The attacks against independent journalists in Russia must stop
Moscow, Paris, Brussels, — On July 7, the Federal Security Service detained Ivan Safronov, a former well-known Kommersant and Vedomosti journalist, accusing him of high treason. Several other imminent journalists were judicially persecuted, physically assaulted, and otherwise harassed over the recent weeks. FIDH and its member organizations Anti-Discrimination Centre «Memorial» and Human Rights Centre «Memorial» are alarmed by the upsurge in cases of attacks against journalists and view them as a malicious attempt by the authorities to undermine the liberty of expression and journalists’ rights in Russia.
On 7 July in Moscow, the Federal Security Service (the FSB) detained a former Kommersant and Vedomosti journalist Ivan Safronov on charges of treason. According to the FSB, he was handing over secret information to the Czechia special services. An author of numerous sensational cases and some others criticizing the Government on the domestic and military-industrial policy of Russia is now facing from 12 to 20 years in prison.
The court hearings in cases involving high treason are often held behind closed doors and the case materials are kept in secrecy; even Safronov’s lawyers were not provided with the details of charges against him. The Kremlin argues that the charges are not related to Safronov’s journalistic activities and refuses to ensure transparency in the proceedings, which gives reason to doubt the validity of the accusation. Many journalists called the accusation absurd, noting that the Article «High treason» is formulated in the Criminal Code of Russia in such a way that it can be used against any journalist covering military affairs.
Ivan Safronov’s arrest came a day after another journalist Svetlana Prokopieva was convicted on July 6 of ‘justifying terrorism’ for a radio commentary suggesting a link between the political climate in Russia and the death of a teenage bomber in the city of Arkhangelsk. The same day the authorities opened a criminal case against a well-known journalist and a publisher of an independent online media Mediazona Petr Verzilov. The police conducted 8 searches in his apartment and detained him multiple times over the recent weeks on different grounds, and on July 6, he was accused of not notifying the Russian authorities of his second citizenship.
On July 8, photojournalist Victoria Ivleva was arbitrarily detained in Petrozavodsk as she attended the court hearing against Yuri Dmitriev, a falsely accused historian of the Soviet repression. On July 9, the police conducted searches in the office of an opposition newspaper «MBKh Media» and its editor-in-chief Sergei Prostakov. Earlier on June 30, a famous photographer and journalist David Frankel was physically assaulted at a polling station in St. Petersburg: as he was trying to film an attempt to expel an Election Commissioner from the polling station, two policemen attacked him and broke his arm.
An important number of journalists and activists were arbitrarily detained as they protested against this new wave of repression against the independent journalism and liberty of expression in Russia. Only following Ivan Safronov’s arrest, the Moscow police detained 20 protesters standing in solitary pickets while some of them were only unwrapping their banners.
The pattern of using criminal charges against journalists undermines the freedom of expression, including press freedom, and may be seen as a State-orchestrated attempt to silence critical voices and discourage dissent. These attacks are especially disturbing against the background of the illegitimate vote on the amendments to the Russian Constitution which has been completed on 3 July 2020 and runs against Russian laws and international standards.
FIDH and its member organizations Anti-Discrimination Centre «Memorial» and Human Rights Centre «Memorial» condemn the increased attacks against journalists and call on the Russian authorities to put an end to the undue restrictions to freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, and press freedom and halt all instances of judicial harassment against journalists targeted for their professional activities. In the case of Ivan Safronov, we urge the authorities to ensure transparency of the investigation — including making the charges against him public — and a fair and open trial.
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