Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reiterates its call for the immediate release of Igor Rudnikov, an independent newspaper editor in Russia’s western enclave of Kaliningrad, who will complete his 100th day in detention on a trumped-up charge of extortion on 9 February.
The editor of the weekly Novye Kolesa, Kaliningrad’s oldest independent newspaper, Rudnikov is well known for determined investigative reporting that had already resulted in two murder attempts against him and many prosecutions.
Arrested on 1 November, he was transferred a month later to Moscow, where he is currently held under a provisional detention order valid until 1 April. The violence to which he was subjected at the time of arrest has not been investigated, although members of the Federal Security Service (FSB) can be heard in a video held telling their superiors they gave him a good beating.
His arrest, combined with the confiscation of Novye Kolesa’s server and data storage devices, has been a blow for the newspaper. Retail sales have not fallen, but advertisers have backed off and donations have dried up, so the survival of Kaliningrad’s leading independent publication is not assured.
No convincing evidence against Rudnikov has been produced in the 100 days since his arrest on the sole basis of claims by Gen. Victor Ledenev, the head of the local branch of the Investigative Committee, which is responsible for investigating the most serious crimes in Russia.
The complete lack of hard evidence and the many procedural flaws reported by his lawyers reinforce the suspicion that he is the victim of a politically-motivated reprisal. Colleagues point out that Novye Kolesa had revealed in June 2017 that Gen. Ledenev owned a luxurious country home that had not been declared, and that he therefore had every reason to get rid of Rudnikov.
A former FSB member, Ledenev was Chechnya’s prosecutor-general from 2008 to 2013, a period marked by systematic impunity for crimes of violence attributed to close associates of the region’s strongman, Ramzan Kadyrov. The crimes included well-known journalist and human rights defender Natalia Estemirova’s murder in 2009. All this did not prevent Ledenev being promoted to head the Investigative Committee in Kaliningrad in 2013.
“What with arbitrary provisional detention, trumped-up charges and impunity for police violence, Igor Rudnikov’s case is emblematic of what goes on in Russia,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “We demand, in the strongest possible terms, this journalist’s immediate release and the withdrawal of all charges against him.”
Russia is ranked 148th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.