Web watchdog threatens to block Wikipedia in Russia over drug-related content

Dried marijuana © Andres Stapff
Russia’s media regulator Roskomnadzor has issued an official warning to Wikipedia saying that access to the website may be blocked in Russia if it refuses to remove an article detailing the procedure for preparing hashish or ‘charas’ (cannabis).

The agency wrote to the Russian branch of Wikimedia explaining that a district court in South Russia’s Astrakhan ruled in June that it’s illegal to publish information in Russia about how to prepare hashish or ‘charas’. The reason being that the drug’s main ingredient is cannabis and is listed as an illegal drug in the country.

If the page with this text is not deleted, Roskomnadzor threatened to order all internet service providers to block access to the whole of Wikipedia in Russia in accordance with the Federal Law on Information. The watchdog said this extreme measure was due to Wikipedia using https technology that makes blocking separate pages impossible.

Russian law allows nationwide bans on internet pages on rulings by regional courts and this has happened before, but these have never previously concerned Wikipedia content.

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The executive director of the Russian branch of Wikimedia told the RBC news agency that he and his colleagues had discussed the situation and decided not to comply with Roskomnadzor’s demands. “Wikipedia is a universal encyclopedia and all information posted on it has references to various sources. In this article the information was taken from the United Nations’ website and academic sources,” Stanislav Kozlovskiy told Russian news agency RBC. He also added that Wikipedia was prepared for the website’s block in Russia, but did not elaborate.

In January, Aleksandr Biserov, deputy head of the Russian state regulator for education Rosobrnadzor, said that Wikipedia should be banned altogether because of the great number of mistakes in its articles. The agency’s press service later dismissed this statement as a joke, but it still drew some comments from Lower House lawmakers, who unanimously spoke in defense of the popular online encyclopedia.

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The head of the State Duma Committee for Education, Vyacheslav Nikonov, weighed in. He told RIA Novosti that even though he agreed that Wikipedia contains a lot of mistakes, the site promotes itself as a “free encyclopedia” and everyone who uses it should understand that it’s not a 100-percent reliable source.