Facebook Removes Chechen Strongman Ramzan Kadyrov's Accounts Over U.S. Sanctions

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov was recently added to a U.S. sanctions list. As a result, his Facebook and Instagam accounts have been deactivated. Guest host Ray Suarez talks with Moscow reporter Charles Maynes.

RAY SUAREZ, HOST:

Now to Russia, where the leader of the republic of Chechnya can no longer post on Instagram or Facebook. Ramzan Kadyrov’s accounts were recently deactivated after he was put on a U.S. sanctions list earlier this month. Facebook says it was legally obliged to act. To explain more, we’re joined by Charles Maynes. He’s a reporter based in Moscow and joins us now. Welcome to the program.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Good to be with you.

SUAREZ: First of all, explain who Ramzan Kadyrov is. What kind of power does he hold in Chechnya, which is, after all, part of Russia?

MAYNES: That’s right. Well, so Ramzan Kadyrov is the 41-year-old, largely considered the iron fisted, leader of the Chechen Republic of the Russian Federation. And you might just say that he’s essentially Vladimir Putin’s point man to keep Russia’s Southern Caucasus in line.

The problem with that is that while Vladimir Putin made Ramzan Kadyrov, there are real questions as to whether he can control Ramzan Kadyrov. And there are many, in my view, credible accusations of human rights abuses made against him. These include the extra judicial killings and torture and death of gay men in Chechnya that landed him on the U.S. sanctions list with the now expanded so-called Magnitsky List.

SUAREZ: And he loved social media, particularly Instagram.

MAYNES: You know, what Trump is to Twitter, Kadyrov was to Instagram. He loved the medium, although he is on other social networks. He had 4 million followers, and he used it to praise Vladimir Putin. He would wrestle crocodiles. He would show mixed martial arts fights, threaten the opposition and also praise gunmen, for example, who were implicated in the death of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. So it was always a controversial platform but one that he embraced eagerly.

SUAREZ: When Facebook, which owns Instagram, took down Kadyrov’s accounts, they said it was because he had been added to a sanctions list. But there are other leaders who are on those sanctions lists, like President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, who are still active on the sites. How does Facebook explain its actions in regards to Kadyrov in particular?

MAYNES: Well, you know, Facebook said that they’d made this decision because the human rights sanctions by the United States against Ramzan Kadyrov. And you can debate whether that is the right move for a private company to do. But, you know, you have to take the background of this. Facebook, of course, is under all sorts of pressure and getting a lot of negative press for its role in the Russia election scandal in our U.S. presidential elections. And it seems that it’s trying to more eagerly please government officials by making this move. Certainly, some people see it that way here.

Also, it’s really interesting, in Russia, this isn’t the only bit of social media news that made headlines this week. The opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, released a video on YouTube that called for a nationwide boycott of elections scheduled for March. That video was taken down for reasons we don’t quite understand.

SUAREZ: What does President Putin, one of Kadyrov’s closest allies, as you mention, say about this?

MAYNES: Well, he hasn’t said anything particular himself. His spokesman said that the Kremlin was concerned about this. You know, generally speaking, whenever there are attacks on what the Russians say are free speech here, they like to point out the hypocrisy of the U.S. And that was something actually Ramzan said in a post to Twitter. He said, you know, how do you explain declining, essentially, 4 million subscribers access to information?

SUAREZ: You know, if you’re sitting in the United States and looking at social media, it is remarkable the degree to which these companies have tried to pioneer a kind of placeless-ness (ph) of not particular to one place kind of existence. But when you’re sitting in Russia, does Facebook, does Instagram look like an American company, especially when something like this happens?

MAYNES: Well, that’s certainly the position the Kremlin takes. And they point to the leaked documents by Edward Snowden when he famously issued all these NSA documents that seemed to show up some kind of collusion between Western tech companies and the American government and the NSA, in particular. And that was the moment for the Russians where they said, you know, these Western tech companies want to claim that they sort of exist in a void and they’re not tied to anybody, but in fact, they’re working in some degree – some more, some less – with American security services.

Now, Russians then imposed a new law – a data law which, essentially, demands that Western companies like Facebook, like Apple and others, move their servers on Russian soil. The Russian government says this is to protect Russians’ privacy. But a lot of Russian opposition, for example, are very concerned about this. They see it more as a bid for the security services here to get backdoor access that they really want and haven’t been unable to do because they’re Western companies.

SUAREZ: Charles Maynes is a reporter based in Moscow. Charles, thanks a lot.

MAYNES: Thank you, Ray.

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Police Arrest Suspect In Fatal 'Swatting' Prank

This 2015 booking photo released by the Glendale, Calif., Police Department shows Tyler Raj Barriss.

