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Russian censorship tensions grow amid Ukraine conflict

With Russian troops entering the Ukrainian portion of Crimea, concerns about the state of freedom of expression continue to grow.

Free speech in Russia has long been an ideal that many seek, but few receive. Vladimir Putin has been rigorous in controlling the political dialogue in the country as more citizens grow frustrated with the country's policies.

Many Russian writers covering the Sochi Olympics, for instance, could only report on events in a certain, government sanctioned way. This controlled what people could talk about in terms of the content of the articles, along with the topics themselves. While this is not explicitly outright censorship, it reveals a strict government control over what is talked about, and how it is done so.

This policy can be seen in a number of the recent free speech issues that have emerged over the past few years. For instance, guerilla art collective, Pussy Riot, was sentenced to prison time in Siberia following a protest at a Russian Orthodox Church, while members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and transgendered community were prohibited from practicing free speech at the most recent Olympic games.

Recent developments
The protests and subsequent ousting of the Russian-sympathizing Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, have led to greater tensions in both countries. Russian military troops have entered Ukraine's part of the Crimea region. While Ukrainians prepare for what might be military action, protestors in Russia have become more vocal.

The Telegraph reported that around 1,500 protestors recently gathered in the streets of Moscow in protest. The protest went against a police ban on mobilizing in opposition, which eventually led to the arrests of a number of activists. This included members of Pussy Riot, along with Alexei Navalny, an anti-corruption activist who has come to symbolize the face of the Russian opposition movement.

These are only some of the most recent government crackdowns on the opposition movement, which seems to be heating up following the actions that are taking place in the Ukraine.

"Things can't go on like this forever," said a Russian protestor, according to the Telegraph. "The people of Kiev rose up to kick out Yanukovych, and we'll do the same to Putin one day."

Navalny under house arrest
Around the time that tensions began to pick up in Ukraine, members of the Russian opposition saw the effects of this crackdown pick up. As previously states, Alexei Navalny was put under house arrest following a government probe into embezzlement charges brought against him, according to Al Jazeera America.

While the charges are based in embezzlement, opponents to the Kremlin content that this punishment is part of efforts to suppress the opposition. During the time he is in captivity, which is expected to last for at least two months, Navalny will be banned from using the Internet and speaking with the media, further adding to these allegations.

Navalny came under the government's radar for publishing blog posts about government corruption. He is currently serving a five year suspended sentence on theft and is being charged with theft and money laundering in a separate case, the news source noted.

These kinds of practices are becoming all to common in Russia, especially as tensions heat up in country and neighboring regions. In a time with much political and diplomatic confusion, the government's control over the media creates for very limited accounts of what is actually happening. In times such as these, the need for a free and open press and internet is essential to making sure that citizens are well informed about the issues. If this is to be achieved, dissenters need to be free to voice their concerns to work for a better future.

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