Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns today’s eight-hour search of Russian investigative reporter Pavel Nikulin’s Moscow home as an unjustified show of force that violated the principle of the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.
The search was carried out by members of the Federal Security Service (FSB), who arrived in the early hours and left in the afternoon. Nikulin managed to report their arrival in a tweet before his mobile phone was confiscated. He was taken to an FSB office for interrogation and was later released.
The FSB agents seized his computers and mobile phones and many documents. They also seized copies of Moloko Plus, the magazine he edits, and a stamp of the Union of Journalists and Media Workers, of which he is co-president.
Nikulin said the search was linked to his interview with a Russian jihadist that The New Times, an independent Moscow-based magazine, published in March 2017.
The magazine was fined 100,000 roubles (1,400 euros) three months later on a charge of “justifying terrorism” although the questions that Nikulin put to his interviewee did not suggest any sympathy with jihadist activities. The magazine was also ordered to remove the interview from its website.
Nikulin was questioned as a witness in a related investigation into a suspected case of “training with a view to carrying out terrorist activities.”
“Pavel Nikulin is being treated as a suspect rather than a witness,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “This unjustified show of force violated the principle of the confidentiality of journalists’ sources, a principle that is guaranteed by both Russian law and the European Court of Human Rights.
“The systematic seizure of reporters’ equipment during searches obstructs their journalistic activities. We call on the authorities to immediately return the seized equipment and material, and to put a stop to practices of this kind.”
Russia is ranked 148th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.