Russia: Journalists detained during anti-corruption protests
31 Mar 2017

Russian and international journalists who were covering anti-corruption protests that took place across Russia on Sunday 26 March 2017 were among those detained as police moved to disperse demonstrators.

The protests erupted following allegations of hidden assets amassed by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. A video detailing the investigation conducted by the Russian NGO Anti-corruption Foundation attracted nearly 20 million views and caused a wave of public indignation.

Alexey Navalny, an opposition political activist and co-founder of the NGO, had called for demonstrations, which took place in nearly 100 cities. Initiative groups in Moscow and other cities supported the protest and called on local members to participate. As a result, meetings took place in 98 cities from Vladivostok to Kaliningrad. In 30 cities, the protests were broken up by the police, who detained many and reportedly committed human rights violations. According to OVD-Info, a website that monitors police detainments, in Moscow alone there more than 1,000 people detained, with around 150 detained in Makhachkala and 130 in Saint Petersburg. Some detainees in Moscow spent two nights in custody while waiting for court hearings.

In Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Makhachkala, Petrozavodsk and Saratov, journalists were detained and harassed by the police among protesters.

Moscow police detained RBC correspondent Timofey Dzyadko, Mediazona publisher Piotr Verzilov, correspondent for Open Russia website Sofiko Arifdzhanova, Public Television of Russia journalist Olga Orlova, Echo of Moscow journalist Alexandr Pluschev and Pyotr Parkhomenko of Kommersant-FM. They all spent 3-4 hours in police stations and were released after intervention by their employers.

The owner and editor of the infotainment website Vladimir Stolyarov was detained at his home during the Moscow demonstration for posting, according to his brother, “a link to the live stream of the protest actions and organized streaming on this website”.

Guardian correspondent Alec Luhn was among those detained by police officers as he took a picture of someone being detained at protests in Moscow. Luhn told Mapping Media Freedom: “I was charged with the administrative violation of holding an unsanctioned rally even though I repeatedly said I was a journalist and showed police my accreditation from the foreign ministry.”

He was brought to a police station where he spent more than five hours. “The police didn’t care about the legality of their actions and were very glib, refusing to answer for hours why I was being detained.” In an earlier Twitter post Luhn said police told him: “Maybe you are accused of killing Kennedy.”

“This lack of respect for the press is shocking, but even more shocking is their willingness to roughly detain so many peaceful protesters,” Luhn said. He spoke of a 15-year-old who probably had his nose broken after being kicked in the face by police.

Vladimir Suvorov, a photographer for the Russian website Life, was injured in Moscow when he was hit by a bottle thrown as police moved to arrest demonstrators.

In Petrozavodsk, the capital of the Republic of Karelia, a police officer hit Aleksey Alekseyev,  correspondent for local news website Chernika, in the face, breaking his glasses, and took his phone. Alekseyev, who was wearing a press badge, was then detained and spent several hours in the police station. His smartphone was returned. The Union of Journalists of the Republic of Karelia made a special statement condemning the violent detention of Alekseyev.

In Saint Petersburg, police officers detained Novaya Gazeta correspondent Sergey Satanovski and confiscated his journalist ID. Police said later that the credential was lost during the administrative process. Satanovski reported that police had used force on detainees during their detention. The editor-in-chief of the Novaya Gazeta’s Saint Petersburg edition Diana Kachalova, stated she would appeal to the prosecutor on his case.

Artyom Aleksandrov, a correspondent for Delovoy Petersburg, and Roman Pimenov, a correspondent for Interpress, and Aleksandr Petrosyan and Nadezhda Zaitseva, journalists working for the Vedomosti business newspaper were also detained in Saint Petersburg.

A special police unit officer told Violetta Ryabko, Saint Petersburg correspondent for Deutsche Welle, to leave the scene: “Get away from here with your camera”.

In Makhachkala, the capital of the Republic of Dagestan, several journalists were brought to the police station, including Kommersant correspondent Sergey Rasulov, Makhachkala correspondent for  Kavkazskaya Politika Faina Kachabekova and Eto Kavkaz correspondent Vladimir Sevrinovski.

In Saratov, Aleksandr Nikishin, a journalist for news agency Svobodnye Novosti and TV presenter of Open Channel, was detained after the protest.

A Saratov court found Nikishin, who is also a member of the public monitoring committee, guilty of disobeying police referring to the fact that he was “holding the door” when trying to enter police department. Nikishin was sentenced to four days in jail.

The court refused to use a video of his forced detention as evidence in the the trial.

“In detaining so many peaceful protesters, Russia is in clear violation of its human rights commitments,” Katie Morris of human rights NGO Article 19 told Mapping Media Freedom. Morris said that Russia is obliged to facilitate peaceful protest and journalists covering demonstrations should get increased protections.

“By arresting journalists, the Russian authorities are seeking to limit the spread of news about the protests in independent media and online,” she said.

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