Russia jails blogger over post criticizing military action in Syria

New York, December 20, 2016–The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Russian authorities to release Aleksei Kungurov, a blogger from Siberia who was convicted of “calling for terrorism.” A regional court in Tyumen today sentenced Kungurov to two years in a prison colony over a blog post that criticized Russia’s actions in Syria, according to news reports and information posted to his LiveJournal blog.

The conviction relates to an October 12, 2015 blog post by Kungurov, titled “Who Did Putin’s Falcons Actually Bomb,” according to news reports citing court documents. Kungurov criticized Russian military operations in Syria in the post and also presented his analysis of the situation in the Middle East. His blog has about seven million unique visitors a year, according to Novaya Gazeta.

“We call on Russian authorities in Tyumen to immediately release Aleksei Kungurov and drop all charges against him,” said Nina Ognianova, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Since the Kremlin’s control over traditional media is nearly absolute, blogs have become an important platform in Russia for independent reporting, analysis, commentary, debate, and information-sharing. Now authorities are contracting that space as well.”

Police on March 3 raided Kungurov’s apartment and the blogger was placed under house arrest, according to the Russian Service of RFE/RL, a U.S. government-funded organization. On June 15, he was moved to a detention facility in Tyumen, according to local media reports. On October 11, the Central District Court of Tyumen extended Kungurov’s detention until December 15, the reports said.

Kungurov’s conviction comes as Russia continues its crackdown on bloggers. In October, a blogger called Anton Nosik was charged with extremism and fined 500,000 rubles (US$8,000) for a blog post on LiveJournal supporting Russian operations in Syria, according to the Russian Service of RFE/RL.

Two journalists were in jail in Russia for their work on December 1, 2016, CPJ’s prison census shows. Kungurov was not included in the census because CPJ was not aware of his case.