A Russian rights advocacy group has warned about the ongoing crackdown on internet users, as courts impose harsh jail sentences on online users expressing political views in online posts.
The Agora advocacy group released a report saying: “The Russian authorities have begun to see the internet as a theatre of war, both inside (the country) and outside,” where the slightest criticism is “seens as like an armed attack.”
Agora brings together some 50 lawyers specializing in rights cases who have worked on prmoninent freedom of expression cases, including the Pussy Riot punk group and performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky.
It argued that the Russian state policy on the Russian-langauge internet – known as the Runet – can be characterised by a number of terms such as “attack,” “campaign,” and “enemies.”
The Russian government also focuses on an external threat, with the FSB security service reporting that it foiled 70 million cyberattacks last year, Agora said, querying the high figure.
The advocacy group condemned “strong censorship” of the internet and increasing pressure on ordinary internet users.
It said it had recorded seven criminal cases opened against Russians for expressing views online in 2016, five of which reached sentencing, with four ending in a prison sentence.
It cited the case of journalist and blogger Alexei Kungurov in the Urals city of Tyumen who was jailed for two years by a military court for online criticisms of Russia's bombing campaign in Syria.
He was found guilty of publicly justifying terrorism in December last year over a post on the Live Journal site.
An electrical engineer from the central Russian city of Tver, Andrei Bubeyev, was sentenced to two years and three months in a penal colony in May last year.
He was found guilty of support for extremist activity and breaches of Russia's territorial integrity after reposting a pro-Ukrainian article and a picture of a toothpaste tube with the caption: “Squeeze Russia out of yourselves.”
Agora concluded: “All this allows us to draw a definite conclusion - the Runet has entered a state of martial law.”
Last year, Agora said it recorded 97 proposals from politicians and officials to strengthen Internet controls.