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“Imagine the world without free access to knowledge.”

The above sentence and the censored out Wikipedia logo is all one could see on Tuesday when trying to access Wikipedia pages in Russian.

The world’s largest online encyclopedia decided to close its Russian language version in protest at a bill that would allow the state to block access to blacklisted websites.

Last Friday, politicians in the Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament, heard the first draft of a bill to amend Russian’s information law, called “On the Protection of Children from Information Detrimental to their Health and Development”.

Until now, Russian authorities have not been able to shut down websites without a direct order from the court. The bill amendments suggest the creation of a federal register that would rule on offending websites carrying banned information, and oblige site owners and providers to close them down.

Its supporters claim the new amendments target websites containing harmful content such as child pornography, and sites that promote drug use or extremism. The Russian Minister of Communication, Nikolai Nikiforov, said that amendments to the bill wouldn’t be voted before autumn 2012, and that the industry representatives and experts would work on it together.

However, Kremlin opponents disagree with the additional restrictive measures. In a country where the internet, and in particular social media, play a crucial role in spreading the opposition’s message, building a Russian version of the “Great Firewall of China” is seen by many as censorship in its purest form.

Critics of the new plan have been showing their discontent on Twitter with the hashtags “RuWikiBlackout,” and “Wikipedia”.

The bill is expected to have its second reading in the Duma on Wednesday, July 11.

“One does not simply shut down Wikipedia.”

“Many have learned more here than during 10 years in school.”

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