Russia: Telegram block leads to widespread assault on freedom of expression online

Issued by Transparency International Secretariat



Translations: RU


We, the undersigned 53 international and Russian human rights, media and Internet freedom organisations, strongly condemn the attempts by the Russian Federation to block the Internet messaging service Telegram, which have resulted in extensive violations of freedom of expression and access to information, including mass collateral website blocking.

We call on Russia to stop blocking Telegram and cease its relentless attacks on Internet freedom more broadly. We also call the United Nations (UN), the Council of Europe (CoE), the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the European Union (EU), the United States and other concerned governments to challenge Russia’s actions and uphold the fundamental rights to freedom of expression and privacy online as well as offline. Lastly, we call on Internet companies to resist unfounded and extra-legal orders that violate their users’ rights.

Massive Internet disruptions

On 13 April 2018, Moscow’s Tagansky District Court granted Roskomnadzor, Russia’s communications regulator, its request to block access to Telegram on the grounds that the company had not complied with a 2017 order to provide decryption keys to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). Since then, the actions taken by the Russian authorities to restrict access to Telegram have caused mass Internet disruption, including:

Background on restrictive Internet laws

Over the past six years, Russia has adopted a huge raft of laws restricting freedom of expression and the right to privacy online. These include the creation in 2012 of a blacklist of Internet websites, managed by Roskomnadzor, and the incremental extension of the grounds upon which websites can be blocked, including without a court order.

The 2016 so-called ‘Yarovaya Law’, justified on the grounds of “countering extremism”, requires all communications providers and Internet operators to store metadata about their users’ communications activities, to disclose decryption keys at the security services’ request, and to use only encryption methods approved by the Russian government - in practical terms, to create a backdoor for Russia’s security agents to access internet users’ data, traffic, and communications.

In October 2017, a magistrate found Telegram guilty of an administrative offense for failing to provide decryption keys to the Russian authorities – which the company states it cannot do due to Telegram’s use of end-to-end encryption. The company was fined 800,000 rubles (approx. 11,000 EUR). Telegram lost an appeal against the administrative charge in March 2018, giving the Russian authorities formal grounds to block Telegram in Russia, under Article 15.4 of the Federal Law “On Information, Information Technologies and Information Protection”.

The Russian authorities’ latest move against Telegram demonstrates the serious implications for people’s freedom of expression and right to privacy online in Russia and worldwide:

Such attempts by the Russian authorities to control online communications and invade privacy go far beyond what can be considered necessary and proportionate to countering terrorism and violate international law.

International Standards

We, the undersigned organisations, call on:

Signed by
1. ARTICLE 19 
2. Agora International
3. Access Now
4. Amnesty International
5. Asociatia pentru Tehnologie si Internet – ApTI
6. Associação D3 - Defesa dos Direitos Digitais
7. Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights
8. Committee to Protect Journalists
9. Citizens’ Watch
10. Civil Rights Defenders
11. Electronic Frontier Foundation
12. Electronic Frontier Norway
13. Electronic Privacy Information Centre (EPIC)
14. European Federation of Journalists 
15. Freedom House
16. Free Word Association
17. Glasnost Defence Foundation
18. Human Rights House Foundation
19. Human Rights Watch
20. The Independent Historical Society
21. Index on Censorship 
22. International Media Support 
23. International Memorial
24. International Partnership for Human Rights
25. Internet Society Bulgaria
26. International Youth Human Rights Movement (YHRM)
27. Interregional Human Rights Group 
28. Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group
29. Mass Media Defence Centre
30. Memorial Human Rights Center
31. Moscow Helsinki Group
32. Movement ‘For Human Rights’ 
33. Norwegian Helsinki Committee
34. Open Media
35. Open Rights Group
36. OVD-Info
37. PEN America
38. PEN International
39. PEN St Petersburg
40. People in Need
41. Press Development Institute-Siberia
42. Privacy International
43. Reporters without Borders 
44. RosKomSvoboda
45. Russian Journalists' and Media Workers' Union
46. Sakharov Center 
47. SOVA Center 
48. Team 29
49. Transparency International 
50. Transparency International Russia
51. Webpublishers Association (Russia)
52. World Wide Web Foundation
53. Xnet


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