PSKOV, Russia -- Russian and international rights activists have expressed concern that a criminal investigation of prominent local journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva amounts to an infringement of freedom of the press.
"Prokopyeva has done nothing wrong," the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement issued late on February 7. "By investigating her and punishing the media outlets she worked with, Russian authorities are sending a signal to journalists that they will not tolerate any criticism of how the authorities respond to perceived terrorism or extremism."
Prosecutors have opened an investigation into suspicions that Prokopyeva violated a law against "justifying terrorism through the use of the media" in a commentary she made for the local affiliate of the Moscow-based Ekho Moskvy radio station.
"The goal of this case is to restrict freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Russia, which are the foundations of its constitutional order," wrote Pskov lawmaker and head of the local Yabloko party branch Lev Shlosberg. "The Russian government has become a terrorist and is waging a terrorist campaign against its citizens."
"We consider the case against Prokopyeva to be a gross violation of freedom of the press," said Johann Bihr, head of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk of Reporters Without Borders, in a February 7 statement provided to RFE/RL. "This case doesn't make any sense. We call on the Russian and local authorities to stop pressuring her because there is no reason to believe she committed a crime."
Prokopyeva is a prominent local journalist who reports for the Pskov affiliate of Ekho Moskvy, the Moscow radio station known for its independent reporting. She is also a freelance contributor to RFE/RL's Russian Service.
"The investigation against Svetlana Prokopyeva is a clear attempt to silence an independent journalist," RFE/RL acting President Daisy Sindelar said in a February 8 statement, which said the company was "alarmed" over the probe.
Law enforcement officials searched Prokopyeva's home and the offices of the Ekho Moskvy affiliate on February 6. Prokopyeva was briefly detained.
The case stems from a commentary that Prokopyeva broadcast in November on the Pskov affiliate of Ekho Moskvy, in which she discussed a bombing that occurred in the previous month in the far northern city of Arkhangelsk.
In that case, a 17-year-old boy was accused of detonating a homemade explosive outside the local headquarters of Russia's main domestic security and intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB).
Three of its officers were wounded in the blast.
Russia media reported that before the bombing, the suspected bomber, who died in the incident, had posted statements on social media in which he accused the FSB of falsifying criminal cases.
In her commentary, Prokopyeva linked the 17-year-old's statements to the political climate in Russia under President Vladimir Putin, suggesting that political activism in the country was severely restricted, leading people to despair.
A transcript of the broadcast was published on the station's website and by a local news portal called Pskov Newsfeed. In December, Russia's federal media regulator, Rozkomnadzor, issued a warning to both outlets and both removed the transcripts.
On December 6, the same day that Prokopyeva was briefly detained, a Pskov court fined the radio station about $2,200 for publishing the transcript. A day later, the same court fined Pskov Newsfeed around $3,000.
Prokopyeva, who denies the charges, told RFE/RL's Russian Service that she stood by her original commentary.
"A whole generation has grown up in these repressive conditions. They are all 18 years old. One such terrorist attack is enough to become scary," she said.
"Terrorist attacks are always very bad. It is bad that young people turn to them. The feeling of helplessness and hopelessness that could have developed in this generation can turn not only into terrorist acts. It turns into passivity, a desire to leave the country," Prokopyeva said.
The Interfax news agency reported on February 6 that Putin's human rights council was monitoring the situation and had sent a request for additional information to the Prosecutor-General's Office.
The Independent Union of Russian Journalists has begun collecting signatures in support of Prokopyeva and demanding "an end to her persecution," Ekho Moskvy reported on February 8.
"I read Svetlana Prokopyeva's article only after the criminal probe was launched," Pavel Nikulin, one the union's founders, told RFE/RL. "I did not find anything in it that could be called irresponsible or an amoral justification of terrorism. It is a measured, restrained text, very intellectual. One that makes you think."
Denis Kamalyagin, the editor of the local newspaper Pskovskaya gubernia, told RFE/RL that he had known Prokopyeva for eight years and considered her "not only one of the best journalists in Pskov, but in all of northwestern Russia."
"In view of the seriousness of the allegations, it is our task to create the maximum public awareness and to show the authorities the reaction of the public and of civic organizations," he said.