Ivan Golunov’s arrest highlighted the complete impunity enjoyed by corrupt police officers ready to bring the most absurd trumped-up charges against troublesome journalists. Their behaviour shocked Moscow but it is quite common in the rest of Russia.
A young Chechen journalist, Zhalaudi Geriyev, has just completed a three-year jail sentence on equally fanciful drug charges. At least six other journalists continue to be detained arbitrarily just for doing their job. One of them, Igor Rudnikov, is due to be sentenced on 17 June and is facing up to ten years in a prison camp.
“The past few days have shown that it is possible to snatch journalists from censorship’s claws in Russia if the level of support and solidarity is strong enough,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
“But the scale of this victory will be limited if we allow Ivan Golunov’s fellow journalists to continue festering in prison. The time has come to mobilize for all the other journalists who are unjustly detained in Russia. I am and we are Igor Rudnikov, Remzi Bekirov, Alexei Nazimov, Roman Sushchenko, Alexander Tolmachev and Alexander Valov.”
A reporter for the alternative news website Grani.ru in Crimea (the Ukrainian region annexed in 2014), Bekirov particularly covered the persecution of the Tatar population and pro-Ukraine activists by the Russian de-facto authorities. He was arrested along with a number of other people in Crimea in March 2019 and is facing a possible life sentence on a charge of being one of the “leaders of a terrorist organization,” Hizb-ut-Tahrir.
The editor of the opposition newspaper Tvoya Gazeta in the Crimean city of Alushta, Nazimov was arrested in October 2016 and was sentenced to four years and seven months in prison for supposedly trying to extort money from the local branch of the ruling United Russia party, which he had criticized in his reporting.
The founder and editor of the leading independent newspaper in Russia’s western enclave of Kaliningrad, Rudnikov is well known for hard-hitting investigative reporting and had been the target of two murder attempts. He was arrested in November 2017 on a charge of trying to extort money from the local head of the special police, who had been the subject of some of his investigative reporting. A verdict is due in his trial on 17 June. His newspaper, Novye Kolesa, has meanwhile been forced to close.
The Ukrainian news agency Ukrinform’s Paris correspondent, Sushchenko was arrested while visiting a friend in Russia in September 2016 and was sentenced to 12 years in a harsh-regime prison camp at the end of a trial held behind closed doors. Most of the indictment was classified as a defence secret.
The editor of two publications in the southwestern Rostov-on-Don region, Upolnomochen Zayavit and Pro Rostov, Tolmachev arrested in December 2011 and was illegally maintained in pre-trial detention for nearly three years despite serious health problems. He was finally sentenced to nine years in a prison camp for allegedly extorting money from people he had criticized in his reporting.
The editor of the BlogSochi news website in the southwestern Sochi region, Valov is well known for criticizing the local authorities. He was arrested in January 2018 on a charge of trying to extort money from a local parliamentarian he had criticized, and was sentenced to six years in prison at the end of a sham trial. BlogSochi has meanwhile been hacked and is no longer accessible.
Russia is ranked 149thout of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.