New York, October 2, 2023—The Committee to Protect Journalists on Monday condemned the 8.5-year sentence issued to Russian blogger Aleksandr Nozdrinov and called on Russian authorities to release him immediately and drop all charges against him.
On Friday, September 29, a court in the southwestern city of Novokubansk convicted Nozdrinov on charges of spreading false information about Russian military actions in the Ukraine war, and sentenced him to eight years and six months in prison, along with a four-year ban on media-related activities after his release, according to multiple media reports, Russian freedom of expression legal assistance organization Setevye Svobody, and a Telegram post by the joint press service of the courts of Krasnodar Krai, where Novokubansk is located in Russia’s southwest. Dmitriy Bubenko, a local blogger who has been covering Nozdrinov’s trial, told CPJ via messaging app that the journalist plans to appeal the verdict.
“By sentencing blogger Aleksandr Nozdrinov to 8.5 years in prison, the Russian authorities are both punishing him for publishing information about the Ukraine war that did not conform to the official narrative, and seeking to silence an inconvenient voice that was exposing alleged local corruption,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Authorities should not contest Nozdrinov’s appeal, drop all the charges against him, and stop jailing independent voices.”
The court convicted the journalist on two court counts—distributing “fake” information “out of hatred,” and for “self-serving motives,” press sources said.
Authorities accused Nozdrinov of posting photos of destroyed buildings in Kyiv on a now-closed Telegram channel on March 6, 2022, with the caption “Ukrainian cities after the arrival of the ‘liberators’” and allegedly receiving 1,000 rubles (US $10) from two unidentified persons. Russian authorities denied responsibility for the attack.
Nozdrinov denied being connected to the channel and said he was unaware of its existence, according to Setevye Svobody and his lawyer Olesya Panyuzheva, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app. Evidence in the case included the testimony of a secret witness, Setevye Svobody reported.
Nozdrinov covers alleged corruption by local authorities, with particular focus on the activities of traffic police officers in the YouTube channel “Haus Rasha,” formerly known as “Sanya Novokubansk,” which has over 34,500 subscribers, according to CPJ’s review of the YouTube channel. Nozdrinov’s wife Ekaterina Nozdrinova told privately-owned Krasnodar-based news website 93.ru that her husband “filmed police officers, prosecutors, the head of the city, and also showed unsightly aspects of city life, such as potholes on the roads.”
“He was simply removed, as he was a nuisance,” Nozdrinova told 93.ru.
Nozdrinov has been in detention since March 2022 and has been beaten by police at the time of his arrest, Panyuzheva told Kavkaz.Realii, the Caucasus-focused project of the U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).
Nozdrinov claims that the case against him is “fabricated” and retaliation from local authorities for his anti-corruption publications. Moments before his sentence was announced on Friday, Nozdrinov told his lawyer that he “did not expect any justice” from the court.
Panyuzheva, who had reported about procedural violations in Nozdrinov’s trial, called the sentence “absurd,” “illegal” and “unfair,” and said that the case against the blogger showed that “anyone who … has a public activity, uncovers crimes and wrongdoings of corrupt police officers and representatives of the court and other law enforcement agencies, can be put behind bars.”
Bubenko, whose home was searched in connection to Nozdrinov’s case in March 2022, told CPJ that the case was “undoubtedly falsified” and that the charges were based on “absolutely nothing.” “Every piece of evidence looks so absurd that it is impossible for a sane person to believe it,” he said.
CPJ emailed the Investigative Committee of Russia for the Krasnodar Region and the Novokubansky District Court, but did not immediately receive any response.
In March 2022, following the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russian lawmakers adopted changes to the country’s laws imposing fines and prison terms for discrediting the country’s military or spreading “fake” information about it. Since then, in addition to Nozdrinov, Russia has detained, jailed and convicted in absentia at least 8 journalists on charges of spreading so-called false information about the Russian army.
Russia held at least 19 journalists on December 1, 2022, when CPJ conducted its most recent prison census. CPJ did not include Nozdrinov in its previous census of prisons due to insufficient information.
Editor’s note: The second, fourth, ninth, and 14th paragraphs have been updated to correct a typo.