MOSCOW, Feb 16 – Russia’s media watchdog on Thursday blocked the website of opposition leader Alexei Navalny after he posted a video alleging a deputy prime minister enjoyed lavish hospitality from a billionaire tycoon.
State body Roskomnadzor has threatened to block any site distributing the video, including YouTube and Instagram, but both remain accessible in Russia.
“Roskomnadzor has blocked https://navalny.com/ at the request of (Russian oligarch Oleg) Deripaska,” Navalny said on Twitter.
“The site remains accessible through some service providers, but this is temporary,” he added.
Roskomnadzor confirmed the website had been added to a list of banned pages that service providers are required to block, in comments to Russian news agencies.
Navalny, who has been barred from running against President Vladimir Putin in next month’s election, says the video appears to show the Russian leader’s former top foreign policy adviser Sergei Prikhodko vacationing on the yacht of 50-year-old Oleg Deripaska, an aluminium magnate.
Both Deripaska and Prikhodko, who rarely makes comments to the media, denied the allegations.
“Mr Deripaska’s claim is to protect his right to privacy, and has nothing to do with any political struggle between Mr Navalny and his political opponents,” a spokesperson for the oligarch said in a written statement to AFP following news of the site being blocked.
– Call for vote boycott –
The woman who Navalny said filmed the video, Nastya Rybka, describes herself as a model and has penned a book on how to seduce billionaires.
She has more than 60,000 followers on Instagram where she has posted scantily-clad or naked snaps of herself and a video of herself having sex.
Rybka’s posts relating to the allegations were no longer accessible on Instagram on Wednesday, but Navalny’s 25-minute YouTube video — that has racked up more than five million hits since it was posted last week — was still available.
AFP has learned that the woman removed most of the snaps from Instagram, with the Facebook-owned service taking down the remaining few to avoid being banned in Russia.
“When governments believe that something on the Internet violates their laws, they may contact companies and ask us to restrict access to that content,” an Instagram spokesperson said in response to an AFP inquiry.
“We review such requests carefully in light of local laws and where appropriate, we make it unavailable in the relevant country or territory.”
Navalny has called for a boycott of Russia’s March 18 presidential election after he was barred from running over a criminal conviction he says was politically motivated.
He is informally barred from appearing on state media and so relies on his own website and social media to spread his message, with posts drawing thousands onto the street across the country last month in support of his call for a “voters’ strike,” or boycott of the polls.
Navalny’s LiveJournal blog was blocked in March 2014 along with a number of opposition news websites after demonstrations in Moscow against Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine.
The reason given by Roskomnadzor was that Navalny was under house arrest at the time and was not allowed to use the internet.
In January 2015, while still under house arrest, his entire Navalny.com site was blocked over a page allegedly containing calls to take part in illegal protests.