New York, December 6, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns heavy-handed actions by Russian authorities who have detained at least six journalists covering the protests that followed Sunday’s parliamentary election. International observers have cited irregularities in the voting, officially won by United Russia, the party headed by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Thousands of Muscovites took part in a downtown protest on Monday, with demonstrations continuing today in Triumphalnaya Square. Police dispersing the protests detained roughly 300 people on Monday and another 200 today, according to news reports, which identified at least five journalists among the detainees. Similar rallies took place in St. Petersburg, with more than 100 protesters detained on Monday and about the same number arrested today. The independent Moscow-based newspaper Novaya Gazeta, whose correspondents were at the scene, posted updates to its website as the protests unfolded.
Novaya Gazeta said police had detained its correspondent Yelena Kostyuchenko; Bozhena Rynska, a columnist with the independent news website Gazeta; Aleksandr Chernyh, a correspondent with the business daily Kommersant; Ilya Vasyunin, a reporter with the online television channel Dozhd; and independent blogger Ilya Varlamov. News reports said police assaulted Chernyh while taking him into custody. All five of the detained journalists were covering rallies in Moscow; no journalists were reported under arrest in St. Petersburg.
Aleksei Kamensky, online editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine, was detained on Monday while covering an opposition demonstration near Chistye Prudy metro station in Moscow, the publication reported. Kamensky, who became ill while in custody, was charged with “non-compliance with the lawful demands of police officers,” a count that carries a penalty of up to 15 days in prison, Forbes said. Kamensky was freed today.
“We call on Russian authorities to release journalists Bozhena Rynska, Yelena Kostyuchenko, Aleksandr Chernyh, Ilya Vasyunin, and Ilya Varlamov, and allow journalists to cover the protests without fear of reprisal,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are a vital part of the democratic process. Russia must respect its international commitments.”
United Russia party lost a significant number of parliamentary seats in Sunday’s vote. The party secured 53 percent of seats in parliament in the election, far below the 70 percent it held before, The New York Times reported. Still, opposition supporters claimed the loss would have been far greater had it not been for voting irregularities. According to a preliminary report by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which monitored voting across Russia, the process fell short of international standards. OSCE monitors found ballot stuffing, vote-counting errors, the blocking of independent news websites, and access restrictions on independent election observers. In at least seven cases, the OSCE reported, observers were expelled from their assigned stations during the vote counting.