Russia’s communications watchdog has said it asked photo sharing website Instagram to remove posts that allegedly show Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko enjoying luxurious hospitality from billionaire tycoon Oleg Deripaska.
The site, which is owned by social media giant Facebook, obliged to the request on Thursday.
The videos and photographs formed part of an investigation published last week by Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, alleging that Prikhodko had vacationed on Deripaska’s yacht off the coast of Norway.
Prikhodko and Deripaska have denied the allegations.
Kremlin critic Navalny decried Instagram’s decision to comply with Russian authorities. In a rare tweet posted in English, Navalny wrote: “@instagram decided to comply with Russian illegal censorship requests and deleted some content about oligarch Deripaska. Shame on you, @instagram! This content was spotlighted by our corruption investigation.”
The videos were reportedly recorded and uploaded by a woman called Nastya Rybka, who said she was hired by a modelling agency to spend time on Deripaska’s yacht. Rybka, who worked as an escort, also claimed she had an affair with the aluminum magnate.
A 25-minute video of Navalny presenting the investigation in Russian was also uploaded to YouTube last week, where it has already amassed some 5 million views.
As of Thursday, the video still remained online, although Russia’s communications regulator Roskomnadzor said it had issued a request to Google to delete the video.
Russian regulator blocks access to Navalny website
Also Thursday, Roskomnadzor blocked access to Navalny’s personal website, navalny.com, citing he had ignored a court order to take down material related to the meeting.
Deripaska reported the video to the authorities and won a court ruling on privacy grounds, forcing Navalny to take it down. Navalny refused and appealed the ruling.
In a statement, Deripaska insisted that his move to have the video taken down was “protect his right to privacy, and has nothing to do with any political struggle between Mr. Navalny and his political opponents.”
Navalny, however, maintained the measures were designed to stifle his campaign to boycott next month’s Russian presidential election, which he has labelled a sham vote. Navalny was barred from running against Russian President Vladimir Putin because of a criminal conviction, a ruling he says was also politically motivated.
The Russian opposition leader has also been informally barred from state media, relying instead on his website and social channels to spread his message.
His website has twice been blocked before, following demonstrations against Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and after authorities reportedly found a section on his site calling for illegal protests in 2015.