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Russian court sentences Meta spokesman to six years in prison in trial in absentia

Social media applications are displayed on an iPhone, March 13, 2019, in New York.
Social media applications are displayed on an iPhone, March 13, 2019, in New York. Copyright Jenny Kane/AP
Copyright Jenny Kane/AP
By Associated Press
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A court in Russia convicted the spokesperson of justifying terrorism and sentenced him to six years in prison.

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A court in Russia on Monday convicted the spokesperson of US technology company Meta of justifying terrorism and sentenced him to six years in prison in a swift trial in absentia, Russia's independent news site Mediazona reported.

According to the outlet, the charges against Meta communications director Andy Stone stem from his remarks in 2022 following Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24 that year.

Meta is the parent company of Facebook and Instagram.

Stone, who is based in the United States, announced temporary changes to Meta’s hate speech policy to allow for "forms of political expression that would normally violate (its) rules, like violent speech such as ‘death to the Russian invaders'".

In the same statement, Stone added that “credible calls for violence against Russian civilians” would remain banned. 

The Russian authorities opened a criminal case implicating Stone and other unidentified Meta employees nonetheless, describing the statement as “illegal calls to violence and killings of Russian citizens.”

The authorities also outlawed Meta as an extremist organisation and blocked Facebook and Instagram in Russia. 

Both platforms, as well as X, formerly known as Twitter, which has also been blocked, were popular with Russians before the invasion and the subsequent crackdown on independent media and other forms of critical speech.

However, they are now only accessible via VPN.

Mediazona reported that Stone was initially charged with calling for terrorist activity, public calls for extremist activity and publicly justifying terrorism, but the first two charges were dropped in the final version of the indictment.

The trial, in which Stone was represented by a government-appointed lawyer, began on Friday and concluded on Monday after only two hearings.

Stone was sentenced to six years in a penal colony and barred from administering websites for four more years.

Meta declined to comment on the verdict.

In April 2022, Russia also formally barred Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg from entering the country.

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