Reporter on trial for covering protest
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the acquittal of Sofiko Arifdzhanova, a journalist due to be tried in Moscow today on a charge of participating in a protest she was covering, and calls on the Russian authorities to respect the right of journalists to cover such events.
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Arifdzhanova, who reports for the Otkrytaya Rossiya news website, is facing a possible 15-day jail sentence for covering an “unauthorized” demonstration in March. Her trial was originally supposed to take place on 10 April but was postponed twice.
She was one of at least 17 journalists who were arrested while covering nationwide anti-corruption demonstrations on 26 March in which around 60,000 people took part. As well as being subjected to police violence, the reporters were accused of taking part in banned protests and refusing to comply with police instructions.
“A journalist covering a protest is not a protester,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “Sofiko Arifdzhanova was just doing her job as a reporter and should therefore be acquitted. Prosecuting journalists who identify themselves as such to the police is unacceptable. We call on the Russian authorities to guarantee media freedom and to train the police about the rights of journalists.”
Three journalists have already been tried on the same charge. Aleksandr Nikishin of Otkryty Kanal was sentenced to four days of administrative detention. Roman Demyanenko, a photographer with RIA-Voronezh, was fined 500 roubles. Alec Luhn, a US reporter for The Guardian, is so far the only one to be acquitted. He was alleged to have chanted Russian slogans while participating in an unauthorized protest in Moscow.
More than 1,000 arrests were made during the 26 March day of protest, the biggest number in a single day since Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin as president in 2012. Opposition politician Alexey Navalny has called for another protest on 12 June, the Russian Federation’s national holiday.
Russia is ranked 148th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.