Podcast: Border forces with Peppermint, Ariana Drehsler and Steven Borowiec

In the Index on Censorship autumn 2019 podcast, we focus on how travel restrictions at borders are limiting the flow of free thought and ideas. Lewis Jennings and Sally Gimson discuss the latest issue of the magazine and reveal what to expect. Guests include trans woman and activist Peppermint, runner-up of RuPaul’s Drag Race season nine, who opens up about a transphobic experience in a Russian airport; San Diego photojournalist Ariana Drehsler talks about her detainment at a Mexican border and how this compares to a similar situation that happened in Egypt; and Steven Borowiec, a regular contributor to the magazine based in South Korea, discusses the laws surrounding the toughest border in the world.

Print copies of the magazine are available on Amazon, or you can take out a digital subscription via Exact Editions. Copies are also available at the BFI, the Serpetine Gallery and MagCulture (all London), News from Nowhere (Liverpool). Red Lion Books (Colchester) and Home (Manchester). Each magazine sale helps Index on Censorship continue its fight for free expression worldwide.

The autumn 2019 podcast can also be found on iTunes.

Russia: Journalists swept up in crackdown on anti-corruption protesters

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As thousands of people took to the streets across Russia on 12 June 2017 to protest corruption, journalists were among those detained by police, according to verified incidents reported to Mapping Media Freedom.

The Russia Day demonstrations followed calls from the Foundation Against Corruption, an NGO headed by political opposition leader Aleksei Navalny. Rallies took place across the country, with the largest gatherings taking place in Moscow and St Petersburg.

According to OVD-INFO, an independent police monitoring website, at least 1,769 people were detained in 31 cities throughout the day. Rights groups also registered serious human rights violations. The largest number of arrests took place in St Petersburg where roughly 700 people were detained. Around 200 of the detainees were minors who were released after their parents intervened. Russian authorities can hold individuals for 48 hours before they are arrested.

Another 150 demonstrators were sentenced to administrative arrest of up to 15 days in detention, and yet others received fines of between 10,500 and 15,000 rubles (€150 to €250).

Journalists were threatened and detained throughout the country.

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Index on Censorship monitors press freedom in Russia and 41 other European area nations.

As of 31/07/2017, there were 361 verified reports of media freedom violations associated with Russia in the Mapping Media Freedom database.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]

My 30 hours in detention

As an independent journalist, I was one of the media professionals detained by police at the St Petersburg rally. I was taken to a police station and held with 40 other people for 30 hours before being fined 10,500 rubles (€150) for participating in an illegal demonstration. I am appealing the court’s decision.

— Andrey Kalikh, Mapping Media Freedom


In Moscow, Andrey Poznaykov, a reporter for the Echo of Moscow radio station covering the demonstrations, was detained while he was taking a break on a cafe’s terrace. Though he showed officers his press card, he was taken to a police van and released soon after.

Other detainees in Moscow include: Novaya Gazeta photographer Evgeni Feldman, a correspondent for Open Russia Nikita Safronov, independent photographer Georgi Malets and independent journalist Denis Styazhkin. Aleksei Abanin, a photographer for the RTVi, wrote later that a police officer had threatened “to break my camera and break my face if I continue to photograph.”

Ignacio Ortega, a Moscow-based reporter for Spanish news agency EFE, was also detained while he was reporting from the anti-corruption rally. Officers held Ortega in a van with dozens of other individuals before bringing him and the others to a police station. Ortega was released after he identified himself at the station, EFE reported.

Blogger Yan Katelevski said that he was physically assaulted by police officers while being detained: “They dropped my press card, kicked me and hit me with batons, grabbed me by the throat, and beat me on my head while I was on a police bus”.

In Sochi, Andrey Kiselyov, a correspondent for Radio RFE/RL, was detained and issued him a warning to not commit any further legal violations.

In Makhachkala, Dagestan, Caucasian Knot journalist Patimat Makhmudova said that unknown people had broken her camera during the 12 June protests.  Additionally, Bariyat Idrisova and Saida Vagabova, correspondents for the independent Dagestani news website Chernovik were assaulted and prevented from filming at the same anti-corruption rally, Chernovik reported.

In Saratov, an unknown person attempted to prevent filming by correspondents from the Open Channel, a local TV station. The unknown individual approached the TV crew, asked whether everything was OK and then tried to run away with the camera.

Among those who were detained were David Frenkel, a contributing photographer for Kommersant and Mediazona, and Ksenia Morozova, the journalist for local website Sobaka.ru, who were both covering the rally. Both journalists were detained despite showing their press cards.

Frenkel was soon released while Morozova was taken to the police station, where she was kept overnight before facing a trial for “public order disturbance”. After spending 35 hours in the police station, Morozova was brought to the court for trial. She was sentenced to 10 days administrative arrest and a fine of 15,000 rubles (€250). The court argued that Morozova had no “accreditation” to work at the protest.

The Russian Union of Journalists (UJ) released a statement condemning the harsh police actions taken at the anti-corruption rallies across the country. The UJ demanded the release of all detained journalists and sent an appeal to the Chief Police Department of the Ministry of Interior. The head of the journalists’ union Pavel Gusev stated in his interview that the police had disturbed journalists from accomplishing their professional duties.

