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Europe
Russia blocks Facebook protest page
From the Financial Times of Sun, 21 Dec 2014 14:03:04 GMT
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Russia has blocked a Facebook page calling for a protest in support of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, as the Kremlin tightens its control of the internet and social media.

The move capped a week of drama in Russia, where a collapse in the value of the rouble triggered widespread alarm and rattled the population’s confidence in President Vladimir Putin.

The Facebook page was set up after prosecutors on Friday asked for a 10-year jail sentence for Mr Navalny on embezzlement charges that critics say are politically motivated.

As of Sunday afternoon, 12,000 people had said they would attend the protest, which was called for January 15, the date of the verdict in Mr Navalny’s case. A separate Facebook page, set up after the first one was blocked, had attracted 15,700 promises of attendance.

Mr Navalny, an anti-corruption blogger sharply critical of Mr Putin, was a central figure in the 2011-12 protests that shook Moscow after the most recent presidential elections. Last year he ran unsuccessfully for Moscow mayor, but since February has been living under house arrest amid a series of investigations into his affairs.

Vadim Ampelonsky, a spokesman for communications regulator Roskomnadzor, told Interfax on Saturday that the prosecutor-general had requested that access be blocked “to internet pages on Facebook which contain calls to unauthorised mass events”.

The move comes amid a growing crackdown on the Russian opposition and paranoia in the Kremlin about the possibility of a popular revolution in the mould of Ukraine’s Maidan square or the Arab Spring.

At his annual press conference on Thursday, Mr Putin said “the border line between the opposition and the fifth column is very thin”, using a Stalin-era term to describe traitors within Russia that Mr Putin has repopularised.

Russia has stepped up control of the internet this year. Laws came into effect in February giving the prosecutor-general power to order websites or social media accounts to be blocked without a court order.

In May, a senior official at Roskomnadzor publicly threatened to block Twitter in Russia and complained that Google and Facebook were unresponsive to Russian government demands to block content seen as illegal by Moscow. Facebook said it restricted access to 29 pieces of content in Russia in the first six months of this year at the government’s request.

Mr Putin, who has in the past described the internet as a “project of the CIA”, warned on Saturday about growing numbers of foreign spies in Russia.

“Special services that are operating in Russia are becoming more active. For example, more than 230 career employees and agents of foreign special services have been found out this year via counterintelligence alone,” he said.



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