Press freedom “massively flouted” during 2nd round of pro-Navalny protests
Dozens of journalists were detained, sometimes violently, while covering demonstrations in support of detained Kremlin opponent Alexei Navalny for the second weekend running on 31 January. Those responsible for these illegal actions must be punished, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says.
Police briefly arrested at least ten journalists in Moscow and obstructed dozens of others in more than 30 Russian cities in an attempt to prevent coverage of the pro-Navalny demonstrations.
The victims included Aleksandr Pichugin, who was arrested in the western city of Nizhny Novgorod and broadcasted live from a police van for the local news website NN.RU. He was held for more than 24 hours and was fined 10,000 roubles (110 euros) on a charge of participating in an illegal demonstration.
In Moscow, Svetlana Khrustaleva is facing a fine of 20,000 roubles (220 euros) on the same charge although she was carrying her press card and a note from the weekly Sobesednik saying she had been assigned to cover the protests. The police hit her with batons at the time of arrest, leaving her with bruising all over her body, and refused to call an ambulance when she felt ill while held in a police van. She was released three hours later.
Georgy Markov, a freelancer also known as Timur Khadzhibekov who works for various media outlets, received several baton blows and was tasered when he was arrested while covering a demonstration in Saint Petersburg although his press vest clearly identified him as a reporter. He said he was glad he was wearing a helmet because “it still hurts all over my body.” His camera and phone were also smashed.
“Despite the Kremlin's denials, the police are clearly and massively flouting press freedom during the pro-Navalny demonstrations,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “Journalists must be able to work freely, in complete safety and without impediment to cover future demonstrations and all public interest events, including Alexei Navalny’s first trial, which opens today.”
Cavelier added: “The police officers responsible for the violence and those who told them to arrest journalists who were just doing their job must be punished for committing these flagrant violations of the Russian constitution and international treaties signed by Moscow, including the European Convention on Human Rights.”
Many Russian regions saw illegal arrests of journalists. They included at least two of the far-east reporters for the independent Moscow tri-weekly Novaya Gazeta, Roman Lazukov in Khabarovsk and Valeria Fedorenko in the Pacific coast port city of Vladivostok. Ekaterina Ishchenko, a reporter for the Sotavision news website, was also held for seven hours in a Vladivostok police station despite having a press card.
Aleksandra Larintseva, the business daily Kommersant’s correspondent in Stavropol, in the North Caucasus, spent several hours in a police station until the police released her, saying there had been a “misunderstanding.”
Denis Adamov, the editor of the local news website Yakutia.Info, was arrested while covering a demonstration in Yakutsk, in central Siberia. When he showed his press card to the arresting officers, they said they were “not interested.” He was quickly released after being taken to a police station.
In Samara, in the Volga federal district, Sergei Kurt-Adzhiev, the editor of the local branch of the Echo of Moscow independent radio station, and two of his presenters, Tatiana Brachy and Anton Rubin, were arrested and taken to a police station but were quickly released by a senior officer who apologized for the “illegal actions” of his subordinates.
RSF also registered more than 20 cases of intimidation of journalists, including “warning” visits by police to their homes, between the first round of pro-Navalny demonstrations on 23 January and the second on 31 January.
The most serious case was the arrest of Sergei Smirnov, the editor of Mediazona, a leading online source of reporting on police and judicial abuses, who was held for seven hours on 30 January and was released after a media outcry. He is to be tried tomorrow on a charge of “calling for participation in an illegal demonstration.”
Vladimir Kornev, the editor of Belgorod No. 1, a local TV channel in the western city of Belgorod, was released this morning after being held for three days for allegedly organizing an illegal demonstration.
Russia is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.