Vilnius, Lithuania, March 29, 2021 — Russian authorities should investigate the threats made to journalist Vasiliy Vaysenberg and ensure that those behind them are held responsible, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On March 25, an unidentified person called Vaysenberg’s wife, Alisa, and threatened the couple’s son, saying, “I don’t want [your son] Misha to fall off the scooter next time. Do you understand me?” according to media reports and Vaysenberg, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview and posted about the incident on Facebook.
Vaysenberg, an independent journalist who writes for several outlets, said he was worried that his family had been surveilled, as the caller knew that his wife took their son to kindergarten on a scooter that day.
Vaysenberg said that the caller demanded he take down and publicly apologize for a March 18 article that was published on the website of Golos, an independent election monitoring organization of which Vaysenberg is a member. It alleges that Andrey Gibert, the head of electoral commission of the northern Yamal–Nenets autonomous district, received a salary several times higher than salaries of other regional officials, including the region’s governor.
On March 25, Vaysenberg and his wife filed a complaint to the local Orekhovo-Borisovo district police station in Moscow about the threats, he told CPJ; he did not take down the article.
On March 26, the journalist received a text message that read: “Too bad you didn’t do [what we asked]. We wanted to solve it in a civilized way. Now, do not be offended.”
The call and the message were made from different phone numbers and both were out of service when Vaysenberg tried to call back, he said.
“Russian authorities should investigate the threats made to journalist Vasiliy Vaysenberg and hold the perpetrators to account,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities should ensure that such threats do not go unpunished, and journalists can work without fear for their lives or their families’ safety.”
In addition to Golos, Vaysenberg writes for the liberal radio station Ekho Moskvy and the political website VTimes. He also runs Zakon, a Twitter-based outlet that covers legal news, and which has about 3,000 followers.
Vaysenberg said he did not know who was behind threats and said he did not believe Gibert would threaten him, as the March 18 article contained “nothing new about Gibert’s salary” and the salary figures were based on publicly available sources.
Vaysenberg told CPJ that the police had not contacted him since he filed his complaint. He said that he and his wife have been afraid, and have only left their apartment when necessary.
Nadezhda Azhgikhina, a member of the board of the Russian Union of Journalists, an independent trade group, told CPJ via phone that Russian journalists often receive threats, and they should be taken seriously. “Not only the police and authorities, but also journalists themselves do not take threats seriously enough,” she said.
CPJ called the electoral commission of the Yamal–Nenets autonomous district, but no one answered. CPJ also called Moscow’s Orekhovo-Borisovo police station; an officer on duty said the police could not comment on the case.