The centre-piece of the campaign is a fake football pitch in Paris with life-size photos of the seven journalists currently detained in Russia. More professional journalists and bloggers are in prison now than at any time since the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.
To help draw attention to the situation and stimulate the public’s interest, RSF is also distributing stickers of detained journalists such as Alexander Sokolov and Igor Rudnikov for insertion in a book.
The campaign will continue with other visuals during the weeks to come with the aim of preventing the year’s biggest media event from being used by Vladimir Putin’s propaganda machine to disguise the steady decline in media pluralism in Russia.
The Kremlin controls the leading media outlets in Russia, using them to inundate the public with propaganda. Despite determined resistance, independent journalism is losing ground. Whenever an independent media outlet succeeds in reaching the general public, various methods are quickly used to side-line it.
No one ever gets a red card for tackling journalists from behind. From police violence to murders of journalists, impunity is the rule. At least 34 journalists have been killed in connection with their reporting in Russia since Putin first became prime minister in 1999. In the vast majority of these cases, the investigations go nowhere and the masterminds are never identified.
In Crimea (annexed in 2014) and Chechnya, no rules at all are enforced. With the Kremlin’s blessing, these regions have been turned into matches behind closed doors.
“The intense public interest aroused by the World Cup must not eclipse the unfair match between the government and independent media in Russia,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said at a press conference.
“Press freedom is being trampled more now than at any time since the Soviet Union’s fall. To prevent the biggest media event of the year from being reduced to a Potemkin sham, we are spotlighting the faces of the journalists who embody the resistance to the Kremlin’s control of the media.”
Pursuing the football metaphor, Deloire added that the Kremlin “fixes matches by arbitrarily changing the rules of the game.” What with penalizing defamation and “offending the feelings of religious believers,” the laws are getting more repressive all the time, and their broad and vague wording allows the referees to apply them in a selective and arbitrary manner.
Press freedom NGOs are now being criminalized, foreign media are under threat, and the formerly free Internet is in the process of being throttled.
Russia is ranked 148th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.