Facebook blocks page promoting opposition leader rally at Russia's request



After Facebook -- at Russia's request -- shut down an event page organized in support of opposition leader Alexei Navalny (pictured), supporters created another one, which has garnered even more attention.
Russia’s Internet watchdog is hard at work trying to quash social media mentions of a mass rally next month supporting opposition activist Alexei Navalny.
A Facebook event page promoting a rally backing Navalny next month was set up after prosecutors on Friday asked for a 10-year jail sentence for the opposition leader on embezzlement charges that critics say are politically motivated. Since February, Navalny has been living under house arrest.
Navalny, a staunch critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and an anti-corruption blogger who ran a failed mayoral campaign in Moscow last year, was a key figure in Russia’s anti-government protests in 2011-2012.
Vadim Ampelonsky, a spokesperson for Russia’s Internet watchdog, Roskomnadzor, confirmed to Interfax news agency on Saturday that the general prosecutor had requested that access be blocked “to Internet pages on Facebook which contain calls to unauthorized mass events,” including the page for next month's event for Navalny.
“At the moment, the demand” to block the page “is being fulfilled” by Facebook, he added.
Navalny and Volkov

Alexei Navalny (R) speaks with Leonid Volkov, the former head of his mayoral campaign and organizer of the planned Jan. 15 rally in support of the opposition leader.
IMAGE: EVGENY FELDMAN
The move to suppress support for Navalny comes amid a growing crackdown by Russian authorities on opposition activists as the Kremlin frets over the possibility of a people’s revolution in the vein of Ukraine’s Euromaidan protest, which ousted the country’s Moscow-leaning president in February.
As of Sunday afternoon, before the event page was blocked for users in Russia, some 12,000 people had said that they would attend the rally at Moscow’s Manezhnaya Square planned for Jan. 15, the day that the courts are to rule in Navalny’s case. The page is still visible to users outside Russia.
A separate Facebook event page, created after the first one was blocked has since garnered over 26,000 promised attendees and is still accessible in Russia.
Navalny's signature

Alexei Navalny autographs a copy of Esquire magazine adorned with his face for a supporter during a rally in Moscow.
A report by Russia’s TV Rain cited sources saying Facebook has decided not to block any further protest content or pages after blocking Russian users from accessing the first event page, which triggered a wave of criticism from activists. The same report said that Twitter, too, has also decided it will not comply with Roskomnadzor removal requests.
Facebook could not be reached by HDT to confirm the report. Twitter officials declined to comment.
The companies’ decision not to block event pages and accounts of those Russia deems to be in violation of its laws puts them at risk of being fully blocked in Russia, TV Rain wrote.
Russia has taken extreme steps to tighten control of the Internet this year. In February, laws came into effect that grant the country’s general prosecutor power to order websites or social media accounts to be blocked without a court order.
A look at Russia’s Internet blacklist shows it is quickly filling up with links related to the Navalny rally, as Russian Internet service providers are ordered to block content mentioning the event.
In May, a senior Roskomnadzor official threatened to block Twitter throughout Russia and complained that Facebook and Google ignored demands to block content deemed illegal by Moscow.
Facebook restricted access to 29 pieces of content in Russia in the first six months of this year at the government’s request. A mere four pieces of content were restricted in all of 2013.
Russia made 32 removal requests to Twitter between January and June of this year. Eight accounts and 11 tweets were withheld as a result of the requests.
While Twitter has complied with some of Russian authorities’ requests, communications officer Nu Wexler told HDT: "We have never disclosed user data to the Russian government.”

An ex-employee of Vkontatkte, Russia's version of Facebook, said Roskomnadzor also sent 53 requests to it to block pages on Sunday.
"They mainly try to block all pages, groups and events that mention the word Navalny," Nikolay Durov, whose brother founded and ran the site before he was ousted this year, wrote on Vkontakte.
Despite the crackdown, as pointed out by Russian activist Roman Dobrokhotov, it is easy to circumvent the restrictions on Twitter simply by changing your location from Moscow to almost anywhere else in the world. "I'm here [on Twitter] from Uganda," quipped Dobrokhotov.




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