Down And Out: Russia Cites Obscure 100-Year-Old Law To Block Online Porn

All internet pornography faces a ban in Russia after a court in the Tatarstan region ordered the country’s state-controlled internet watchdog to block 136 websites hosting “pornographic material”, citing laws drawn up in 1910 and 1923.

The court ordered the block thanks to the laws which ban the “illegal distribution” of pornography. However, judges failed to state what constitutes “legal distribution”, thus leaving millions of other websites facing a blackout.

Tatarstan prosecutors arrived at the 136 figure after searching Yandex, Russia’s most popular search engine, for the terms “Kazan prostitutes” and “porno video”. The Ministry of Culture then examined the results to see if they contained pornographic material.

Prosecutors cited the Convention for the Suppression of the Circulation of Obscene Publications, signed by Tsar Nicholas II’s government in 1910, and a subsequent international agreement signed by Soviet authorities in 1923, which they argued are still binding in Russia.

They claimed these agreements banned the production, possession and distribution of pornographic materials, and the judges agreed.

Global Voices Online, which cites a report in Russia’s Izvestia newspaper, said that the ruling could have such wide ranging consequences because Russian law on pornography is vague. An adult film maker said that the only law on the books is Article 242 of the federal criminal code which defines several illegal types of pornography but does not state what is permissible.

It remains to be seen whether Russia’s internet watchdog will block the websites only in Tatarstan or across the whole country, and whether they will apply the ruling to more websites.


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