/ 3 April 2008

Medvedev: ‘Fair position’ towards internet users

Russia should take a measured approach to policing the internet, president-elect Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday in a speech that may ease concerns about a crackdown on free speech in cyberspace. Medvedev is a protege of outgoing President Vladimir Putin and is expected to continue his policies, but analysts say he could adopt a more liberal style

Russia should take a measured approach to policing the internet, president-elect Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday in a speech that may ease concerns about a crackdown on free speech in cyberspace.

Campaigners have said Russian authorities are trying to tighten regulation of the internet, a vibrant forum for political debate in a country where the mainstream traditional media is deferential to the Kremlin.

Medvedev is a protege of outgoing President Vladimir Putin and is expected to continue his policies, but analysts say he could adopt a more liberal style after he is sworn in as president on May 7.

Speaking at a forum devoted to the internet near Moscow, 42-year-old Medvedev addressed what he called ”the delicate question of the relationship between freedom of speech and responsibility,” in cyberspace.

”The answer to this question is fairly simple: laws must be respected everywhere … at the same time, the state should take a calm, fair position” towards internet users, he said.

Russian prosecutors have closed down several regional internet sites critical of the authorities, saying they did not have the proper registration.

A pro-Kremlin lawmaker has proposed requiring Russian Internet sites with more than 1 000 daily visitors to register as media outlets — a proposal that could make blogs subject to the same regulations as newspapers.

Medvedev has said he is an avid consumer of internet news, including from pro-opposition sites. In his previous job as first deputy prime minister, he oversaw a programme to put every Russian school online.

He has promoted internet use as part of a programme to develop a knowledge-based economy and reduce Russia’s dependence on oil and gas exports.

Medvedev told the forum Russia had 40-million internet users out of a population of 142-million. – Reuters