Crimean journalist forced into exile after interrogation

New York, September 9, 2014–Independent reporter and blogger Elizaveta Bogutskaya has fled Crimea after authorities in the peninsula raided her home on Monday, confiscated notebooks and other reporting equipment, and detained Bogutskaya for six hours over allegations of extremist activity, according to news reports.

“We call on authorities to allow Elizaveta Bogutskaya and all independent journalists to live and work in the Crimean peninsula without fear of retaliation or obstruction,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Furthermore, Crimea’s anti-extremism department should immediately return all of Bogutskaya’s confiscated equipment.”

Bogutskaya is a contributor to the news website Krym.Realii, a Crimean service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. She has been critical of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March.

Bogutskaya told reporters a dozen police officers–four of whom were masked and armed with Kalashnikov rifles–came to her house at about 5:30 a.m. on Monday, claiming they had been tipped off that she possessed illegal arms, drugs, and extremist literature. Officers from the Crimean anti-extremism department confiscated reporting equipment, including a cell phone, three computers, several flash drives, notebooks, and cameras, local and international press reported.

After their search, which did not turn up any weapons or drugs, the men asked Bogutskaya to come with them for questioning, the Simferopol-based Center for Investigative Journalism reported. Bogutskaya told local media she spent six hours in the police station, where she was questioned about her attitude towards Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and whether she wrote reports fomenting ethnic hatred. The investigators did not ask about drugs or weapons, she told journalists.

News reports said that investigators told Bogutskaya she was also being questioned as part of a criminal inquiry into a May 3 rally, which they claimed to have footage of her attending. Crimean Tatars had gathered at the Ukraine border to protest a ban imposed by Russia to prevent Mustafa Dzhemilev, a prominent leader of the Crimean Tatar minority, from entering the peninsula. Bogutskaya has not publicly said whether she was at the rally.

Bogutskaya told the Center for Investigative Journalism that she fled Crimea for Ukraine last night, fearing further harassment or arrest. She said her family remained in Crimea, and that she hoped her departure would be temporary.

Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, press freedom conditions in the region have deteriorated significantly, CPJ research shows. CPJ has documented harassment and attacks against local and international journalists; blocking and removal of Ukrainian television channels from regional airwaves and cable networks by pro-Russia authorities; and shut-down orders against independent regional broadcasters. Journalists who have fled asked CPJ during a meeting in Kiev in July to closely monitor press freedom conditions in Crimea, which they said they expect would deteriorate further when the peninsula adopts Russia’s restrictive laws on January 1.