A police officer is seen in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on February 27, 2022. Russian authorities have recently labeled journalists as ‘foreign agents' and otherwise harassed members of the press. (Reuters/Anton Vaganov)

Russian journalists labeled as ‘foreign agents,’ detained, and attacked while reporting

Paris, April 11, 2022 — Russian authorities should stop harassing members of the press and labeling them as foreign agents, should thoroughly investigate all attacks on journalists, and ensure that the media can work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.

On Friday, April 8, the Russian Ministry of Justice labeled three journalists—independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta correspondent Iryna Borukhovich; Ekaterina Mayakovskaya, a reporter for the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Russia project Idel.Realii; and Andrei Filimonov, a contributor to another of RFE/RL’s Russia projects, Sibir.Realii—as “media foreign agents,” according to multiple news reports.

The following day, state media regulator Roskomnadzor blocked the independent news websites Holod and Discours.io, according to statements by both outlets

Separately on Friday, police briefly detained Yevgeny Levkovich, a reporter for Radio Svoboda, RFE/RL’s Russian service, at his home in Moscow, and charged him with “discrediting the army,” according to news reports and Facebook posts by Levkovich.

And on Sunday, April 10, two unidentified people attacked Vasiliy Vorona, a correspondent with the independent news website Sota.Vision, as he was interviewing people in Moscow, according to a report by Sota.Vision and the outlet’s editor Aleksey Obukhov, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app.

“Blocking websites, detaining journalists, adding them to the foreign agents list; in Russia, authorities will clearly use all means at their disposal to stifle independent reporting,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Russian authorities must drop all charges against Yevgeny Levkovich, immediately repeal their arbitrary law on so-called foreign agents, and swiftly investigate the recent attack on journalist Vasiliy Vorona.”

Prior to being designated as a foreign agent, Borukhovich had recently covered Russia’s war on Ukraine for Novaya Gazeta. CPJ was unable to immediately locate examples of Mayakovskaya or Filimonov’s work after mid-February. Russia launched its full-scale invasion on February 24. 

Individuals on the foreign agent list must regularly submit detailed reports of their activities and expenses to authorities, and their status must be listed whenever they produce content or are mentioned in news articles, according to the law. Noncompliance could lead to a two-year prison sentence.

Earlier this month, Roskomnadzor also blocked the media websites Wonderzine and It’s My City, according to reports by both outlets.

In Moscow, police detained Levkovich for about five hours at the Teply Stan police station and charged him under Article 20.3.3 of the Administrative code for allegedly discrediting the army; convictions for that offense can carry a fine of up to 50,000 rubles (US$613).

Levkovich wrote on Facebook that his trial was scheduled for Monday, but he did not plan to attend because he did not “see the point” in contesting the charge.

Radio Svoboda wrote that the charge was likely related to Levkovich’s posts on social media, but did not say whether authorities had specified any posts prompting the charge. On his personal Facebook page, where he has about 36,000 followers, Levkovich recently wrote about Russia’s war on Ukraine.

In the incident involving Vorona, the unidentified attackers broke his glasses and injured his nose, saying that he “seemed suspicious” while he was interviewing people in Moscow about food shortages and other consequences of the war, according to Obukhov and the report by Sota.Vision.

Police detained both attackers and brought them, along with the journalist, to the Yasenevo police station; once there, police asked Vorona if he had any connection to Novaya Gazeta, Obukhov told CPJ.

Obukhov said that police released the attackers later on Sunday, and did not transfer the case to the Investigative Committee, where violations of the criminal code are investigated. Obukhov told CPJ that “police are trying their best to turn everything into an administrative matter.”

He added that Sota.Vision had asked the prosecutor’s office for an investigation into the attack to be opened under Article 144 of the criminal procedure code, which obliges authorities to verify any reports of a crime, but he had not received any response.

CPJ emailed the Russian Ministry of Justice and Roskomnadzor’s press service for comment, but did not receive any replies.  CPJ was unable to contact the Russian Interior Ministry for comment, as its website did not load.