Protesters clash with riot police in Moscow, Russia, on January 23, 2021. Police attacked and detained dozens of journalists covering the protests. (AFP/Kirill Kudryavtsev)

Russian police detain, beat, and harass dozens of journalists covering pro-Navalny protests

New York, January 26, 2021 – Russian authorities should allow journalists to cover protests freely and without fear, and refrain from attacking or detaining members of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On January 23, police in at least 20 cities throughout Russia detained, beat, and otherwise interfered with the work of at least 58 journalists, assaulting at least 8 and detaining at least 49, while they were covering protests in support of the opposition leader and anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny, according to journalists who spoke to CPJ, news reports, and the Professional Union of Journalists and Media Workers, an independent trade group.

Navalny’s supporters have called for more demonstrations on January 31 against his detention, according to news reports.

“Instead of harassing reporters doing the crucial work of covering political protests in Russia, authorities should investigate allegations that police assaulted members of the press on January 23,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “The Kremlin may intend to show strength by trying to obstruct and intimidate the media, but being scared of news reports on civil unrest actually betrays weakness and fear.”

At a press conference today, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, “there were certain situations [during the January 23 protests] where the very state of affairs did not make it possible to identify any journalists,” and it was “very difficult” to distinguish journalists from “aggressive thugs,” according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.

In a statement, the Professional Union of Journalists and Media Workers said that all of the assaulted journalists had press cards and were wearing markings identifying them as members of the media.

In Moscow, police beat up Elizaveta Kirpanova, correspondent from the liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta, hitting her on the head with batons for several minutes, causing bruising and bleeding, according to liberal radio station Ekho Moskvy.

Moscow police also used batons to beat George Markov, a photojournalist with the independent news website and correspondent for the independent news agency Znak, who works under a pseudonym for security reasons, leading to numerous bruises, a traumatic brain injury, and a concussion, and breaking his equipment, according to the journalist, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.

Police in the city also beat Kristina Safonova, a correspondent with the independent news platform Meduza, in the chest with a baton, causing bruising; hit Nikita Stupin, a correspondent from the independent news site Avtozak Live, in the head with a baton and electrocuted him with a Taser; grabbed Meduza correspondent Yevgeny Feldman by the throat; and hit Yekaterina Grobman, a reporter with the independent news website VTimes, on her shoulder with a baton, according to Markov, Ekho Moskvy, news reports, and liveblogs of the protests by Meduza and the independent news website Ovd-Info.

Moscow police also broke the camera of Novaya Gazeta photojournalist Viktoria Odissonova, according to her employer.

Police in Moscow also detained and then released Grobman as well as Aleksey Korostelev, correspondent with the independent TV station Dozhd; Roman Anin, chief editor of the independent news site Vazhnye Istorii; and independent video blogger Ilya Varlamov, according to news reports.

In St. Petersburg, police attacked Vera Ryabitskaya, a correspondent with the independent news website The Insider, dragging her by her hair to a police van, and also beat up Arseny Vesnin, correspondent with the local bureau of Ekho Moskvy, while detaining him, according to news reports.

According to a liveblog by the independent human rights news website Mediazona, news reports, posts on social media, and Mediazona correspondent David Frenkel, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app, St. Petersburg police also detained and then released:

  • Frenkel, correspondent with Mediazona
  • Pyotr Ivanov and Anastasiya Karpina, correspondents with the independent news website Sota.Vision
  • Oleg Delimbetov and Marina Tsareva, correspondents with the Kommersant newspaper
  • Yan Kutin and Andrey Makashov, editors of the Telegram channel Obyektiv Realiy (Makashov also works as a reporter for the student-run Tardigrada news agency)
  • Aleksandra Sivtsova, correspondent for Meduza
  • Mikhail Sheptun, correspondent for the broadcaster RTVi
  • Viktor Smirnov, correspondent for the news website 47news
  • Sergey Zvezda, chief editor of the independent news website TJ
  • Nika Samusik, editor with the Telegram channel Pyatnitsa
  • Eduard Burmistrov, correspondent with the TV channel Dozhd
  • Kirill Kontorshchikov, correspondent with the news agency Nevskie Novosti
  • Anastasiya Krasilnikova, correspondent with the news website Russkaya Planeta
  • Ivan Petrov, correspondent with the news website Kurier Media

