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Court Hearings Begin in Civil Case of Website Critical of Government Drugs Policy against the Federal Drug Control Agency in Moscow

16 May 2012

Source: Open Information Agency

The first court session in the case of the Andrei Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice against the Directorate of the Moscow branch of the Federal Drug Control Agency of the Russian Federation (FDCA) took place on 16 May in the Khoroshevsky district court, Moscow.

The website, run by civil activists critical of Russian government drug policy, was shut down in February by the FDCA. Police requested the domain name holder suspend After the site was blocked, activists appealed in court against the actions of the FDCA, requesting that the Directorate of the Moscow branch of the FDCA reinstate access to the website. At the hearing on 16 May the FDCA responded to the claim made by the Rylkov Foundation.

A representative of the Directorate asked the court to dismiss the civil activists’ requests. He claimed in his response that on 13th December 2011 Moscow Prosecutors contacted the FDCA with a request from Russian member of parliament Igor Arkhipov to investigate, amongst other things, whether the Rylkov Foundation’s operations complied with the relevant legislation. Judging by the case files, it appears that Nikita Lushnikov, President of the Tsentr Zdorovoi Molodezhi (Healthy Youth Centre), had previously filed a complaint with Mr Arkhipov about the civil activists. On 25th January the FDCA released a statement requiring that the Rylkov Foundation’s domain be shut down “in connection with the distribution of materials that propagandised (advertised) the use of narcotics”. On 12th March the Directorate received notification that the site had been suspended on 3rd February. In other words, the Directorate believes it “had sufficient legal basis to issue a formal request that the domain be closed down.”

Commenting on the response by FDCA, Damir Gainutdinov, a lawyer with Agora Human Rights Association, said: “Without contesting the essence of our arguments, FDCA representatives are defending the position that the Agency, without providing any reasons or substantiation, has the right to require domain holders and ISPs to block access to any website at any time. This contravenes both the Russian Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The European Court of Human Rights has underlined repeatedly, including in judgments concerning complaints against Russia, that when restricting freedom of expression the state (which in this case is represented by the FDCA) must give clear and compelling reasoning for the need for restrictions in a democratic society. There was no such reasoning either in the declaration that led to the blocking of the Andrei Rylkov Foundation’s website, or in the response to the claim contesting the illegal actions of the head of the FDCA Directorate”.

The next hearing in the case will take place on June 8th 2012 in the Khoroshevsky District Court, Moscow.

Readers will recall that the Directorate of the Moscow branch of the FDCA demanded that the domain name holder, Registrator Domenov, shut down the domain. The site is run by the Andrei Rylkov Foundation, well-known for its fierce criticism of state drug policy in Russia. However, because of the new rules for domain name registration, the drug police did not give any reason for their decision, instead covering it with a general phrase about the alleged display of “materials that propagandised the use of narcotics” on the website. As a result the website was blocked.

The new rules entered into force on 11th November 2011. They state that “a domain name may be shut down by the registrar on the basis of a written resolution from the director (vice-director or official of equal status) of a body responsible for law enforcement operations”. Previously it was possible to block a domain name on the basis of a court decision (ruling) or a reasoned judgment (request) in written form from one of the directors of a body responsible for law enforcement operations. Moreover, the rules specified that a site could be blocked in cases defined by federal legislation, until such a ruling was either overturned by a court or withdrawn by the body that had made the resolution to suspend the domain.

“Previously, the rules specified that the security forces had to give reasons for their request”, said lawyer Damir Gainutdinov. “Now law enforcement agencies can block websites they disagree with, without giving any reasoning. I’m convinced that the changes in the rules were specifically lobbied for”.