New York, June 19, 2018--Russian authorities should immediately release jailed journalist Aleksandr Valov and ensure that he receives necessary medical care, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The editor-in-chief and founder of local news website BlogSochi, who has been in detention since January on extortion charges, was hospitalized with abdominal wounds on June 14, according to a medical report viewed by CPJ, his defense lawyer, Aleksandr Popkov, and media reports.
According to a medical report dated June 15, which was viewed by CPJ, Valov was operated on "for the penetrating wound in the abdomen" the previous day, and "his health condition did not allow him to be transported and attend" a previously scheduled hearing. On June 18, a Sochi city court held the hearing in Valov's absence and extended his detention until July 19, 2018.
Speaking to CPJ from Sochi, Popkov said the case's chief investigator, Yevgeniy Sidorenko, told him at the hearing that Valov had stabbed himself with a pen in the abdomen. Popkov said he had reasons to doubt the official account of the incident. "Valov was preparing his defense and was not depressed. This incident needs to be investigated," said Popkov. While in detention, Valov had filed numerous complaints about harsh conditions in prison, including cold cells, bad food, and lack of medical care for inmates, Popkov added.
The case's investigators and media representatives of the regional and local detention centers did not respond to CPJ's questions via phone about Valov's case.
"While Russia basks in the international spotlight of the World Cup, a journalist who reported on the backdrop to the tournament has been languishing in prison and now, a prison hospital," said Gulnoza Said, CPJ Europe and Central Asia research associate. "Authorities should release Aleksandr Valov and carefully investigate the circumstances of his injuries."
Popkov said he has not been able to see his client, who was transported on June 15 from a city hospital, where he first received treatment, to a prison hospital. He added that he had requested a meeting with Valov for June 20 in Sochi.
On January 21, 2018, a Sochi court had charged Valov with extorting 300,000 rubles (US$4,700) from the city's federal parliamentary deputy, Yuri Napso, according to Popkov and media reports. Valov faces up to seven years in prison if found guilty, according to Popkov.
The journalist pleaded not guilty and wrote an article in now-defunct BlogSochi that the charges were "an attempt to shut down the major and only independent [media] project of Sochi ahead of the [March 18, 2018] presidential elections and World Cup - 2018." In the lead-up to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, BlogSochi had reported on alleged corruption among local officials, according to media reports from the time.