Human Rights Defenders on ‘Innocence of Muslims’: Prosecutor General and Federal Communications Agency illegally block access to film before court ruling

21 September 2012

Source: Open Information News Agency

© Photo from the Investigative Committee News website

The Russian Prosecutor General’s office and the Federal Communications Agency (Roskomnadzor) have no right to demand the blocking of access to information that has not been banned from distribution by a court ruling or by law.

This was the message in the appeal from Agora Human Rights Association to Russian Prosecutor General Yury Chaika, which asked him “to cease the unfounded and illegal interpretation of legislation for reasons of political expediency, and to remove the potential for the prosecution authorities and Roskomnadzor to contravene the rights of citizens”.

News agency reports have revealed that a few days ago Victor Grin, Russian Deputy Prosecutor General, sent an order to regional prosecutors to block access to sites hosting the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ video.

Similar instructions were sent to Roskomnadzor, which, on the orders of the Prosecutor General’s office, required telecom operators and press editors to block access to the film to online users “until a final court ruling is made”, or risk having their licences revoked or operations suspended.

Regional prosecutors are warning Internet providers that carrying out extremist activity is not permitted, as well as demanding that access to the film is blocked, with threats of administrative penalties for non-compliance. Agora’s statement notes that to date dozens of telecom operators across Russia have received similar orders from prosecutors or from the regional branches of Roskomnadzor.

The human rights association’s legal analysts stress that nothing in their appeal to the Prosecutor General “should be taken as excusing or showing approval for the film, its contents, or the aims and objectives of its creators. However, even criminals are not considered such until the delivery of a guilty sentence by a valid court”.

“We believe that the actions of the prosecution authorities and Roskomnadzor contravene current legislation and Russia’s international obligations, including the European Convention on Human Rights”, the letter to Yury Chaika continues. “References to the provisions of the Federal Law ‘On the Counteraction of Extremist Activity’ cannot justify introducing censorship or the practice of extrajudicially restricting freedom to search for, receive and distribute information, since the law does not allow the blocking of access to information without a substantiated ban on its distribution. In the absence of a court ruling with legal force that the video ‘Innocence of Muslims’ constitutes extremist material, it is impossible to draw the valid conclusion that its distribution is illegal. Ordering that access to it be blocked for citizens is therefore illegal”.

The human rights activists note that the prosecution authorities and Roskomnadzor should have waited for a court ruling on whether the video constituted extremist material, and then exercised control over the ruling’s implementation, bringing to justice, within the limits of their jurisdiction, those who did not comply.

“Currently the actions of the prosecution authorities and Roskomnadzor look like part of a non-legal political campaign to develop mechanisms allowing any information to be blocked arbitrarily”, Agora said in its statement.

Meanwhile, experts and lawyers for telecom providers have stated that they cannot technically fully block access to the film, as it is found not only on YouTube, but also on various social networks and other websites. Moreover, Olga Klots, a lawyer for the company Novotelecom, maintains that “until a court rules that the film ‘Innocence of Muslims’ is extremist, we have no right to restrict our subscribers’ access to it”.