Vilnius, Lithuania, December 12, 2019 — Russian authorities should not contest the appeal of journalist Yegor Zhukov and should allow him to work without fear of prosecution, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On December 6, a Moscow court sentenced Zhukov, a journalist who has covered protests in Russia, to a three-year suspended sentence on charges of “inciting extremism directed against the Russian state,” according to local news reports. The judge also barred Zhukov from administering websites for two years, an effective ban on maintaining his own blog, according to those reports and Zhukov, who spoke to CPJ via phone.
The charges related to four videos Zhukov posted on his YouTube channel, “Zhukov’s Blog,” which has over 150 thousand followers, between October 10 and December 27, 2017, that included videos of protests and Zhukov’s commentary on the protest movement and Russian politics, according to Zhukov and CPJ’s review of his videos.
Evgeniy Ovcharov, who represents an advocacy group supporting the journalist called Komanda Zhukova, told CPJ that Zhukov will appeal the decision.
“Russian authorities should not contest journalist Yegor Zhukov’s appeal, and should allow him to cover the news freely,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Officials in Moscow demonstrate weakness by fearing young independent bloggers who do not walk the Kremlin’s line and coming up with sham charges two years after the videos in question were made.”
Police first detained Zhukov on August 2, 2019, and charged him with “directing street protesters” on the basis of a video he posted showing protests in Moscow on July 27, 2019, Zhukov told CPJ. After holding Zhukov in pre-trial detention for one month, authorities dropped those charges for lack of evidence and brought new charges of extremism relating to his 2017 videos, according to Zhukov and news reports.
Zhukov was held in house arrest from September until his sentencing on December 6, according to those reports.
Zhukov, who now works as a reporter for independent daily Novaya Gazeta and liberal radio station Ekho Moskvy, told CPJ that he was concerned the appeal hearing may result in an outcome “worse than the current [suspended] sentence.”
“It is good to be free but the suspended sentence is not an acquittal. My case shows that press freedom is in real danger in Russia,” he added.
CPJ called the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation, but a representative declined to comment. CPJ repeatedly called the press office of the Moscow Prosecutor’s office, but no one answered.