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Disinformation

Russian officials cite new Internet censorship law to get unflattering tax stories deleted online

Russian officials have ordered Klerk.ru, a popular online publication covering tax, accounting and legal issues to take down hundreds of posts critical of federal tax authorities and end all future critical coverage, according to the founder of the website Boris Maltsev.

Launched in 2001 as www.law.listtop.ru, the site now known as Klerk.ru has nearly 3 million readers each month and is a go-to source for Russian tax and law professionals. Its coverage of controversial and sensitive tax issues has earned it special attention from Russian tax officials over the years. But the intimidation ratcheted up last week, Maltsev said.

In March Russia’s already restrictive media environment became even more censorious with a new law that prohibits publishing and sharing “disrespectful content towards the authorities or government symbols.” The law targets individual internet users as well as media outlets. At least one anti-Kremlin activist has landed in legal trouble under the law. Leonid Volkov, an employee at Anti-Corruption Foundation, a non-profit organization working on exposing corruption among Russian government officials, was charged under this law for a tweet from April that insulted Putin.

Editors at Klerk.ru say they are not sure what prompted their own incident last week. Three different tax inspectors visited their office in Krasnodar, according to a statement Maltsev posted Monday. Those visits then prompted a summons to be questioned as a witness, but Maltsev said he declined to answer the summons because it did not constitute an official notice.

Soon after, he received anonymous threats from tax authorities of intimidation, violence and incarceration, he said.

Klerk’s Editor-in-Chief Marina Snegovskaya said she and her staff have become used to intimidation tactics but this episode “took her breath away from anger” because the threatening messages from the tax authorities also ordered Klerk to limit future coverage.

Maltsev said that someone from the tax office contacted him via WhatsApp ordering the site to remove almost 100 illustrations and also delete specific stories.

Additionally, this official sent Maltsev a document describing what kind of material Klerk is prohibited from publishing, including information that “criticizes informational systems of Russia’s Federal Tax Service” or posting “caricatures of current public servants.”

 

 

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