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Facebook Deletes Account of Russian Activist Who Exposed Prison Abuse

Vladimir Osechkin's account was restored Tuesday after public outcry

A Russian penal colony (photo by Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images)
• November 2, 2021 5:20 pm

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Facebook on Monday deleted the account of a Russian activist who exposed abuse in the country's prison system, only to reinstate the page following a public outcry.

Vladimir Osechkin is the founder of Gulagu.net, a watchdog site that last month rose to prominence after it posted thousands of photos and videos that show Russian security forces torturing and raping prisoners. Late Monday night, visitors to Osechkin's account saw a notice saying, "This content isn't available right now. When this happens, it's usually because the owner only shared it with a small group of people, changed who can see it or it's been deleted."

But Gulagu.net said Osechkin had not changed the settings on his page and that the removal was "another attempt by the Russian special services to destroy Gulagu.net and Vladimir Osechkin personally."

Gulagu.net had posted a new trove of graphic videos before the account was removed.

The page had been restored without explanation by Tuesday afternoon. Facebook did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the issue.

But Russia has escalated its pressure on social media companies to punish political dissidents, fining Facebook and the messaging app Telegram in June for not removing "banned content." The removal of Osechkin's page also fits a pattern for Facebook. The company often deletes high-profile deleted pages and restores them after users publicly complain, saying the removal was an error.

Russian officials have launched investigations into the leaked videos. But the Russian interior ministry also placed the man who leaked the videos on a wanted list. Sergei Savelyev, who obtained the videos while working as an inmate on the prison's computer system, says Russian security threatened to kill him if he did not denounce Gulagu.net. Savelyev is seeking political asylum in France.

Gulagu.net alleges that the videos, which were recorded by prison officials, are used as blackmail against prisoners after they are released. Since posting the videos, Gulagu.net has been targeted with cyber attacks designed to shut down the site.

Facebook says it always alerts users when their accounts or posts are removed. But Gulagu.net said in a statement that Osechkin received no such warning: "No warnings, no complaints, there's simply no such account and that's it."

Published under: Big Tech, Facebook, Prison, Russia, Social Media