Ivan Tikhonov, founder of Russia’s blocked Bitcoin website, Btcsec, goes to court to fight the ban, but expects further steps from the authorities to suppress Bitcoin activities.
On January 13, Russia’s Federal Supervision Agency for Information Technologies and Communications (Roskomnadzor) blocked the websites bitcoin.org, indacoin.com, coinspot.ru, hasbitcoin.ru, bitcoinconf.ru, bitcoin.it, and btcsec.com. Cryptocurrency Foundation Russia Chairman, Igor Chepkasov, has informed Cointelegraph of an official online petition currently being circulated against the closures.
The ban was enacted in accordance with a ruling of the Neviyanskyi Municipal Court of Sverdlovsk Oblast. On September 30, 2014, the little-know municipal court ruled that the sites contain information whose dissemination is forbidden within the Russian Federation. Here you can see the actual court document (in Russian) on the official ruling.
The websites, which spurred the litigation process, were never notified. “There was nothing closely resembling any defense,” said Btcsec Founder, Ivan Tikhonov. “The prosecutor and the judges essentially made the decision among themselves.”
No notices were issued after the ruling along with any warnings prior to the closure of the websites, even though this is required by law. And finally, another fact worth mentioning is that the ban was put into effect three months after the court’s decision, the reasoning for which was also never explained.
“Knowing this fact as well as the absence of any notices leads me to believe that this was done intentionally, said Tikhonov, “so that the period for an appeal would already be over.”
The ruling contains several references to the law regarding the Central Bank of Russia, but Tikhonov doesn’t believe it is applicable in this case. In particular, this law says that the issuance of “money surrogates” is forbidden. However, Russian legislation has no law stating that virtual currencies and Bitcoin in particular, are money surrogates and the term “money surrogate” itself is not defined nor are any penalties for using them.
According to Tikhonov, Btcsec is currently preparing the necessary documentation to file a formal complaint. Tikhonov says:
“We are also changing the infrastructure of our resource. Russian users comprise 60% of our audience and thus, as well as for other reasons, we cannot wait for a court decision and are already changing our domain and IP address so that users in Russia could access the information.
We will also take part in CoinFest Russia, we will organize offline meetups and other events, which I cannot name right now as we are still working out the details.
But we are definitely not closing and will fight for our rights.”
We had a chance to talk further with the Btcsec Founder about the court’s decision and the Bitcoin situation in Russia as a whole.
Cointelegraph: The ruling about closing down the websites was issued in September of 2014. Did you expect that your site among those listed would be blocked? How did you prepare for this?
Ivan Tikhonov: No. We could not anticipate this as there weren’t any warnings. We were never called to court and were not notified about the blockage.
“We have no plans to close. We believe this ban is unlawful and we will fight it in court.”
CT: How effective is the closure of cryptocurrency websites in Russia? Is it working or are mirror sites, duplicate domains starting to pop up?
IT: The blockage methods in Russia depend on the specific ISP. Some cannot do anything except block the IP address, while others can even use DPI. So this is certainly the case: with one provider, you can just add www. before the address after which it will open, while with others, these methods will not work. But our audience is largely tech-savvy and knows how to use proxy, VPN, TOR and other technologies. It is also worth mentioning that users in Russia represent 60% of our viewers. And after it was blocked, our visits fell approximately by one third.
CT: How do you plan to continue your operations? It is possible to open a new portal with a different name, which will require a new court order to close it?
IT: We have no plans to close. We believe this ban is unlawful and we will fight it in court. Unfortunately, this can take time and this is why we will transfer to a new domain.
“This ban was a test run to see how the community reacts.”
CT: Today, there are cryptocurrency websites that cater to Russian speakers and are located abroad. For example, Perfect Money, etc. Are these resources at any risk?
IT: I think so. This ban was a test run to see how the community reacts. The sites were blocked without any warning and the court’s ruling was not based on any specific law. There is no way to protect oneself from this since when they are put into effect, the period for appeal is over, and as the decision is enforced, all providers must comply and block the resource. So yes, if these unlawful bans continue, then foreign-based service can lose their share of the Russian market.
CT: Are there any ideas to bypass this? For example, create some sort of euphemisms for the words “bitcoin” and “cryptocurrency” and use them instead?
IT: We are not criminals who need to hide. This is why I don’t see a reason to do so. If the situation escalates, then these measures will not help. But if this was a one-time case of inadequacy from specific actors, then this type of approach will not be needed.
CT: What do you expect next from the authorities? Will there be a next step? In your CT interview in September 2014, you mentioned that “you can easily see the authorities’ aim: the deanonymization of citizens.” What can be done exactly?
IT: These steps are already being taken. The authorities do not want their citizens to have the opportunity to flee from the falling ruble to assets not controlled by the government. This includes cryptocurrencies, in particular. This is why under the pretext of defending the public from losing money when using cryptocurrencies it is not only forbidden use them, but also to disseminate information about cryptocurrency. I don’t want to fathom what will be next but it all depends on how hard they will “turn the screws.” But right now, the aim is the still same and I do not see that changing.
CT: What is the general outlook of the public in Russia towards cryptocurrency? Is it really seen as something solely negative?
IT: In Russia, there is a large discrepancy as far as understanding economics goes. So some can explain on the fly just what a key interest rate is, what fractional reserve banking is and how fiat and non-fiat currencies differ, while others have never heard of any of these terms. Uninformed people are easier to control. They are told that this is a like an MMM (an infamous Ponzi scheme in the 90’s after the collapse of the Soviet Union), which led to many people losing their savings. These people are extremely negative.
Also people who understand the given issue can also react negatively and present constructive criticism, but they can also be persuaded with facts and argumentation. Meanwhile, a majority of people with knowledge on this topic are at the very least interested in cryptocurrency though many are still not ready to use it. And finally there are enthusiasts who, regardless of their profession, use and spread information about these technologies.
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