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Twenty-five-year-old Tyler Barriss, suspected of phoning in a false 911 call that led to a police raid and a father of two shot dead, was arrested Friday afternoon in South Los Angeles, an LAPD spokesman tells NPR.

Barriss is being held in a Los Angeles County jail without bail, according to LAPD Officer Mike Lopez.

The deadly prank began Thursday when a 911 operator in Wichita, Kan. received a call from a man who claimed he had shot his father and was now holding the rest of his family hostage. When police surrounded a house at the valid Wichita address, a confused 28-year-old man, Andrew Finch, stumbled out his front door. Within seconds, he had been fatally shot.

“Due to actions of a prankster we have an innocent victim. If the false police call had not been made, we would not have been there,” Wichita Deputy Police Chief Troy Livingston told reporters Friday.

“We believe this incident is a case of swatting,” said Livingston, referring to an extreme practical joke that’s made headlines in recent years. Instigators call 911 operators within close proximity to their victims —frequently using caller ID spoofing or other measures to conceal their true location — and report severely volatile situations that may warrant a SWAT team response. (Hostage-taking scenarios are common.) The goal is to surprise their unwitting victims with a full-force police response at their doors. Prominent celebrities like Justin Bieber and Ashton Kutcher have been swatted but the prank is most well-known in video gaming communities, where it has been used as a form of revenge.

Speculation surrounding the caller’s motivation has swirled as numerous gamers told the Wichita Eaglethat Thursday’s episode was fallout from a dispute over the game Call of Duty. But Finch’s mother told the Kansan paper, that her son “doesn’t play video games” and had “better things to do with his time.”

The call that sparked the fatal ordeal starts with an erratic male voice telling a 911 operator that he had observed an argument between his parents and then fired a handgun at his father. “I shot him in the head and he’s not breathing anymore,” says the man on audio released by Wichita police. He says he has cornered his mother and little brother in a closet. “I’m just pointing the gun at them, making sure they stay in the closet,” he continues. “I already poured gasoline all over the house. I might just set it on fire … in a little bit, I might.” He then lists the address where the victim, Finch, was present.

Officers soon flanked the house on three sides and readied themselves for a confrontation, Deputy Police Chief Livingston said in his press conference. Finch appeared at the door to the house and, following verbal commands from the officers, stepped forward with his hands up. At numerous points, however, he reached for his waistband. Fearful that Finch was going for a firearm, an officer eventually discharged one round, killing the father of two, said Livingston.

“I heard my son scream, I got up and then I heard a shot,” Lisa Finch, the victim’s mother told the Eagle. She says her son was unarmed. Finch says police later instructed her, her roommmate and her granddaughter to come outside with their hands up, which meant stepping over Finch’s “dying” body.

A little over two years ago, a man also named Tyler Barriss, 22 years-old at the time, was arrested for swatting the KABC-TV studios in Los Angeles.

The FBI’s office in Kansas City, Mo. says its agents are, at the request of local police, now involved in the investigation, the Associated Press reports.

UMG Gaming, which runs tournaments of online video games including Call of Duty also told the AP that the company “is doing everything we can to assist the authorities.”

Authorities have become increasingly stringent in their responses to swatting incidents. Federal prosecutors pursued cases in Maryland and Connecticut in 2015.

Officials do, however, say that there are limits to what can be done to combat swatting. Trey Forgety of the National Emergency Number Association told NPR in 2013 that 911 operators all over the country face 600,000 a day, making spotting a fake difficult.

“We start from a position that every call must be treated as if it is a legitimate call for help,” Forgety said.

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A Soldier Among Those Killed In Bronx Fire After Rescuing Others From Blaze

Firefighters respond to a building fire Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017, in the Bronx borough of New York.

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An Army National Guard soldier was among those who lost his life while rescuing several people from a massive fire in an apartment building in New York, Thursday. It was the deadliest fire in the city in more than a quarter century.

Emmanual Mensah, 28, a native of Ghana who immigrated to New York’s Bronx borough about five years ago, had been staying in the Bronx apartment with a family friend, who was married and had four children.

According to reports, Mensah’s body was found in another apartment on the same floor, likely because he was trying to save others from the fire.

“He was trying to help people out of the fire and unfortunately he lost his life. He tried to do his best,” the man’s father, Kwabena Mensah told the New York Post.

The elder Mensah told the New York Post his son was home after completing basic training in Georgia and was scheduled next to head to Virginia. He was a private first class and part of the National Guard’s Recruit Sustainment Program which prepares soldiers for the adjustment between basic training and advanced individual training.

