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Google Russia Appeals Ruling On Unblocking Oligarch-Backed Orthodox TV Channel

Tsargrad positions itself as an outlet for conservative Orthodox Christians.
Tsargrad positions itself as an outlet for conservative Orthodox Christians.

The Russian arm of Google has appealed a court ruling that its YouTube unit unblock the accounts of the Tsargrad TV channel in Russia and its former chief editor, pro-Kremlin analyst Aleksandr Dugin.

Google said on May 20 it was appealing a decision last month by the Moscow Arbitration Court that ruled it must restore Tsargrad's account or face a daily fine of 100,000 rubles ($1,360).

Failure to comply would result in a doubling of the fine each week, the court said.

"We've now filed an appeal against last month's Tsargrad ruling because it sets aside the prior decisions of multiple Russian courts and comes with a penalty that is out of all proportion to the matter at hand," Google Russia said in a statement.

Google, which owns YouTube, said in July 2020 that the accounts were blocked due to the violation of laws on sanctions and trade regulations.

The account of the TV channel, which has more than 1 million subscribers and positions itself as an outlet for conservative Orthodox Christians, was disabled without the right to restore, Google said.

The founder and owner of the Tsargrad TV channel, Konstantin Malofeyev has been under U.S. sanctions for about six years over his participation in the annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region by Russia in 2014 and his public support for Kremlin-backed separatists in Ukraine's east, where some 13,200 people have been killed in an ongoing conflict.

With the Internet rapidly gaining clout and offering a vehicle to challenge the Kremlin narrative, President Vladimir Putin has turned his sights on social-media companies, accusing them of "monopolism."

In 2019, Russia passed a "sovereign Internet" law that gives officials wide-ranging powers to restrict online traffic, up to the point of isolating the country from cross-border Internet connections during national emergencies.

Moscow has repeatedly warned that it is ready to use the new measure if unrest were to reach a serious scale.

In January and early February, a series of massive anti-government rallies actively promoted on platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok, the Chinese video app that played an outsize role in hosting content by opposition politician Aleksei Navalny and his supporters, ushered in an intensified push to fine-tune the online censorship apparatus.

Russia has been punitively impeding the speed of Twitter since March and warned other tech platforms, including YouTube, over failing to delete content it deems illegal.

With reporting by Reuters and TASS
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