RSF questions Russian YouTuber’s five-year jail sentence on “state secrets” charge

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) accuses the Russian authorities of violating the rights of Andrei Pyzh, a YouTuber based in Saint Petersburg who was sentenced to five years in prison on a charge of obtaining and sharing state secrets at the end of an opaque and unfair trial amid heightened tension with Ukraine. He must be freed at once, RSF says.

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A reporter with Russian and Ukrainian dual citizenship, Pyzh had more than 800,000 followers on his YouTube channel Urbanturizm, where he posted videos exploring abandoned urban infrastructure. Detained since 6 August 2020, he was convicted on 29 October of illegally obtaining information constituting a state secret and of crossing into Ukraine in possession of this information with the intention of divulging it abroad.

 

The authorities have not specified the nature of this information. But some journalists have linked the proceedings initiated by the Federal Security Service (FSB) to Pyzh’s video report on a military radar station located north of the Arctic Circle at Olenegorsk, in the Murmansk region.

 

Officially, the radar station was operational and well-funded but, by showing it to be in ruins, Pyzh’s report exposed a large-scale case of misappropriation of military funding, a subject journalists are now banned from covering on the grounds that it could “undermine the security of Russia.”

 

The subject is on a list of around 60 military-related topics, including troop morale and the hazing of army cadets, that the FSB banned in late September, drastically restricting the range of stories that journalists can cover. Gathering and disseminating information about any of the prohibited subjects can lead to criminal proceedings and inclusion on the “foreign agents” list. In a never-ending determination to restrict press freedom and free speech, the FSB has compiled a new version of the rules on information constituting a state secret that will take effect on 1 January.

 

The Russian state news agency TASS has meanwhile suggested that the forbidden information for which Pyzh was prosecuted concerned Metro-2, a classified system of underground transportation in Moscow that exists in parallel to the metro used by the public.

 

Regardless of the grounds for his conviction, Pyzh had to wait 26 days after his arrest before he was allowed access to his lawyer, who says he was initially detained without a specific charge being brought against him.

 

“The lack of transparency in this case, the denial of Andrei Pyzh’s rights to a legal defence and fair trial, and the background of heightened tension with Ukraine cast serious doubts on his conviction in connection with his journalistic activities,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

 

“Spying charges have often been used by the Russian security services of late to fuel propaganda about the need to eliminate an ‘internal enemy’ and their victims have included journalists such as Ivan Safronov and Vladislav Yesipenko. We condemn this use of a closed trial, liable to result in biased verdicts, a violation of article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which Russia signed and which establishes the right to a fair trial, and we call for this video blogger’s immediate release.”

 

More and more spying and treason cases are being reported every year. The media outlet Agentstvo estimates that there have been around 3,500 such cases in the past ten years. The exact number is unknown and is classified. Russia is ranked 150th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

Publié le 29.12.2021
Mise à jour le 29.12.2021