Quote for the Week. Damelya Aitkhozhina, a researcher with Human Rights Watch: “April was a terrible month for freedom of expression in Russia.”

Week-ending 30 April 2021

‘April was a terrible month for freedom of expression in Russia. […] The grip keeps tightening on independent journalists and free expression in Russia. Russian authorities should stop strangling media freedoms. They should end the harassment against Anin and the criminal investigation against DOXA and get rid of the disgraceful “foreign agents” law. They should simply let journalists do their work.’

– Damelya Aitkhozhina, ‘Russia Closing Down Media Freedoms,’ Human Rights Watch, 29 April 2021. Damelya Aitkhozhina is a researcher on Russia with Human Rights Watch.

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Human Rights Watch, 29 April 2021: April was a terrible month for freedom of expression in Russia. In early April, the authorities struck at Roman Anin, editor-in-chief of iStories (Important Stories), a new outlet specializing in investigative journalism. The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) raided Anin’s home and iStories’ office in connection with a 2016 criminal invasion of privacy case that had been dormant for more than four years concerning his reporting on a luxury yacht, owned by an off-shore company, on which the then-wife of Igor Sechin, head of the state oil corporation, Rosneft, took extended Mediterranean vacations. iStories did not even exist at the time. Following Sechin’s successful defamation lawsuit, Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper that published the article had to publish a retraction.

RFE/RL, 26 April 2021: A journalist from Siberia who had to leave her native city of Kiselyovsk in the Siberian region of Kemerovo earlier this year after she was attacked says she has fled Russia fearing for her safety. Natalya Zubkova, the chief editor of the News of Kiselyovsk website, told RFE/RL on April 26 that she moved to an unspecified country a week ago after police and an investigator from Kiselyovsk visited her at her new residence in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg to question her as “a witness” in a criminal case. Zubkova said she refused to answer any questions and called her lawyer. According to her, the case might be an another move in ongoing attempts by Kiselyovsk authorities to take her daughter from her in retaliation for her articles criticizing authorities in the Kemerovo region for the “illegal widening of coal-mining territories” in the region.

RFE/RL, 26 April 2021: A Moscow court has increased from one minute to two hours the time allowed outside each day for three of the four editors of the student magazine Doxa, who are accused of “engaging minors in actions that might be dangerous” over a video related to unsanctioned rallies protesting opposition politician Aleksei Navalny’s incarceration. The Moscow City Court on April 26 upheld a lower court’s decision to impose pretrial restrictions for Armen Aramyan, Vladimir Metyolkin, and Natalya Tyshkevich, but mitigated the restrictions, ruling that the trio is allowed outside for two hours daily from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. A decision on the appeal of the fourth editor in the case, Alla Gutnikova, is expected to be made by the court on April 28.

RFE/RL, 27 April 2021: Journalists and activists are under pressure in Moscow for being at a rally earlier this month demanding the immediate release of jailed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny. Police on April 27 detained Aleksei Korostelyov, a reporter for Dozhd television, for questioning regarding his presence at the protest. After Korostelyov’s editors arrived at the police station with documents confirming that he was covering the April 21 rally as a reporter, police released him but ordered him to come back for questioning on April 30. Meanwhile, police visited Oleg Ovcharenko, a correspondent for the Ekho Moskvy radio station, on April 27 and ordered him to produce documents for the police proving that he was at the rally in question as a reporter. The day before, police detained professor Aleksandr Agadzhanyan from the Russian Humanitarian University for questioning and charged him with taking part in the unsanctioned April 21 demonstration. They also detained for questioning opposition politician Leonid Gozman, and visited the homes of several activists, including human rights defender Anna Borzenko. Writer Dmitry Bykov said he was summoned for questioning, and police reportedly switched off electricity at the apartment of artist Daniil Dvinsky after they were unable to reach him at home.

The Moscow Times, 27 April 2021: Russian police have detained two journalists from leading independent news outlets after they covered recent protests in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, the Ekho Moskvy radio station reported Tuesday. Officers arrived at the homes of Dozhd journalist Alexei Korostelev and Ekho Moskvy correspondent Oleg Ovcharenko early Tuesday and brought them to a Moscow police station, Ekho Moskvy and Dozhd reported. 

