New York, June 14, 2000 — The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today expressed concern that the arrest of Vladimir Gusinsky, the head an independent Russian media company that has been the target of state harassment for several years, was designed to intimidate journalists and stifle press coverage. Russian politicians and journalists have condemned the latest action against Media-Most, which many describe as a politically motivated act.
[Click here to read about the May 11 raid on Gusinksy’s media company. Click here to read about the reaction to the raid.]
Gusinsky was reportedly taken to a Moscow prison late in the evening of June 13. The Russian prosecutor general’s office has accused the media magnate of illegally acquiring state property, but there have been no formal charges so far. Under Russian law, suspects must be released after ten days in the absence of charges.
Media-Most owns NTV television, Ekho Moskvy radio, the daily Segodnya, and the weekly news magazine Itogi. Both Gusinsky and his media have repeatedly criticized the Putin government, particularly regarding high-level corruption and its conduct of the war in Chechnya. Media-Most outlets are also known for their satirical representations of senior officials.
Russian president Vladimir Putin, who was on a state visit to Spain at the time of the arrest, said he was “surprised” and “sincerely worried” by Gusinsky’s arrest, according to news reports. Putin also claimed that the prosecutor’s office had acted independently of the government, and promised to look into the case on his return to Moscow.
Other Russian politicians were quick to condemn the arrest. Boris Nemtsov, leader of the Union of Right Forces party, described the action as “yet another act of intimidation against Media-Most,” according to the Russian news agency Interfax, and called for Gusinsky’s release pending a trial.
An NTV spokeswoman told CPJ that the arrest was “clearly a political act,” and vowed that NTV journalists would continue working as before. She said the action was the latest in a string of attacks on NTV, which include the commando-style police raid on Media-Most headquarters in May.
“We are greatly disturbed by the aggressive tactics being used against Media-Most and its owner, Vladimir Gusinsky,” said CPJ Europe program coordinator Emma Gray. ÔWe believe yesterday’s arrest is designed to intimidate independent journalists, and we urge the Russian government to stop these acts immediately.”