INCIDENTS AND THREATS
A Moscow court has agreed to hear a libel lawsuit filed by Aleksei Navalny against Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov over comments he made linking U.S. spies with the jailed opposition politician. Open Media group quoted a representative of the Presnensky district court on May 5 as saying that Navalny, who is serving a prison term in a penal colony, will be able to take part in the hearing if he wishes and if the judge agrees to it. The date of the hearing into the lawsuit filed by Navalny in late March is yet to be determined. It is the second lawsuit Navalny has filed against Peskov in defense of his "honor, dignity, and business reputation."
Amidst a court fight over whether or not jailed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny’s offices and organizations should be banned as “extremist,” the Russian government is attempting to promote a Russian video-hosting service as an “alternative” to YouTube, a U.S. video-sharing platform that has brought the Navalny movement’s exposes on alleged government corruption to tens of millions of viewers.
A court in the western Russian city of Pskov has denied an appeal by RFE/RL contributor Lyudmila Savitskaya contesting her inclusion on Russia's controversial register of "foreign agent" media. The Pskov court ruled on May 5 that Savitskaya's inclusion on the Justice Ministry's list was lawful. Savitskaya's attorneys said they would appeal the ruling. Savitskaya and four other people -- RFE/RL contributor Sergei Markelov, human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov, artist and activist Darya Apakhonchich, and Pskov newspaper editor Denis Kamalygin -- were included in the "foreign agent" media list in December 2020.
The wife of detained Crimean journalist Vladyslav Yesypenko is demanding his immediate release and called his arrest a "deliberate attack on freedom of speech." Kateryna Yesypenko said her husband had been tortured with electric shocks and falsely accused of being a spy. Yesypenko, a freelance contributor to Crimea.Realities, a regional news outlet of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, was detained by Russian authorities in Russia-annexed Crimea on March 10. On May 5, Ms. Yesypenko told the Crimean Human Rights Group that a second criminal charge had been filed against her husband.
Following the labeling of Russian media outlet Meduza as a “foreign agent,” all advertisers have immediately dropped their contracts with the publication. Meduza is now forced to launch a fundraising campaign to keep working and pay journalists' salaries. The publication has also given up its office in Riga, got rid of freelance journalists and cut salaries of staff journalists. See also -- May 6 Washington Post editorial on “foreign agents” Meduza and RFE/RL. (in Russian, Current Time TV)
According to the Reporters Without Borders 2021 World Press Freedom Index, Russia is ranked in 149th place, and, given recent trends, could drop even further next year. It is difficult not to leave the profession when journalists are prosecuted and declared “foreign agents.” Some do leave; others take time out and come back. Current Time TV reached out to several journalists across Russia and tells their stories of passion and courage. (in Russian, Current Time TV)
A Russian court has dismissed a case against RFE/RL correspondent Tatyana Voltskaya, who was charged with the distribution of "false information about the coronavirus" over an article she wrote about a lack of ventilators for COVID-19 patients in St. Petersburg. Voltskaya’s lawyer, Leonid Krikun told RFE/RL that the Gatchino City Court in the northwestern Leningrad region ruled on May 4 that there was no crime committed by the reporter. Investigators initially demanded a criminal case be launched against Voltskaya regarding her article published on RFE/RL's North.Realities website in April 2020.
A Russian journalist labeled as a "foreign agent" has turned the tables on several local lawmakers in the northwestern region of Pskov, sending them money to incriminate them under the controversial law. Denis Kamalyagin, the chief editor of the Pskovskaya gubernia newspaper who was labeled a "foreign agent" by the Russian Justice Ministry in December, said on May 5 he transferred unspecified amounts of money via his mobile phone to the region's governor, the mayor of the regional capital, Pskov, and a lawmaker representing the region in the Russian parliament's lower chamber, the State Duma. Kamalyagin told Dozhd TV and the media outlet Meduza that he transferred the money in January and informed the Justice Ministry about it in a report that he must provide regularly as "a foreign agent."
From the time Eduard Shmonin was a young man, he always wanted to be a gangster. But disillusionment with Russia's criminal world came quickly for the Sverdlovsk region native after he served two years in prison for burglary in the 1990s. Shmonin, now 50, instead decided to get into journalism -- a profession that he quickly determined was inextricable from local battles over money, resources, and influence. The business model he adopted involved digging up dirt on officials and industry players -- and then publishing it or withholding it, depending on the bidder. Now prosecutors have asked a court to sentence Shmonin to 11 years in prison on charges of blackmail and distributing pornography -- allegations linked to media operations he ran in Russia’s oil-rich Khanti-Mansi Autonomous District in western Siberia.
Russian state-run TV channel Rossiya 24 aired an episode about difficulties in relations between Russia and the Czech Republic, in which one of the characters, a Czech citizen named Milos Fleischhans, criticized Prague's position in the conflict, and accused Czech media of unprofessionalism, saying “there is only hysteria: Russians are coming, everything is bad and over for us.” Fleischhans was introduced as a Czech "expat" who has lived in Moscow for 6 years who now was concerned about losing the Russian clientele of the Czech company where he works. However, a Moscow-based correspondent for Czech Radio, Ivana Milenkovičová, discovered that, at least in 2019, Fleischhans was a correspondent for the Russian state agency Rossiya Segodnya (which includes RIA Novosti and RT), and attended the Livadia-2019 forum in December 2019 as a Prague correspondent for Rossiya Segodnya. (in Russian, Current Time TV)
Maryna Zolatava, editor in chief of Belarus’ most popular news website, the independent outlet Tut.by, was working the editorial desk on August 9 when reports came in of unrest on the streets of Minsk after the Presidential election polls closed. "The recollections from August 9 are seared into my mind," Zolatava told RFE/RL's Belarus Service in a recent interview, describing the scene "when our reporters in the field began calling in to the editorial office to tell us what was happening in the city." "Explosions, gunfire.... I couldn't believe the things the reporters were telling me," As of today, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, 481 journalists were detained in 2020, twice as many as the previous six years combined.
Belarusian lawyer Syarhey Zikratski, who has defended independent journalists during the ongoing police crackdown on dissent following a disputed presidential election last year, has left the country for Lithuania after his license to practice law was withdrawn in late March. Zikratski announced his decision to leave Belarus in a Facebook post on May 3, saying that while abroad he will "do everything" he can "to change the situation in Belarus."
Attorney Ivan Pavlov, who specializes in cases involving state secrets, was questioned in Moscow and is under investigation for allegedly disclosing classified information about the ongoing investigation of former journalist Ivan Safronov. Safronov is accused of giving classified information about Russian arms sales to the Czech Republic, which he denies. At a court hearing, a judge granted a prosecution request that Pavlov be barred from using the Internet or communicating with witnesses in the Safronov case. More than 80 Russian journalists, writers, historians, and translators have issued an open letter in support of Ivan Pavlov.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) says legislative amendments being considered by Kyrgyz lawmakers would put the political opposition and human rights groups at greater risk in the Central Asian nation. The rights group said in a statement on May 3 that the amendments -- proposed by the Interior Ministry and approved by Kyrgyz lawmakers in the first reading last month -- would broaden the scope for the criminal prosecution of organizations deemed “extremist" to include those found to incite “political enmity,” along with national, ethnic, or racial enmity, and to make financing such “extremist” organizations a criminal offense.