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Russia to Punish Extremism on Internet as Web Control Tightened

June 30 (Bloomberg) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin signed legislation punishing calls deemed extremist on the Internet with as long as five years in prison as the government reinforces its control over the web.

The law, approved by parliament this month, also imposes a maximum of six years in prison for financing extremist activities, according to the text of the measure posted today on a government legal portal.

Putin last month signed related legislation requiring Internet companies to store users’ information in Russia and treating bloggers with more than 3,000 readers like media outlets, requiring registration and making content subject to regulation. That law will become effective Aug. 1.

Putin, locked in a standoff with the U.S. and Europe over Ukraine, said in April his government needs to impose greater control over information flows through the World Wide Web, which the former KGB colonel called a creation of U.S. spy agencies.

Google Inc. Chairman Eric Schmidt said last year that Russia was “on the path” toward China’s model of Internet censorship.

Since then, Russia introduced a rule in February that gives authorities the power to block without a court ruling websites deemed either extremist or a threat to public order.

On March 13, regulator Roskomnadzor temporarily shut access to half a dozen sites, including opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s, to impede efforts to hold unsanctioned rallies against Putin’s annexation of Crimea. The regulator also closed 13 Ukrainian groups on VKontakte, a Russian site similar to Facebook.

During Twitter Inc. public policy chief Colin Crowell’s visit to Moscow on June 23, Russian regulators provided information on 12 accounts with content deemed to be extremist, according to communications regulator Roskomnadzor’s website. Twitter hasn’t agreed to remove or block accounts, the microblogging service said at the time.

To contact the reporters on this story: Henry Meyer in Moscow at hmeyer4@bloomberg.net; Anton Doroshev in Moscow at adoroshev@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net Torrey Clark, Paul Abelsky

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