Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the latest blow to investigative journalism in Russia, the closure of the news website Russiangate, announced by its editor on the 24 of January, a day after it published the findings of its investigation into the assets of the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB).
Russiangate’s fate was sealed in less than 24 hours. On the evening of 23 January, it reported that FSB director Alexander Bortnikov had failed to declare some of his real estate assets. A few hours later, access was blocked throughout the country without any prior warning or explanation from the telecommunications agency Roskomnadzor, editor Alexandrina Yelagina said.
On the 24 of January, access to the website was unblocked but the offending article about Bortnikov had been removed. A few hours later, Yelagina announced that the website’s investors had decided to withdraw their funding and that it would therefore be closed.
“Russiangate’s closure is a flagrant and unacceptable act of censorship,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “As investigative reporting has virtually disappeared from the Russian media, this latest blow is a warning to the few news organizations that, despite everything, still investigate corruption and other stories in the public interest.”
In various interviews, Yelagina said there had been an informal agreement with the owners that Russiangate would not to tackle three sensitive subjects, President Vladimir Putin, his closest associates and the Russian Orthodox Church. As the FSB director was deemed to be close to Putin, the agreement had been broken and this was the grounds for closing the site, she said. The offending article has been re-posted on the publishing platform Telegraph.
Created in 2016, Russiangate specialized in investigating suspected corruption, publishing the results of its research into the assets of senior Russian officials and their relatives. Its targets included Valentina Matvienko, the speaker of the upper house of the Russian parliament, and presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Russia is ranked 148th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.