Civic Chamber Proposes Banning Workers from Personal Internet Use At Work; Activists Expect Crackdown

January 19, 2016
Illustration by Megan Pendergrass

LIVE UPDATES: Russia’s Civic Chamber has proposed that employers should ban employees from using the Internet for personal purposes during work, yet another action to restrict the Russian Internet.

Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

The previous issue is here.

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Russian Parliamentary Committee Rejects Draft Anti-Gay Law But Persecution of Gays Continues

A new anti-gay law has been rejected by the State Duma Committee on Constitutional Legislation and State Construction, Moscow Times reports this week, citing Interfax:

Dmitry Vyatkin, the deputy chairman of the committee said that the draft bill was rejected “primarily due to the fact that from a formal legal perspective, the bill was illiterate,” the RBC news agency reported.

The bill is due to be considered by the State Duma in a first reading on Jan.19.

The measure, initiated by Communist Party deputies Ivan Nikitchuk and Nikolai Arefyev, called for fines of up to to 5,000 rubles ($63) for public expressions of “non-traditional sexual orientation,” such as same-
sex hugging, kissing and holding hands.

The lawmakers also proposed a prison sentence of up to 15 days for coming out as gay within educational, cultural or youth institutions.

Meduza, an independent online Russian-language publication run by exiles from Russia fired from last year, published an interview by special correspondent Daniil Turkovsky with hardliner Russian MP Ivan Nikitchuk who sponsored the bill. The interview was translated for Meduza’s English edition and also picked up by the Washington Post.

Turkovsky: What drove you to draft such a law?

Nikitchuk: Well, tell me, are you a normal person? In my opinion, nature created man and woman to be together, and throughout the animal world, we find such couples. Even the plant world works this way: here’s the pistil, and there’s the stamen.

But sick and crazy people have decided their sexual problems can be solved another way. These are mental deviations—deviations from the norms of behavior, and from what nature has dictated.

With this legislation, we’re not prohibiting anyone from engaging in you-know-what (a stamen in a stamen—let them do whatever they want under the sheets). But we are stopping them from displaying their demonic desires, which the West would force on us…

Sorry, guys, but this is Russia. This is our country, where we’ve always respected traditions, where we’ve always had and still have today a conscience and the concept of shame. 

Moscow Times also noted that a petition on had already gathered 41,900 signatures against the draft law.

Even if this new law does not pass — and it does not seem likely it will — the government still retains existing laws and unofficial means to harass the gay community, including by looking the other way as unofficial movements such as Anti-Maidan attack gay parades.

The current law banning the “propagandizing” of lifestyles by “sexual minorities” to minors is very broadly applied and can mean any public manifestations by LGBT.

As the Russian LGBT Network reported, Sergei Alekseyenko (Sergey Alekseenko) was found guilty of “propaganda of homosexuality among minors” via the Internet and fined 100,000 rubles ($1,272)

Alekseyenko protested against various procedural violations in his case, and said that he was punished in fact for a quotation from a report by Roskomnadzor, the state censor.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Moscow Court Rules Navalny Must Pay $5089 in Damages to Sen. Sablin, Anti-Maidan/Fighting Brotherhood Leader

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny has lost yet another court case, he writes on Twitter: he must pay a total of 408,000 in damages ($5089) to Senator Sablin for publishing a picture of his mansion and raising questions about how he could afford it.

Sablin is a member of the Federation Council or upper chamber of Russia’s parliament, head of Fighting Brotherhood, an organization of veterans that has promoted Russia’s wars in Ukraine and Syria, and also the Anti-Maidan movement which has heckled and even beaten anti-war marchers.

Translation: The senator “won” his case against me in “court.” Why I am not surprised.
Translation: 408,000 rubles has to be found now for the senator.

Translation: Anti-Maidan activist Sablin heads Fighting Brotherhood. He has not spent a day in a single hot spot.

Ivan Zhdanov, the head of the Anti-Corruption Fund’s legal department, posted the outcome of the trial on Facebook (translation by The Interpreter):

The Lyublinsky District Court has just satisfied the suit of Senator Sablin against Aleksei Navalny and ruled to fine him for 250,000 rubles for moral damages and 158,00 rubles for court costs. The court considered that Senator Sablin suffered in his enormous undeclared residence in Rublyovka.

Moreover, the court rejected both linguistic expertise as well as acquaintance with the documents and other important procedural appeals.

The court did not listen to our arguments that the property is undeclared. Where did the senator get a home for $10 million?

And this is while similar suits against Chaika are not even accepted by the court. And given that usually moral damage is not fined in amounts more than 50,000 rubles. Well, try to seek moral damages if you were poisoned in a cafe and lay a week in the hospital. They will satisfy you with 10,000 rubles, 20,000, 30,000, but not more, but no 250,000!

On the whole, this is the latest attack of persecution against Alexey Navalny by the government. But at least it’s not for 10 million.

