- New laws passed by Vladimir Putin will make it illegal to spread “fake news” and other content that is considered disrespectful to the Russian government.
- The passage follows some of the biggest protests Moscow has seen in years over a separate bill that would effectively cut Russia off from foreign internet servers and create a firewall similar to China’s.
- All of the laws have been criticized as authoritarian efforts to silence dissent as part of the country’s broader move to increase “sovereignty” over its internet.
Putin Signs New Laws
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed two new laws on Monday that will make it illegal to spread “fake news” and information which “disrespects” the state.
The first law says that corporate entities like online news outlets that spread “fake news” will face fines of up to 1.5 million rubles, or $22,900. Citizens who spread “fake news” could receive fines up to 400,000 rubles or $6,090, according to Russia’s state-owned newspaper TASS.
The second law punishes users and outlets that post content that “shows obvious disrespect for society, the state and official symbols of Russia, the Russian Constitution or other agencies,” according to TASS.
Offenders of the second law face a fine of up to 100,000 rubles ($1,552) for a first offense, and up to 300,000 rubles ($4,656) and 15 days in jail for repeat offenders.
Under these new laws, prosecutors can report online media to the government – which in turn can block access to websites if the content violates the law either by spreading “fake news” or insulting the government.
Significant Changes to Russian Censorship
While these laws might not come as a surprise, many experts have said they represent a significant shift in the censorship of Russia’s internet.
According to Matthew Rojansky, the director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute:
“Russia has not historically had major constraints on Internet freedom. The Internet has thus been one realm in which full diversity of opinion and free expression, even on the most sensitive political topics, were generally permitted […] The prosecutor general now has essentially unconstrained authority to determine that any speech is unacceptable under the new law.”
Maria Snegovaya, an adjunct fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, elaborated on that point, saying that the prosecutor’s office can now block news sources before any sort of ruling by a court or a judge.
“In other words, it significantly expands the repressive power of Russia’s repressive apparatus,” Snegovaya said, comparing the legislation to laws implemented by Russian dictator Joseph Stalin.
Protests Over Other Internet Bills
These new laws passed by Putin are not the only controversial pieces of legislation that attempt to restrict internet access.
Just last week, demonstrators hosted massive protests in Moscow and two other Russian cities over yet another internet bill. The protests in Moscow were described as some of the biggest protests in the Russian capital in years.
White Counter, an NGO that counts participants at rallies, stated that 15,300 people attended the protest, while Moscow police put the numbers at 6,500.
The bill in question would essentially cut Russia off from the global internet by directing Russian web traffic through servers controlled by the government. It also could create a system that would allow the Russian internet to work without foreign infrastructure.
Supporters of the bill say that it is necessary to protect Russia from foreign meddling, but critics have said the bill resembles China’s internet firewall, calling it an “iron curtain” and arguing it will stifle dissent.
The Trend of Censorship
The law that sparked the protest has not yet been passed by Parliament.
While the laws passed by Putin on Monday will certainly bring considerable change to Russian censorship, these kinds of laws are becoming increasingly common in Russia. The legislation reflects broader efforts by the government to increase “sovereignty” over its internet.
Russia has introduced other internet laws in the last few years.
Last year, a communications oversight agency tried to ban the messaging app Telegram after the company refused to give the government access to encryption tools that would allow them to read users’ messaging data, a move which prompted another wave of protests.
Some have said these tactics are a way of controlling public discourse, especially as Putin’s approval rating has fallen significantly in the last few years.
This last point is significant because some experts have said that the new laws passed Monday could make it almost impossible for individuals or groups to call for public protests because protesting government policies and actions could be considered disrespect of the government under the new law.
All of these laws have serious implications, but they also seem to show a trend in Russian censorship.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (NPR) (Moscow Times)
Gang That Kidnapped American and Canadian Missionaries in Haiti Seeks $17 Million Ransom
The incident has fueled calls for the government to take action against gangs, which control many territories in the country and have repeatedly carried out large-scale abductions for ransom
The gang that abducted 17 American and Canadian missionaries in Haiti on Saturday is demanding $17 million for their safe release, Haitian officials said Monday.
