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Russia

Key Developments

» Authorities cracked down on free expression in run-up to Winter Olympics.

» At least two journalists were jailed in retaliation for their work.

While preparing to host the Sochi Winter Olympics, Russia continued to pressure journalists and human rights defenders covering sensitive issues. Authorities intensified their squeeze on Internet speech and upping their anti-press rhetoric. Impunity in anti-press violence remained largely unaddressed; one journalist died as a consequence of a previous brutal attack, and another was murdered in the volatile North Caucasus region bordering Sochi. A Dutch photojournalist was denied a Russian visa, and a Norwegian television crew was obstructed in retaliation for their Sochi coverage. One editor was attacked, one parliament member threatened two journalists, and at least two journalists were imprisoned when CPJ conducted its annual prison census on December 1. Despite initial hopes, the retrial of several suspects in the 2006 murder of Novaya Gazeta journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, was at a stalemate at year's end. But Russian authorities took an important step toward defeating impunity in the country: One suspect in the 2000 murder of another Novaya Gazeta journalist, Igor Domnikov, was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison.



  • 1

    Key suspect convicted
  • 9th

    Impunity Index ranking
  • 1

    Statement urging censorship
  • 2

    Journalists jailed for piracy
 

In 2013, a Russian court convicted a key defendant accused of mediating between the mastermind and the killers of Igor Domnikov, the Novaya Gazeta journalist brutally murdered by hammer-wielding assailants in 2000. The court convicted Pavel Sopot, a businessman, of inciting Domnikov's murder and sentenced him to seven years in prison.


Timeline in Igor Domnikov's case:

1999-2000

Domnikov reports on corruption in the Lipetsk regional administration in western Russia. In a series of investigative articles, he accuses local government officials of nepotism, driving local farmers into bankruptcy, and assigning themselves high salaries while allowing the population to wallow in poverty.

May 12, 2000

At least one assailant attacks Domnikov around 8 p.m. at the entrance to his Moscow apartment building, bashing him on the head with a hammer. The journalist undergoes surgery, but falls into a two-month coma.

July 16, 2000

Domnikov dies of head injuries sustained in the attack without regaining consciousness.

August 26, 2007

A judge in the west central republic of Tatarstan convicts five members of a criminal gang in Domnikov's murder as well as in several other crimes, and sentences each to a lengthy prison term. The gang's leader, Eduard Tagiryanov, is given a life term.

May 8, 2013

Russian investigators arrest Moscow businessman Pavel Sopot as the organizer of the Domnikov killing. Domnikov's Novaya Gazeta colleagues, who had carried out their own investigation into the murder, had long suspected Sopot of playing a key role in the murder—as a middleman between the Tagiryanov gang and Sergei Dorovskoi, then deputy governor of Lipetsk. Dorovskoi, who Novaya Gazeta says commissioned Domnikov's murder, denies any involvement. Sopot's arrest was reportedly pegged to Tagiryanov's testimony.

October 2013

Tagiryanov suddenly reneges on his testimony, Novaya Gazeta reports, after having been visited by one of Sopot's lawyers in jail. He says he alone is responsible for Domnikov's killing, clearing Sopot and Dorovskoi of any responsibility. Novaya Gazeta publicly appeals to the Moscow court hearing Sopot's case, and to the prosecution, to ensure that Tagiryanov has not been pressured, bribed, or threatened to change his testimony.

November-December 2013

Despite Tagiryanov's denial of his previous testimony, the court continues to prosecute Sopot. Additional testimony by three Tagiryanov gang members already convicted and jailed for fatally beating Domnikov corroborate Sopot's role in the crime.

December 2013

Moscow's Lyublinsky court convicts Sopot of inciting Domnikov's murder. The court sentences Sopot to seven years in a high-security prison and orders him to pay the journalist's widow 1 million rubles (US$30,317) in compensation.
 

Russia remains on CPJ's list of countries where journalists are murdered regularly for their work and their killers go unpunished. Russia was also ranked on CPJ's 2013 Risk List, which identifies the 10 places where press freedom suffered the most in 2013.

2013 Impunity Index:
CPJ's 2013 Impunity Index
1. Iraq
2. Somalia
3. Philippines
4. Sri Lanka
5. Colombia
6. Afghanistan
7. Mexico
8. Pakistan
9. Russia
10. Brazil
11. Nigeria
12. India


 

In a February 14, 2013, speech before the FSB, the board of Russia's security service, President Vladimir Putin said that while citizens' right to free speech was undisputed, "no one has the right to sow hatred or destabilize our society and country."

Putin also urged security agents to fight extremism by blocking "attempts by radicals to use the potential of modern information technology, the Internet, and social networks to diffuse their propaganda."


The rise of Internet censorship:

March 14, 2013

Prosecutors in Abakan, capital of the Republic of Khakassia in southern Siberia, file criminal defamation charges against Mikhail Afanasyev, editor of the online magazine Novy Focus, in connection with a December 9, 2012, opinion piece that criticized a police official. The case moves to court a month later. It is dropped in September amid a growing domestic and international outcry.

May 23, 2013

A court in the central Russian city of Ulyanovsk orders the state-owned Internet provider Rostelecom to block public access to the independent news website Gazeta, saying it had been propagating corruption by publishing articles on how to bribe officials to avoid punishment for crimes. In its ruling, the court does not clearly state what specific laws the website has allegedly violated, and does not name the articles at issue.

Gazeta journalists tell CPJ they are unaware of the claim against the website and learned about the ruling from readers calling the newsroom to ask why their access had been restricted. Access is restored in June, but in November, the popular Internet provider Beeline blocks access to the site for its users in the city of Armavir, Krasnodar Region, based on the same alleged violation.

July 2013

Popular anti-corruption blogger, activist, and presidential hopeful Aleksei Navalny is tried on politically motivated embezzlement charges in retaliation for his investigations into allegedly corrupt dealings of top Russian officials. Navalny is found guilty and sentenced to five years in jail on July 18. The sentence is suspended in October on appeal.

October 31, 2013

A Moscow court revokes the license of the independent online news agency Rosbalt, accusing it of publishing videos containing foul language. Rosbalt had carried a video of a performance at a Russian oil rig by the feminist punk rock band Pussy Riot, two members of which were imprisoned on charges of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" in relation to an irreverent prayer performed at a Moscow church.
 

On September 18, Russia jailed local freelance photographer Denis Sinyakov and British freelance journalist Kieron Bryan on charges of piracy. Both reporters were on assignment, covering a Greenpeace demonstration against oil drilling in the Arctic.

The piracy charges were changed to hooliganism, and the journalists were released on bail in November, news reports said. The trial was pending in late year.

At least two other journalists remained in prison in Russia when CPJ conducted its annual prison census on December 1.

Imprisoned in Russia over time:



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