The St. Petersburg Ombudsman Aleksandr Shyshlov also issued a press release condemning police actions during the rallies where  “hundreds of people were detained, among them minors, media representatives, observers and passing civilians who did not commit any unlawful actions”.


Mapping Media Freedom

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Andrey Arkhangelsky reflects on Anna Politkovskaya’s legacy

It’s been 10 years since Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya was shot and killed. Writing in the latest Index on Censorship magazine, fellow Russian journalist Andrey Arkhangelsky reflects on her legacy and argues that the Russian press still faces a struggle to bring readers the full picture. An extract of his article is available below.

And, above, watch the video interview with Andrey Arkangelsky by Index’s assistant editor Ryan McChrystal about the challenges Russian journalists face today, and the impact of Politkovskaya’s killing on journalism.


On 7 October 2006, journalist Anna Politkovskaya was murdered in Moscow. Ten years on, the battle to publish investigative journalism in Russia is still being lost. When Polikovskaya died, there was speculation of government involvement, an international outcry and various posthumous awards for her investigative work. Yet in Russia there was no scandal, no mass protests. She was mostly deemed a “crazy loner”, one of a very rare breed of reporters who believed in press independence.

A decade later, we have a better understanding of Politkovskaya’s significance for Russian journalism. Like many of her generation, she was a product of the perestroika years of 1985-91, and remained faithful to its ideals in the years that followed, when a majority of her colleagues “tired of freedom”. In the 25 years after perestroika, neither freedom of speech nor other political freedoms have been much prized by the majority of citizens of this new Russia. In the 2000s, Politkovskaya’s stance was regarded as extreme. Who was there to fight against anyway? For what? The years of plenty were at their peak. Sooner or later economics would win and everything would sort itself out. Even liberals believed that.

It is important to understand the tradition to which Anna belonged. For her, being a journalist meant serving society, a tradition of self-sacrifice dating back to the 19th-century Russian intelligentsia. In the Soviet period this tradition was inherited by dissidents. In Russia, the line between journalism and social activism remains blurred, and not because Russian journalists are unprofessional, but because independence of the press has remained the ideal of rare characters such as Politkovskaya. There is no long-standing tradition of media independence. Each generation of journalists instinctively chooses between fusing completely with the state, which means producing propaganda and giving loyal support, or remaining steadfastly professional and inwardly dissident. Working as a journalist in Russia is not so much pursuing a profession as living an ethical, existential choice.

To read this article in full you can order your full-colour print copy of our Autumn issue here, or take out a digital subscription from anywhere in the world via Exact Editions (just £18* for the year). Each magazine sale helps Index on Censorship fight for free expression worldwide.

*Will be charged at local exchange rate outside the UK.

Copies of the magazine are on sale at the BFI, the Serpentine Gallery, MagCulture, (London), News from Nowhere (Liverpool), Home (Manchester), Calton Books (Glasgow) and on Amazon. Each magazine sale helps Index on Censorship continue its fight for free expression worldwide.

Pussy Riot supporters detained for protesting against criminal prosecution

Tens of people gathered near Moscow’s Tagansky Court on Wednesday to protest against the prosecution of members of feminist punk group Pussy Riot.

Three activists locked themselves in a cage near the court building and police struggled hard to unlock it and detain them “for taking part in an unsanctioned rally”. Six other activists were detained for having stood in the traffic area near the court. They later faced administrative charges for “breaking the rules of the rally organisation”.

Maria Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Ekaterina Semutsevich have been accused of hooliganism for allegedly staging an anti-Putin performance in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral. They face up to seven years in prison if convicted.

The court set a deadline for the women to acquaint themselves with the criminal case reading materials. They have until 9 July to read the volumes which, according to one of their their lawyers, Mark Feigin, “violates the defence’s righs to get prepared for the proceedings,” as they do not have enough time to read them. The trio announced a hunger-strike in protest.

Outside the court building people wore t-shirts with the band’s picture and white ribbons, a symbol of protest against Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian policy. Most of them told Index they did not believe their actions could influence Pussy Riot’s destiny, but nor could could staying silent

Russian intellectuals and artists have condemned Pussy Riot members’ persecution in an open letter, stating the criminal case “compromises the Russian judicial system” and “undermines the confidence in Russian authorities”. The letter was signed by notable directors, writers and actors, including Viktor Shenderovich, Dmitry Bykov, Chulpan Khamatova, Mikhail Zhvanetskty, Eldar Ryazanov.

Rock group Faith No More invited free Pussy Riot members to participate in their Moscow concert on 2 July, where the women asked to “support their sisters” and chanted out:

Russian rebellion. We do exist. Russian rebellion. Putin has pissed with fear.

However, the number of protesters near the court on 4 July did not exceed 300 people. One of them, notable Russian poet Lev Rubinshtein, told Index that in spite of international rights activists’ community concerns over Pussy Riot’s persecution, “most people in Russia are simply not aware of Pussy Riot case, or have heard the name and condemn the women without finding out the details.”

This lies in two things: censorship on Russian television prevents the public from understanding the Pussy Riot story in detail, and the lack of solidarity between activists in Moscow and other Russian cities prevents others from protesting against the group’s prosecution outside the capital.