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Media freedom: Increasing number of journalists jailed in Russia

At least six journalists have been detained in Russia since 5 November 2020, whilst covering protests in Khabarovsk. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a statement calling for Russian authorities to release all detained journalists, and “ensure that the press can cover demonstrations freely.”

Protests in the eastern city of Khabarovsk have been ongoing since July, when the region’s former governor was arrested. According to local news reporter Andrey Bityutskiy, who spoke to CPJ, journalists have increasingly been arrested for allegedly participating in the protests, and then upon their release, being rearrested for a different demonstration.

Succession of arrests

Russian police detained Anton Kurdimov, correspondent for the newspaper Arsenievskie Vesti on 5 November. The following day he was found guilty for “participating in an unsanctioned protests”, receiving a 10,000 rubles (US $130) fine upon his release. On 14 November, he was rearrested and charged for the same offence for a protest that occurred on a different day, and sentenced to two days of administrative arrest. When he was later released, he was arrested a third time and now faced new charges of participating in another “unsanctioned action”, with a possible 300,000 rubles fine (US $3,900) or 30 days imprisonment. Bityutskiy said he is scheduled to appear in court today (17 November 2020).

On 6 November, another journalist and YouTube blogger Andrey Solomakhin, who writes for Sota.Vision, was detained by police whilst covering a court hearing against a local activist. He was convicted of “participating in an unsanctioned protest that disrupted traffic” that took place on 31 October, and given a 10,000 rubles fine. But, whilst leaving the court building, Solomakhin was rearrested for allegedly participating in a protest that happened on 2 November, and he was forcefully put into a car and taken back to the detention centre. For this new charge, he was sentenced to seven days in detention and a further six days for allegedly failing to comply with the police during the drive to the detention centre, where Bityutskiy says he was beaten and threatened with a taser.

According to medical records reviewed by CPJ, Solomakhin was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, concussion and bruises to his head.

He filed a complaint to the Investigative Committee and prosecutor’s office in Khabarovsk, but has received no response yet and remains in detention.

On 11 November, freelance journalist Dmitry Khetagurov was arrested for allegedly participating in an unsanctioned protest on 12 September. He was also charged, sentenced to 24 hours in detention, but rearrested upon release for the same charge for a different protest. He was given five days in detention, and remains there currently. Dmitry Timoshenko, another correspondent for an independent newspaper and YouTube based news outlet, was detained when visiting a colleague who was held at a pretrial detention centre. He was sentenced to one day of detention for the same protest charge.

Two more journalists were detained on 12 November, Yekaterina Biyak and Boris Zhirnov, for allegedly participating in an unsanctioned protest that disrupted traffic. Both were held overnight and fined 10,000 rubles, but were rearrested immediately after being released and given more time in detention. After serving their additional days, they were released.

Russia’s Media Freedom

Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asian program coordinator, called the recent arrests, “campaign of harassment against reportes for simply doing their jobs,” and added that,

“Journalists in Russia should be able to cover crucial political events freely, without being intimidated, fined, harassed, and silenced by the state.”

Russia ranks 149th out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index 2020. The Kremlin has issued a crackdown on press freedom since last summer’s referendum on constitutional changes, which allow Putin to remain President until 2036. Numerous journalists were detained whilst covering the protests, now deemed the “summer of unfreedom”.

Russian news agencies RT and Sputnik were banned in 2019 from the Global Conference for Media Freedom for their “active role in spreading disinformation.” However, many journalists from Russia were still allowed to attend the event. This year’s Global Conference for Media Freedom, held virtually by Canada and Botswana, condemned “unequivocally all attacks and violence against journalists and media workers, such as torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary detention, as well as intimidation and harassment in both conflict and non-conflict situations.”

Last month, a journalist set herself on fire to protest the crackdown on freedom of expression. Irina Slavina, founder and editor of Koza Press, died after deliberately setting herself on fire in front of the local branch of the interior ministry in Nizhny Novgorod. She tweeted beforehand: “I ask you to blame the Russian Federation for my death.” She had been continuously charged by authorities for protesting and spreading “fake news” for reporting on the outbreak of COVID-19. The search of her apartment prior to her death was the last straw.

See IOHR’s #DefendJournalists campaign below:


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