Paris, March 10, 2022 – Russian authorities must halt their campaign to stifle the domestic press, and the country’s armed forces should immediately cease harassing journalists covering the invasion of Ukraine, and ensure that the media can work freely and safely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.
This week, Russian forces in Ukraine have detained dozens of journalists and attempted to force Ukrainian journalists to produce pro-Russian propaganda. In Russia, authorities have detained at least 14 journalists who covered anti-war protests, and have expanded legislation that can restrict the press.
“Whether through the detention of journalists, direct threats to their physical well-being, or the introduction of new legislation restricting media freedom, Russian authorities are using all means at their disposal to establish an official narrative of their invasion of Ukraine,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “We call on the Russian authorities to stop making press freedom yet another casualty of their war.”
Russian harassment of journalists in Ukraine
On Saturday, March 5, Russian forces in Ukraine’s southeastern Zaporozhye region fired on a vehicle carrying Viktoria Roshchina, a journalist for the independent Ukrainian television channel Hromadske, according to a post the journalist wrote on Facebook and Roshchina, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
The journalist and her driver came across a column of Russian tanks, and soldiers opened fire on their vehicle; after the pair escaped unharmed to a nearby house, they saw Russian troops open their car, which had a “Press” sticker on it, and steal Roshchina’s laptop and camera, according to those sources.
Separately on Tuesday, in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Berdyansk, Russian forces detained a group of about 50 journalists in an office belonging to the local media company PRO100, and tried to persuade them to broadcast Russian propaganda, according to multiple news reports.
The soldiers detained the journalists and asked them to collaborate with the Russian army and produce propaganda, according to those reports and a statement by Sergiy Tomilenko, head of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, which said the journalists refused and were eventually allowed to leave.
CPJ emailed the Zaporozhye regional military administration and the Russian Ministry of Defense for comment, but did not receive any replies.
Detentions at Russian anti-war protests
On Sunday, March 6, authorities detained at least 14 journalists who covered anti-war protests across Russia. At least five still face charges.
That day, authorities detained at least seven employees of the news website Sota.Vision, according to news reports and Sota.Vision editor Alexei Obukhov, who communicated with CPJ by messaging app. Those journalists include:
- Nika Samusik, who was briefly detained in St. Petersburg and charged with illegally participating in a protest
- Pyotr Ivanov, who was also detained in St. Petersburg and released without charge
- Viktoria Arefeva, also detained in St. Petersburg and released without charge
- Vasiliy Vorona, who was detained in Moscow and released after being charged with violating the established procedure for rallies
- Fiodor Orlov, who was detained in the central city of Voronezh and released after being charged under a new law restricting participation in anti-war rallies
- Polina Ulanovskaya, who was detained in the southern city of Krasnodar and released without charge
- Mikhail Julin, who was detained in the western city of Nizhny Novgorod and released without charge
Also on March 6, authorities detained:
- Viktor Bobrovnikov, a journalist for the website NGS.ru, who was detained in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk and released without charge after five hours, according to news reports and Bobrovnikov, who communicated with CPJ via email
- Andrei Okun, a journalist for the website Zaks.ru, who was briefly detained in St. Petersburg and released without charge, according to news reports
- Elena Lukianova, a reporter for the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, who was detained and released without charge in St. Petersburg, according to news reports
- Nina Petlyanova, also a Novaya Gazeta reporter, who was also briefly detained in St. Petersburg and released without charge, according to those reports
- Arden Arkman, a photographer for Novaya Gazeta, who was detained by law enforcement in Moscow and released without charge after six hours, according to Novaya Gazeta’s Telegram channel
- Pavel Nikulin, editor for the independent online magazine Moloko Plus, who was detained in Moscow and released after being charged with violating the established procedure for rallies, according to Nikulin, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app
- Artem Dratchev, a photographer for Moloko Plus, who was also detained in Moscow and released under the same charge, Nikulin said
If those journalists are convicted of illegally participating in a protest, under Part 1, Article 20.2.2 of the administrative code, they could face a fine of 10,000 to 20,000 rubles (US$75 to $150 as of March 10), compulsory work for up to 40 hours, or administrative detention for up to 15 days.
If convicted of violating the established procedure for rallies, under Part 5, Article 20.2 of that code, they could face the same fines and compulsory work, but not the detention.
If convicted under the new law barring participation in unsanctioned anti-war rallies, Part 2, Article 20.3.3 of the code, they could face a fine of 50,000 to 100,000 rubles (US$375 to $749).
CPJ had previously reported that dozens of journalists were detained at anti-war protests in Russia following the invasion of Ukraine. CPJ was unable to contact the Russian Interior Ministry for comment, as its website did not load.
New Russian legislation on ‘foreign agents’
Previously, the Ministry of Justice kept two main “foreign agent” registers: one for public associations and the other for mass media groups. The new legislation would create a new registry that could include current and former employees of foreign media outlets, their funders, and employees of domestic groups that receive foreign funding. The bill will be enacted if approved by the upper house of parliament and signed into law by the president.
To date, about 400 people, media outlets, and organizations have been declared “foreign agents’” in Russia, according to tracking by the independent civil society group Inoteka. CPJ has documented how inclusion on the foreign agents registries can harm news outlets’ abilities to function freely.
[Editors’ note: This article has been updated to include more details on Roshchina’s case after the journalist responded to CPJ’s requests for comment, and has been changed to clarify the number of foreign agent registers.]