The rest of the demands (including the part about the demands of Sablin’s wife) the court rejected.

According to reporting on the Nemtsov murder by Novaya Gazeta last year which we covered, Sablin was known to support the Sever Battalion, whose members have been indicted for the murder of Boris Nemtsov, and whose commander, Ruslan Geremeyev, also believed to be behind the murder, has fled Russia. A picture of him with the unit commanders in Grozny was published by Novaya Gazeta.


— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Ruble Rises As Brent Crude Oil Bounces From Record Lows
Yesterday the value of both a barrel of oil and the ruble fell through the floor:

Today, however, they’re both rebounding. According to Bloomberg, Brent Crude Oil is up .28% today, or eight cents. It’s currently trading at $28.70, down from today’s peak of $30.08 but still an improvement from where it opened.

CNBC reports:

Brent crude oil prices rebounded on Tuesday from a 12-year low after data showed Chinese oil demand likely hit a record high in 2015, but the recovery was not expected to last amid warnings that the market would stay oversupplied this year.

Analysts also attributed much of the bounce from under $28 a barrel to a brief short covering rally after oil prices crashed over 20 percent this year, triggering a record volume of short positions in the week through Jan. 12.

“It seems to be a healthy upside correction in an otherwise downtrending market,” said Tamas Varga, oil analyst at London brokerage PVM Oil Associates.

The ruble also recovered, which had some Russian analysts feeling optimistic earlier today. Bloomberg reports:

The yield on Russian government five-year notes fell 18 basis points to 10.63 percent, the biggest move on Tuesday among debt from Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The currency rose 1 percent to 78.468 against the dollar by 6:30 p.m. in Moscow after closing on Monday near a historical low of 80.10. Brent crude advanced 2.2 percent.

The ruble is the second-worst performer in emerging markets this year, threatening to rekindle inflation, as collapsing crude prices weigh on budget revenue. The currency’s 14-day relative strength index has traded under 30, the threshold that signals to some analysts that an asset is oversold, since Jan. 5. Current-account data released on Monday showed the country’s surplus grew 13 percent in last year compared with 2014.

“If the ruble doesn’t weaken to new lows, then we might say that the bottom is behind us,” ING’s chief Russia economist Dmitry Polevoy said on Tuesday. “Current-account data confirmed that there are no clear fundamental reasons for the ruble’s further declines, besides an overall negative speculative mood.”

Moscow’s market is closed, but the ruble is already slowly losing value, suggesting that Polevoy’s optimism may have been premature. Currently the ruble is trading at 78.8380 to the dollar — still a .60% improvement from yesterday, but not confidence-inspiring.

The ruble, in dollars, over the course of the day:

2016-01-19 20:01:52

James Miller
At Meeting With European Jewish Congress, Putin Calls on Jews to Return to Russia

At a meeting with representatives of the European Jewish Congress at the Kremlin today, President Vladimir Putin responded to a report of increased antisemitism in Europe by saying that Jews should move to Russia, reported.

Vyacheslav Kantor characterized the situation of Jews as “the worst since World War II,” whereupon Putin said:

“Let them come to us, to us let them come. We are ready. In the Soviet Union, they left, let them return.”

Kantor said this was “in principle a new, fundamental idea” and said it would be discussed.
Putin also said:

“I have seen, I have viewed reports, that people fear even wearing the  yarmulke in public places, and try to hide their ethnicity.  Yes, there is such a problem. But I don’t think, even so, it’s as bad as you say — the worst situation since the times of World War II.”

Kantor objected, “It’s worse than you can imagine, Vladimir Vladimirovich,” and Putin demurred, “Well, perhaps.” Kantor said:

“We would like to express our really high estimation of your policy, since the situation of Jews in Russia today, perhaps, is the best in Europe.”

Putin also remarked to the European Jewish Congress members:

“We view your organization as one of the most representative non-governmental organizations, as a natural ally of Russia in the struggle with xenophobia, antisemitism and various manifestations of extreme views, and undoubtedly one of our direct allies in preserving the member of World War II, and the consequences of that catastrophe on a common human scale, about the Holocaust.”

Putin said that while he couldn’t recall the specifics, new synagogues and secular centers were being opened, and that a rabbi had invited him to one but he hadn’t had time to visit; he promised to do so in the future.

He said Judaism was one of the recognized traditional Russian religions; that a Museum of Tolerance had been open, site of the Schneersohn Library, which Putin acknowledged was “a source of discord with the American Jewish community” but which he said now had opened up its access.

