Russian journalist to be tried for alleging election irregularities

New York, September 27, 2016―Russian authorities should drop all charges against investigative journalist Denis Korotkov, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Korotkov, a correspondent for the independent news website Fontanka, is scheduled to appear before a Saint Petersburg court tomorrow, in connection with his alleging irregularities in Russia’s September 18 parliamentary elections.

Korotkov reported that as part of his investigation into the elections, he posed as a voter, and that polling station workers gave him a special sticker. That sticker, he said, allowed him to vote multiple times after being bused between polling stations in Saint Petersburg. The practice, widely known as “carousel” voting, was used in previous elections in Russia and the former Soviet bloc, according to press reports and international electoral observers.

When Korotkov revealed his identity as a journalist, after receiving four ballots, police briefly detained him and subsequently charged him with “illegal issuing and receiving of ballots,” according to local press reports. If found guilty, he faces a fine of up to 3,000 rubles ($47).

“We call on Saint Petersburg authorities to drop all charges against Denis Korotkov immediately and to allow him to do his job without fear of harassment,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Prosecutors would do better to investigate the troubling electoral irregularities he observed rather than trying him for voter fraud.”

Korotkov won the Union of Journalists of Russia’s 2015 Golden Pen media award for his investigative report “Slavic Corps Returns to Syria” on the illegal practice of hiring Russian volunteers to fight in Syria.

Electoral observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe concluded that the 2016 State Duma elections “were transparently administered,” but “challenges to democratic commitments remain,” and found that “the electoral environment was negatively affected by restrictions to fundamental freedoms and political rights, firmly controlled media, and a tightening grip on civil society.”

Russia’s main elections watchdog, Golos, had observers in all polling stations of Saint Petersburg and reported that “all major ways of falsification, such as busing the voters [from one polling station to another], carousel, ballot-box stuffing, and others, including putting pressure on voters were observed.”