Russian journalists’ union could be disbanded for “discrediting armed forces”
Update: A Moscow court declared the dissolution of the union on 14 September 2022. This decision was confirmed by the Court of Appeals on 24 January 2023.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Russian prosecutor’s office to withdraw the 350-page complaint it has brought against the Journalists’ and Media Workers’ Union (JMWU), which could result in this independent union being disbanded. The union learned about the complaint on 13 July.
“Defending journalists and press freedom clearly constitutes a crime against the state in Russia,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “We support this independent journalists’ union, we condemn the climate of fear that the authorities are creating within the journalistic community, and we call for the withdrawal of the proceedings against the union.”
The claim that the JMWU published information “designed to discredit the armed forces” is one of the grounds cited by the prosecutor’s office in the complaint for demanding its dissolution. The union’s two co-presidents, Sofia Rusova and Igor Yasin, are also accused of having “systematically harmed the state and society through their actions” and of being “recidivists” – Rusova was fined for supporting Ivan Safronov, a journalist jailed for “treason”, and Yasin was arrested during a demonstration in support of Svetlana Prokopyeva, a journalist convicted of “terrorism.”
The complaint also notes that about ten of the JMWU’s members have been branded as “foreign agents” – a label imposed arbitrarily by the justice ministry on certain journalists who must append the label in large letters to everything they publish and must also provide the ministry with detailed quarterly reports of their income and expenses.
In recent months, the JMWU has publicly opposed the war in Ukraine, condemned media censorship in Russia, defended Russian journalists who are being prosecuted, and expressed support for Ukrainian journalists by signing the Perugia Declaration for Ukraine.
In practice, the JMWU’s activities have already been suspended since 4 July by decision of a Moscow municipal court under an article of the “fake news” law that was adopted on 4 March. On 13 May, the union had been ordered to submit hundreds of documents, including minutes of meetings and activity reports, to the prosecutor’s office within one working day, without being given any explanation or any possibility of contacting the prosecutor’s office to seek clarification.
The method is very similar to the one used by President Alexander Lukashenko’s government in Belarus to disband the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) last year. The next hearing is set for 3 August.
Pavel Gusev, the head of the Union of Journalists (a pro-government union inherited from the Soviet era) and head of the journalists’ rights commission of the Presidential Human Rights Council, has expressed indifference about the proceedings against the JMWU. He claimed that the JMWU had not fulfilled its role correctly because it had not provided “material support” or “organised leisure activities or medical care” and had instead been involved “in the defence of certain journalists.” Founded in 2017, the JMWU claims to have 600 members.