Thousands of Russians protest against internet restrictions

A large number of supporters opposed the bill due to the possibility for censorship and widespread surveillance. Image via the BBC

The participants chanted slogans such as "hands off the Internet" and "no to isolation".

The sanctioned rally on Sunday was organized in response to a bill in parliament that would route all internet traffic through servers in Russian Federation, making virtual private networks (VPNs) ineffective.

"Everyone is in favor of internet freedom - the authors of the bill, the presidential administration and the government", Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

Rallies took place in Moscow and other cities on Sunday, March 10, after Russian lawmakers backed a bill to stop the country's internet traffic being routed on foreign servers, in a bid to boost cybersecurity. But some Russian media likened it to an online "iron curtain" and critics say it can be used to stifle dissent.

The police detained several people, including RFE/RL's Russian Service correspondent Andrei Kiselyov.

"If we do nothing it will get worse", one protester told Reuters news agency. "The authorities will keep following their own way and the point of no return will be passed".

"The government is battling freedom, including freedom on the internet", said one speaker, Sergei Boiko, an internet activist from Siberia.

"I can tell you this as somebody who spent a month in jail for a tweet", he added. Interfax news agency put the number at 6,500.

The Russian government says its "digital sovereignty bill", which requires all internet traffic in Russia to be directed through state-controlled routing points, would reduce Russia's dependence on the United States. A second vote is to take place this month and then President Putin will sign it into law. The bill was passed by Russian parliament last month, and people are not happy.

Russian Federation has in recent years attempted to curb internet freedoms by blocking access to certain websites and messaging services such as Telegram.

And previous year, campaigners took to the streets to protest the media watchdog's attempt to shut down the encrypted messaging service, Telegram.

The bill has reportedly also been passed in the Russian parliament on the first reading out of three.

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