The blog service Yandex.Dzen has deleted the investigation of the Baza project published on April 2 about apartments owned by VTB, and then VGTRK journalist Nail Askerzade. Baza reported on the removal of material in its Telegram channel, the text of the investigation is available on the project website. “Zen” received a complaint on the material, because it contains an insult or defamation, the service representative explained, but did not answer the question from whom the complaint was received. Zen also received a notice from Roskomnadzor, which indicated that the Baza material contains information, the dissemination of which is prohibited in Russia. The service referred to the decision of the Arbitration Court of St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region on the claim of VTB for protection of business reputation made in November 2018. This decision concerned publications, most of which mentioned VTB, bank president Andrei Kostin and Nail Askerzade. If Zen had not deleted the Baza article, the page with this publication would have been blocked.
The representative of Roskomnadzor confirmed that he sent such a notice to Yandex. He did not disclose exactly what information in the Baza material Roskomnadzor recognized as prohibited information. Roskomnadzor employees also didn’t respond to a similar question of Baza itself, co-founder of the publication Nikita Mogutin told Vedomosti.
On the basis of the November court decision and a similar decision made by the same judge Nesterov in September 2018, Roskomnadzor has already blocked about 1000 links to Internet resources, it follows from the data of the Roscomsvoboda public project. Such a massive blocking based on just two court decisions is a precedent for Russia, says the head of Roskomsvoboda, Artem Kozlyuk.
In the investigation of Baza, in particular, with reference to the data of the Rosreestr, it was said that Asker-zadeh owns apartments in the 1st Zachatievsky lane in Moscow. In 2012, these apartments were acquired by VTB, later they were sold to a foreign offshore, and in 2014, Askerzade became the owner. Rosreestr confirmed this information to Vedomosti.
Askerzade had previously been a correspondent for Kommersant and Vedomosti, and since 2011 has been working for VGTRK. In 2018, she won the TEFI Award as the best interviewer on Russian TV. Kostin and Askerzade do not comment on their relationship. Askerzade and the representative of VTB did not answer the questions of Vedomosti.
VTB began to complain about the dissemination of information discrediting his business reputation in the summer of 2018. Vedomosti found in the filing cabinet of the Arbitration Court of St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region information about 10 similar bank claims. Nine of them were merged into one court proceedings, the decision on them was made in September 2018: the court found the information published on 16 news resources not to be true, discrediting the business reputation of VTB and prohibited for distribution in Russia. In November, the court issued a virtually identical decision on yet another lawsuit from VTB; it concerned 14 sites.
At the same time, the court decided to recognize as prohibited not the materials themselves posted on these resources, but the information (information) regarding VTB and its employees. The decisions of the courts quoted paragraphs from the disputed articles, but what information is considered to be prohibited is not specified.
Fyodor Kravchenko, managing partner of the media jurists collegium, calls the mass blockings on the VTB claim “legal nihilism”. The court violated several legal norms when making decisions, he is sure. In particular, when determining whether the published information corresponds to reality or not, the defendant is required by the court, Kravchenko points out, and the court did not even try to involve site administrators in the process. Also, the court did not specify in the decision what kind of information, according to the claimant, is untrue and defamatory, says the lawyer. Finally, Kravchenko is sure that the rule of law contradicts the use of these solutions for blocking other sites: “It is impossible to automatically apply a decision on information in a specific text or texts to any other text. The court is obliged to re-evaluate each text each time. And the author should have the right to prove to the court that the information presented by him is correct. ”
The representative of Roskomnadzor confirmed to "Vedomosti" that after the decisions of the courts, the service demanded the removal of materials about VTB, published not only on the resources listed in the court decisions, but also on other sites. On what grounds does the service recognize this or that material about the bank and its employees as prohibited for distribution, the representative of Roskomnadzor did not say.
Mogutin from Baza believes that Roskomnadzor cleans the materials under “one comb”: “Does the article have VTB, Kostin and Asker-zade? So we are blocking. ”
The head of the human rights group Agora, Pavel Chikov, calls the events “censorship of the RuNet in the interests of individuals”. He also believes in the unlawful use of such blocking schemes without a court decision on each specific publication.