22 June 2022
In the middle of April Sergei Mikhailov was remanded in custody on charges of spreading ‘fake news’ about the Russian army.
The ‘Political Prisoners. Memorial’ project, in line with international standards, considers the journalist Sergei Mikhailov a political prisoner. Mikhailov has been imprisoned for publishing information about war crimes committed by the Russian army in Ukraine. Mikhailov’s criminal prosecution violates his right to freedom of speech and is intended to strengthen the Russian authorities’ control over the media, intimidate independent journalists and silence opponents of the war against Ukraine.
We demand that Sergei Mikhailov be released immediately from custody and that the criminal charges against him be dropped.
What are the charges against Mikhailov?
The independent newspaper Listok is the largest-circulation newspaper in the Altai Republic. It was founded in 1999 by Sergei Mikhailov, chair of the regional branch of PARNAS, a political party, and former member of the Republic’s legislative assembly.
Listok is known for its opposition views, consistently publishing criticism of regional and federal authorities. In 2016 the newspaper’s website was blocked by Roskomnadzor. The formal grounds for this move were harsh comments by some readers about the Immortal Regiment campaign. However, in fact the website was blocked because of a conflict with the head of the Altai Republic, Aleksandr Berdnikov.
After the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Listok published numerous pieces about the crimes of the Russian military.
On 13 April 2022 Sergei Mikhailov was arrested in the Moscow suburb of Liubertsy where he had recently been living. The same day, investigators searched the newspaper’s editorial office and the homes of its staff in Gorno-Altaisk.
On 14 April Mikhailov was taken to Gorno-Altaisk, where he was remanded in custody on charges of distributing ‘information known to be false’ about the use of Russian troops, committed on motives of political hatred (Article 207.3, Part 2, Paragraph e, of the Russian Criminal Code).
The criminal case against Mikhailov was initiated because of publications in Listok in March and April about the destruction by the Russian army of the maternity hospital and drama theatre in Mariupol and the killing of civilians by Russian troops in Bucha near Kyiv.
Why do we consider Mikhailov a political prisoner?
Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code on the dissemination of information known to be false about the use of the Russian army contradicts the Russian Constitution, Russia’s international obligations and fundamental principles of law.
Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states: ‘Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression.’ Restrictions on the exercise of these rights ‘shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; (b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.’ It is clear to us that the restrictions on freedom of expression introduced by Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code serve none of these purposes and are a form of censorship.
Article 207.3 criminalises practically any statements about the use of the Russian armed forces and the activities of Russian state bodies abroad. In the course of an armed conflict, it is often not possible to establish the accuracy of information disseminated by various sources. Still less is it possible to establish whether there was an intention to disseminate false information. Moreover, declaring all information that contradicts the official line to be false is, obviously, absurd. Taken together, these deficiencies determine the unlawful nature of Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code.
The timing and context of the introduction of Article 207.3 into the Russian Criminal Code – after the beginning of large-scale Russian military aggression against Ukraine – allow us to assert that this article was created specifically as a means to prosecute critics of the Russian authorities, one of whom is Sergei Mikhailov.
As an opposition politician and journalist, Sergei Mikhailov was elected as a member of the regional legislative assembly on a number of occasions and has frequently criticised the work of the authorities at various levels. It seems to us that the main motive behind his criminal prosecution is the desire of the security forces to silence the voices of critics and close down the independent opposition newspaper Listok, which is published by Sergei Mikhailov.
More information about the case of Sergei Mikhailov and the position of the ‘Political Prisoners. Memorial’ project are available on our Telegram channel.
Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner does not imply the ‘Political Prisoners. Memorial’ project agrees with, or approves of, their views, statements, or actions.
How can you help?
The address to write to Sergei Mikhailov is:
In Russian: 649105, Республика Алтай, с. Кызыл-Озек, ул. Горная, 15, ФКУ СИЗО-1 УФСИН России по Алтайскому краю, Михайлову Сергею Сергеевичу, 1976 г. Р.
In English: Sergei Sergeevich Mikhailov (born 1976), Remand Centre No. 1 of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service for Altai region, 15 Gornaya Street, Kyzyl-Ozek, Republic of Altai, Russia, 649105.
Translated by Rights in Russia