Russians take to streets to protest VPN ban

Saturday saw a rare event taking place on the streets of Moscow. An anti-Government demonstration was held to protest the Putin regime’s increasingly stringent internet controls.

Around 1,000 protesters in Moscow

According to AFP, there were around a thousand people who took the streets of Moscow last Saturday, despite heavy rain, to express their dissatisfaction with Russian online censorship. Whilst on the streets, protestors were chanting slogans such as “Russia without censorship” and “Russia will be free”.

The march, which was approved by the relevant local authorities and therefore not illegal, was largely made up of younger people. It was closely monitored by Russian police at all times and It is thought that around a dozen protesters were arrested in total. By Russian standards, this is relatively few for an anti-Government rally.

It has been reported that the march was also used to voice opinions on other matters too. Some were opposing the imminent deportation of Khudoberdi Nurmatov, an Uzbek who works for Russian opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta. Meanwhile, at least two of those arrested are reported to have been carrying rainbow flags in opposition to the Russian state’s homophobic agenda.

Internet freedoms rapidly receding in Russia

But it was internet freedoms which dominated proceedings, which is no surprise given the recent actions of the Russian state. As we have reported previously this year, online freedom in Russia is rapidly receding. The Putin regime is thought to have been engaging at length with the Chinese over their state censorship programmes and making efforts to move closer to such a model themselves.

Most recently, President Vladimir Putin has passed a ban on VPNs, which will come into force on the 1st November, although there is still no clear indication of how this ban will be enforced. Russia’s internet regulator the Roskomnadzor, will be able to ban any VPNs which do not respect the new law, but no one knows how this ban would be enforced.

Expert opinion in Russia has advised against the ban, citing the likely economic impact among other factors, but Putin is well aware that his opponents make use of the internet to spread information and arrange protests. It is, therefore, no surprise that he plans to try to clamp down still further in an effort to give the state as much control over the flow of information as possible.

Size of public opposition unclear

But as one protester could be heard chanting during Saturday’s march in Moscow, “Innovation and technology will win! We will defend our freedoms!” It is encouraging to see and hear such vociferous opposition to the online restrictions being put in place in Russia. Support for Putin’s regime remains high in the country and some surveys have suggested that the Russian public actually support online restrictions, believing they are helping to keep them safe.

It is hard to know for sure how accurate such surveys are, given the dangers of speaking out against Government policies in Russia. But it is equally hard to know whether the protestors this weekend were genuinely angry at the Government offensive against online freedom, or are just opposed to the Putin regime more generally.

VPN remains the best bet for unrestricted internet access

Whatever the truth about those marching, the fact remains that online freedoms have diminished considerably in recent years under the Putin regime. For those who wish to enjoy free and unrestricted access to the internet in Russia, a reliable VPN remains your best option at the moment.

After November 1st, this might become harder. But none of the big VPN providers have indicated a change to their services in Russia and the Russian regime has still not revealed how it plans to block access to VPNs. So, for the time being at least, VPNs are still the best solution to state internet censorship in Russia.

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