Police block journalist Sergey Plotnikov from covering a protest in Khabarovsk, Russia, on October 10, 2020. Plotnikov was recently abducted, beaten, and threatened by unidentified men. (Photo: RusNews/Aleksandra Teplyakova)

Journalist Sergey Plotnikov abducted, beaten, then released in Russia’s far east

New York, October 20, 2020 – Russian authorities should immediately and transparently investigate the kidnapping of journalist Sergey Plotnikov, and ensure that the press in Russia can work safely and freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On October 15, at about 8 p.m., seven unidentified masked men abducted Plotnikov on the street near his home in the eastern city of Khabarovsk, drove him to a forest outside the city, beat him up and threatened to kill him, and then abandoned him, according to news reports and Plotnikov, who spoke with CPJ in a phone interview.

Plotnikov works as a reporter for RusNews, an independent YouTube-based outlet that has covered recent local and national protests, and which has about 97,000 followers. Protests have been ongoing in Russia’s far east since July 9, when the region’s former governor, Sergey Furgal, was arrested for his alleged involvement in murders in the early 2000s, which Furgal denied, according to news reports.

In the morning of October 16, Plotnikov filed a complaint to the Investigative Committee in Khabarovsk, which opened an investigation into his abduction, he said.

“Russian authorities must promptly investigate this outrageous abduction of journalist Sergey Plotnikov, and take attacks and threats against the press seriously,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Police should conduct a thorough investigation, hold the perpetrators to account, and ensure that Plotnikov and other journalists can cover protests and political movements without fear.”

Plotnikov said the men forced him into a white minibus, placed him face down on the floor, handcuffed him, and made him unlock his phone. They searched the phone’s contents, but he told CPJ that the phone did not have any important or sensitive information.

Plotnikov said the men questioned him about the recent protests, asking him for information about their organizers and leaders, and demanding that he provide them with information about the protests in the future. Plotnikov maintained that he did not have any inside information regarding the protests and only covered them as a journalist, he told CPJ.

During the drive out of the city, the men hit and kicked him, giving Plotnikov numerous bruises on his body and abrasions on his head, arms, and body, he said.

When they arrived in the forest, the men took Plotnikov out of the vehicle and one shot a gun near his right foot, saying that “next time it would be your head,” the journalist told CPJ. After that, the kidnappers took Plotnikov to a cemetery in the outskirts of Khabarovsk, returned his phone, took off the handcuffs, and left; Plotnikov then contacted his friends and family, who picked him up, he said.

On October 16 and 18, Plotnikov received threatening anonymous messages via Telegram from someone who claimed to be among men who had kidnapped him; the messages, which CPJ reviewed, insulted the journalist, and said that “things would get worse later” and that he should “look over his shoulder when walking.”

Plotnikov reported the threats to the Investigative Committee and asked them to provide police protection, as he feared for his life; as of today, no protection has been provided, he said.

CPJ emailed the Khabarovsk Investigative Committee for comment, but did not receive any response.