Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reiterates its call for the release of Russian investigative journalist Alexander Sokolov, who will finally appear in court today in Moscow for a preliminary hearing in his case after 15 months in preventive detention on spurious charges.
Arrested in July 2015, Sokolov filed a complaint with the Moscow prosecutor’s office after his detention was extended yet again in July of this year, taking it beyond 12 months. This is out of all proportion to the case against him. There was another extension on 18 October, this time until 11 November, two days after today’s hearing.
The charges against him have experienced several changes since his arrest along with two other people for their supposed activities within an association that had been dormant for two years.
According to the authorities, this association was the prolongation of a group that was banned in 2010 for extremism, so Sokolov was initially charged with “extremist content” and trying to “destabilize the government.”
The second of these charges was subsequently dropped for lack of evidence and, after the prosecutor’s office ordered the investigators to beef up the case against him, the main charge was changed to “organizing a terrorist group,” which is punishable by eight years in prison.
“We reiterate our call for Alexander Sokolov’s release before his trial,” RSF editor-in-chief Virginie Dangles said. “The weakness of the charges reinforces our belief that he was arrested because of his journalistic activities and not because he posed any danger to society. We hope his detention will not be extended beyond 11 November and that he will get a fair trial.”
At the time of his arrest, Sokolov worked for the RBC media group, which was recently brought under government control. He has a PhD in economics for which his thesis was about the investment consequences of the embezzlement of public funds by major Russian companies.
His last, well-researched, article was about the embezzlement of 93 billion roubles (1.27 billion euros) in public funds in the construction of the Vostochny Cosmodrome. His findings seem to have been corroborated subsequently by an investigation by the Russian Court of Accounts.
Around the time of the article’s publication, Sokolov and the two other defendants were arrested for helping to create a website for a group called “For Responsible Government” (IGPR “ZOV”) that was campaigning for a referendum to amend the Russian constitution so that politicians could be held accountable under criminal law.
The Russian human rights group Memorial has described Sokolov and his colleagues as “political prisoners.”
Russia is ranked 148th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.