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Russia cut off access to Facebook — making Meta's work in Russia illegal

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A Russian court has banned Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, over alleged extremist activities. The decision makes Meta's work in Russia illegal and comes amid a wider crackdown on media, as NPR's Charles Maynes reports.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: The decision amounts to an immediate ban on Meta's services, or at least most of them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OLGA SOLOPOVA: (Non-English language spoken).

MAYNES: In reading out the decision, Judge Olga Solopova said the Meta-owned messaging platform WhatsApp would be spared, while Facebook and Instagram were now banned across the Russian Federation for extremist activities. The court agreed with the prosecutor's main argument, that Meta condoned violence against Russia's armed forces currently in Ukraine. Russia had already banned Facebook for restricting access to Kremlin-backed media amid the conflict, which the Kremlin insists be called a special military operation under penalty of law. Instagram was also blocked last week after media reports surfaced that Meta had made an exception to allow some posts urging violence against Russian troops and President Vladimir Putin. Meta later clarified the ruling only applied to posts from inside Ukraine and said the company wasn't advocating violence against Russians in general, but not before the damage was done.

PAVEL CHIKOV: (Non-English language spoken).

MAYNES: Pavel Chikov, a leading human rights lawyer, says Monday's decision reflects the government's rush to punish Meta for what it saw as anti-Russian activities. Even as authorities say they have no intent to punish individual Russian users, Chikov says it's far from clear what happens to Russian Meta stockholders or businesses or groups who've advertised on the platforms. Chikov says similar rulings against banned groups like jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation suggest a tough legal road for Meta and its community in the months ahead.

CHIKOV: (Non-English language spoken).

MAYNES: These types of criminal cases are already happening, says Chikov. One only need change the name of the organization to imagine it's a professional blogger on Instagram being charged. The court's verdict comes amid a wider effort by Russian authorities to control messaging and information about events in Ukraine. Dozens of media websites and Twitter have been blocked, prompting a wave of Russians purchasing virtual private networks, or VPNs, to get around the bans. With Monday's ruling, fans of Facebook and Instagram will have to use such services if they hope to not only elude government censors but increasingly the law.

Charles Maynes, NPR News, Moscow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOGWAI'S "HUNGRY FACE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.