Welcoming today’s release of Igor Rudnikov, a Russian journalist held on trumped-up charges for the past 20 months, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) demands an impartial investigation into the way he was persecuted and calls for a continuing campaign for the release of the six other journalists imprisoned in Russia.
In an unusual and rapid succession of positive developments, Rudnikov’s release by a court in Saint Petersburg came just six days after investigative reporter Ivan Golunov’s release in Moscow.
Ruling that there were no grounds for the charge of “extortion” on which Rudnikov was arrested on 1 November 2017, the court convicted him on the lesser charge of trying to abuse his influence and gave him a community service sentence that was much less than his time in preventive detention, with the result that he was immediately freed.
“We are deeply relieved by Igor Rudnikov’s release,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “Those who inflicted this ordeal on him must now be held to account. He was the victim of a relentless quest for revenge, which included being beaten and deprived of his newspaper. His release nonetheless confirms that victories are possible in Russia. We must continue campaigning for the six other journalists who are still imprisoned.”
Rudnikov edited the weekly Novye Kolesa, the leading independent newspaper in Russia’s western enclave of Kaliningrad, and was well known there for hard-hitting investigative reporting, which had already resulted in his being the target of two murder attempts and many other prosecutions.
Despite a lack of any evidence, Rudnikov was arrested when one of the region’s top police officers, Gen. Viktor Ledenev, claimed that he had been the victim of a blackmail attempt by Rudnikov after the newspaper reported that Ledenev owned undeclared real estate assets. Hounded on all sides, Novye Kolesa was forced to close.
Rudnikov was defended by Mass Media Defence Centre (MMDC) attorneys Tumas Misakyan and Anna Panicheva.
Russia is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2019 World Press Freedom Index.