WASHINGTON -- In a closely watched case, a Russian court today found Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Russian Service contributor Svetlana Prokopyeva guilty of “justifying terrorism,” marking a frightening escalation in the state’s attack on the independent press.
“Svetlana’s conviction means that there is no presumption of innocence, no protections for journalists against the brute force of the state,” said RFE/RL Acting President Daisy Sindelar. “Her case recalls the show trials that were used by Soviet authorities to punish critics. It is a grim assault against free speech and the mission of an independent press.”
The Second Western District Military Court in Russia’s northwest Pskov region ordered Prokopyeva to pay a fine of 500,000 rubles (about $6,950). Prosecutors had asked for a six-year prison sentence and to bar her from journalistic activities for four years. Prokopyeva told reporters that she will appeal the decision: "I wasn’t counting on being found not guilty. We’ll appeal."
The charges stem from a commentary Prokopyeva wrote for the Pskov affiliate of Ekho Moskvy radio in November 2018 about a bombing at the offices of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in Russia’s northern city of Arkhangelsk. The bomb was set by a teenager who died in the blast. She argued that political activism under President Vladimir Putin had been severely restricted, and that the teenager, who had posted statements on social media accusing the FSB of tampering with criminal cases, may have acted out of despair.
In her final testimony to the court on July 3, Prokopyeva declared, "I am not afraid to criticize the government…I am not afraid to criticize law enforcement or tell the security organs that they are wrong. Because I know how really horrific it will become if I don’t speak out -- if no one speaks out."
More than 30 independent Russian journalists issued statements over the weekend in support of Prokopyeva, with some calling the case a defining moment for the country’s press.
European Union spokesman Peter Stano released a statement calling Prokopyeva’s conviction “unjustified,” noting that her prosecution is “testimony to the ever-shrinking space for independent journalism and civil society in the Russian Federation. Stano said the EU “expect the Russian Federation to uphold its international and domestic obligations and ensure that journalists are able to work in a safe environment without fear of reprisal.”
RFE/RL’s Russian Service, known locally as Radio Svoboda, is a multiplatform alternative to Russian state-controlled media, providing audiences in the Russian Federation with informed and accurate news, analysis, and opinion. Along with its regional reporting units Siberia.Realities and Northern.Realities, Radio Svoboda’s websites garnered 14.7 million visits and 24 million page views in May, while more than 16 million Russian Service videos were viewed on YouTube.
RFE/RL relies on its networks of local reporters to provide accurate news and information to more than 38 million people in 27 languages and 23 countries where media freedom is restricted, or where a professional press has not fully developed. Its videos were viewed over 3.6 billion times on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram/IGTV in FY2019. RFE/RL is an editorially independent media company funded by a grant from the U.S. Congress through the U.S. Agency for Global Media.