The BBC Russian Service has refused demands from Russia’s media watchdog Roskomnadzor to take down a “provocative” interview with civil rights activist Artyom Loskutov despite the threat of being blocked.
Roskomnadzor claimed the audio interview with Loskutov, published last week, contained extremist views and called for mass disturbances. In the interview, Loskutov urges citizens to join an unsanctioned “march for the federalisation of Siberia” on 17 August in support of giving the region greater rights within Russia.
A statement from a BBC spokesperson read: “Mr Loskutov is an artist and activist known for organising events which are, at first sight, parodies of political activities, but which also bring out serious issues about life in Russia. The BBC aims to present all sides of a story in an impartial, unbiased way, and we have also requested an interview with a Russian government official to explain their position on the planned march.”
An unnamed source close to Roskomnadzor told Izvestia news website that the editorial team at the BBC Russian service had ignored two letters from the media watchdog ordering the removal of the “provocative” audio content because it contravened Russia’s anti-extremism laws.
The source said: “We can block such a resource in a matter of moments. If it continues going in this direction then we can fully block the BBC Russian service website on our country’s territory. It’s not just that we can do this, but we must, because Roskomnadzor has been mandated to block access to resources and sites publishing anything of this kind.”
The deputy head of Roskomnadzor, Maxim Ksenzov, confirmed that the letters had been sent but refused to give any further details.
In the last week Roskomnadzor has blocked pages featuring interviews with Loskutov on other websites, including Russia’s liberal news website Slon.ru. Over the past year, a number of laws controlling press freedom have been ushered in, including a ban on publishing information on unsanctioned public gatherings which “threaten the territorial integrity of the country” — a law which many have seen as an attempt to criminalise any calls for Crimea to be returned
In the Editor’s Blog on the BBC Russian Service, acting head of the website Artyom Liss wrote that, following Roskomndazor’s request, background information about Loskutov and further details about his previous work were added to the text accompanying the audio interview.
Other websites blocked in Russia under this law include online newspaper Daily Journal (Yezhednevny Zhurnal), news website Grani.ru and the blogs of anti-Kremlin activists Alexei Navalny and Garry Kasparov.