New York, February 28, 2017–Russian authorities should cease harassing journalists and allow them to work unimpeded, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Security forces today searched the Moscow home of prominent journalist and human rights defender Zoya Svetova, according to press reports and Svetova’s lawyers.
Roughly 10 security officials–including representatives of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, which probes serious crimes, and the Federal Security Service (FSB)–raided the journalist’s apartment at around 11 a.m. local time today, Anna Stavitskaya, one of Svetova’s lawyers, reported on Facebook. The officers were acting on a search warrant linked to a larger investigation into the alleged embezzlement of state money by exiled Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Stavitskaya wrote.
“We call on Russian authorities to stop harassing Zoya Svetova and allow her to continue her work as a journalist and human rights defender unobstructed,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Russia has notoriously used its law enforcement as a weapon of intimidation against critics and opponents. We call on the Investigative Committee to drop this shameful tactic once and for all.”
A spokesperson for the Investigative Committee, Svetlana Petrenko, was quoted by the Russian newspaper RBK as saying that the agency had received information that Svetova was keeping documents in her house that investigators believe contain details of wire transfers of allegedly embezzled money they suspect Khodorkovsky and “his accomplices” sent back into Russia. Stavitskaya wrote on Facebook that after hours of searching, security forces had found no such documents. The newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that officers copied data from all electronic carriers in Svetova’s home, including her iPad, her husband’s mobile phone, and her family’s computers.
“The statements of the Investigative Committee have no bearing in reality,” Sergei Badamshin, another of Svetova’s lawyers, told RBK in response.
Svetova is known for both her journalism and her activities as a human rights defender. She has worked as a correspondent and editor for a variety of independent Russian media outlets, including the newspapers Novaya Gazeta, Kommersant, and Russky Kuryer, the radio station Ekho Mosky, and the newsmagazines The New Times and Yezhenedelny Zhurnal. She has investigated corruption and wrongdoing in the justice system, and has reported on conditions in Russian prisons.