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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Court Tries to Figure Out Cyberspace

Do you want to understand what makes a web site? Just try ordering someone to confiscate it.

A court in Khakassia ran into this problem after a local magistrate ordered the confiscation of a web site where a local journalist had posted news items critical of regional officials.

In her Dec. 1 ruling, magistrate Marina Khokhlova claimed the web site, Novy Focus, was illegal because it had not been registered as a media organization.

The web site's owner, Mikhail Afanasyev, who was also fined 20,000 rubles ($750), filed an appeal to the Abakan City Court.

Under the law, posting news items on a web site does not make it a media organization and thus no registration as such is required.

On Wednesday, Judge Svetlana Shapovalova addressed the question of what an Internet web site is and how it can be confiscated.

A representative of a local Internet company that provided Afanasyev with Internet access proposed that the site's content be copied onto a compact disk and handed over to officials, and the original content on the server destroyed, said Irina Khrunova, Afanasyev's lawyer.

"But it is clear that this does not preclude me from restoring the web site content from a backup, which I have already done several times when my site was shut down," Afanasyev said.

At a hearing on Dec. 26, the prosecutor proposed seizing Afanasyev's computer. "I told the judge then that prosecutors had already confiscated one from my office and another from my home," Afanasyev said.

Afanasyev, who won the Andrei Sakharov journalism prize in 2004 for his reporting in Khakassia, set up Novy Focus in the summer of 2005 at

He said the current case against him began soon after he posted an article about an Abakan magistrate killing a teenager in a traffic accident.

The regional prosecutor's office could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

At Wednesday's hearing, Afanasyev proposed calling as witnesses representatives of Afilias Limited, an Irish company that owns the .info domain zone, and two designated registration companies. A ruling is expected Jan. 15.