Update: A court in Moscow’s Tverskoy district today sentenced Russian investigative reporter Alexander Sokolov to three and a half years in a penal colony for “perpetuating the activities of a banned extremist organization.”
“This sentence is disgraceful,” said Johann Bihr, the head of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk at Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which has been calling for Sokolov’s release for the past two years.
“By persisting with this prosecution despite two years of pre-trial detention, vacillating allegations, no hard evidence and an Orwellian charge, the judicial authorities have just reinforced the impression that Alexander Sokolov is being persecuted because his journalistic activities were a source of irritation.”
Russia : Investigative reporter Alexander Sokolov must be acquitted!
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges the Moscow court trying Russian investigative reporter Alexander Sokolov to acquit him when it issues its verdict today. RSF also calls for the immediate release of this journalist, who has been held for the past two years.
In a textbook example of how free speech is crushed in Russia, Sokolov was arrested in July 2015 after exposing a corruption scandal and has been held ever since on unsubstantiated “extremism” charges. In the trial that began nine months ago, the prosecution is seeking a four-year prison sentence.
“After two years too many behind bars, Alexander Sokolov must be acquitted and freed,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “This trial has highlighted the urgent need to reform Russia’s anti-extremism legislation to prevent its arbitrary use for repressive purposes.”
Sokolov had specialized in covering politics and corruption at his job with the independent media group RBC since 2013. His last story was about massive embezzlement of public funds in the construction of the Vostochny Cosmodrome. He has a PhD in economics for which his thesis was about embezzlement by major Russian companies.
The official reason for his arrest was his previous activist links. He and three others were accused of “pursuing the activities of a banned extremist organization” by running the website of a group called “For Responsible Government” (ZOV).
ZOV was campaigning for a referendum to amend the Russian constitution so that politicians could be held accountable under criminal law. As this could hardly be regarded as a crime, the indictment claims that Sokolov “realized” that the group’s true aims were “destabilization of the government” and “distribution of extremist texts.”
The indictment does little except criminalize peaceful activities. It makes little reference to Sokolov’s role with the group, which appears to have been very limited.
In the opinion of RSF, which has been campaigning for Sokolov’s release ever since his arrest, the weakness of the prosecution’s case shows that Sokolov’s journalistic activities are the real reason he has been put on trial.
RSF urges as many journalists as possible to be present when the verdict is issued at midday today at Moscow’s Tverskoy district court, Room 20.
Russia is ranked 148th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.
See RSF’s previous press releases on this case: