OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 161: Journalists are being imprisoned, and imprisoned again

11 July 2020

OVD-Info is a Moscow-based NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia. Every Friday OVD-Info sends out a mailing with the latest news, which is translated here. To receive the mailing in Russian, visit here.

Illustration: Alina Kugusheva for OVD-Info

Hi! Charges against a former Kommersant special correspondent, a verdict in the case against Svetlana Prokoleva, and Mediazone’s publisher’s passport.

Former Kommersant special correspondent arrested on charges of treason. The courts placed Ivan Safronov, who had previously worked at Kommersant and Vedomosti, on remand. Safronov has been charged with passing secret data onto the Czech intelligence services. Journalists holding lone pickets in support of Ivan were, in turn, arrested.

  • Why does this matter? Safronov wrote about the inner workings of Russia’s military and industrial systems. His colleagues and friends believe that the charges are connected with these writings, although Safronov currently works for Roscosmos. The journalistic community sees the case as yet another example of journalism being targeted.

Pskov journalist fined. Svetlana Prokoleva, a journalist from Pskov, has been fined 500,000 roubles for justifying terrorism. Charges were pressed because of a column Prokoleva wrote about Mikhail Zhlobitksy’s suicide bomb attach at the Arkhangelsk branch of the FSB, in which she described the state’s internal politics as repressive.

  • Why do I need to know this? The case against Prokolova has resonated widely, with journalists and beyond the journalistic community. In practice, she was prosecuted because of her inoffensive description of how the security forces work in Russia. The prosecution requested six years’ imprisonment, but the actual sentence issued was significantly less severe.

Criminal case against Mediazone publishers. Petr Verzilov, a member of Pussy Riot and the publisher of Mediazone, has been charged with concealing his foreign citizenship. Recently, Verzilov has been searched eight times, each under a different pretext.

  • Why does this matter? You get the impression that, ever since the Constitution was amended, the state has gone on the offensive against journalists: Safronov, Verzilov, and the harsh stance in the charges against Prokoleva. Verzilov is not even a journalist but, rather, the publisher of Mediazone, which often prints stories about the unlawful actions of the security forces. At the same time, an entire investigation has been launched into the absurd and trifling case of Verzilov’s foreign passport, headed by the Investigative Committee’s specialist in important cases, Rustam Gabdulin. He is the one who led the investigation in the Moscow and Bolotnaya Square cases.

Searches in the Yukos case. On 9th July, searches were conducted the offices of Open Russia, MBKh Media, as well as several of their employees’ homes and the homes of Moscow oppositionists. The most unexpected part of all this was that the investigation was launched as part of a case against Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s company, Yukos, which was initiated in 2003. After the searches, law enforcement officers seized media devices and digital equipment.

  • Why does this matter? This July not a day has passed without new searches. MBKh Media editor-in-chief Sergei Prostakov, who was interrogated after the search, was 15 years old in 2003. This does looks less like a run-of-the-mill investigation, and more like another attempt to find any excuse to intimidate oppositionists.


On the Safronov case. Aleksandr Litoihas has been hot on the heels of the treason case against former Kommersant journalist Ivan Safronov in order to work out what it might linked with.

On the abduction of an electoral commission member. On 1st July, right outside a polling station in Khimki a member of the electoral commission, Iuri Korostelev, was abducted. He was bundled into a car by several unidentified men and driven away, after which he was dropped off and told not to return to the commission. OVD-Info tells Iuri’s story.

On Jehovah’s Witnesses. Members of the religious congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses are being prosecuted all over the country. The longest sentence to date was handed down in June in the city of Pskov, to Gennadii Shakovskii. Mikhail Shubin investigates the bases for these criminal cases against Jehovah’s Witnesses.

On separatism. There are plans in the State Duma to relax the statute in the criminal code on inciting separatism, but at the same time to introduce a new statute on the expropriation of territories. Aleksandr Litoi tries to figure out whether prosecutions for separatism will be eased in practice.

On a sacked teacher. Raushan Valiullin, a teacher from Tatarstan, has been fired from the school where he taught for ten years. He believes he was sacked because of his political activism. Valiullin was, inter alia, the chair of the local branch of the teachers’ union. He told OVD-Info his story.


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Translated by Judith Fagelson

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