In fact, the issue is that the Lubavitcher community has demanded that the library, which was a collection assembled by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn before he fled Russia after being sentenced to death for “counterrevolutionary activities.” He was forced to leave his books and papers in Germany after fleeing the Nazis. The Red Army captured the collection from the Germans and kept it in state military archives. Despite a court ruling in the Yeltsin era that the collection should be returned, under Putin, it has been kept in Russia.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Civic Chamber Proposes Banning Workers from Personal Internet Use At Work; Activists Expect Crackdown

The Civic Chamber, a body formed by President Vladimir Putin in 2004 to make legislative proposals and monitor the government, has proposed that employers should ban employees from using the Internet for personal purposes during work, Novaya Gazeta reports.
Vladimir Slepak, the chairman of the Civic Chamber’s commission on social policy, labor relations and citizens’ quality of life, says that legislative actions should be taken to punish workers for personal Internet use at work. His effort is not just part of the government’s overall campaign to restrict the Internet, but is about getting more efficiency out of workers in the economic crisis (translation by The Interpreter):

“The country today is in a crisis; therefore I propose introducing the relevant amendments into the Labor Code, and on the basis of a court decision, restricting the use of computers and gadgets for personal reasons during work time.”

It would not be bad to add to that smoking tobacco and drinking tea. Once again I emphasize that today, to overcome the crisis, it’s necessary to mobilize all resources and enterprises, but this must occur within the framework of the law.

In making his proposal, Slepak referred to a recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)  in Barbulescu vs. Romania, in which the Court ruled that a Romanian citizen who complained to the ECHR after he was fired for using his work email for personal correspondence. He said his employer’s admission that they had monitored his Yahoo Messenger account, created at their request for customer service, was a violation of the privacy of his correspondence. The Court dismissed his complaint, saying his employer had provided him with due notification, and that it was not unreasonable for an employer to monitor employees’ performance to ensure jobs were done. 

Slepak’s invocation of the ECHR ruling was selective, given the recent decision of Russia no longer to recognize international law and President Vladimir Putin’s authorization to ignore international court decisions if they did not comply with Russian law. The ECHR decision also did not address the larger issue of whether the government could monitor employees’ use of personal Internet accounts at work but addressed the smaller issue of due notification and monitoring performance on an account created at the employer’s behest.

The Civic Chamber’s call for even more surveillance of Russians is part of an overall trend of Internet control in the last year. has recently outlined five major threats to Internet freedom that have emerged in the last year:

1. Blocking of torrents sites, in connection with new laws on copyright protection;

2. Inspections of Facebook and Google regarding compliance with the law on protection of personal data, passed last September, which requires Internet service provides to place servers with Russian customer data on Russian soil. Samsung, Apple, Lenovo, Uber, Booking and eBay have all complied wit the law, say officials, which leaves Facebook and Google which have a presence in Russian already, as well as Twitter.

3.Limiting of competition to the “big four” of Russian mobile companies, MTS, MegaFon, VympelKom and Tele2.

4. Further regulation of messaging systems, although recently presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said no restrictions were planned, and Russia decided not to restrict Telegram, a program used by the Paris terrorists, even after an MP called for its ban.
5. Removal of information from search engines under the new Russian law on the “right to be forgotten.”
Opposition Leonid Volkov blogged about these new developments and proposed creating an “Internet Defense Society,” saying that this year, a “wide-scale, unprecedented offensive on the Internet in Russia” could be expected.
As Russian Internet specialist Andrei Soldatov, author of The Red Web, has written for Moscow Times, the Russian government is increasing pressure on both companies and citizens to further restrict the Internet, and soon the issue of the order to place servers on Russian soil will have to come to a head.
The government blocked, the largest Russian-language torrents site, forcing more people to turn to Tor, a software program to overcome Internet blocks and provide anonymous communicatoins. The Interior Ministry at first offered a bounty to crack Tor (which has had other problems with its vulnerability) but then dropped the effort and its use increased in Russia.

A petition calling on global platforms not to hand over their data to Russia has gathered more than 40,000 signatures and 7,000 users organized by Roskomsvoboda, the organization whose name, “Russian Committee for Freedom” is a spoof on the state censor’s name, Roskomnadzor (Russian Committee for Oversight), is filing a lawsuit over the blocking of Rutracker.

Recently, Putin appointed an Internet advisor, German Klimenko, founder of the site LiveInternet and president of the Association for the Development of Electronic Commerce who has been closely scrutinized by Internet freedom advocates. 

Vedomosti reported Klimenko he himself had been owner of, a torrents site, but had passed the ownership to his son shortly before his appointment

But TASS reported today that Klimenko denied the reports, saying that the owner of Tornado was a company called ECO RS, and he was “not an owner in the legal sense” of this company” and that furthermore, the site did not violate any laws. “If rights-holders write us, we remove [content],” he added, indicating that he was not denying some connection to this site.

Klimenko was also on the record as saying that under conditions of the economic crisis, defense of copyright should not be a priority and “people should not be terrorized excessively on these issues”.

It’s not clear whether his appointment signals the government’s admission of defeat in their lukewarm war against piracy, or rather an effort at co-opting the lucrative business.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick