Russia briefly banned Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, after users edited a page about Indian hashish.
The ban, which came from Roskomnadzor, the Kremlin’s media watchdog, lasted less than 24 hours, but sent alarm bells ringing around the global online community, who are already worried by Russia’s increasing limits on digital activity.
The brief ban came after a court decision in the southern Russian town of Cherny Yar, which ruled that the Wikipedia page on charas, a form of hashish that is popular in India, was harmful according to the local law.
As a result, Russian authorities denied access to the entire Russian-language site, arguing that the page had been significantly altered.
According to The Guardian, Editors of Wikipedia claimed that the page had not changed.
This is not the first time Russian Internet freedoms have been squeezed over illegal drugs. Earlier this month, the news and social networking site Reddit was banned for several days for hosting an online community that explained, in Russian, how to grow psilocybin (magic) mushrooms. It was later unbanned, but Reddit took down the community in question, provoking outcry among some who said this form of self-censorship betrayed the site’s commitment to the freedom of expression.
In recent years, Russia has widened a crackdown on Internet freedom. Last year a new law was introduced to limit the activities of Russian bloggers, dictating that sites with audiences of 3,000 or more register with the authorities. From the 1st of September, a new law will come into effect, requiring that major social networking sites Facebook and Twitter store the data of their Russian users on their Russian servers, meaning the authorities will have easy access to them.