Washington, D.C., August 2, 2019–Journalist Mikhail Romanov, a correspondent with the weekly Yakutsk Vecherniy, was found guilty on July 25 by the city court of Yakutsk, in eastern Russia, on charges of “abuse of freedom of information by publishing false information that poses a threat to the public,” according to news reports. He was fined 30,000 rubles ($475), according the same reports.
It was the first time the authorities have charged a journalist under the provision in the administrative code that pertains to “false” information, according to a statement by the Russian Union of Journalists, a local press freedom group. Romanov plans to appeal the sentence, according to the news reports.
“The conviction of Mikhail Romanov for ‘abuse of freedom of information’ and ‘false’ news is an alarming development for Russian media and shows the strict level of control the authorities increasingly exercise over news and commentary,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna in New York. “We call on the authorities in Yakutsk to not contest his appeal and to allow him to conduct his work freely.”
The charges stemmed from an article Romanov wrote in April detailing claims that Federal Security Service agents had tortured academic and activist Anton Ammosov; in the article, Romanov referenced “Big Brother” from George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, according to a report in the English-language newspaper The Moscow Times. The court ruled that Romanov’s article was “false” under section 9, article 13.15 of the country’s administrative code, Kommersant reported.
The Yakutsk city court did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment. CPJ was unable to locate contact information for Romanov or his lawyer.