Update: Mikhail Ignatyev was dismissed by Vladimir Putin on 29 January. The Russian President evokes a ‘loss of confidence’ in the regional leader, who was involved in two scandals in one week: a call to ‘wipe out’ critical journalists and the humiliation of a firefighter.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for Mikhail Ignatyev, the head of Chuvashia, a small Russian republic in the Volga river basin, to be put on trial for inciting violence last weekend, when he urged journalists to "wipe out" colleagues who constantly criticize the government.
Speaking on 18 January, celebrated in Russia as Press Day, Ignatyev said journalists who "criticize from morning to night" should be "wiped out." The word he used was "mochit," a Russian underworld slang term notoriously used by Vladimir Putin with reference to Chechen militants in 1999.
Ignatyev accuses critical journalists of causing "street protests" and of preventing the authorities from "seeing to the improvement of green spaces and public spaces and opening new industries."
"Nothing can justify such violence from a politician," said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. We call for Mikhail Ignatyev to be tried for ‘inciting hatred against a social group’ under article 282 of the Russian Federation 's penal code. He had to apologize after an outcry over his comments, but his only partial apology had the sole aim of reinforcing his criticism of outspoken journalists."
At the Chuvash government’s weekly meeting yesterday, Ignatyev said he had always had "correct relations with journalists who criticize objectively and compose their articles correctly." He then apologized "as a kind-hearted person" to those he might have "upset" by his use of the term “wipe out," adding that he was referring to "people who claim to be journalists but have just one aim – to discredit the authorities by all means possible."
This is not the first time Ignatyev has targeted outspoken journalists. In January 2019, he criticized "fake and invented" reporting about doping within Chuvash sports institutions although the cases of doping had been confirmed by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA).
Ignatyev was not the only Russian regional leader to use Press Day to criticize outspoken journalists. On 17 January, the head of the nearby Republic of Mordovia complained about the attacks against him by "recalcitrant" journalists who undermined his government’s work.
Russia is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.