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Censorship Of Public Health Websites By Russian Drug Agency An ‘Assault’ On HIV Prevention

“Amidst pro-democracy protests, the Russian authorities have taken what is an ongoing assault on HIV prevention to the next level by moving to silence public health advocates whose only infraction has been to spread lifesaving information online and to criticize the government for its own failures,” Eka Iakobishvili, a human rights analyst at Harm Reduction International, and Claudia Stoicescu, an analyst on Harm Reduction International’s public health research team, write in this Huffington Post opinion piece. “While Prime Minister Putin spoke glowingly of digital democracy” in a recent column praising the potential for “internet-based democracy,” “his anti-drugs agency is censoring websites for writing about WHO essential medicine,” the authors note.

“‘[It’s over] methadone, plain and simple’ said Anya Sarang, president of the Andrey Rylkov Foundation, which had its website shut down over the weekend,” the authors write. “According to the World Health Organization, methadone is an essential medicine, for treating heroin dependence and for preventing HIV transmission by reducing the practice of injecting,” but “the Russian government’s ‘zero tolerance’ approach to illicit drugs is well known and has resulted in the outright denial of methadone,” they write. They conclude, “For years, human rights advocates like the Andrey Rylkov Foundation have argued that Russia’s colossal failure to provide vital services is a breach of its obligation under international law to respect, protect and fulfill the right to health. The government’s latest crackdown against public health activists has turned the matter into an issue of freedom of expression” (2/9).

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