Russia threatens to block Wikipedia over drug tutorial

Internet service providers in Russia have been instructed to block Wikipedia after the Wikimedia Foundation refused a request from Russian authorities to amend an article that included instructions on how to prepare of a certain type of cannabis.

Russia threatens to block Wikipedia over drug tutorial

Today, we have heard that Roskomnadzor, the Russian agency tasked with oversight of Russian communications, has instructed ISPs to block Russian Wikipedia. Censorship of Wikipedia content runs contrary to the Wikimedia vision: a world in which everyone can freely access the sum of all knowledge,” said the Wikimedia Foundation in a statement.

The Foundation

told TechCrunch that a block was threatened last week, when Roskomnadzor issued a notice to Wikimedia: “Roskomnadzor issued a notice regarding an article on Russian Wikipedia about charas, a form of cannabis. The notice stated that the article contained information on how to prepare the substance. The notice directed Wikipedia to remove the article.”

Why block the whole of Wikipedia over a single article? Well, the site uses the protected HTTPS protocol, so most Russian ISPs lack the technology to block individual pages, making it all or nothing. Legislation passed three years ago gives Russian authorities the power to block websites without a court order, provided that the websites cover blacklisted topics including child pornography, drugs, militant material or anything advocating suicide.wikipedia_warning

This is a particularly baffling case, however. Charas, as the Washington Post notes, is a drug handmade in India, Lebanon, Pakistan, Nepal and Jamaica, and offers virtually no threat to the 8,000-strong village of Chyorny Yar where the concern was first raised.

Previous censorship disputes on Wikipedia have been resolved through a dialogue between Wikipedia and the Russian authorities, but according to Stanislav Kozlovskiy, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation in Russia, this hasn’t happened in this instance. He told the Washington Post, “it was a dialogue in previous cases”.

“We tried to call them but were told that the press officer is on vacation and no-one else is authorised to talk to us. They preferred to communicate via statements on the internet instead.”

Reddit was blocked in Russia a couple of weeks ago, but was reinstated after the site agreed to block access to the post in question (a guide to growing psychedelic mushrooms).

But Reddit is a private company, while Wikipedia is a non-profit that prides itself on free speech issues. Not only that, but the content is managed by the site’s Russian editors, so the decision of how to proceed is not purely in the hands of the Foundation. So far, it seems said editors are actively looking to improve the quality of the article, according to a statement from Wikimedia:

The Russian Wikipedia community has held active discussions regarding the notice and article. Editors have made significant changes to the article, adding further information and citations to reliable sources, bringing it in line with Wikipedia’s standards for neutrality and reliability. The community has also added a notification banner to Russian Wikipedia, pointing out to users that the site may be blocked.”

It’s not clear whether that will be enough for Roskomnadzor and the Russian government. But with Russian Wikipedia currently getting over a billion page views a month, this could be a very public fight if the block goes ahead. 

Image: bastique used under Creative Commons

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