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Twice Shy: Instagram Deletes Suspected Kadyrov Account As Chechen-Created Clone App Sputters


Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov (file photo)

For the second time in 11 months, the Instagram social-media site has blocked an account associated with controversial Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov.

Chechen officials deny that the account, @za_kadyrov_95, which was blocked on November 8, was connected with Kadyrov personally. However, it appeared in July -- six months after Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, blocked Kadyrov's personal account when he was targeted for personal sanctions under the U.S. Magnitsky Act -- and shared photographs and videos that were clearly taken by Kadyrov.

When the account was closed down, it had about 1.5 million followers.

"This account was created by his followers," Chechen government minister Dzhambulat Umarov told the Russian website Znak. "Yes, they quote him and cover events at which he is present and use clips from his personal archive. I know this account and it was gaining popularity, but [Kadyrov] has nothing to do with it."

The 42-year-old Kadyrov was installed by the Kremlin as the head of Chechnya after the assassination of his father in 2004. He has been widely accused of human rights abuses, including murder, torture, and disappearances, as well as massive corruption. He has been outspoken -- including on social media -- both in his support of Russian President Vladimir Putin and in his opposition to Putin's critics.

'Instagram-Addicted'

Kadyrov has been one of the most active Russian officials on social media. He has regularly been listed among Russia's most-influential social-media personalities, and a 2015 New York Times article described him as "Instagram-addicted."

In December 2017, Instagram and Facebook both blocked Kadyrov's personal accounts after he was added to the U.S. sanctions list. That move prompted Russian State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin to say that Kadyrov's rights had been violated.

"They are afraid of a public conversation and the truth," Volodin said. "By deleting the account, they deprive citizens of their right to know about bloggers' opinions and to communicate with them."

Around the same time, Kadyrov announced the creation of a free social-media platform called Mylistory that was created in Chechnya and bears an uncanny resemblance to Instagram.

"Dear friends, I have created the account kadyrov_95 on Mylistory," Kadyrov boasted on his Telegram account on December 23, 2017. "Now I will post all the important news, with photos and videos, on this app."

"Employees of the [U.S.] State Department will only be allowed with the permission of the Russian Foreign Ministry and the leadership of the Chechen Republic," he added.

'Checkered Reputation'

Most Chechen officials and government agencies announced they were deleting their social-media accounts on Western platforms and moving to Mylistory with their leader. However, the Washington Post wrote in May that many of the officials "also remain very active on Instagram."

Seemingly authorized Mylistory accounts were opened in the names of Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

A screen grab of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's Mylistory account.
A screen grab of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's Mylistory account.

Mylistory has a checkered reputation, with many users leaving comments that it is dangerous and gives Chechen authorities access to users' personal information.

Users posted screenshots of warnings saying that "the application could record audio using your phone's microphone at any time without your knowledge" and "the application could take photographs or video using your phone's camera at any time without your knowledge," RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service reported.

Several users reported that it was impossible to delete an account once it had been opened.

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