Russian Lawmakers Back Internet Bill as Yandex Protests Persist

Yandex NV, operator of Russia’s biggest search engine, maintained its protest against legislation imposing controls over the Internet even after the law was watered down during its passage through Parliament.

A bill giving authorities the power to blacklist websites that contain child pornography or promote drugs or suicide without a court order was approved today in Moscow by the State Duma, or lower house of parliament. Amendments to an earlier draft require a court order to shut down websites that contain other illegal content for children.

President Vladimir Putin, 59, who was re-elected to the Kremlin in March after confronting the biggest anti-government rallies in his 12 years in power, has faced opposition street protests organized through social-networking websites. Yandex and other websites including Wikipedia and LiveJournal had opposed the legislation on the grounds it may curb free speech.

“We’re sorry the State Duma has accepted the current version of the bill,” Elena Kolmanovskaya, Yandex’s editor-in-chief, said in an e-mailed statement. The measure “affects the interests of many parties: citizens, the state and the Internet industry. Decisions like this shouldn’t be made hastily.”

‘Rash’ Adoption

Yandex’s slogan “Everything will be found” on its front page had two red slashes across part of it, with a link to a company statement warning the legislation may spawn abuses and stifle speech while questioning its “rash” adoption. Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, shut down its Russian website yesterday as part of an online protest also joined by VKontakte, the largest Russian social-networking website.

The Duma backed the bill in the second and third of three readings. To become law, it must be approved by the Federation Council, or upper chamber, before being signed by Putin.

“It’s necessary to maintain the balance of public interests and also consider the technological characteristics of the Internet,” Kolmanovskaya said.

The law would allow blocking access to websites using IP addresses and domain names and create a registry of resources banned for publication.

The Kremlin’s human rights council last week criticized the proposal, saying it may be used to limit access to information and block an “excessively broad” range of Internet resources.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a 56-nation democracy watchdog, said yesterday that the bill’s stated aim to restrict websites that contain pornography or promote suicide and extremist ideas risks blocking the free flow of information.

“Investors took it as a sign that Russia seeks to control the Internet and may block even those websites that have nothing to do with any criminal activity,” said Alexander Vengranovich, an analyst at Otkritie Financial Corp. “People are concerned it may turn out to be a Chinese-style control over the Internet by the government.”

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