Access to YouTube across Russia could be blocked under a new law that takes effect on November 1 if the portal does not remove a video mocking the Prophet Mohammad, the country’s communications minister said on Tuesday.
The video, which sparked violent protests in many Muslim countries, has been deemed extremist by Russian prosecutors who have now asked the court to ban it.
Under new legislation, Internet sites carrying content banned in Russia would be included on a special register, after which Internet providers would have one day to block access.
“Because of this video, YouTube could be blocked throughout the territory of Russia,” Communications Minister Nikolai Nikiforov, one of the opponents of the new law, wrote in his Twitter microblog. “If a law is passed it should be enforced.”
Google Inc, the owner of YouTube, rejected a request by the White House to remove the video but decided to block it in a number of Muslim countries including Egypt and Libya where U.S. embassies have been stormed by protesters. Russia is home to 20 million Muslims.
The court now has five days to make a ruling on whether the film is extremist but legal practice shows that on such matters Russian courts usually side with the prosecutors.
“If they abide by the court decision (and remove the video) no one will (need to) close them (YouTube) down,” said parliament member Ruslan Gattarov from pro-Kremlin United Russia who first raised the issue with the prosecutors. “Do we have to wait until violence comes here?”
Google’s Moscow office confirmed they received the prosecutors’ warning but said that such matters are handled at the company’s headquarters. Previously Russia has never blocked access to Google services.
Some influential Russian politicians, including former Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, blamed social networks and popular Internet services for helping to stir dissent in developing countries including Russia.
Last year Russia’s domestic security service called for access to encrypted communication providers such as Gmail, Hotmail and Skype, saying the uncontrolled use of such services could threaten national security.
Anti-Kremlin opposition groups, which staged the biggest protests during President Vladimir Putin’s 12-year rule over the past several months, has extensively used Internet services to organize mass rallies and spread their message.
The Kremlin responded by rushing through parliament a string of restrictive laws which opposition described as a crackdown on dissent.