New York, June 8, 2022 – Russian authorities must stop their efforts to silence reporting on the country’s invasion of Ukraine, and drop all fines and penalties issued to outlets covering the conflict, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.
On June 3, the Kirovsky District Court in the central city of Yekaterinburg fined the independent Vecherniye Vedomosti newspaper 150,000 rubles (US$2,415) for “discrediting the Russian Armed Forces” in its reporting on Telegram, according to the outlet, media reports, and Vecherniye Vedomosti director Guzela Aitkulova, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
Separately, on June 5, the Svetlogorsk City Court in the western Kaliningrad region ruled that a list of soldiers killed in Ukraine, published by the privately-owned Pskov-based news website 60.ru, constituted “classified information,” leading the website to take the list down to avoid facing criminal charges, according to multiple media reports. 60.ru’s list had been compiled from information openly published by official sources, according to those reports.
“Russian authorities, after criminalizing the publication of so-called false information about the war in Ukraine, prosecuting journalists, and blocking dozens of news websites, are continuing their effort to silence outlets that report on military casualties and anti-war protests in Russia,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Authorities must overturn the fine imposed on Vecherniye Vedomosti, allow 60.ru to publish freely, and allow journalists to do their jobs.”
The fine of Vecherniye Vedomosti, issued to the newspaper’s parent company Technotorg, stemmed from a March 18 Telegram post by the outlet covering the detention of an artist who allegedly distributed anti-war stickers in the streets of Yekaterinburg, according to Aitkulova and the news reports on that case.
Vecherniye Vedomosti’s Telegram post featured a blurred picture of those stickers, Aitkulova told CPJ, saying there were “no words about the Russian army” in the post.
On June 6, authorities also informed Aitkulova that they were investigating another 54 Telegram posts by the outlet that also allegedly discredited the armed forces, she said.
“We are outraged that we are, in fact, being punished precisely for our journalistic activities,” Aitkulova told CPJ. “It all looks like revenge for our independent position. And an attempt to destroy us without blocking us – by crushing us financially.”
She said Technotorg intended to appeal the June 3 ruling, and that no hearings concerning the other posts had been scheduled. CPJ emailed the Kirovsky District Court for comment, but did not receive any response.
In its ruling against 60.ru, sparked by a complaint filed by a military prosecutor, the Svetlogorsk City Court said that listing the names of Svetlogorsk residents who died as soldiers in Ukraine constituted the unlawful publishing of classified information, which could be punished by up to seven years in a penal colony, according to the Russian criminal code and media reports.
The state media regulator Roskomnadzor is also authorized by law to block outlets found to have shared such information.
After the court’s decision, a number of online publications associated with the Shkulev Media Holding media network, including 60.ru and 74.ru, removed webpages in memory of Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine citing “the safety of journalists,” according to the nongovernmental group Roskomsvoboda.
When CPJ emailed the Svetlogorsk City Court, a representative sent a press release published on June 8 which stated that an unnamed website published “information revealing losses of personnel of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation during a special operation, names, and personal details of those killed.”
CPJ emailed 60.ru and 74.ru for comment, but did not receive any response.