New York, February 8, 2019–Russian authorities should immediately drop a criminal investigation launched against reporter Svetlana Prokopyeva and return her personal possessions seized during a raid of her apartment by armed police on February 6, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Prokopyeva, a Pskov-based stringer for the U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Russian service and the liberal Echo of Moscow news radio station, is being investigated for comments critical of Russian authorities in relation to a suicide bombing last year, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the journalist, who spoke to CPJ. RFE/RL reported that Russia’s federal media regulator, Roskomnadzor, said those comments, made during a broadcast on the Pskov affiliate of Echo of Moscow, amounted to “justifying terrorism.”
“By equating reporting on a terrorist attack with justifying terrorism, Russian authorities have once again demonstrated their hostility toward critical journalism,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “The criminal investigation against Svetlana Prokopeyeva should be dropped immediately and authorities should return her possessions so that she can continue her important reporting.”
On February 6, armed special forces police raided Prokopyeva’s home and seized two cell phones and three laptop computers, as well as many documents relating to her work, Prokopyeva told CPJ. She said police took her to a local station, where she was interrogated before being released.
Prokopyeva’s lawyer was present during the search and interrogation, according to the Russian office of Human Rights Watch. On the same day, local police conducted a “crime scene examination” of Echo of Moscow, the rights group said.
Prokopyeva told CPJ that she was interrogated by police again yesterday and that police forced her and her lawyer to sign an agreement stating that they would not disclose sensitive information about the investigation.
Pskov police could not be reached by phone for comment. An email request went unanswered.
The investigation into Prokopyeva stems from comments she made while hosting a show on the Pskov affiliate of Echo of Moscow on November 7, 2018, during which she discussed a suicide bombing attack in Arkhangelsk in October, when a 17-year-old detonated a homemade bomb inside a local Federal Security Service building, Prokopyeva told CPJ.
Prokopyeva said on-air that the bomber was “a teenager who grew up under Putin’s rule” and that “a ‘ruthless state’ had raised someone who saw violence as the only path,” according to a summary of her remarks by Human Rights Watch.
A transcript of the broadcast was published on Echo of Moscow’s website and by local news portal Pskov Newsfeed, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. In December 2018, Roskomnadzor issued a warning to both outlets and both removed the transcripts, according to RFE/RL.
Later that month, Roskomnadzor fined the radio station 150,000 rubles (approximately US$2,280) and Pskov Newsfeed 200,000 rubles (approximately US$3,040) for carrying her comments, according to Human Rights Watch.
Prokopyeva has not been indicted but could face charges under Article 205.2(2) of the Russian criminal code, which penalizes the public justification of terrorism; if found guilty, she could face up to seven years in prison, the BBC’s Russian service reported.