Russian journalists silenced to quash coverage of protests – Amnesty International | Team Cansler

The Russian authorities have developed an elaborate system of restrictions and severe reprisals to quell public protests, ranging to suppressing any reporting of them by journalists and independent observers.

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

The report, Russia: “They will be arrested anyway”: Reprisals against observers and media workers who report on protests, documents dozens of cases of unlawful obstruction of the work of journalists and observers at public protests, including arbitrary arrests, use of force, imprisonment and heavy fines.

“We see that the Russian authorities are not only intent on preventing and severely punishing any protest, however peaceful, but also on minimizing any public awareness of it,” said Natalia Prilutskaya, Amnesty International’s Russia researcher.

We can see that the Russian authorities are not only keen to prevent and severely punish any protest, no matter how peaceful, but also to minimize any public awareness of it

Natalia Prilutskaya, Amnesty International’s Russia researcher

“Since the beginning of Vladimir Putin’s presidency in 2000, the Russian authorities have gradually restricted the right to peaceful protest, punished those who attempt to exercise it, and made Russia a virtually protest-free zone. In February 2022, tens of thousands defied the prospect of extortionate fines and jail terms and took to the streets in Russian cities to protest the invasion of Ukraine. Authorities responded by imposing the heaviest penalties available on many participants. Police used brutal force against media workers and observers who monitored and independently reported on the protests.

“The authorities used the same approach a year earlier during protests in support of the wrongly imprisoned opposition leader Aleksei Navalny. By denying the public any knowledge of protests and hindering their monitoring, the Kremlin seeks to stamp out any public expression of discontent.”

New threats to independent media in suppressing anti-war reporting and protests

In recent years, the Russian authorities have created a legislative system that restricts freedom of expression and significantly increases the risks for observers, journalists and other media workers covering public gatherings.

The law requires journalists at protests to wear “conspicuous badges of a representative of the mass media.”

But police have increasingly made additional demands, including “editorial order letters” or passports, from media workers covering public gatherings. Authorities have warned media workers against “participating” in upcoming protests and arbitrarily arrested journalists before, during and after rallies they were covering. In many cases, arrests were carried out using excessive and unlawful force, which could amount to torture and other ill-treatment.

“In addition to strict legal restrictions on media freedom already imposed by the state, the police are using increasingly arbitrary measures to prevent journalists and other media workers from informing the public about the protests,” said Natalia Prilutskaya.

In addition to the strict legal restrictions on media freedom already imposed by the state, the police are increasingly acting indiscriminately to prevent journalists and other media workers from informing the public about the protests

Natalia Prilutskaya, Amnesty International’s Russia researcher

According to the Independent Union of Journalists and Media Workers (which was shut down by a court order in September 2022), at least 16 reporters were arrested in a week after mass protests against Aleksei Navalny’s detention broke out on January 23, 2021. Seven employees of the Committee Against Torture, a well-known Russian human rights NGO, were arbitrarily detained, in some cases violently, while monitoring the protests. In many of these and other cases, media workers and protest monitors have faced trials for “participating in an unauthorized public gathering” and been fined or sentenced to 10 days or more of so-called administrative detention.

Reprisals against public watchdogs and media workers continued to escalate after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. On March 4, 2022, a new law was passed that further restricts the right to freedom of expression. At the time of writing, the authorities had initiated criminal proceedings against at least nine journalists and bloggers for the then-established offense of “spreading false information about the Russian Armed Forces” (Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code). Some media outlets and journalists have also been punished under another new “crime” of “discrediting” the Russian Armed Forces stationed abroad (Article 20.3.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses) after sharing information about the war in Ukraine.

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

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

On March 5, the police searched the homes of Dovod‘s editor-in-chief Kirill Ishutin and three other journalists – including 17-year-old Evgeny Sautin – are suspected as witnesses in a criminal investigation into “vandalism” related to the appearance of anti-war graffiti on a local bridge, which was first reported by Dovod. On the same day, police officers and special riot police broke into the office of Pskovskaya Governorate, conducted searches and seized computers, phones and other equipment in an administrative proceeding related to the “crime” of “discrediting” Russian forces deployed abroad, which was enacted into law a day earlier. According to an anonymous complaint, the newspaper allegedly called for mass protests in its email newsletter. The next day, Pskovskaya Governorate informed that it had to stop its work until further notice.

The relentless attacks on the free press over coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the activities of the anti-war movement have led to an exodus of hundreds of journalists from Russia. The independent television station TV rain and the Novaya Gazeta Newspapers were among those forced to stop working. radio station Echo Moscow, which served as a platform for some of Russia’s most critical voices, was shut down by authorities. Their respective teams had to look for new ways of working to inform Russian audiences.

The relentless attacks on the free press over coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the activities of the anti-war movement have led to an exodus of hundreds of journalists from Russia

Need for change and more scrutiny by the international community

The appalling practices targeting peaceful protesters, reporters 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 choke off rights and freedoms inside the country and stays on the path of self-isolation, the appalling abuses will continue across the board, including the crime of aggression against Ukraine,” said Natalia Prilutskaya.

“Accurate and effective scrutiny by the international community is required. In times as dark as these, it is of paramount importance to extend a helping hand to beleaguered Russian civil society and the independent media, to help those who monitor and report abuses in the country, and to tell the world about it.”

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