Frenkel told CPJ that all the journalists detained in St. Petersburg were released without charge except for Ryabitskaya and Zvezda, who were released with tickets for violating coronavirus restrictions, copies of which CPJ reviewed. They can face fines of up to 4,000 rubles (US$53) each, according to the city’s law.      

According to Mediazona, news reports, and a report by the Union of Journalists of Russia, a state-funded trade group, police in other cities also detained:

  • Fyodor Orlov, correspondent for Sota.Vision, in the western city of Voronezh
  • Pavel Sychov, a stringer for Sota.Vision in Voronezh
  • Vitaly Polyakov, correspondent with the TVK Krasnoyarsk broadcaster, in the east-central city of Krasnoyarsk
  • Ruslan Valiyev, local chief editor of Ekho Moskvy, in the western city of Ufa
  • Yevgeny Bondarevsky, correspondent with the Glavnye Sobytiya news agency, in the southwestern city of Novosibirsk
  • Anton Raikhshtat, chief editor of the independent news website Kazanskiy Reporter, in the western city of Kazan
  • Salavat Mukhamadullin, a correspondent for the TNV broadcaster, in Kazan
  • Marina Bezmaternykh, a correspondent for the student-run news website Veter and a freelance correspondent for Mediazona, in Kazan
  • Vladimir Gritsaev, a correspondent with state-funded broadcaster Russia Today, in the western city of Kursk
  • Yulia Kelyina, correspondent with the news website Krai, in Kursk
  • Nadezhda Surgina, director of the news website Sekunda, in Kursk
  • Vladimir Kapustinskiy, correspondent for the news website Pskovskaya Gubernia, in the northwestern city of Pskov
  • Sergey Plotnikov and Daniil Kulikov, correspondents of the YouTube news channel RusNews, in the eastern city of Khabarovsk
  • Aleksey Shkola, photographer for the independent news website in the western city of Yekaterinburg
  • Ilya Matushkin, correspondent for the news website Krasnaya Moskva in the western city of Saratov
  • Inna Khatukayeva, correspondent for the independent newspaper Chernovik, in the southwestern city of Makhachkala
  • Murad Muradov, correspondent for the independent news site Kavkazsky Uzel, in Makhachkala

Most of those journalists were briefly detained and then released without charge, according to those reports, as well as Muradov and Khabarovsk-based journalist Yekaterina Biyak, both of whom spoke with CPJ via messaging app.

However, Orlov and Sychov were charged with illegally organizing a protest, and sentenced to nine days of detention each, according to news reports and Sota.Vision editor Aleksey Obukhov, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app. Police assaulted Orlov while detaining him, dislocating his shoulder and hitting his head against the floor, according to reports

Authorities also found Plotnikov guilty of participating in a separate unsanctioned protest rally on October 24, fined him 10,000 rubles (US$132) and released him, only to detain him again immediately on charges of participating in yet another unsanctioned rally on September 19; on January 25, he was found guilty and sentenced to 10 days of detention, according to news reports and Biyak.

Polyakov was convicted of illegally organizing a protest, was fined 20,000 rubles (US$265), and released, according to news reports. Valiyev faces a ticket for breaking coronavirus restrictions, with a possible fine of 30,000 rubles (US$397), according to news reports and the relevant law.

Kapustinskiy was also released but faces a fine of up to 20,000 rubles (US$265) or up to 40 hours of compulsory labor for illegally participating in a protest, according to Denis Kamalyagin, chief editor of Pskovskaya Gubernia, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app, and the relevant legislation.

CPJ emailed the Russian Ministry of Internal affairs for comment, but did not receive any reply.