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Watchdog

Friday 2 April 2021

The fines against U.S. social-media companies are part of a larger Kremlin strategy to weaken their influence in Russia, analysts say.  (illustrative photo)

A Russian court has fined Twitter nearly $117,000 for failing to delete what officials describe as banned content amid growing Kremlin pressure on U.S. social-media companies.

The April 2 decision against Twitter is the first in a series of rulings expected in the coming days against U.S. social-media companies in Russia. Cases are currently ongoing against Facebook and YouTube.

The cases all pertain to content published on their platforms in January that called on Russians to protest the arrest of Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny.

Russia’s communications regulator Roskomnadzor described the postings as "inciting teenagers" to take part in "illegal activities" or "unauthorized mass events."

Navalny was detained by Russian police in mid-January upon his return from Germany on charges of violating his parole.

Navalny had been recuperating in Berlin after being poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent during a trip to Siberia in August to investigate local corruption. Navalny has accused officers of Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, of trying to assassinate him with the nerve agent.

Tens of thousands of Russians around the country heeded the calls to protest on January 23 and January 31, making them among the largest anti-government demonstrations in years.

Russia later sentenced Navalny to jail for more than two years in a case he says is aimed at punishing him for surviving the poisoning.

The fines against U.S. social-media companies are part of a larger Kremlin strategy to weaken their influence in Russia, analysts say.

The strategy also includes slowing traffic speed and developing domestic equivalents to YouTube.

The Kremlin controls major media assets, including television, but social-media platforms, which are growing as a source of information for Russians, remain outside its control.

Navalny and his supporters have deftly used YouTube and Twitter to spread his anti-government message to millions of citizens.

Russia last month slowed the speed of Twitter and threatened to ban the social-media service outright.

Twitter at the time said it was "deeply concerned by increased attempts to block and throttle online public conversation."

With reporting by Reuters and AFP
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (left) greets Russian President Vladimir Putin (center) and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu at the headquarters of the Russian armed forces in Damascus on January 7, 2020.

Leading human rights groups in Russia have condemned the country’s role in abuses in Syria, including its participation in the bombing of civilian targets.

The condemnation comes in a 198-page report, billed as the first report on the deadly conflict by Russian rights groups, including the prominent Memorial human rights center and several other organizations.

The report includes more than 150 interviews with witnesses and survivors based in Russia, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Germany, Belgium, and other countries.

“Focusing on the plight of these civilians, we conclude that much greater responsibility for Syria’s future lies with all state parties to the conflict, Russia foremost among them,” the report says.

"The overwhelming majority of our interviewees do not see Russia as a savior, but as a destructive foreign force whose military and political intervention helped bolster the war criminal heading their country," the report added.

"Some of the people we interviewed revealed that they or their loved ones had been victims of Russian bombings,” it said.

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The report accuses Russia of abuses in Syria, including bombing civilians indiscriminately and backing Syria's regime, which has been accused of widespread atrocities including the use of chemical weapons.

The report calls on Moscow to conduct independent investigations into the Russian Army's bombardments in Syria and pay compensation to victims.

The authors of the report said it was compiled mainly to present information about human rights abuses in Syria to Russian readers, where “we have the sense that Russian society is not adequately informed about this conflict in which our country has played a key role.”

Russia, along with Iran, has played a critical role in helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remain in power despite a 10-year conflict that has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said that at least 388,652 people have been killed in the conflict.

With reporting by AFP and The Guardian

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