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Russia's federal censor blocks a thousand websites that mention a prominent banker

Source: Meduza

Russia’s federal censor, Roskomnadzor, has blocked roughly 1,000 hyperlinks to different Internet resources mentioning VTB Bank, the bank’s president, Andrey Kostin, and TV news anchor Nailya Asker-Zade.

A source at the Internet freedom project “Roskomsvoboda” told Vedomosti that Roskomnadzor is enforcing two court rulings handed down last fall. According to legal records, VTB Bank demanded in multiple lawsuits the deletion of Internet content that mentions Kostin and Asker-Zade at least four times. The website The Bell says a case that concluded in St. Petersburg this March was riddled with four major procedural violations:

  1. The court didn't call the website administrators as defendants;
  2. The court didn't analyze the authenticity of the claims made by the websites;
  3. The court didn't specify what information was inaccurate and defamatory; and
  4. Rulings in one lawsuit can't be used to block different content — courts have to examine each text individually, and authors have the right to demonstrate that the information is accurate.

Roskomsvoboda director Artem Kozlyuk says this act of mass censorship is unprecedented in Russia.

On April 4, the online publication Baza announced that the “personal content feed” service “Yandex Zen” had deleted its investigative report about two luxury apartments first owned by VTB Bank and then by Nailya Asker-Zade. The real estate is worth an estimated 420 million rubles ($6.4 million).

Spokespeople for Yandex Zen say they received a complaint about the content stating that it contained insulting or defamatory information. The service says it was also warned by Roskomnadzor that Baza’s report contains information that is illegal to disseminate in Russia. According to Vedomosti, Yandex Zen would have been blocked by the government, if it had refused to delete Baza’s text. Neither Nailya Asker-Zade nor VTB Bank have responded to journalists’ inquiries.