MOSCOW, April 13 About 5,000 Russians, some
waving Ukrainian flags, rallied in central Moscow on Sunday to
protest at what they say is a government crackdown on
independent media intended to stifle debate about the crisis in
In the past few weeks, Russia has removed the longtime
editor of a popular Russian Internet news site Lenta.ru and
taken an independent television channel off air.
The Kremlin denies allegations of censorship or pressure on
the media. Most Russians support the Kremlin's policy on Ukraine
and the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula has significantly
boosted public approval ratings of President Vladimir Putin,
Protesters at the heavily policed rally listened to speeches
from activists, decrying state control of the media.
"Russia's main problem at the moment is lying, a problem
leading to war in Ukraine, (and) the isolation of Russia from
the rest of the world," said Igor Yakovenko, the former head of
Russia's Union of Journalists, who helped to organise the
The crisis in Ukraine has led to the most serious standoff
between Russia and the West in decades. Both sides accuse each
other of manipulating the news for political ends.
In March, Russia blocked access to the blogs of prominent
Kremlin foes Alexei Navalny and Garry Kasparov and other
Internet sites that have become platforms for opposition voices.
The move followed the enactment of a law allowing
prosecutors to order providers to block access to sites deemed
to have published calls for participation in demonstrations
planned without the consent of the government.
At Sunday's rally, protester Ekaterina Maldonko said the
media atmosphere in Russia was reminiscent of the country's
Communist totalitarian past.
"I'm here to protest against the rapid return of 1937,
against censorship, (and) endless lies from our zombie-box
(television). I also want to express my support for the heroes
of Ukraine," Maldonko said.
Her mention of 1937 was a reference to the height of purges
by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin who during his long rule sent of
millions of people to their deaths.
(Reporting by Alexander Reshetnikov; Writing by Alessandra
Prentice; Editing by Stephen Powell)