By Nikita Bondale
Nations around the world pride themselves on having a constitution dedicated to protecting the rights of their constituents. The United States, for example, has a Bill of Rights in which each amendment not only protects individual rights but also limits the power of the government.
The First Amendment alone explicitly ensures citizens’ freedom of speech, protest, assembly, press, and religion. These rights are essential as they have proven to help many individuals advocate for rights as they speak up against government injustices.
Though these rights should be ensured and as open as possible, they are not always protected as many countries place strict limitations on citizens’ rights. One of those countries is Russia.
Chapter 2, Article 29 of the Russian Constitution does guarantee the freedom of speech and ideas to all of its citizens. Unfortunately, as pointed out by a USA Today article, “a patchwork of laws… severely limit the public’s right to assembly and engage in certain kinds of speech, especially political speech critical of the Kremlin.”
Recently, with the warfare between Russia and Ukraine, those aforementioned limitations on speech have heightened greatly. The government has blocked access to major foreign news outlets, social media platforms such as Facebook, and has made the spread of “false information” a crime punishable by 15 years in prison. These harsh punishments and restrictions make constituents lose faith in their government and feel as though they have no voice. For that reason, the Russian Federation must remove these limitations.
Unfortunately, the opposite has continued to occur as Vladimir Putin, president of the Russian Federation, signed a law that criminalized “public opposition to or independent news reporting about the war against Ukraine.” This law would essentially make it a crime to call the war between Ukraine and Russia a “war” rather than a “special military operation.”
These laws have made it very difficult for citizens to stay updated on current events which have led to them being faced with violence and warfare without warning. For that reason, these restrictions on free speech and protest must be removed so that citizens of the Russian Federation can remain apprised of their country’s affairs and form their own opinions.
Russian citizens, becoming frustrated with the lack of information, created platforms to ensure their health and safety without the need for government involvement. An organization known as “CallRussia.org” was co-founded by Lithuania-based creative agency director Paulius Senūta.
This organization has volunteers make thousands of calls to provide families and businesses across Russia with information regarding impending attacks and military raids. According to a statement given by Senuta, “ in just one week after the CallRussia launch, thousands of volunteers made 84,000 phone calls.”
In less than five minutes on the phone with a stranger, Russian citizens learned more about the war than they had from their own government in the past few months. However, though CallRussia.org has been extremely helpful, history implies that the website will likely be shut down soon and its founders will be arrested, pursuant to the newly established digit restrictions.
For instance, a Russian journalist who organized a public event— stating similar information as the CallRussia volunteers— was fined 30,000 rubles. In total, more than “14,763 protesters have been detained in 151 Russian cities since the start of Russia’s invasion” for simply giving opinions and updates about the war.
Though citizens have made the best out of their circumstances by creating websites and alert systems, Russian citizens’ ability to remain aware of current events and their right to speak their opinions must be protected. Russia’s digital iron curtain must come to an end to limit the number of casualties and promote the civil rights of its citizens.