* Duma passes new information law blacklisting some websites
* Ruling party says bill aims to fight child pornography
* Critics see bill as Putin crackdown on Internet freedom
By Nastassia Astrasheuskaya
MOSCOW July 11 Russia's lower house of
parliament approved a law on Wednesday that the opposition says
could be used to censor the Internet and crack down on one of
the last forums of open political debate under President
His United Russia party says the law, passed in the third
and final reading by the State Duma, is needed to combat child
pornography. It will create a single register of websites
containing information deemed harmful or illegal from Nov. 1.
But the new law has caused alarm among the opposition and
the Russian version of online encyclopedia Wikipedia closed its
web pages on Tuesday for a day in protest. [ID: nL6E8IA0P9]
Opposition leaders said the new law could be used to shut
down websites such as Facebook and Twitter without a court order
and that it was meant to stymie their protest movement, which
uses social network sites to arrange anti-Putin demonstrations.
Russian search engine Yandex on Wednesday displayed
a link to a statement saying the bill needed to be discussed
with Internet experts.
"The proposed methods of child protection allow for
potential misuse and raise numerous questions from Internet
users and companies," said Ochir Mandzhikov, a Yandex spokesman.
"In a bill like this, it is necessary to maintain the
balance of public interests while taking into account the
technological aspects of the Internet," he said in an e-mail.
The official blacklist is intended to include domains of web
pages containing pornographic images of children, instructions
on how to make, use and where to get drugs, as well as sites
calling for suicides and describing suicide methods.
Under the law, which was softened slightly following
criticism, more sites may be added to the list based on either a
court decision or with the approval of authorised federal
Communications Minister Nikolai Nikiforov told a news
conference that the law needed more work but should not
interfere with freedom of information.
"We support the idea of the law as a whole in what concerns
the need to provide the means for fighting phenomena such as
child pornography. At the same time, we find that the proposed
mechanisms are not entirely complete," he said.
"The fight against child pornography must not create
problems with the main principle of the Internet - open access
to information," he added.
United Russia, which proposed the bill, dismissed criticism
of the law as "groundless".
Passage of the law, which needs to be signed by Putin before
it secures final approval, followed the introduction of a
measure increasing fines for protesters.
Parliament is also discussing legislation that would tighten
controls on rights and campaign groups funded from abroad.
All three laws are seen by the opposition as part of a
campaign to stifle protests against Putin, a former KGB spy who
has been in power for 12 years as prime minister or president.
The Kremlin denies planning any such crackdown.