Meta‑moderation. Moscow court opens trial against Meta spokesman Andy Stone, accused of “justifying terrorism”
Елизавета Нестерова
Meta‑moderation. Moscow court opens trial against Meta spokesman Andy Stone, accused of “justifying terrorism”
18 April 2024, 17:51

Andy Stone. Photo:

Andy Stone, the spokesman for Meta, is being tried in absentia in Russia on charges of “justifying terrorism.” The accusation stems from a tweet Stone posted in March 2022, explaining the company’s new moderation rules. At the time, in the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Meta had decided to temporarily allow calls for violence against “Russian occupiers.” Today, a military court in Moscow began considering Stone’s case. We attended the hearing, which turned into a humiliation for the prominent prosecutor Boris Loktionov.

Today, the Moscow District Military Court began hearing the case against Andy Stone—the spokesman for the U.S. technology giant Meta that owns Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram—in absentia. Stone is accused of “justifying terrorism.” He was placed under arrest in absentia in Russia last November and put on the federal wanted list.

“The court took measures to notify Stone but received no response,” commented Judge Roman Kiforenko on the absence of Meta’s press secretary in the courtroom. The defendant’s lawyer, Valentina Filippenkova, insisted that her client had not been properly notified about the start of the proceedings. She requested to postpone the hearing, but the judge seemed irritated from the very beginning and not inclined to delay the case.

The prosecution was represented by Boris Loktionov—one of the most experienced prosecutors in Russia. The 67-year-old Loktionov has participated in many high-profile trials: 10 years ago, he represented the prosecution in the trial of the members of the Combat Organisation of Russian Nationalists; in 2018, in the trial of the notorious “thief in law” Zakhariy Kalashov (Young Shakro); and in 2020, in the trial against Karina Tsurkan, a top manager of Inter RAO accused of espionage.

It was Loktionov who demanded 24 years of imprisonment for journalist Ivan Safronov (the FSB accused him of treason, Safronov received 22 years). After the start of the war, politician Vladimir Kara-Murza was also accused of treason, and the court sentenced him to 25 years—with Boris Loktionov again as the prosecutor in the trial. For his participation in the Kara-Murza case, the prosecutor was sanctioned by the United Kingdom.

In court, Loktionov said that the Russian embassy in Washington helped establish Andy Stone’s personal data and also suggested that the investigation “pay attention” to other Meta directors: former COO Sheryl Sandberg, president of global affairs Nick Clegg, and chief product officer Chris Cox.

“The competent U.S. authorities refuse to extradite individuals due to the absence of a bilateral extradition treaty,” the case materials read, which the prosecutor recited in court. The investigation has no information indicating that Andy Stone has ever visited Russia.

Loktionov received his share of irritation from Judge Kiforenko for the careless preparation of the criminal case materials, which are mainly filled with documents on recognising Meta as an “extremist organisation” in Russia in 2022.

“What does this prove?” Judge Kiforenko exclaimed, but allowed the flustered prosecutor to finish reading the materials.

The investigation managed to introduce the translation of one of Stone’s tweets on the third attempt: the first version of the expert examination did not have a Russian translation at all; for the second examination, a automated translation was provided; and only for the third examination did a person translate the two sentences.

It was this tweet by Andy Stone that became the reason for the criminal case. He posted it on March 11, 2022, during the early stages of the invasion of Ukraine, after Meta decided not to block users calling for the “death of Russian invaders” and Vladimir Putin. The company insisted that the new moderation rules only applied to posts about “Russian invaders,” not civilians.

The Investigative Committee launched a criminal case on the same day. Ten days later, the Tverskoy District Court in Moscow recognised Meta as an “extremist organisation”—by that time, both Facebook and Instagram had already been blocked in Russia; WhatsApp is not blocked to this day.

Loktionov received another reprimand from Judge Kiforenko for confusing the actual criminal articles. Initially, the case against Stone was opened under three articles: calls for terrorist activity, public calls for extremist activity, and public justification of terrorism. In the end, the charges were limited to only the last article, but the indictment still contained wording about calls for terrorism and extremism.

“Are you accusing Andy Stone of publicly justifying terrorism? But the description of the criminal act contains an assessment of the phrases not only as containing justification but also as containing calls to commit [terrorist] actions. How should this be understood?” the judge asked.

“Your Honour, I have brought to your attention what is within the scope of the charges brought...” Loktionov justified. “I think this is superfluous...”

“Okay, when will you be able to correct the charges, and will they be subject to correction at all? Superfluous or not. I would like to hear the final version of the charges within which the court can work.”

“Within the scope of the charges I have announced, the court can work.”

“And what are we going to do with the ‘public calls’ that have already been cancelled? The charges are unclearly formulated within the indictment. You read the indictment and prepared for the trial. Did no questions arise on your part?”

“I think the court will make an objective and lawful decision on its own.”

The defence asked to return the case to the prosecutor’s office to clarify the charges, but Judge Kiforenko demanded that Prosecutor Loktionov explain the inaccuracies in the case materials in court today. The judge gave the prosecutor only 10 minutes to prepare a response.

This time was not enough for the prosecutor—Loktionov was still unable to explain how the other two articles disappeared.

Despite this, the trial of Andy Stone in absentia could have ended in one hearing if not for a hitch with the only witness for the prosecution. This is Sergey Timoshev, who simply told the investigator that he had seen Stone’s tweet. Prosecutor Loktionov initially insisted on questioning Timoshev in court, but Judge Kiforenko demanded an explanation of the point in waiting for this witness.

“Was he an eyewitness to the commission of the crime?”

“Your Honour, he just read a message that was published on the internet. And he discussed this message with his, let’s say, friends and colleagues. As such, we will not get any significant evidentiary form from his testimony. I don’t need this witness!”

“Wait, but if you don’t even need him, then the defence certainly doesn’t need him either. Do you insist on ensuring his appearance?”

“I don’t need this witness! I do not insist on his appearance.”

The court gave the prosecutor time to think over his position, and after a ten-minute break, he dryly said that he still demands to wait for the witness who personally saw the criminal tweet.

The hearing was adjourned until Monday, April 22. Most likely, on this day, prosecutor Loktionov will request a sentence for Meta’s spokesman.

Editor: Egor Skovoroda

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