Kadyrov Instagram block sparks rage 

Kadyrov Instagram block sparks rage 

Russia’s internet watchdog has demanded answers from Facebook and Instagram over the blocking of social-media accounts belonging to the strongman Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov.

Kadyrov has accused Washington of pressurising the social networks to block his treasured accounts, which he said were locked on Saturday without explanation. The US Treasury Department imposed travel and financial sanctions on Kadyrov last week in response to numerous allegations of human rights abuses.

One of the last Instagram posts before the page was blocked was a video by Kadyrov responding to the sanctions brought about under the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law that aims to punish Russians alleged to be involved human-rights offences. Kadyrov told his followers he had no current reason to travel to the United States.

The US 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 US$230 million from Russian state finances through tax fraud.

Kadyrov, the former rebel fighter, who now pledges loyalty to Russian President Vladimir Putin, is a heavy Instagram user, which he has used in recent years to declare death threats against government critics.

Chechnya has seen two post-Soviet separatist wars and years of insurgent violence arising from the conflicts since Putin appointed Kadyrov to run the semi-autonomous republic in 2007.

He uses Instagram to issue government statements and post pictures showing him wrestling crocodiles and cuddling tigers.

The Kremlin-backed Kadyrov in 2016 used Instagram to appeal for clues about his missing cat, which inspired mockery from Comedy Central comic John Oliver.

The Chechen president has more than 3 million followers on his Russian-language Instagram account and more than 750,000 on Facebook. Kadyrov’s less popular, English-language Instagram account was at first still active but later blocked.

Roskomnadzor, the media and telecoms regulator, said it would officially request an answer over the issue.

Leonid Levin, the head of the Russia’s parliamentary information technologies and communications committee, condemned the action by Facebook and Instagram as an attack on freedom of speech.

Chechen information minister, Dzhambulat Umarov, described the blocking of Kadyrov’s accounts as a “vile sabotage cyberattack” by the US.

No comment came from the social-media giants.

In 2015, Kadyrov urged Chechen men not to let their partners use WhatsApp after an outcry over the forced marriage of a 17-year-old Chechen girl to a 47-year-old police commander. “Do not write such things. Men: take your women out of WhatsApp,” Kadyrov said.

Ramzan Kadyrov tackles a crocodile on Instagram. Picture credit: Instagram

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