The Empire Strikes Back: New Developments in Russia’s War on Pornography

September 29, 2016

miller-imageA few weeks ago Roskomnadzor—or in English the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology, and Mass Media—blocked public access in Russia to two of the world’s largest porn sites, Pornhub and YouPorn. The block came after a 2015 court decision from the southern city Krasnodar. The court held that the websites had violated the child protection laws and illegally produced and distributed pornography. According to the Moscow Times, a higher court will review the ban at a later date. All Internet service providers were required to take action and comply with the court order within twenty-four hours.
The government placed the websites on a list with nine other banned porn sites last year for failing to keep harmful information out of the hands of children. Since 2012, Putin and the government have increased their efforts to crackdown on the pornography industry. Included in these efforts was an interesting district court decision that outlawed the production, possession, and distribution of porn. Oddly, the court cited to the Convention for the Suppression of the Circulation of Obscene Publications, which was signed by Russia in 1910 and 1923. The court argued that the sites cause harm to groups of children, compel people to partake in prostitution and violence, and create disrespect towards traditional family values.
Under the Protection of Children from Negative and Harmful Information Act, Russia reviews all books, computer programs, media publications, and other products by an expert panel including specialists in child psychology, pedagogy, and physiology. This allows the government to exercise discretion in determining what will fall within the parameters of being “harmful to children”. Some criticize the law as being oppressive and over-reaching into the entertainment industry. This view may have some warrant to it as Russia has no clear-cut rules on what is and what is not harmful to a child. In 2013, Russia placed a ban on the distribution of 13 episodes of “Hentai” or Japanese cartoons. Experts claimed that the cartoons exploited an interest in sex and contained no storyline, culture, or historical value. In a somewhat similar decision, the government also banned several YouTube clips that showed a woman demonstrating how to use a razor blade and make-up to mimic cutting her wrists. The Russia watchdog, Roskomnadzor, claimed that they were harmful to children because they provided information on how to commit suicide.
After facing public backlash from the Pornhub decision,

the official Twitter account of Roskomnadzor responded to its citizens that “[a]s an alternative, you could meet someone in real life.”

To note, Russia has become increasingly concerned with a declining population in the country. In order to combat this problem, the government has often insisted that people procreate.
Following the decision, Pornhub provided a temporary link to their site for the public and users and to access their website despite the block. For now though, many will be forced to take their business to other websites until a final ruling has been issued on the matter. As for Russia’s law in general, many more challenges from the entertainment industry are certain to come in the future.