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News

Russia's 'satirical Wikipedia' suspends activity after government pressure

Lurkmore is backing off from its infamous biting humour after a series of clashes with media regulators. The Moscow Times reports

Lurkmore, a Russian site described as the “satirical Wikipedia”, is suspending its operations because of increasing censorship, founder Dmitry Khomak has announced.

The move follows a series of recent clashes with Russia’s media watchdog.

In 2014 Roskomnadzor blacklisted five pages on the site for carrying information on drugs, and threatened to block the site altogether. Subsequently, Lurkmore complied with the watchdog’s request to delete the pages.

In April, the website was asked to take down a page featuring what the watchdog claimed were offensive memes of Russian singer Valery Syutkin.

Founded by Khomak in 2007, the site describes itself as an “encyclopaedia of folklore and sub-culture”, and runs on an openly editable platform similar to Wikipedia.

Famous for its biting lewd satire and meme-friendly language, the site has more than 140,000 registered users working on 6,000 articles.

Screenshot of Lurkmore’s entry for Vladimir Putin, translated from the Russian Photograph: Screenshot
The entry on Putin describes him as a “citizen who sees himself as king” and “a prominent defender of human rights ... at least verbally”.

But despite its popularity, Khomak has decided to freeze the site. In a Facebook post explaining his decision, the founder cited the rise of censorship in Russia, and particularly the broad use of the foreign agent law. The site’s Twitter feed on Monday wrote “The era of free internet in Russia is no longer. The project [is now] a monument.”

The 2012 ruling is targeted at organisations that are seen torepresent a threat to the Russian government, but activists say that the law’s ambiguous wording allows it to be applied to any independent voices in order to silence them.

Organisations such as Citizens’ Watch, the Human Rights Resource Centre and the Committee Against Torture have all been placed on the foreign agents blacklist.

Pointing to the recent designation of the science foundation Dynasty as a foreign agent, Khomak wrote: “If they destroyed them [Dynasty] without even looking, then they are certainly not going to miss us.” He also mentioned that he is currently facing personal financial difficulties.

Khomak expressed disappointment at the lack of coverage of recent censorship cases by the Russian media. “Between autumn and spring it has become clear that we no longer have a free press. No one took notice of [online project hosting platform] Github getting blocked,” he wrote.

Khomak specified that his decision doesn’t mean a total closure of Lurkmore, which will in future focus its efforts on archiving digital culture. “It’s obviously not the end of the project. It’s the end of a wonderful era for all of us,” he wrote.