When the US government sanctioned Chechnya’s despotic leader Ramzan Kadyrov for human rights abuses Dec. 20, he seemed pleased, calling it an “award” from America and declaring himself “a great man.”
“I’ve said before, but I’ll repeat for the especially forgetful, that I wouldn’t go to the US even if they promised me all the country’s foreign currency reserves as prizes,” he wrote on his Instagram account.
He didn’t realize the move would do more than block his travel to the US: Facebook told various outlets that it had a “legal obligation” to disable Kadyrov’s Instagram and Facebook accounts because Kadyrov is subject to US trade sanctions. He had more than 3 million followers on the former and more than 750,000 on the latter, and used them to post snapshots of his colorful life, with one highlight the time he wrestled a crocodile.
Kadyrov’s loss is bigger than that, however. Sam Greene, the director of Kings College London’s Russia Institute, pointed out that the move has serious implications for freedom of speech:
What’s more, the policy doesn’t seem to be consistent. Other Russians sanctioned by the US have happily continued using social media accounts—deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin, for example, has been sanctioned since 2014 but still communicates with his 80,000 Facebook followers.
Facebook did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment. We will update if they do.