Journalists systematically harassed during anti-mobilisation protests in Russia

Dozens of journalists throughout Russia have been subjected to police harassment ranging from intimidation to violence for covering protests against the “partial” mobilisation announced on 21 September. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns this obstruction of journalistic work and urges the Russian authorities to stop hounding the media.

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“As the elimination of such emblematic media outlets as Novaya Gazeta has shown, the independent press is one of the main targets of a government that seeks to stifle any voice that would provide a version of events other than the one Vladimir Putin wants to impose,” said RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “We salute the courage of independent journalists in the face of this violent war on information and we call on the authorities to end their attacks on the media.”

What with arrests, intimidation, physical violence and seizure of equipment – at least 20 journalists have experienced harassment for covering protests in more than ten Russian cities since the partial mobilisation announcement on 21 September.

Those targeted include Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty correspondent Yulia Vishnevetskaya, who was arrested for covering protests in Makhachkala, the capital of the southern republic of Dagestan, on 26 September and was sentenced the next day to five days in prison for “participating in an unauthorised demonstration interfering with public service operations.” The authorities then falsely reported that she was being transferred to a different location and concealed her whereabouts for several hours in order to prevent her lawyer from visiting her.

The persecution has taken various forms. After being arrested in the northern city of Arkhangelsk on 21 September, Rusnews correspondent Andrei Kichev was arrested again on 24 September despite wearing a “press” vest, and this time, as well as being charged with “participating in an unauthorised demonstration interfering with public service operations,” he was given a military draft notice and was told he had been expelled from his university, thereby losing his student status protection against call-up.

Rusnews editor Sergei Ainbinder has also been arrested twice. The first time was in Moscow on 24 September, when he was in the metro wearing his press vest. The second time was while he was filming protests in Makhachkala on 26 September. On this second occasion, the police damaged his equipment, gave him a beating, and held him overnight in a police station. He was finally released without charge.

The victims of the police violence that is ubiquitous at protests in Russia include SOTAvision correspondent Fedor Orlov, who was arrested while covering a protest in the southwestern city of Voronezh on 21 September. He sustained bruising on his head as a result of the violence used by police when taking him to a police station, where he remained handcuffed for two hours. His editors know he was sentenced to 15 days in prison but they don’t know the charges and have not been able to contact him for the past week.

Many other violations of the right to report the news have been registered throughout the country, including in Yekaterinburg, the Ural region’s capital, where three reporters – RusNews’s Irina Salomatova, Rosderzhava’s Kristina Khaker and Vecherniye Vedomosti’s Alevtina Trynova – were arrested several times on 24 September. Their phones were taken from them at a police station, which prevented them from communicating with their families and their editors and endangered their personal information.

Arrests were also made in connection with the protests in Russia’s two biggest cities. In Moscow, Baza reporter Ksenia Khabibulina was filming an interview near a military enlistment office on 23 September when police officers came and took her away to a police station. She was released later the same day. In Saint Petersburg, police forced their way into photo-journalist Viktoria Arefieva’s home in the early hours of 24 September and held her for two days on a “telephone terrorism” charge that SOTA, the news site for which she works, said was designed to intimidate her and prevent her from covering the protests.

This harassment of journalists reflects the much tougher media legislation adopted since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. Under a major amendment to the 2019 law on disinformation that was passed on 4 March, journalists can be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison for publishing information about the Russian armed forces that the authorities deem to be “false” or to “discredit” them. As well as this amendment – itself amended several times since then – at least six other equally Orwellian laws have been adopted in the past seven months.

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