Russian journalists Aleksandr Dorogov (left) and Yan Katelevskiy (right) were recently imprisoned for their work. (Photo: Andrei Orel)

Russian journalists imprisoned, beaten during arrests and detention

New York, August 25, 2020 – Russian authorities must immediately release journalists Aleksandr Dorogov and Yan Katelevskiy, drop all charges against them, and ensure that members of the press can work freely and safely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

In the early hours of July 29, police in the village of Mosrentgen, near Moscow, beat and arrested Dorogov and Katelevskiy, deputy chief editors of the independent investigative website Rosderzhava, according to Katelevskiy’s lawyer Olga Balabanova and Dorogov’s lawyer Konstantin Barkovskiy, both of whom spoke with CPJ in phone interviews.

The journalists have both been charged with extortion, and authorities also charged Katelevskiy with property damage and Dorogov with hooliganism, according to their lawyers.

If convicted of extortion, Dorogov and Katelevskiy could each face up to 15 years in prison, according to the Russian criminal code. If found guilty of property damage, Katelevskiy could face up to five years in prison, and Dorogov could face up to seven years in prison for hooliganism, according to that code.

Dorogov is detained at the Yegoryevsk detention center and Katelevskiy at the Kolomna detention center, both facilities outside of Moscow, according to their lawyers and news reports. Dorogov was beaten by his cellmates in detention on August 10, his lawyer said.

“Journalists Aleksandr Dorogov and Yan Katelevskiy should not be in custody for their work, and they certainly should not have been brutally beaten during their arrests and detention,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “The charges against both journalists should be dropped and they should be released immediately. Authorities should conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into their mistreatment.”

Both journalists’ lawyers deny all the charges against them and told CPJ that the arrests are retaliation for journalists’ investigative work, in particular their recent joint investigation into alleged corruption between funeral businesses and senior police officials.

Police officers beat up both journalists while detaining them; Katelevskiy’s lawyer said that officers threw his client on the floor, handcuffed him, and punched him in the head, making him deaf on one ear as a result. Dorogov’s lawyer said that police punched, kicked, and pushed his client against the wall, possibly giving him a concussion.

Authorities had charged Dorogov with extortion on July 14, but did not notify the journalist or his lawyer, according to Barkovskiy. The Tverskoi District Court of Moscow had technically placed Dorogov under house arrest on July 28, but had not informed the journalist or his lawyer, Barkovskiy said.

Following the journalists’ detention, the Ramenskiy City Court of the Moscow region on July 30 charged Katelevskiy with “deliberate destruction or damage to property.” On August 17, the Lyuberetskiy city court of the Moscow region briefly released the journalist into house arrest, but police detained him again immediately, before he had a chance to go home, and charged him with extortion, Balabanova said.

On August 20, an investigative unit of the Central Administrative District of the Ministry of Internal Affairs also charged Dorogov with “hooliganism executed by a group of people,” his lawyer said.

On August 19, the Ramenskiy city court of the Moscow region ruled to keep Katelevskiy in pretrial detention until October 17, according to news reports and Balabanova.

The extortion charges against both journalists stem from a May 21 complaint filed by a traffic police officer, alleging that he paid Dorogov and Katelevskiy 1,300,000 rubles (US$17,000) to stop them from making videos about him, according to Balabanova and news reports. The two journalists had previously published YouTube videos mocking and criticizing that officer.

The property destruction charge against Katelevskiy stems from an August 2019 incident in which Katelevskiy and Dorogov were accused of damaging someone’s car, with the car owner filing a complaint to the police and saying the damages equaled 85,000 rubles (US$1,100), Balabanova said.

The hooliganism charge against Dorogov stems from an incident that took place in the spring of 2019, when the employees of a company that Dorogov was investigating attacked him, according to Barkovskiy. The employees later accused Dorogov of attacking them; his lawyer said that the journalist acted in self-defense and maintains his innocence.

On August 10, Dorogov’s cellmates in the Yegoryevsk detention center attacked him, according to news reports and Barkovskiy. The attackers told Dorogov that the beatings were retaliation for his journalistic work, his lawyer said.

Barkovskiy told CPJ he visited Dorogov in detention on August 20, and said that the journalist limped on one leg, had a bruise under his left eye, a large bruise on his left shoulder, a torn ear, and complained of strong pain in his ribs and dizziness.

Rosderzhava publishes reports on alleged corruption among law enforcement officials, focusing on the Moscow region. Dorogov and Katelevskiy also have personal blogs on YouTube, where they frequently talk about alleged police misconduct: Dorogov’s channel, Prikluchenie Dorogova i Ego Druzei, has over 56,000 subscribers; and Katelevskiy’s, Ya.N, had over 300,000 subscribers but was deleted after his arrest, according to Balabanova.

Balabanova said that police confiscated the journalist’s electronic equipment during their arrests, and suspected that they had gained access to their social network accounts and cloud storage.

Balabanova filed a complaint to the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation on excessive use of force by the police during the journalists’ arrests, she told CPJ. Dorogov’s lawyer filed complaints about the beatings during the journalists’ arrests and during Dorogov’s time in custody, he told CPJ.

The Public Monitoring Commission for the Moscow Region visited Dorogov in detention and documented his bodily injuries following his lawyer’s complaint, Barkovskiy said.

After the publication of this article, Aleksandr Maltsev, a member of that commission, told CPJ via email that the commission visited Dorogov in detention, confirmed that he had been attacked, and filed a report to the Yegoryevsk Investigative Department of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation and to the Yegoryevsk city prosecutor’s office for further investigation. 

CPJ emailed the Lyuberetskiy and Ramenskiy courts and the Main Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the Moscow Region for comment, but did not receive any responses.

[Editors’ note: This article has been changed to include Maltsev’s response to CPJ’s request for comment.]