Russia: media pressure on the eve of pro-Navalny protests

While demonstrations to demand the release of the opponent Alexeï Navalny are scheduled this Saturday, January 23 in 65 Russian cities, several journalists have been visited by police, who have warned them of the risk of prosecution if they cover these gatherings. An order to block online sites that would publish “illegal information” on these protests has also already been issued.

“Journalists should not be the victims of the feverishness of the government which seeks to prevent the holding of a demonstration, denounces the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia office, Jeanne Cavelier. Covering a rally in favor of an opponent who survived an attempted poisoning is not a crime. We ask the authorities to respect the Russian Constitution, to let journalists do their job and not to succumb to the temptation of Belarusian-style repression. ”

The correspondent of Radio Svoboda (Russian service of the American media Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) in Pskov, Svetlana Prokopieva, was one of the first to publicly denounce having been the target of this pressure on Facebook. Russian Journalists and Media Workers Union (JMWU), independent, lodged a complaint for “abuse of rights” by the police.

Police officers also disturbed at their home, early in the morning, the elderly parents of the radio presenter Echo de Moscou, d’Aleksandr Plioushchev. The freelance journalist Anastasia Lotariova received a call from the Moscow police asking him to To “promise” to stay away demonstrations.

Threatened with legal action for a tweet

Sergey Smirnov, the editor of Mediazone, a leading information site on police and judicial abuse in Russia, has received a written warning about the risk of administrative and criminal proceedings. He had published a tweet on the weather conditions expected this Saturday, during the day of protest. In an attempt to intimidate the journalist even further, Roskomnadzor, the federal communications control service, sent him in the afternoon of January 22 a letter indicating that he was already prosecuted for “spreading false information about the Covid-19 epidemic”.

The Attorney General of Russia has furthermore ordered to Roskomnadzor to block sites containing “illegal information” in connection with unauthorized demonstrations. Under the pression of Roskomnadzor asking them to prevent “minors from joining the demonstrations”, social networks Vkontakte (Russian Facebook) and TikTok have already deleted videos.

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Along with these blockages and warnings, thousands of false accounts have been subscribers to Navalny’s Instagram accounts as well as those of independent media Newspaper Gazette, Come on or MBKh Average. The Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) team, founded by Alexeï Navalny, fears attempts to block its accounts ahead of rallies. Several members of this foundation were also arrested and, according to Mediazone citing court press services, journalists will not be allowed to cover their trials. The FBK foundation published on January 19 an investigation into “ Putin’s Palace ”, The Russian president’s vast and opulent home near the Black Sea, which has already been viewed nearly 60 million times in three days.

Many obstacles to the work of journalists have already been identified by RSF on the occasion of Alexey Navalny’s return to Russia on January 17. At least nine reporters and bloggers were prevented to get to the airport or were arrested on the spot. Vnukovo airport also had not allowed any coverage of the opponent’s descent from the plane, under the pretext of a health crisis. At the last minute, the plane was hijacked to land at another airport and avoid the broadcast of his arrest. Journalists who had traveled in the same plane were retained on the tarmac upon landing. The next day, the media wishing cover the trial, which was supposed to be “public” by the opponent, which took place in a police station instead of a court, had not been able to enter.

Russia ranks 149th out of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index published by RSF.

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