Negative international reactions on Ukraine’s ban on Russian social networks, search engines, mail services and news websites

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on May 15, 2017, signed a decree banning public access to Russian social media platforms, news outlets, and a major search engine widely used in Ukraine, Human Rights Watch denounces.

Vkontakte, the Russian version of Facebook, Odnoklassiniki, the email provider mail.ru, the Yandex search engine and its various services, such as Yandex.Music, Yandex.Money, and dozens of others with .ua and .ru domains were among firms blocked by Ukrainian authorities.

Mail.ru Group said shortly after that it might lose 25 million of users in Ukraine because of the move. Yandex estimates that about 11 million Ukrainians regularly use its services. As of March, 48 percent of internet users in Ukraine used Yandex daily.

Hybrid war demands adequate responses to challenges,Mr Poroshenko said on his own VK page, while announcing that he would shut it down.

This is yet another example of the ease with which President Poroshenko unjustifiably tries to control public discourse in Ukraine,” said Tanya Cooper, Ukraine researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Poroshenko may try to justify this latest step, but it is a cynical, politically expedient attack on the right to information affecting millions of Ukrainians, and their personal and professional lives.”

“On the Internet, users have freedom to express themselves and to access information and opinions of others, including those that may offend, shock or disturb other individuals, whilst respecting the reputation and privacy of others. Public authorities have a duty to respect and protect this right. Any restrictions to this freedom must pursue a legitimate aim, be prescribed by law and be necessary in a democratic society in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights.”

The blocking of social networks, search engines, mail services and news websites goes against our common understanding of freedom of expression and freedom of the media.” “Moreover, such blanket bans are out of line with the principle of proportionality,” Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjorn Jagland said in a statement.

Nothing can justify such a blanket ban! Blatant violation of freedom of expression,” the Eastern Europe and Central Asian desk of media-rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders said on Twitter.

Volodymyr Ariev, Ukrainian MP and President of PACE (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe) Committee on Culture and Media and General Rapporteur on media freedom justifies Ukraine’s ban on Russia search engines, website and social media: “Russia’s State intelligence agencies have unlimited access to Internet platforms. Ukraine need to defend from hybrid war and cyber attacks sourced from Russia but Ukrainian authorities doesn’t have any plans to limit any other Internet platform that have no direct access for Russian intelligence.”

Mykhailo Chaplyga, the representative of the Ukraine parliament’s commissioner for human rights, told the news agency UNIAN that “blocking access to sites without a court decision is not allowed” under Ukrainian law.

“Moscow sees Kiev’s decision to expand sanctions against Russian individuals and legal entities as an example of political censorship,” the Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said.

In June 2016, a Ukrainian presidential decree banned 17 Russian journalists, editors, and media executives from traveling to Ukraine. In September 2015, the government banned several hundred Russian individuals and legal entities from entering Ukraine for a year. Among them were 41 journalists and bloggers from several countries, including Russia, Israel, the United Kingdom, and Germany, HRW also remembers.

Below you can find the images of some of the restricted websites: Access blocked by order of President of Ukraine 133/2017“: