Roskomnadzor, the mass media and telecom watchdog in Russia recently blocked one of the top news outlets in the country’s crypto space, Bits.media. According to the announcement, the website is no longer accessible through most of the internet providers in Russia, but the website said that it would contest the move.
Bits.media no longer accessible
This week, most of the Bits.media readers in Russia were unable to access the crypto website and its team discovered that this was because of the actions of Roskomnadzor. An unspecified number of websites have been added by the government agency to a list of internet sources that are spreading banned information.
On March 31st, the local prosecutor’s office in the Russian city of Saratov filed a lawsuit and the Volzhsky District Court allowed the block to go through. On April 24th, the prosecutor’s request was granted by the judge, and Bits.media said that the case had been considered in the absence of the owners of the media outlet.
The published decision outlined five URLs that were found to be sharing information that was aimed at promoting crimes related to legalizing funds obtained via criminal activities i.e. money laundering promotion. There was no disclosure about the formal reason for implementing the ban and it remained unclear if only Bits.media had been targeted, or others as well.
Ivan Tikhonov, the founder of Bits.media, said that they had been the interested party in the case in question, but they had not been informed about the proceedings. He added that they were not provided with the opportunity of removing the material that had bothered the prosecutor’s office in Saratov. Therefore, the company was not in agreement with the verdict.
Bits.media has already succeeded in winning a case in the past that was quite similar and it plans on appealing this verdict too. The internet regulators in Russia had blocked the website back in January, 2015 because of a ruling of the Nevyansk City Court. The request had come from the local prosecutor for protecting people. They had restricted seven websites in this way, but the ruling had been overturned later in the year.
Roskomnadzor had also taken similar measures in March 2020 when five websites had been blacklisted for providing services and information related to cryptocurrencies. Bits.media had seen its forum section targeted in this particular blacklisting. However, it had been available in Russia through browser plugins and VPNs, just as the website is under the current ban.
Such decisions have also been challenged by some other crypto platforms in Russia. 40 websites had been banned in March 2018 for publishing content and the ban had been struck down by the City Court in Saint Petersburg. Access had also been restricted in Russia to the portal called Bitcoininfo.ru and the ruling had been overturned by the Supreme Court. Prosecutors had also made efforts to block the Bestchange.ru website and it had been added to Roskomnadzor’s register, but the watchdog had to remove it in May 2019.