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Russian Telecoms Watchdog Demands Explanation From Facebook, Instagram Over Blocked Kadyrov Accounts

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has more than 3 million followers on his Russian-language Instagram account and more than 750,000 on Facebook. 

Russia's telecommunications watchdog has demanded an explanation from social media networks Facebook and Instagram for their disabling of accounts belonging to Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya.

"On December 26, Roskomnadzor sent a request to Facebook management, asking to clarify reasons for blocking Ramzan Kadyrov's Facebook and Instagram accounts," the watchdog’s press service said in a statement.

Kadyrov accused the social media networks of bowing to pressure from Washington and blocking his pages on December 23, just days after the U.S. Treasury Department hit him with financial and travel sanctions.

Kadyrov has said that he never received a response from Instagram after sending a request for service support because his Russian-language accounts stopped working. His English-language Instagram account was unaffected at first, but later it was also unavailable.

Kadyrov has more than 3 million followers on his Russian-language Instagram account and more than 750,000 on Facebook.

Dzhambulat Umarov, Chechnya's press and information minister has called the issue a "vile sabotage cyberattack" by U.S. authorities.

Magnitsky Act

One of the last Instagram postings before the page went down was a video recording by Kadyrov in which he responded to the sanctions brought about under the Magnitsky Act -- a 2012 law that aims to punish Russians alleged to be involved human rights violations -- by saying he had no current reason to travel to the United States.

Human rights groups say Kadyrov has used threats and abuses to maintain control over Chechnya, the site of two post-Soviet separatist wars and years of insurgent violence stemming from the conflicts since Putin appointed him to head the region in 2007.

The U.S. sanctions law is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who was arrested after blowing the whistle on what he said was the theft of $230 million from Russian state coffers through tax fraud.

He died in jail in December 2009, and relatives and rights activists said he had been tortured and denied medical care. A Council of Europe investigation concluded the conditions leading up to his death amounted to torture.

The Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta was the first to document evidence that police in Chechnya rounded up, tortured, and humiliated dozens of people they considered to be gay.

The report was later corroborated in part by RFE/RL as well as Human Rights Watch, which said the "anti-gay purge" lasted from late February until at least early April and that "it was ordered and conducted by officials in Chechnya."

Kadyrov and the Kremlin have denied the accusations.

Relations between Russia and the United States are badly strained by tension over issues including Russia's aggression in Ukraine, its role in the war in Syria, and what U.S. intelligence agencies say was an "influence campaign" of interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

With reporting by TASS and Interfax
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