New York, February 6, 2024—Russian authorities must immediately drop all charges against journalist Denis Kamalyagin and stop harassing exiled members of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.
Kamalyagin, editor-in-chief of the exiled Russian newspaper Pskovskaya Guberniya, was charged in December with failing to comply with the country’s foreign agent law, according to news reports published this week and the journalist, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app.
Kamalyagin told CPJ that he was charged under Article 330.1, Part 2, of the criminal code, which carries a penalty of up to two years in jail. The journalist and the newspaper relocated to Latvia, amid raids in March 2022 on Pskovskaya Guberniya’s office and Kamalyagin’s home in the western region of Pskov following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
It is the second criminal case brought against Kamalyagin, who was charged in late 2023 with discrediting the Russian army, for which he could be jailed for up to five years under Article 280.3, Part 1, of the criminal code. He had previously been fined 35,000 rubles (US$390) for discrediting the army in October 2022.
“By bringing fresh charges against exiled journalist Denis Kamalyagin, Russian authorities show that they are ready to use the ‘foreign agent’ law to intimidate journalists who continue to report independently from abroad,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Authorities must immediately drop all charges against Kamalyagin, repeal the country’s infamous foreign agent law, and let the press work freely.”
Kamalyagin was one of the first journalists to be labeled a “foreign agent” in 2020. Individuals designated as “foreign agents” must regularly submit detailed reports of their activities and expenses to authorities and their status as “foreign agents” must be listed whenever they produce content or are mentioned in news articles, according to the law.
The latest charge stems from the journalist’s failure to list his “foreign agent” status on his Telegram posts, Kamalyagin told independent news website 7×7, adding that he stopped doing so as soon as he left Russia.
In 2023, Kamalyagin was fined three times for not listing his “foreign agent” status and for failing to file a report to the Ministry of Justice, according to independent news website Mediazona. A warrant was also issued for his arrest in December, although it did not specify the charge, Mediazona reported.
Kamalyagin told U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s project Sever.Realii that the foreign agent case against him was “predictable,” after authorities opened a similar criminal case against a Pskov activist. “The first foreign agents appeared in Pskov, the first criminal cases, too,” he was quoted as saying.
On January 31, the Russian State Duma, the lower house of parliament, adopted amendments allowing the authorities to confiscate property from people convicted of spreading “fake” news about the Russian army and of calling for activities directed against Russia’s security.
“It is a terrible law that should terrify all those who have left Russia,” Kamalyagin told CPJ. “People inside Russia have been mostly silent for a long time [after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine]. Now the authorities want those who have left to be silent too. They hoped that we would leave and remain silent. But that didn’t happen,” he said.
Russia held at least 22 journalists behind bars when CPJ conducted its latest annual prison census, which documented those imprisoned as of December 1, 2023.
CPJ’s call to the Russian Investigative Committee, the country’s law enforcement agency in charge of criminal investigations, went unanswered.