On Friday the Russian Duma (parliament) passed a bill introducing criminal responsibility for creating pro-suicide groups on social media, in the wake of 130 teen deaths linked to the Blue Whale suicide challenge.

The bill, proposed by ultraconservative lawmaker Irina Yarovaya, forms part of a wider legal initiative outlawing the dissemination of information about ways to commit suicide or encouraging suicide. Under the proposed legislation, which needs to be signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin to become law, inciting others to commit suicide or assisting them in this endeavour is punishable by a prison sentence of up to four years, while those engaging minors in activities that threaten their lives could face up to three years in prison.

A separate bill forces the Russian internet watchdog Roskomnadzor to ban all websites that contain calls for suicide or that provide information on methods of suicide, and to report them to the Interior Ministry within 24 hours.

The proposed legislation responds to reporting that links large numbers of child deaths to online pro-suicide groups that encourage users to engage in dangerous activities and eventually to commit suicide.

Last May Russian daily Novaya Gazeta reported that around 130 teenagers had committed suicide between November 2015 and April 2016 as a result of certain social network groups, most notably the Blue Whale online challenge. This game reportedly consists of a series of tasks assigned to players by administrators during a 50-day period, with the final challenge requiring the player to commit suicide. The founder of Blue Whale, Philipp Budeikin, was arrested in November 2016 for pushing a 16-year-old girl to commit suicide, a charge to which he pleads guilty.

Critics of the bill claim that the new legislation may be used to further tighten government control on internet freedom.

 

Source: The Moscow Times

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