GORKY-10, Russia (Reuters) - Russia should take a measured approach to policing the Internet, president-elect Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday in a speech that may ease concerns about a crackdown on free speech in cyberspace.
Campaigners have said Russian authorities are trying to tighten regulation of the Internet, a vibrant forum for political debate in a country where the mainstream traditional media is deferential to the Kremlin.
Medvedev is a protege of outgoing President Vladimir Putin and is expected to continue his policies, but analysts say he could adopt a more liberal style after he is sworn in as president on May 7.
Speaking at a forum devoted to the Internet near Moscow, 42-year-old Medvedev addressed what he called “the delicate question of the relationship between freedom of speech and responsibility,” in cyberspace.
“The answer to this question is fairly simple: laws must be respected everywhere ... at the same time, the state should take a calm, fair position” towards Internet users, he said.
Russian prosecutors have closed down several regional Internet sites critical of the authorities, saying they did not have the proper registration.
A pro-Kremlin lawmaker has proposed requiring Russian Internet sites with more than 1,000 daily visitors to register as media outlets — a proposal that could make blogs subject to the same regulations as newspapers.
Medvedev has said he is an avid consumer of Internet news, including from pro-opposition sites. In his previous job as first deputy prime minister, he oversaw a program to put every Russian school online.
He has promoted Internet use as part of a program to develop a knowledge-based economy and reduce Russia’s dependence on oil and gas exports.
Medvedev told the forum Russia had 40 million Internet users out of a population of 142 million.
Reporting by Denis Dyomkin; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Diana Abdallah