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Russia’s media regulator asks Google to block article questioning coronavirus death toll

Google campus in Mountain View, Calif., 2009. (Shawn Collins/Flickr)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russia’s media regulator, Roskomnadzor, has asked Google to block an article about the controversy over official data on coronavirus deaths in the country on the website of MBKh Media independent online publication.

MBKh Media said late on May 14 that its article was based on a report by the Financial Times, which estimated that the real number of people who have died in Russia from COVID-19 could be 70 percent higher than reported by the country’s health officials.

MBKh Media said it had received a message from Google a day earlier, saying that the request to block the article was based on the decision of the Prosecutor-General’s Office that claimed the article contained “calls for riots, extremist activities, [and] participation in mass public events held in violation of the established order.”

According to MBKh Media, which is hosted on the Google Cloud Platform, Google asked it to remove the article from its website or make it inaccessible in Russia.

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The Roskomnadzor request was not listed on the Google transparency report web page as of May 15.

MBKh Media also said the article in question indicated that its content was based on the Financial Times report.

As of May 15, Russian authorities said the country had 10,598 new infections, bringing the official number of confirmed cases to 262,843, the second-highest total in the world, lagging only behind the United States. The death toll stands at 2,418, up 113 over the previous day.

Experts have questioned whether testing procedures were flawed, or whether local and regional officials were misclassifying cases. In some places, such as St. Petersburg, for example, the number of pneumonia cases went sharply above seasonal norms.

The Moscow City Health Department issued a statement on May 13 saying that more than 60 percent of coronavirus patients’ deaths in the city had been caused by “alternative causes,” and therefore such deaths had not been included to COVID-19 death toll.

In a May 13 interview with Current Time, the World Health Organization’s representative in Russia downplayed doubts about the country’s coronavirus statistics.

Melita Vujnovic also told the television channel in the interview that the epidemic is “in the stabilization phase and is moving into the decline phase.” Current Time is a Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.