Roskomnadzor, a Russsian Media watchdog, blocked Bits.media from working for the vast majority of its audience in Russia this week. Bits.media is a renowned cryptocurrency website in Russia that publishes news articles. Yet, the watchdog has included an undefined number of URLs belonging to the news agency. Besides, they updated a roster of online sources propagating prohibited information.
The injunction resulted from a decision made by the Volzhsky District Court in the city of Saratov. The court was hearing a case filed on March 31 by the local prosecutor’s office. Bits.media, through a post on their site, accused the judiciary of making a biased ruling. They claim that on April 24, the judge approved the request made by the prosecutor. However, they maintain that the judge made this in the absence of the media owners.
Roskomnadzor bans five URLs
According to the published decision, the ban targeted five URLs. They claim that the URLs have material aimed at promoting crimes in the sphere of legalizing (laundering) proceeds from crime. It is currently unknown if the measures affect only Bits.media addresses. Besides, the official justification for the action is not known either. According to Ivan Tikhonov, the founder of the site said:
Although we are an interested party in the case, no one has informed us of the proceedings. We were not given any opportunity to remove the materials about which the prosecutor’s office in Saratov had questions. Yet, they continued to ask us about them. The decision reached by the jury is not at all acceptable to us.
Bits.media intends to file an appeal against the decision made by the court. The court had previously prevailed in a case that was quite similar to this one.
The Russian internet regulator prohibited the website back in January 2015. This was after the website referred to a judgment handed down by the Nevyansk City Court in the Sverdov region. The necessity of “protecting an unlimited circle of persons” was the justification given by the local prosecutor for his plea deal. The verdict first blocked access to seven websites. However, the court overturned the ruling that same year.
In March of 2020, Roskomnadzor blocked five websites that offered crypto-related services. The discussion board part of Bits.media was another area of focus for this attack. Yet, one could still access the site in Russia through virtual private networks (VPNs) and browser plugins.
Bits.media to rely on precedence to challenge the media watchdog
Additionally, the proprietors of other Russian cryptocurrency platforms have successfully contested such verdicts. For instance, in 2018, the Saint Petersburg City Court overturned a solemn injunction. The injunction had 40 websites with crypto-related content frozen.
The supreme court overturned the judgment that had previously been in place to limit access to Bitcoininfo.ru. Also, in May 2019, it forced the watchdog to remove a domain from its registry. This followed the abandonment of efforts by prosecutors to prevent access to the website Bestchange.ru.
Since the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war, the country has been showing mixed signals on cryptos. Lately, Russia has laid the foundation for crypto adoption by initiating a bill in its parliament. Yet, the lower chamber of the Russian parliament is discussing a measure proposing to outlaw the use of cryptos like bitcoin as a form of payment.
Once again, the Russians have mystified the world with their position on cryptos. Investors have seen the Russian central bank, politicians, and authorities shifting stands on cryptos. At one point, there was an extraordinary confrontation in the executive, pitting pro-crypto ministers and others. Pro crypto executives insisted that cryptocurrency is good for the economy. Yet, their counterparts felt the need to ban the coin.
It is not clear how things will unfold in the coming weeks. However, the crypto dilemma in Russia might lead to several twists and turns.