Russian media outlets have received government orders to remove archived material about Alexei Navalny and his investigations into corruption by Vladimir Putin and his associates. While the jailed activist’s past work can be found elsewhere, YouTube and other foreign internet platforms may be the Kremlin’s next target.
A new phase of Russia's crackdown on Alexei Navalny has begun — virtually. He has already been in jail for a year now, after being poisoned; his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) and headquarters have been deemed extremist organizations; many of his supporters have either emigrated or are also in jail. Yet Russian President Vladimir Putin's apparent obsession with the lawyer and anti-corruption activist just won't go away: not enough for him to lock him up, he wants to erase his very name — at least off screens in Russia.Following a decision Tuesday by the Prosecutor General's Office, citing anti-terrorism laws, the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications (Roskomnadzor), which regulates the internet in Russia, demanded the removal of materials connected with Navalny's investigations into corruption and massive wealth allegedly acquired by Putin.
Moscow-based newspaper Novaya Gazeta reports that such demands have been sent to all remaining independent media outlets in Russia: Echo Moskvy, Dozhd, Meduza, and several regional publications, all of which are listed as foreign agents. Novaya Gazeta also received demands to remove certain publications under threat of blocking access to its website and was forced to comply.
The jailed activists' past work can be found on YouTube and other foreign internet platforms may be the Kremlin’s next target.
Putin palace, Roscosmos summer house
"In total, Roskomnadzor demands the removal of 77 pieces of material,” writes Novaya Gazeta. Among the reports include news about Putin's "palace" near Gelendzhik. There are also investigations into the real estate holdings of Tatarstan Governor Rustam Minnikhanov, the summer house of Dmitry Rogozin, who heads Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, and the removal of materials about the expensive clothing of the vice-mayor of Moscow on social development Anastasia Rakova.
Interviewed on Dozhd TV, Russian journalist Sergei Parkhomenko warned that the Roskomnadzor orders may be just the beginning of a Kremlin purge of the Internet, which will likely go further by targeting YouTube and other foreign-based sites and social media platforms where deleted information can be easily found.
"We are talking about anti-corruption investigations, about the fact that journalists have found signs of corruption, the money of dirty corrupt origin, what this money is invested in, established that this or that official, or even not an official, but just a well-known person, can not prove the origin of this money," says the journalist.
Among the reports include news about Putin's "palace" near Gelendzhik.
Novaya Gazeta’s answer
The consequences for media executives and journalists who don’t comply include up to 10 years in a Russian penal colony. Not only text and visual images are banned; even pictures of the Navalny Foundation or its headquarters symbols can incur administrative liability, up to 15 days in jail.
Igor Orekh, a columnist for Ekho Moskvy, wrote that even if Roskomnadzor's attempts appear ludicrous, they will limit other people investigating the authorities.
"Palaces, yachts, villas, insane luxury — It's all gone nowhere,” he wrote of Navalny’s probes. “The authorities prefer to ban not the people who are drowning in corruption and theft, but those who investigate it, and prevent those who talk about it.
Orekh predicted that the suppression of free speech and free press is bound to fail. “All this may slow down change for a while,” he wrote. “But it will end up like perestroika, when the dam simply broke at one point," he added, referring to the reforms that preceded the end of the Soviet regime.
Novaya Gazeta's editorial board urged colleagues at other publications to fight against the Internet purge by continuing the investigations that Navalny has been engaged in: "What could be the media's response to Roskomnadzor's demand to immediately retroactively remove the archive of our materials on Navalny supporters' investigations?,” the editors wrote on a Telegram channel piece. “There can only be one answer. We need to look again at the targets of Navalny's investigations, their assets, and what happened to them after the now-banned materials came out."
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