When the fire ripped through the apartment, the elder Mensah said his son turned his attention to saving others.

Mensah also told the New York Post, “He helped his roommate’s wife and children, they were trying to come out to the stairs and he stopped them.” Mensah added, “He told them to come out the window … Then he went in and tried to rescue people out.”

The New York Times reports Mensah had plans to become a military police officer, and once he pulled that family to safety, he saved more people, then went into the building and never emerged again.

The New York Times reports Twum Bredu, Mensah’s uncle who lives next door, said of his nephew, “He brought four people out,” adding, “When he went to bring a fifth person out, the fire caught up with him.”

As NPR has reported, New York City Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said on Friday morning, the fire started in a first floor kitchen by a 3-year-old boy who was playing with burners on a stove. The flames spread quickly, in part because as the boy’s mother fled the burning apartment she left the door open.

The stairway of the apartment “acted like a chimney” according to Nigro, and the flames swiftly moved upstairs giving other residents little time to react.

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Erica Garner, Who Became An Activist After Her Father's Death, Dies

Erica Garner died on TK after suffering brain damage following a heart attack. She is seen here in 2014, leading a protest march in New York City after a grand jury decided not to indict a police officer involved in the chokehold death of her father Eric Garner.

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Activist Erica Garner has died, after suffering brain damage following a heart attack. She was 27 years old.

Her official twitter account announced her death Saturday morning.

She entered the public eye in July 2014 when her father, Eric Garner, died after being put in a chokehold by a New York City police officer. Eric Garner was seen on video saying “I can’t breathe” 11 times before he died.

Erica Garner had been in a coma since Dec. 23, when she had an asthma attack that triggered a heart attack, according to the New York Daily News.

“When her son was born in August, she named her newborn after her father,” the newspaper reports. “Garner suffered her first heart attack shortly after the delivery, with doctors saying the pregnancy stressed her already enlarged heart.”

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Erica Garner became a prominent figure calling for an end to police brutality, as her father’s last words became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement. She began staging weekly “die-ins” on the sidewalk in front of a beauty supply store in Staten Island, the site where the N.Y.P.D. officer put her father in the fatal chokehold.

A Staten Island grand jury did not indict any officers in Eric Garner’s death, sparking more protests across the country. The coroner’s report lists his death as a homicide, but no officer has ever been charged in the case. In 2015, the city of New York settled with his family for $5.9 Million.

In 2016, Erica Garner endorsed Bernie Sanders for president and was the focus of a video ad for the candidate. She told NPR’s Rachel Martin that she supported the Vermont senator because of his record of standing with black people.

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“He’s been, basically, a protester his whole career,” she said. “He’s not scared to go up against the systematic racism that exists in America today.”

In the Sanders video, Garner explained why she became an activist.

“I’m just trying to get the truth out there to tell his side of the story,” she said of her late father. “He was being a loving, caring man that he was, and he was murdered. For a whole year, I’ve protested every Tuesday and Thursday. I feel like a representative for people throughout this whole nation because I’m doing this, I’m speaking out, me being his daughter. And that’s what I want to do, I just want to tell my truths.”

“I’m never giving up,” she said. “I’m never going to forget. And I don’t want the world to forget what happened to my dad.”

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Fresh Air Weekend: Margo Price; The Best Books Of 2017; 'Rethinking Infidelity'

Margo Price’s new album, All American Made, is out now.

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Fresh Air Weekend highlights some of the best interviews and reviews from past weeks, and new program elements specially paced for weekends. Our weekend show emphasizes interviews with writers, filmmakers, actors and musicians, and often includes excerpts from live in-studio concerts. This week:

Margo Price Sings About The Heartache And Beauty Of Small-Town America: Growing up in Aledo, Ill., the singer-songwriter longed to live somewhere “more romantic.” Then she moved away and her outlook changed: “Now, when I go back, I see the beauty in it.”

Maureen Corrigan Picks Books To Close Out A Chaotic 2017: Fresh Air‘s book critic says her 2017 list is chaotic in a good way. “These books zing off in all directions: They’re fresh, unruly and dismissive of the canned and contrived.”

As Marriage Standards Change, A Therapist Recommends ‘Rethinking Infidelity’: Esther Perel has spent the past six years focusing on couples who are dealing with infidelity. “It’s never been easier to cheat — and it’s never been more difficult to keep a secret,” she says.

You can listen to the original interviews here:

Margo Price Sings About The Heartache And Beauty Of Small-Town America

Maureen Corrigan Picks Books To Close Out A Chaotic 2017

As Marriage Standards Change, A Therapist Recommends ‘Rethinking Infidelity’

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