Russian journalists are silenced to stifle reporting on protests

Russian authorities have devised a sophisticated system of restrictions and harsh reprisals to crush public protests, including the suppression of all reporting about them by journalists and independent observers.

Restrictions have increased since the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and the rampant crackdown on the anti-war movement virtually prevents any public protest and information sharing about it, Amnesty International said in a new report released today. today.

The report, Russia: “You will be arrested anyway”: Retaliation against monitors and media workers reporting on protests, documents dozens of cases of unlawful obstruction of the work of journalists and observers during public protests, including arbitrary arrests, use of force, detentions and heavy fines.

“We can see that the Russian authorities are determined not only to prevent and severely punish any demonstration, even peaceful ones, but also to minimize any public awareness,” said Natalia Prilutskaya, Russia researcher at Amnesty International.

We can see that the Russian authorities are determined not only to prevent and severely punish any demonstration, however peaceful, but also to minimize any public awareness of it.

Natalia Prilutskaya, Russia researcher at Amnesty International

“Since the very beginning of Vladimir Putin’s presidency in 2000, Russian authorities have gradually limited the right to peaceful protest, increasingly penalizing those who attempt to exercise it, making Russia a virtually protest-free zone. In February 2022, tens of thousands of people defied the prospect of exorbitant fines and imprisonment and took to the streets of Russian cities to protest the invasion of Ukraine. Authorities responded by handing down the harshest sentences available against many of the participants. Police used brutal force against media workers and monitors who independently observed and reported on the protests.

“Authorities used the same approach a year earlier during demonstrations in support of wrongfully imprisoned opposition leader Aleksei Navalny. By depriving the public of any information about the protests and obstructing their monitoring, the Kremlin seeks to eradicate any public expression of discontent.

New perils for independent media to suppress anti-war reporting and protests

In recent years, the Russian authorities have implemented a legislative system that restricts freedom of expression and significantly increases the risks faced by observers, journalists and other media professionals who report on public assemblies.

The law requires journalists at protests to wear “the clearly visible badge of a representative of the media”.

However, police increasingly demanded additional demands, including “editorial assignment letters” or passports from media workers covering town hall meetings. Authorities warned media workers against “participating” in upcoming protests and arbitrarily arrested journalists before, during and after the rallies they were covering. In many cases, arrests were made with excessive and unlawful force that amounted to torture and other ill-treatment.

“Alongside the severe legal restrictions on media freedom already imposed by the state, the police are increasingly acting arbitrarily to prevent journalists and other media professionals from informing the public about the protests,” said Natalia Prilutskaya. .

Alongside the severe legal restrictions on media freedom already imposed by the state, the police are increasingly acting arbitrarily to prevent journalists and other media professionals from informing the public about the protests.

Natalia Prilutskaya, Russia researcher at Amnesty International

According to the Independent Union of Journalists and Media Workers (which was shut down by court order in September 2022), at least 16 journalists have been arrested in a week after mass protests erupted on January 23, 2021 against the Imprisonment of Aleksei Navalny. Seven staff members of the Committee Against Torture, a major Russian human rights NGO, were arbitrarily arrested, sometimes with force, while monitoring the protests. In many of these and other cases, media workers and protest observers were tried for “participating in an unauthorized public assembly” and were fined or sentenced to 10 days or more so-called administrative detention.

Retaliation against public watchdogs and media workers intensified further after the large-scale invasion of Ukraine. On March 4, 2022, new legislation was passed further restricting the right to freedom of expression. At the time of writing, authorities had brought criminal charges against at least nine journalists and bloggers for the then-introduced offense of “spreading false information about the Russian armed forces” (Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code). Some media and journalists have also been sanctioned under another new “offence”, that of “discrediting” the Russian armed forces deployed abroad (article 20.3.3 of the code of administrative offences) after having shared information on the war in Ukraine.

Under the new law, a media report containing an anti-war message became a possible ground for persecution. In June and July 2022, Vechernie Vedomostian independent Yekaterinburg media outlet and its publisher, Guzel Aitkulova, were fined 450,000 rubles ($7,240) for publishing a partially blurred photo of anti-war stickers and other visuals opposing the invasion.

In two other cases, several members of the press teams of Dovodan independent online media in Vladimir, and Pskovskaya Guberniyaa Pskov newspaper, were targeted for their coverage of anti-war protests.

On March 5, the police searched the homes of DovodEditor-in-chief Kirill Ishutin and three other journalists – including 17-year-old Evgeny Sautin – are said to have been witnesses in a criminal investigation for ‘vandalism’ in connection with the appearance of anti-war graffiti on a local bridge, which was reported for the first time by Dovod. On the same day, the police and special riot police broke into the office of Pskovskaya Gubernia, conducted searches and confiscated computers, telephones and other equipment, in an administrative case concerning the “crime” of “discrediting” the Russian armed forces deployed abroad, which had been enacted on standby. According to an anonymous complaint, the newspaper called for mass protests in its e-newsletter. The next day, Pskovskaya Gubernia announced that it had to suspend work until further notice.

The relentless attacks on the free press for covering the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the activities of the anti-war movement led to the exodus of hundreds of journalists from Russia. The independent television channel television rain and the Novaya Gazeta newspaper were among those who were forced to stop their work. Radio station Ekho Moskvy, which served as a platform for some of Russia’s most critical voices, was shut down by the authorities. Their respective teams had to look for new ways of working to inform the Russian public.

Relentless attacks on the free press for covering the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the activities of the anti-war movement have led to the exodus of hundreds of journalists from Russia

Need for change and more rigorous scrutiny by the international community

The appalling practices targeting peaceful protesters, journalists and independent observers must end immediately. Repressive Russian laws restricting freedom of expression must be abolished.

“As long as the Russian government is able to strangle rights and freedoms in the country and remains on a path of self-isolation, appalling abuses at all levels will continue, including the crime of aggression against Ukraine,” said Natalia Prilutskaya.

“Careful and effective scrutiny by the international community is needed. In times as dark as these, it is paramount to reach out to beleaguered Russian civil society and independent media, to help those who monitor and report abuses in the country, and to tell the world about them.

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