The group, which consists of one Canadian and 16 Americans, are all part of Christian Aid Ministries, an Amish and Mennonite charity based out of Ohio with a long history of working in Haiti.
While on their way to visit an orphanage in Croix des Bouquets, a suburb of the capital Port-au-Prince, the group’s bus was stopped at gunpoint by the 400 Mawozo gang. The gang is known for being one the most dangerous in the area, reportedly having about 150 members.
Multiple outlets, including CNN and Reuters, report that during the gang’s confrontation with the missionaries some victims managed to get messages out to associates to let them know what was going on. One even managed to drop a pin location on his mobile phone, helping authorities get a better idea of where exactly this happened.
By 4:53 p.m on Saturday, the kidnappers contacted Christian Aid Ministries to make their steep demands. According to authorities, the request is a noticeable jump from the thousands to tens of thousands the gang typically asks for.
Lack of Government Control
While Haitian authorities are involved in the investigation to free the missionaries, they actually have little power in the area. Croix des Bouquets is largely out of the government’s control and is instead run by 400 Mawozo. Government authority being replaced by gang activity isn’t uncommon in Haiti, and in some places, government control is almost completely lacking. This was highlighted on Sunday when Prime Minister Ariel Henry was forced to turn back from a wreath-laying ceremony at the grave of revolutionary war hero Jean-Jacques Dessalines due to its placement in gang territory.
The issue makes recovering the missionaries far more complex, but Haitian authorities aren’t alone. The FBI has been involved in the investigation and is continuing to help Haitian authorities.
“The FBI is part of a coordinated US government effort to get the Americans involved to safety. Due to operational considerations, no further information is available at this time,” The agency said in a statement to Reuters.
Reports indicate that the hostages are being held in some kind of safe house for the gang. Currently, no one is believed to be physically hurt. The gang has warned against harming the hostages, although according to a Haitian security forces member who spoke with CNN, the group didn’t seem too worried about those threats.
Haitians Call for Changes
Abductions in Haiti have always been an issue, but the problem has become particularly bad lately. In 2020, the Haitian National Police reported 234 kidnappings. In the first eight months of this year, there have been at least 328.
Some organizations claim that number is actually low. In fact, the Center for Analysis and Research for Human Rights reported that at least 600 people have been abducted this year. The center said that much of the increase was caused by 400 Mawozo, who have figured out that kidnapping busloads of people is more profitable than just taking individuals.
The issue is so prolific that just before the kidnapping on Saturday, a Haitian transportation union called for an indefinite strike starting Monday, with its president further justifying the move in a written statement a day later.
“We call on the government to put an end to the kidnappings and provide us safety or for them to resign immediately. We are the most victims; the transportation sector is an easy target for kidnappers all over the country,” Union President Méhu Changeux wrote. “We lost many members to the insecurity and dozens of members have been kidnapped. The latest tragedy of the kidnapping of the American missionaries shows no one is safe in this country.”
Since Monday, many parts of the country have come to a standstill amid the strike, putting increased pressure on a government with little resources to handle the underlying cause of discontent: gang activity and government instability.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (Associated Press)
5 Dead, 2 Injured After Bow and Arrow Attack in Norway
Police have called the incident a terror attack, though exact details regarding the suspect’s motives remain unclear.
Super Market Attack
The Norwegian town of Kongsberg is reeling from a deadly incident at Coop Extra supermarket on Wednesday that police are treating as “an act of terrorism.”
Shortly before 6 p.m., a 37-year old Danish man entered the market, armed with a bow and arrow, along with other weapons. He then began firing at those inside the building.
Authorities quickly responded and were on the scene within five minutes. Despite a police confrontation with the suspect, the attack continued. Four women and one man were ultimately killed while two others were left injured.
The suspect initially avoided arrest after managing to flee the scene. Police Chief Ole Bredrup Sæverud told reporters Thursday that it took 35 minutes to catch the attacker.
