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A bill allowing the Russian government to restrict Web content has been moving quickly through the country’s lower house of Parliament, The New York Times reports. An initial version was approved last week and a second version is scheduled for debate in the chamber on Wednesday. The proposed law would create a “black list” of content that is prohibited for publication and would create procedures for blocking Web hosting companies that do not block the banned material. Law enforcement agents would be empowered to add sites to the registry of banned material, in some cases without obtaining a court order.

Major Internet sites and human rights advocates have come out against the measure, fearing it will diminish free speech rights and evolve into something similar to the “Great Firewall of China.”

Wikipedia shut down its Russian Web site on Tuesday in protest and visitors to the site were greeted with a large warning on its home page: “Imagine a world without free knowledge.”  

Popular Russian social networking site VKontakte joined Wikipedia in coming out against the measure and added a message at the top of its home page saying, “The State Duma is considering a law to impose censorship on the Internet.”

Many of those concerned believe the law could chill political engagement. Ivan Zassoursky, chairman of the New Media Department in the Faculty of Journalism at Moscow State University, credits the Internet with involving larger segments of the population into politics: “[The Internet] has given life to political discourse in a very free and independent way.”

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