Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reiterates its call for popular blogger Alexander Valov’s immediate release and condemns the many violations of his rights in his trial, which began last week in a location far from the centre of the southwestern city of Sochi, where he lives.
Well-known in the Sochi region for his frequent blog posts critical of prominent local figures, Valov has been held since January on a charge of trying to extort money from Yury Napso, a Sochi representative in the Russian parliament.
The procedural violations began during a preliminary hearing behind closed doors on 19 September, when his provisional detention was extended yet again in the absence of his lawyers, and he was told he could not access the prosecution case file without at least one his lawyer’s being present.
When his trial began on 10 October, Valov’s request for the judge, Nikolai Trukhan, to be replaced on the grounds that Valov had criticized him in the past in blog posts was rejected by Trukhan himself. The judge betrayed his evident feeling of impunity again when, clearly annoyed by Valov’s repeated objections in court, he suddenly asked Valov if he was Jewish (which he is).
When prosecution witnesses hesitated and contradicted themselves during the next hearing, the judge allowed them to simply read their original written statements to judicial investigators.
“We object to the multiple violations of Alexander Valov’s right to a fair trial,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “Combined with the systematic extensions of his preventive detention, they show that this blogger has been the victim of persecution designed to silence him. We call for his immediate release and for the trial’s transfer to a different jurisdiction.”
Valov’s blog, BlogSochi, and all of his social network accounts were pirated at the end of March by persons apparently using the SIM card confiscated from him at the time of his arrest, which later disappeared from the case file.
During the 2018 FIFA World Cup, RSF launched a campaign for the release of journalists and bloggers detained in Russia, which is ranked 148th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.