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Russia fines WhatsApp, media regulator asks for Novaya Gazeta’s registration to be revoked

A Russian court on Thursday fined Meta Platforms Inc’s META.O WhatsApp messenger, Snapchat owner Snap Inc SNAP.Nand other foreign firms for their alleged refusal to store the data of Russian users domestically, news agencies reported.

Moscow has clashed with Big Tech over content, censorship, data and local representation in disputes that have escalated since Russia sent its armed forces into Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Moscow’s Tagansky District Court fined WhatsApp 18 million roubles ($301,255), Tinder owner Match Group 2 million roubles and Snap and Hotels.com, owned by Expedia Group Inc EXPE.O, 1 million roubles, news agencies reported. WhatsApp was fined for the same offence last August.

None of the companies immediately responded to requests for comment.

The RIA news agency quoted a lawyer for Hotels.com as saying that the company did not recognise the charge as an offence, adding that the company had stopped processing any data of users from Russia since April 1.

Russia restricted access to Meta’s flagship platforms Facebook and Instagram, as well as fellow social network Twitter TWTR.N, soon after the conflict in Ukraine began, a move critics have cast as an effort by Russia to exert greater control over information flows.

Meta was found guilty of “extremist activity” in Russia and saw an appeal against the tag rejected in June, but Moscow has permitted WhatsApp to remain available.

According to the ruling, when referring to Meta in the public sphere, organisations and individuals are required to include the disclaimer that Meta’s activities are banned on Russian territory.

Microsoft’s MSFT.O LinkedIn has been blocked in Russia for years after a court found it breached the data-storage rule, which was passed in 2015.

In a clampdown on press freedom, Russia’s media regulator has filed a lawsuit to revoke the registration of the independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper, according to documents published on a court website.

Novaya Gazeta, a stalwart of Russia’s beleaguered independent media since 1993, suspended operations inside the country in March after receiving warnings from the communications regulator and being forced to remove material from its website on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

If stripped of its registration, Novaya Gazeta journalists would lose the right to work should the paper resume operations in Russia.

Part of the paper’s staff have set up a European edition from Riga, Latvia. In April, the European edition’s site was blocked inside Russia.

Novaya Gazeta’s longtime editor in chief, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dmitry Muratov, has remained in Russia despite his vocal opposition to the conflict in Ukraine. In April, he was attacked by supporters of the war, having red paint thrown over him.

In another related to freedom of speech former Russian TV journalist Marina Ovsyannikova was found guilty on Thursday of discrediting the country’s armed forces in social media posts condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

“The evidence confirms Ovsyannikova’s guilt. There is no reason to doubt its authenticity,” the judge said after a short hearing.

Marina Ovsyannikova defiantly repeated her protest and said she would not retract her words.

“What’s going on here is absurd,” Ovsyannikova told the court. “War is horror, blood and shame.”

Ovsyannikova gained international attention in March after bursting into a studio of Russian state TV, her then employer, to denounce the Ukraine war during a live news bulletin. At the time she was fined for flouting protest laws.

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