Russia's Bitcoin Users Are Angry About Censorship
But few are willing to join action to oppose it.
On January 13, Russia's regulatory body for media and mass communication Roskomnadzor added five cryptocurrency websites to its list of banned websites in the country. Among these was the popular and widely-used website bitcoin.org.
According to Igor Chepkasov, Chairman of the Crypto Currencies Foundation in Russia (CCFR), which promotes the use of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in the country, "The owners of the websites did not receive any warning from the authorities."
The decision refers to a court ruling from 30 September—taken in the very remote city of Nevyansk in the Sverdlovsk region—which stated that using virtual money "contributes to the growth of the shadow economy and cannot be used by citizens and legal bodies on the territory of the Russian Federation."
The idea of what exactly constitutes a "shadow economy" is, of course, quite unclear.
Chepkasov told me: "No one was invited to the trial, and they didn't know anything until the decision came into effect. Between the court ruling and its implementation, there was a few months' lapse. So by the time the decision was applied, the period for appealing the decision had already passed."
The ruling also followed a statement issued by the Central Bank in January last year, which said that the use of "fake money" was risky because of its potential ties to "money laundering and terrorist activities."
This decision, however, appears to have been made in an arbitrary way, as there is currently no law banning the use of cryptocurrencies in Russia.
But for Chepkasov, this is just a first step, a "dress rehearsal" before the complete banning of Bitcoin in Russia. In fact, in September, the Deputy Finance Minister Aleksey Moiseev announced that a law explicitly banning its use could be passed by spring 2015.
Chepkasov sees the decision as a purely political one. "This ban is reflective of the country's current political situation and its absence of democracy," he said. "It's just another fence or limitation added within Russian society. It's a step backward for the government."
The Bitcoin community will either swallow this unlawful decision, or it will find the strength to take action and fight for its civil rights
He thinks the Russian state is making a mistake by refusing to use cryptocurrencies, as it "reduces costs significantly." In fact, he suggested the zero percent charge on Bitcoin transactions could contribute to enhancing the appalling state of Russian economy at present.
Two websites have so far managed to get around the ban by changing their domain. Coinspot.ru, for instance, which said it had "luckily been warned by [its] hosting provider," changed its address to coinspot.io and informed its visitors. It also confirmed that no one had contacted the site to warn about the ban.
According to Chepkasov, Russia is currently ranked fifth worldwide for Bitcoin use, in terms of registered transactions and wallets, with Russian billionaires investing a lot in foreign Bitcoin projects.
But while people have been protesting against the ban on forums, he is afraid that there won't be a significant enough movement to make a change. "The Bitcoin community will either swallow this unlawful decision, or it will find the strength to take action and fight for its civil rights, because the right to private finance is a civil right, and it's about time we get it," he said.
CCFR has called upon citizens, website owners, and users to come together in order to prepare a common statement to oppose the ban—rather unsuccessfully so far, as even website owners have refused to join for now, claiming they don't want to take any political action against the government or get involved in lobbying.
"I would really like to see some real action organised by those who are concerned by the ban, and often unhappy with it, but I am skeptical that this will happen," said Chepkasov.
"People should remember that civil rights are something that you earn," he added. "There should be a call for people to unite and organise themselves."