Paris, May 17, 2023—Russian authorities should immediately return all equipment confiscated from journalist Nailya Mullayeva and stop efforts to intimidate and harass members of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.
On Tuesday, May 16, police searched the apartment of Mullayeva, a freelance reporter, in Kazan, the capital of Russia’s Tatarstan republic, according to multiple news reports and the journalist, who communicated with CPJ via messaging app.
Law enforcement seized two mobile phones, a laptop, and two SIM cards, and said the journalist was a witness in an investigation into an anti-war comment posted in a public group on the Russian social media platform Vkontakte, left by a man identified as Pavel Chumakov, which allegedly discredited the Russian army. Mullayeva told CPJ that the confiscated equipment had not been returned as of May 17.
Mullayeva told CPJ that she was not familiar with Chumakov and has no connection to the group, and told independent news outlet SOTA that she believed the case was a pretext for the mass seizure of equipment from opposition-minded residents of Kazan. She is also a political activist and member of the Tatarstan branch of the Libertarian Party of Russia.
Mullayeva said she was unsure whether the legal harassment was related to her work as a journalist or her activism, adding that she had not participated in political activism for over a year, saying, “I honestly don’t understand what they want from me.”
“Russian authorities should drop all attempts to intimidate journalist Nailya Mullayeva,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities should immediately return all equipment confiscated from her and stop putting legal pressure on the few independent journalists remaining in the country.”
Mullayeva runs BIRDS, a Telegram channel with 190 subscribers that reports on social issues and politics in Tatarstan, and works as a freelance reporter for multiple media outlets, including SOTA, SOTA editor Aleksei Obukhov told CPJ via messaging app.
Mullayeva left Russia in September 2022 and returned to Kazan in early May 2023 for a personal trip. That same day her apartment was raided, authorities searched two local activists’ apartments, those news reports said.
“This is the trick of the Kazan law enforcers: to create rubber criminal cases and rob journalists and activists every few months,” Obukhov told CPJ.
In March 2022, authorities searched Mullayeva’s apartment, and in September, she was detained in Kazan while covering an anti-mobilization protest for independent news outlet Sota.Vision.
The May 16 search warrant stated Mullayeva had been previously charged with participating in protests and discrediting the Russian army. In December, Mullayeva returned to Kazan and was arrested for six days for reposting information about an anti-mobilization protest and fined 30,000 rubles (US$480) for allegedly discrediting the Russian army. At that time, authorities also searched her parents’ apartment in connection to a case of “justifying terrorism” and seized her passport.
CPJ’s email to the Russian Investigative Committee’s Tatarstan branch did not receive a response. CPJ was unable to find contact information Chumakov.