Russian police are investigating journalist Ilya Ber over a fact-check he posted about the deaths of civilians in Ukraine. (Screenshot: Tedx Talks/YouTube)

Russian police investigate journalist Ilya Ber over fact-check on Ukraine deaths

Paris, May 6, 2022 – Russian authorities should drop their investigation into journalist Ilya Ber and let the press freely cover the war in Ukraine, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.

On Thursday, May 5, local media reported that the Ministry of Internal Affairs department in Moscow’s Preobrazhenskoye district had launched a probe into Ber, chief editor of the fact-checking website Provereno.

According to those reports, the investigation stems from an April 27 Facebook post Ber posted to his personal account, where he has about 4,200 followers and posts news commentary and Provereno’s fact-checks, in which he disputed pro-Russian Telegram accounts’ commentary on reports about the deaths of Ukrainian civilians in the city of Bucha.

In an interview with the Estonian news website Delfi, where he also contributes to fact-checks, Ber said he learned about the investigation on social media, calling it “a bit predictable” and saying he was not “particularly interested” in its outcome.

“Russian authorities’ investigation into journalist Ilya Ber for fact-checking pro-government claims is deeply troubling, and should be dropped at once,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Russian authorities should let Ber work freely and should stop their efforts to stifle all critical reporting and commentary about the war in Ukraine.”

Provereno is a fact-checking news website launched in 2020, and it has repeatedly published articles debunking pro-Russian coverage of the war in Ukraine.

“We as a project are not politicized, we are unbiased and we write the truth. If the truth does not suit the Russian authorities or the police, that is not my problem,” Ber told Delfi.

Russian authorities have opened multiple criminal proceedings into journalists accused of spreading “fakes” about the Russian military, as CPJ has documented.

On May 6, Ilya Azar, a reporter with the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, wrote on his Telegram channel that he had been charged with “discrediting the Russian army” and faces a fine of up to 100,000 rubles (US$1,473). CPJ is investigating to determine if those charges are related to his journalistic activity.

When CPJ called the Interior Ministry’s Preobrazhenskoye office, a representative said they could not comment on Ber’s case and referred CPJ to the ministry’s press office. CPJ was unable to contact that office, as its website did not load.

[Editors’ note: This article has been changed in its fourth paragraph to correct the country where Delfi is based.]