New York, September 21, 2016–Russian authorities should credibly investigate threats against independent online journalist Aleksandr Sotnik and bring those responsible to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Sotnik yesterday announced that he had fled Russia following threats connected to his critical reporting on Kremlin policies.
Sotnik announced his decision to leave the country yesterday through his YouTube channel, Sotnik TV, which frequently covers sensitive issues and which has more than 100,000 subscribers. In a video statement, he said the most egregious threat he received recently was from an anonymous caller who said Sotnik would be turned into a “vegetable” if he did not stop his critical reporting by October.
Sotnik told CPJ by phone that this was one of many threats he had received, but that the threats had become particularly severe in recent months and had been accompanied by physical surveillance. He said he suspects the threats were from security service agents in response to his critical reporting.
“We call on Russian authorities to investigate the threats against video journalist Aleksandr Sotnik, apprehend those responsible for threatening him, and ensure that he can do his work safely in Russia,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Journalists should not have to flee their homes for fear of retaliation.”
Sotnik has critically covered such sensitive topics as Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the conflict in east Ukraine, alleged corruption and abuses at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and Russia’s military intervention in Syria. In the August 24 edition of his YouTube show, for example, he apologized to Ukraine on behalf of Russia and predicted, “Ukraine will prevail because they are fighting a holy war.”
Sotnik told CPJ he hoped his flight from Russia would be temporary. He continues to publish Sotnik TV from exile, though yesterday he wrote on Facebook that he was now getting threats on the new phone number he acquired upon leaving Russia.