While police described the incident as a terror attack, they refused to specify a motive. Officials did hint that the rampage might have been religiously motivated by revealing that police had previously been in contact with the suspect due to his conversion to Islam and possible connections to radical content and teachings. Still, Sæverud clarified that the perpetrator hadn’t been actively investigated at all in 2021.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who was just hours away from leaving office after she was ousted in recent elections, described reports of the scene as “horrifying” on Wednesday. Incoming Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said in a Facebook post from Thursday morning that the attack was a “cruel and brutal act.”
Norway’s King Harald expressed his sympathies to the mayor of Kongs-berg, telling the country, “We sympathize with the relatives and injured in the grief and despair.”
“And we think of all those affected in Kongs-berg who have experienced that their safe local environment suddenly became a dangerous place. It shakes us all when horrible things happen near us, when you least expect it, in the middle of everyday life on the open street.”
Attacks of this nature are rare in Norway. In 2019, a right-wing gunman tried to enter a mosque before being overpowered and hitting no one. Wednesday’s attack is the most deadly since July 2011, when a far-right extremist killed 77 people at a Labour party summer camp.
Editor’s Note: At Rogue Rocket, we make it a point to not include the names and pictures of mass murderers or suspected mass murderers who may have been seeking attention or infamy. Therefore, we will not be linking to other sources, as they may contain these details.
Protests Erupt in Italy Over World’s Toughest Vaccine Mandate
The violence is believed to have been instigated by far-right groups that oppose COVID-19 vaccines and other pandemic-related safety measures.
Green Pass Pushback
Demonstrators gathered in Rome over the weekend to protest against Italy’s plans to require a coronavirus “Green Pass” for all workers starting Oct. 15.
The Green Pass is a European Union initiative that shows whether someone is vaccinated, has recovered from COVID-19 in the past six months, or has received a negative COVID test in the past 48 hours.
Since August, Italy has required the pass for entry at restaurants and use of long-distance trains, along with nearly every other activity that involves interaction with others or use of a public space. Now, the pass will be required to enter a workplace, which critics argue is particularly harsh.
Individuals who can’t produce a valid Green Pass will be suspended without pay, making it the most extreme of any COVID-19 mandate in the world.
The weekend protests started out peaceful, with people chanting “Liberta,” which means freedom. However, the scene turned violent by Saturday when a group of protesters affiliated with the far-right Forza Nuova party decided to storm the headquarters of the CGIL, Italy’s biggest and oldest labor union.
Protesters then marched towards the Prime Minister’s office, prompting police to respond with anti-riot measures like tear gas, water cannons, and shield charges.
It’s unclear how many protesters were hurt in the ongoing fighting, but dozen of police officers were reportedly hurt in the scuffle. By Sunday evening. at least 12 protesters were arrested, many of who are members of Forza Nuova, including its leader Roberto Fiore. Authorities also indicated in a press conference on Monday that it had identified at least 600 other people who took part in illegal activities during the demonstrations.
Fiore was unapologetic about the rioting, and Forza Nuova said in a statement, “The popular revolution will not stop, with or without us, until the Green Pass is definitively withdrawn. Saturday was a watershed between the old and the new. The people decided to raise the level of the clash.”
Saturday’s events have led many of the country’s largest political parties, including the 5Star Movement and the Democratic Paty, to support a motion calling for Nuova Forza and similar groups to be dismantled in line with a constitutional provision from 1952 that bans fascists parties.
While that motion is still going through the legislative process, prosecutors have already seized the group’s website in line with a 1988 law that bans inciting violence through public communications.
“The events [on Saturday] take us back to the darkest and most dramatic moments of our history and they are an extremely serious and unacceptable attack on democracy,” Valeria Fedeli, a senator with the center-left Democratic Party, said on Monday.
The violence from the weekend may make it seem like a sizeable chunk of Italians are against the vaccine; however, over 70% of all Italians are already vaccinated, making it one of the highest rates in the world.
According to polling from the summer, most Italians think the new rules will help in the long run and prevent another catastrophe like last year when the country ran out of room to bury the dead due to the number of deaths caused by COVID-19.