation passed to the final stage: on June 25, 2015 Chernoyarsky Regional Court of Astrakhan region ruled to satisfy the requirements of the prosecutor's office of Chernoyarsky District. On August 18 Wikimedia RU received an order to remove the article. This attracted the attention of the authors of the article, and as a result it has been significantly improved, so that the July 24 version was entirely based on academic sources (and besides, it was renamed because it turned out that there are a lot of things, bearing the same name). Characteristically, if earlier the article attracted a miserly amount of readers (two or three dozen), the day after the information about the threat of blocking Wikipedia appeared in the press, the article, according to the internal statistics, was read by a hundred thousand people, the vast majority of which most likely, previously hadn't ever heard about the existence of charas.

As described above, for Wikipedia being blocked in a particular country is better than censoring the already published encyclopedic information. In addition, in this case, the article "Charas" and "Charas (drug substance)," at least in the updated form do not violate the laws of the Russian Federation in its correct interpretation, taking into account the clearly expressed goal of the legislator and the public interests.

We believe that there is evidence of violations of the procedural law: none of the Wikimedia organization had been notified about the upcoming trial, despite the fact that the decision affects the interests of the Wikimedia. The decision contains no references to the expertise necessary in such a case. According to the text of the decision, the prosecutor's examination was made in the form recognized in the Decision of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation of 01.17.2015, № 2-P as unconstitutional. We could proceed with the critics regarding the actions of the prosecutor's office and the court decision,

Deleting the article under such circumstances would be against the principles of the project. Therefore the community decided to prepare to the blocking of Wikipedia; a manual about bypassing the block was provided to the readers and the authors of Wikipedia.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that the content of the article since the consideration of its court got seriously changed, and the page specified by the court now contained a simple list of words with brief explanations, on August 24, in the last minutes before midnight, Wikipedia was included in the register transmitted to the Internet service providers, and in less than an hour, the messages about problems with access to Wikipedia in Russia began to appear, and their number multiplied during the following morning.

That same morning, at about 7 o'clock, Wikipedia was removed from the register, and Roskomnadzor a bit later issued an official statement in which it said that the experts of the Federal Drug Control Service haven't found violations in the new version of the Article – which confirmed the position that we have consistently articulated in public and brought to Roskomnadzor.

Prospects[править]

At this time, all ended well for the residents of Russia, they are not left without access to the most extensive encyclopedia. But to make sure it will not happen again, there's a need for a more advanced procedure for the adoption and implementation of decisions.

For example, in the case of the "Charas" article, regardless of whether or not the qualification of the version of the article, considered by the court, correlates with the Russian laws, it is clear that if the prosecutor's office had sent the protocol of examination to Wikimedia, the article would have been improved in the same way by the community, and neither the Russian Federation nor its agencies would have suffered reputational costs, the nerves of a lot of citizens would be spared, and the state budget would have stayed untouched. There would not be completely surprising disparities slots - between the prosecutor's check and provision of the information to the community passed two and a half months before, but Wikipedia given less than a week for the analysis of the situation and the elimination of possible problems, with no right to appeal.

On September 15, 2015 the Code of Administrative Proceedings of the Russian Federation shall come into force, relieving the most severe issues. However, for such a dynamic area as communications and the Internet, it seems desirable to have an even finer tuning. Wikimedia RU is ready to engage in constructive dialogue with legislators and law enforcers and to promote the improvement of legislation in this area. Especially considering that we already have the positive experience of expert assistance to legislators: during three years Wikimedia RU worked with the state to develop amendments to the fourth part of the Civil Code and contributed to the emergence of the Civil Code on the freedom of panorama and free (open) licenses.