Russian police officers stand guard in Moscow in August 2023. CPJ condemned a Russian court’s sentencing of journalist Mikhail Afanasyev to 5.5 years imprisonment on September 7, 2023. (AP Photo)

Russian court sentences journalist Mikhail Afanasyev to 5.5 years in prison for ‘fake news’ about army 

New York, September 7, 2023—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns a Russian court’s sentencing of Mikhail Afanasyev, founder and publisher of online magazine Novy Fokus, to 5.5 years imprisonment for allegedly using his position to spread false information about the Russian army. 

The Abakan court on Thursday also banned Afanasyev from working as a journalist, editor, and publisher for 2.5 years after he completes the prison sentence. His lawyer, Yelena Ilyushenko, told BBC Russian that Afanasyev was “expecting this [lengthy] sentence and will keep fighting.”

“Mikhail Afanasyev, who was the first journalist detained under Russia’s draconian fake news law adopted after the invasion of Ukraine, was doing his job when he reported on Russians refusing to fight in the war,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Russian authorities are demonstrating their vindictiveness with this lengthy prison sentence and ban from journalistic work. Authorities should not contest his appeal and must release him and all journalists jailed for their reporting.”

This is the first time Russian authorities have convicted a journalist for “using his official position” to spread fake news under the amendments to the Russian criminal code adopted in March 2022, shortly after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The charges are connected to an April 2022 Novy Fokus news article that Afanasyev wrote about members of a special riot police unit in Siberia’s Khakassia republic who refused to fight in Russia’s war in Ukraine, according to media reports, which included a screenshot of the material.

Russian law enforcement detained Afanasyev on April 13, 2022, after searching his home in the Khakassia capital of Abakan and seizing his technical equipment.

Afanasyev is one of at least 19 journalists held in Russian prisons in retaliation for their work at the time of CPJ’s December 1, 2022, prison census.