New York, January 15, 2019 - Russian authorities should immediately release blogger Viktor Toroptsev from jail, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. A court in the city of Amursk, in the Far Eastern region of Khabarovsk, handed a 10-day sentence to Toroptsev yesterday, ostensibly for a traffic violation, after he shared a video on YouTube that allegedly showed several law enforcement officials attending the funeral of a local crime boss, the blogger told MBK Media, a news outlet funded by Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
"Jailing a blogger for sharing a publicly available video is a terrible injustice," said Gulnoza Said, CPJ's Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. "We call on the federal authorities to intervene in the case and overturn the verdict. Viktor Toroptsev should be released immediately, and Russians' right to stay informed about events of public importance should not be restricted."
Toroptsev told MBK Media that he was stopped and detained by traffic police on January 12 for allegedly driving with an invalid license. He was released from police custody the next day, "apparently because of a large public outcry" over the video, Toroptsev wrote on VKontakte, a Russian social networking site. But he was detained again on January 14 and sentenced by a local court to 10 days in jail, MBK Media reported.
Toroptsev insists that his detention is illegal and that he is being targeted for publishing a video on YouTube under the username "ihar felyzen" on January 8, according to a report by the U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). Khabarovsk authorities announced a probe into the publication of the video on January 9, RFE/RL reported.
According to a resident of Amursk who spoke on condition of anonymity citing fear of persecution to OVD-Info, an independent group that monitors crackdowns on protests, the arrest followed several days of harassment towards Toroptsev. In the days before he was arrested, the blogger received several phone calls from unknown people who threatened him because of the video, and Toroptsev was visited by police who demanded he take the video offline, according to the resident.
According to RFE/RL, comments on the video accuse several Khabarovsk police officers and employees of the local prosecutor's office of attending the funeral of alleged crime boss Yuriy "Zaruba" Zarubin, including some who acted as pallbearers.
The press office for the regional police denied any law enforcement involvement in the January 8 funeral procession, according to Russia's state-run Vesti news agency. CPJ reached out to the police force for further comment but did not receive a reply.