Washington, D.C., May 1, 2019 — Russian authorities should allow journalists to freely cover protests and must investigate the alleged assault by police of Timur Hadjibekov and hold those responsible to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
A group of at least five police officers assaulted and then arrested Hadjibekov, a freelance photojournalist who works under the name George Markov, and arrested Oleg Nasonov, a photojournalist with St. Petersburg-based online news outlet Dva Stula, while they were covering a May Day march in St. Petersburg today, according to Nasonov and Hadjibekov, who spoke with CPJ, and local media reports.
Police officers approached Hadjibekov and Nasonov, who were near the demonstrations which included several political parties and activists shouting anti-Putin slogans; Hadjibekov identified himself as a journalist, and police then punched him in his ribs and head and arrested him, he told CPJ. Nasonov told CPJ that police grabbed him and threw him to the ground before arresting him.
“Police attacking journalists covering a demonstration is completely unacceptable,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Gulnoza Said from New York. “Russian authorities should immediately investigate the alleged assault of Timur Hadjibekov at today’s march and ensure that journalists can cover protests freely and safely.”
Hadjibekov said that the officers took him to a police station without giving any reason for his arrest, and held him there for about two hours. He was then taken to a hospital to receive treatment for his injuries, he told CPJ.
Officers told Nasonov he was under arrest for disobeying a police officer, and held him at a police station for about four hours, he told CPJ. When he was released, officers said that he was charged with violating public order, and will be required to appear in court, he said. According to the Russian administrative code, he could be fined between 10,000 and 20,000 rubles ($152 to $305) if found guilty.
Hadjibekov said he intends to file an official complaint against the St. Petersburg police. Nasonov told CPJ that he plans to submit his case to the European Court of Human Rights.
The St. Petersburg police press office did not immediately respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.
Thousands marched through the streets of St. Petersburg and other Russian cities to mark Labor Day, and more than 100 were detained by authorities, according to news reports.
Editor’s Note: This text has been updated throughout to include Nasonov’s comments to CPJ.