September 14, 2017 - Updated on September 18, 2017

Russian journalist, unable to stand, held for nearly three months

Credit: Радио Свобода
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of Alexander Batmanov, a journalist accused of stealing bread and sausage who has been held provisionally for nearly three months in Volgograd, in southern Russia, despite having two broken ankles.

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This absurdity of the case is no laughing matter because Batmanov’s physical condition is very worrying. RSF regards the way the authorities have treated him as inhuman and disproportionate.

The presenter of the Volgograd-based online TV channel NGO-TV, Batmanov was arrested on a shoplifting charge on 23 June, a Friday. After questioning him, the police locked him into a second-floor room in the police station with the intention of leaving him there during the weekend. No reference was made to a judicial authority.

Desperate because he had been left without food or water, Batmanov tried to escape the next day by climbing out of a window but fell to the ground two storeys below, breaking both ankles.

He was taken to a hospital where he was operated on and spent several days under police guard. Since then he has been in prison where he has not received appropriate medical care and has to spend most of his time horizontal in his cell, assisted by fellow detainees.

His trial was due to be held in August but has been postponed because his physical condition prevents him from attending court hearings. He was on a stretcher when his lawyer first saw him.

NGO-TV founder Temur Kobaliya said the real reason for Batmanov’s arrest was his work as a journalist. The TV station covers human rights and NGO news, and the authorities have long had it in their sights.

“Why keep this journalist in prison when he cannot move and cannot flee?” asked Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “This cruel and disproportionate treatment reinforces the questions about the charge. Is it just a way to punish Alexander Batmanov and intimidate his colleagues? The lack of medical care just delays his trial and prolongs his detention. It is time to break this vicious circle.”

The harassment of independent media outlets has grown steadily since Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin as president in 2012. The increasingly oppressive climate at the national level has encouraged powerful provincial officials to deal more firmly with their media critics. Russia is ranked 148th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.