New York, November 16, 2020 – Russian authorities should immediately release all journalists detained while covering recent protests, and ensure that the press can cover demonstrations freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Since November 5, police have detained at least six journalists covering protests in the eastern city of Khabarovsk, which have been ongoing since the arrest of the region’s former governor in July, according to news reports and Andrey Bityutskiy, a local lawyer who represents several of the journalists and spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.
At least three journalists remain in detention, according to Bityutskiy, who described authorities’ “merry-go-round” method of detaining journalists for allegedly participating in a protest, and then upon their release, immediately re-arresting them for allegedly participating in a different demonstration.
“Russian authorities should immediately release all journalists who were detained while covering recent protests in Khabarovsk, drop any charges against them, and stop their campaign of harassment against reporters for simply doing their jobs,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Journalists in Russia should be able to cover crucial political events freely, without being intimidated, fined, harassed, and silenced by the state.”
On November 5, police arrested Anton Kurdiumov, a correspondent with the independent newspaper Arsenievskie Vesti and blogger at the YouTube channel Netipichniy Khabarovchanin, according to Bityutskiy.
Authorities held him overnight, and on November 6 the Industrial District Court of Khabarovsk found him guilty of participating in an unsanctioned protest, fined him 10,000 rubles (US$130), and released him, according to his lawyer.
Also on November 6, police in Khabarovsk detained Andrey Solomakhin, a correspondent with the independent news portal Sota.Vision and blogger at the now-defunct YouTube channel Angel ID, while he was covering a court hearing against a local activist, according to Bityutskiy, who is also representing him.
Police detained Solomakhin overnight, and the following day the Central District Court of Khabarovsk convicted him of having participated in an unsanctioned protest that disrupted traffic on October 31, fined him 10,000 rubles, and released him, according to his lawyer and news reports.
When Solomakhin was leaving the court building, police arrested him again, then for allegedly participating in an unsanctioned protest on November 2, and forcefully pushed the journalist into a car and took him back to the pretrial detention center, Bityutskiy said.
During that drive, officers beat Solomakhin with truncheons, choked him, and threatened him with a taser, Bityutskiy said.
On November 9, the Central District Court convicted Solomakhin and sentenced him to seven days in detention; during that detention, on November 12, the court sentenced him to an additional six days for allegedly failing to comply with police on November 7, during the drive to the pretrial detention center, his lawyer said.
Solomakhin denied having participated in the marches or failing to comply with police, Bityutskiy told CPJ. On November 10, Solomakhin was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, concussion, and bruises to his head, according to medical records reviewed by CPJ. Solomakhin filed a complaint to the Investigative Committee and the prosecutor’s office in Khabarovsk, but had received no response as of today, according to Bityutskiy.
Solomakhin remains in detention as of today, his lawyer said.
On November 11, police in Khabarovsk arrested freelance journalist Dmitry Khetagurov for allegedly participating in an unsanctioned protest on September 12, according to news reports. Khetagurov stated that he was at that march on assignment for Sota.Vision, according to those reports.
Khetagurov stood trial the next day, and the Krasnoflotskiy District Court of Khabarovsk sentenced him to 24 hours in detention, and released him because he had already spent at least that much time in pretrial detention, according to reports.
However, police immediately re-arrested Khetagurov, then for allegedly participating in an unsanctioned march on September 16, and the Central District Court sentenced him to five days in detention, according to those reports. He remains detained as of today, according to Bityutskiy.
Also on November 11, police detained Dmitry Timoshenko, a correspondent with the independent news website Newsader and independent YouTube-based news outlet RusNews, when the journalist visited the pretrial detention center to deliver medicine to Solomakhin, according to his Newsader colleague Aleksey Filimonov, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app.
Timoshenko spent that night in jail, and the following day the Krasnoflotskiy District Court sentenced him to one day of detention for participating in an unsanctioned protest on September 12, and released him later that day, according to Filimonov.
On November 12, Khabarovsk police detained Yekaterina Biyak, a correspondent with the independent news website Activatica, and Boris Zhirnov, a correspondent with Arsenievskie Vesti and blogger at the YouTube channel Boris Zhirnov, for allegedly participating in an unsanctioned protest that disrupted traffic, according to both journalists, who spoke with CPJ in phone interviews. Authorities alleged that Biyak committed the offense on September 13, and Zhirnov on September 15, they told CPJ.
Both journalists were held overnight, and on November 13, the Central District Court of Khabarovsk fined them 10,000 rubles each and ordered them released, the journalists said.
Police then immediately re-arrested Biyak and Zhirnov for allegedly participating in unsanctioned protests on September 15 and November 7, respectively, they said. The court sentenced Biyak to two additional days in detention, and Zhirnov to three, they said.
Both journalists were free as of today and did not have any remaining charges pending against them, Biyak told CPJ.
On November 14, police re-arrested Kurdiumov, according to news reports and Arsenievskie Vesti chief editor Irina Grebneva, who spoke with CPJ via email and messaging app.
Police held the journalist until today, when the Central District Court sentenced him to two days of administrative arrest for participating in an unsanctioned protest on September 21, and released him due to the fact that he had already spent these two days in detention, Grebneva said.
Police then re-arrested him, and Kurdiumov now faces new charges of participating in another “unsanctioned action,” according to Grebneva, who told CPJ that he could now face a fine of up to 300,000 rubles ($3,900) or up to 30 days of arrest. He is scheduled to appear in court tomorrow, Bityutskiy said.
СPJ emailed Irina Schegoleva, a representative of the Khabarovsk Region Ministry of Internal Affairs, for comment, but did not receive any response.