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The Kremlin’s War on Liberalism

MOSCOW – In the wake of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States, the so-called “War on Terror” was launched. But the US-led military invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were not the whole of it; many countries also ramped up monitoring and policing of domestic media and ordinary citizens. Freedom of expression and personal privacy, governments claimed, would have to be curtailed for the sake of security.

The damage has been particularly pronounced in Russia, where anti-terror regulations have often been used as a tool to muffle the voices of those who offer independent or alternative views, particularly views that are critical of President Vladimir Putin’s government. By using security as a pretext to flout Russia’s media legislation, which explicitly protects journalists from censorship, the government has undermined journalism considerably.

That legislation was based on European and international law, and symbolized the victory of democracy in Russia. But the legislation’s integrity has been gradually eroded by amendments that limit free speech and journalists’ ability to work unimpeded, and by uneven application of existing rules.

Consider the “law on counteracting extremist activities,” which restricts the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association. Enacted in 2012, amid nationwide protests against rigged elections, it has been used most often to target journalists and bloggers.