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State-owned Czech Radio Blacklisted in Russia

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Moscow decided to ban access to the Russian version of Radio Prague International’s website, a Czech state-owned broadcast station. Authorities would target a story published in 2001 but the decision was made in May 2021, amid the highest tensions between Czech Republic and Russia in 30 years.

Radio Prague International is being blacklisted in Russia
Radio Prague International is being blacklisted in Russia | Screenshot from Roskomnadzor, July 2021

Since July 15, 2021, Radio Prague International’s website is not accessible in Russia. Roskomnadzor, a federal service supervising mass media and information, included the website in its registry of prohibited domain names, censored for distributing information forbidden in Russia.

Radio Prague International, the official broadcasting station of the Czech Republic created in 1936, publishes content in Czech, German, English, Spanish, French and Russian. Only the version in Russian is blocked for access in the Russian federation.

“We consider the blocking of the Czech Radio’s Russian service to be an act of unprecedented censorship. This step is undemocratic and attacks all the principles of freedom of expression“, the head of Czech Radio’s press department stated.

Radio Prague International was not informed of the ban

Rospotrebnadzor, a federal agency in charge of the “control of wellbeing and consumer rights and protection of the citizens”, made the decision to include a page of the website in Roskomnadzor’s list of prohibited content. Because the website is hosted with a secure protocol, the entire domain name needs to be blocked altogether.

Roskomnadzor is supposed to inform the website owner about the decision and ask to remove the content before blacklisting it. However, the radio station says it received no warning.

The censorship is allegedly due to an article about Jan Palach’s death in 1969 published in 2001, twenty years ago.

RosKomSvoboda, a non-governmental Russian organization promoting the freedom of information, first reported on the situation. It writes that the censorship originates from that specific piece of content, an information relayed by Czech news media and Radio Prague International itself. Contacted by Newsndip for explaining why it thought the article was the one blacklisted, RosKomSvoboda didn’t answer the questions at the time of publication.

As a 20-year-old Czech student, Jan Palach died by self-immolation in Wenceslas Square in Prague in January 1969. He protested against censorship and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. That year, the Warsaw Pact armed forces had ended the Prague Spring, a period during which some reforms provided more democratic rights to the Czechoslovak population than the USSR could tolerate.

Several self-immolations followed his act. Jan Palach became an international symbol of the resistance against the Soviet totalitarianism.

Jan Palach died in Prague protesting against the Soviet oppression
Jan Palach died in Prague protesting against the Soviet oppression

Content appearing to promote suicide prohibited in Russia

Roskomnadzor has the power to ban content displaying “pornographic images“, “ways of developing, manufacturing, and using narcotic drugs“, or “ways to commit suicide, as well as appeals to commit suicide“. The radio disagrees with such a reason as it “merely stated the facts of self-immolation of Jan Palach“.

The prohibited radio transcript details the act in these terms: “He took off his coat, pulled out the bottle he had brought, poured the liquid on him and lit a match”. It also added that Jan Palach, while in the hospital where he deceased three days later, said “I don’t want anyone else to die“. In the end, the piece concludes that “most consider these actions to be heroism but many people still insist that it would be better to actively show opposition without committing suicide. Dead people can hardly change anything“.

According to Izvestia, a leading Russian newspaper created in 1917, the number of posts that Roskomnadzor banned or deleted because of content mentioning suicide doubled in a year. Between January and June 2020, 10,100 sites, posts or individual pages were blocked by Roskomnadzor for promoting suicide. During the first half of 2021, 22,600 posts or websites were restricted by the Russian authorities. In Russia, the increase is analysed as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Although the website was banned in July, the decision was made in May, few days after Russia put the Czech Republic in a list of “unfriendly states, along with the United States. In fact, tension between Russia and Czechia has been high in the past few months.

Czech Republic accuses Russia for the explosion of a weapon warehouse in 2014

In April 2021, Czech Republic accused Russia to be behind explosions in the small village of Vrbetice, close to the Slovak border. In 2014, two ammunition depots, allegedly intended for the Ukrainian troops fighting against Russia’s army, mysteriously exploded.

But in April 2021, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš announced the country suspected a Russian military intelligence to have planned the blasts. A series of tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats from both parts quickly escalated the tension. For instance, the Czech Republic decided to cancel discussions to buy the Russian vaccine against Covid-19.

Along with Radio Prague International’s Russian version, the website of Komanda 29, was also censored. This group of Russian human rights lawyers is accused to have ties with a Czech NGO considered as an undesirable organization in Russia. Team 29 stopped its activity to avoid facing criminal prosecution.

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