Feb. 14, 2018 – Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns a Russian court decision ordering websites to immediately remove photos and videos of a meeting between leading Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko on the grounds that they constitute a “violation of privacy.” RSF regards the order as blatant act of censorship.

Moving quickly on February 9, the day after the court’s decision, Russia’s telecommunication surveillance agency, Roskomnadzor, ordered no fewer than seven online media outlets to take down the photos and videos illustrating articles about the supposedly “informal negotiations” between Prikhodko and Deripaska.

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was responsible for drawing attention to the photos and videos when he reposted them as part of an online video report, said their publication was in the public interest but the two influential public figures involved insisted that they invaded their privacy.

The media outlets had to respond to a court decision that had not yet been published and to which they could not get access. They complied because they were under threat of being blocked. But some, such as Mediazona, filed a court appeal against the censorship.

On February 10, Roskomnadzor said it had complied with an order issued by a court in Ust-Labinsk, the district in the far south of Russia that is Deripaska’s base. The independent news website The Bell said it was the first time that such urgent measures have been taken in Russia to defend privacy.

Going to the source of the content, the court also ordered the blocking of 14 Instagram posts and seven YouTube videos. As Russian Internet service providers still lack the technical ability to restrict access to specific web pages, Instagram and YouTube risk being blocked in their entirety within Russia if the offending content is not removed by this evening.

“We urge the Russian authorities to lift these disproportionate measures, which prevent information from circulating freely,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “The European Convention on Human Rights and related court rulings clearly establish that public figures cannot claim the same privacy rights as ordinary citizens.”

The scandal erupted on February 8 when Navalny, who is well known for his anti-corruption investigations, reported that Prikhodko was seen on Deripaska’s yacht off the Norwegian coast in August 2016.

His claim was based on publicly available content including the photos and videos posted on Instagram by a female escort who was with them on the yacht and who has related her experiences in a book. Reposted on YouTube the same day, Navalny’s video account has already been viewed more than 4 million times.

Russia is ranked 148th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.