Russian Facebook blocks page supporting Putin's biggest critic

The page advertised a rally in support of Alexei Navalny, one of President Vladimir Putin's harshest critics, and it was set to follow the Jan. 15 verdict in a controversial embezzlement case that many have denounced as political in nature.

By Fred Lambert

MOSCOW, Dec. 21 (UPI) -- Facebook blocked a page calling for a demonstration in support of one of President Vladimir Putin's most vocal critics after being pressured to do so by Russian Internet regulators.

On Friday Alexei Navalny, an anti-corruption blogger and the most prominent critic of Putin, was given a Jan. 15 sentencing date in relation to accusations of embezzlement. Critics have called the charges politically motivated. On the same day a Facebook event page was crafted calling for a demonstration to be held on Jan. 15 in support of Navalny.


Around 12,000 users said they planned to attend the event before the page was shut down Saturday. Russia's Internet regulator, called Roskomnadzor, demanded Facebook block the page due to it being an "unsanctioned mass event," which Russian law justifies under a measure put into effect in February allowing censorship of pages that would "infringe the public order."

Roskomnadzor spokesman Vadim Ampelonsky told Interfax news service that Facebook was fulfilling its demands on the matter. A Facebook spokeswoman told the Washington Post the matter was being investigated, though the social media site says it blocked 29 pieces of content at the Russian government's request during the first half of 2014, compared to four in the latter half of 2013.


Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, denounced the move on Twitter:

The page is now only viewable to non-Russian Facebook users on a non-Russian IP, and similar pages have since sprouted up.

Prosecutors are seeking a 10-year sentence for Navalny and his brother. The two stand accused of embezzling $500,000 from two companies, one an affiliate of French cosmetics firm Yves Rocher. Both Navalny and Yves Rocher employees have denied any crime was committed.

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