In a chilling broadside against the independent press, Moscow has blocked further publication of the Barents Observer, a Norwegian news portal published in Russian and English, on the Russian Internet.
The move comes just days after Russian lawmakers backed a bill aimed at isolating the country’s Internet from the rest of the world with the apparent goal of bolstering Moscow’s cyber defenses.
But the news portal’s publishers, as well as rhetoric from Russian lawmakers, suggest Moscow’s targeting of the Barents Observer’s online Russian-language presence was more personal.
For years, the portal has produced reporting on social and environmental issues concerning residents of Northern Norway and their Russian counterparts just across the border. And while the portal has sought to foster political and economic cooperation in the Barents Sea region, it has also been independent and unsparing in its criticism of officials in Russia and Norway alike.
The ban of the publication via the Russian-controlled Internet came earlier this week after it ran a January story about a Swedish gay activist who traced his routes to the Sami people, an indigenous group inhabiting Northwest Russia and Scandinavia.
The article brought a firestorm of shrill criticism from lawmakers in Moscow, which in 2013 criminalized the publication of materials seen by the government as friendly to so-called non-traditional sexual lifestyles.
Roskomnazdor, Russia’s federal communications authority, fired off a letter to the Barents Observer demanding it remove the article on the Swedish activist from its site or face being blocked – which the portal’s editor, Thomas Nilsen, refused to do.
In the days following, Vitaly Limonov, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee in Russia’s deeply conservative parliament, told the Russian Federal News Service that the Barents Observer represented “degeneration and decay,” and demanded the portal be “blocked to hell” on the Russian Internet....MORE