Amnesty International, 28 April 2021: A Russian court will tomorrow deliver its verdict in the case against activist Andrei Borovikov, who faces three years in prison if convicted of “distributing pornography” for sharing a video by the German rock band Rammstein. Andrei Borovikov was formerly the coordinator of Aleksei Navalny’s regional headquarters in Arkhangelsk, northwestern Russia. In 2014, he shared the music video for Rammstein’s song Pussy on the Russian social network VKontakte. More than six years later in September 2020, the authorities charged him with “production and distribution of pornography”. The prosecution has requested a three-year sentence in a high security penal colony if Andrei Borovikov is found guilty by the Lomonosovsky District Court. “The case against Andrei Borovikov is utterly absurd. It is blatantly obvious that he is being punished solely for his activism, not his musical taste,” said Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director.

RFE/RL, 28 April 2021: A Moscow court has increased from one minute to two hours per day the amount of time that can be spent outside by an editor of a student magazine, who along with three colleagues is accused of endangering minors over a video related to rallies against opposition leader Aleksei Navalny’s incarceration. Doxa magazine said on Telegram on April 28 that the Moscow City Court upheld a lower court decision to impose pretrial restrictions for Alla Gutnikova for two months, but mitigated the restrictions, ruling that she is allowed outside for two hours daily, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. The court also allowed Gutnikova to move from her parents’ apartment and stay at another address.

CPJ, 28 April 2021: Authorities in the Russian republic of North Ossetia should conduct a swift investigation into the death threats made to journalist Timur Mazayev, his colleagues, and his family, and ensure their safety, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. On April 14, a man identifying himself as Zelimkhan Bitarov, the son of former North Ossetia ruler Vyacheslav Bitarov, called Mazayev, chief editor of the independent news website Ossetia News, and threatened to kill him, his colleagues, and his family over a post on the outlet’s Instagram account, according to news reports and Mazayev, who spoke with CPJ in a phone interview.

The Moscow Times, 29 April 2021: A Russian court on Thursday sentenced an ally of jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny to two and a half years in prison on pornography charges, his lawyer said. The sentencing came as Russia inches closer to shutting down Navalny’s political network, with his regional offices announcing they would disband ahead of a ruling over whether to designate his organisations as extremist.  The court in Arkhangelsk, northern Russia, ruled that Andrei Borovikov, a former coordinator for Navalny’s offices, had spread pornography by reposting a music video by the German metal band Rammstein. Borovikov, 32, had pleaded not guilty to the charge, and his defence team will appeal the decision, lawyer Andrei Kychin added.

CPJ, 29 April 2021: Russian authorities should release journalist Sergey Stepanov immediately and should cease detaining and harassing members of the press covering protests, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Yesterday, the Oktyabrsky District Court in the central Russian city of Tambov sentenced Stepanov, a freelance correspondent for Finnish TV and radio broadcaster IRR-TV, to 30 days in detention for allegedly participating in an unsanctioned protest on April 21, according to news reports and the journalist’s lawyer, Denis Turbin, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.

RFE/RL, 30 April 2021: Richard Kruspe, the guitarist for the German rock group Rammstein, has expressed his support for a former associate of jailed Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny after he was handed a prison sentence for sharing the band’s video online in 2014. Kruspe wrote on Instagram late on April 29 that he is aware of the case of Andrei Borovikov from Russia’s northwestern city of Arkhangelsk, who was sentenced earlier that day to 2 1/2 years in prison for reposting the music video to Rammstein’s song Pussy on VKontakte, a popular Russian social network similar to Facebook.. “I very much regret that Borovikov has been sentenced to imprisonment for this. The harshness of this sentence is shocking. Rammstein have always stood up for freedom as a guaranteed basic right of all people,” Kruspe’s Instagram statement said.

RFE/RL, 30 April 2021: The U.S. State Department says press freedom in Russia is under growing threat as authorities slap RFE/RL and other media organizations with restrictive “foreign agent” labels and fines. Speaking at a press briefing on April 29, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the Russian government is increasingly “intolerant of outside perspectives” as it moves to quash any dissent in the country. The comments come as Russia’s media regulator Roskomnadzor has hit RFE/RL’s Russian-language services with fines of nearly $1 million in recent months for hundreds of violations of the “foreign agent” law.

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