Journalist Antonina Favorskaya, who is charged with participation in an extremist organization, stands inside an enclosure for defendants in a courtroom in Moscow, Russia, on March 29, 2024. (Photo: Reuters/Yulia Morozova)

Russia detained journalist Antonina Favorskaya for 2 months for reporting on late opposition leader Navalny

New York, March 29, 2024—Russian authorities must release journalist Antonina Favorskaya, drop all charges against her, and refrain from persecuting members of the press in retaliation for their reporting on late opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.

On Wednesday, authorities did not release Favorskaya, a journalist with independent news outlet Sota.Vision, after her 10-day detention for allegedly disobeying a police officer. That same day, police in Moscow detained two journalists waiting for Favorskaya’s release and at least two other journalists while searching Favorskaya and her parents’ apartments.

On Friday, a court in Moscow, during a closed-door hearing, ordered Favorskaya to be held until May 28 pending investigation on charges of allegedly participating in an extremist group, according to media reports. The journalist said in court that she believed she was prosecuted for writing about Navalny, specifically for a March 6 report titled “How Alexei Navalny was tortured by the court and the Federal Penitentiary Service.”

“The domino-like detentions of journalists who came to support their colleague Antonina Favorskaya and cover her groundless persecution is a grim illustration of the Russian repressive machine, unleashed against those who dared to report on the fate of the late opposition leader Alexei Navalny,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Russian authorities should immediately release Favorskaya, drop all charges against her, and refrain from prosecuting any journalist who reports on Navalny.”

Favorskaya covered Navalny’s court hearings and prison conditions, and shot the last video of him before his death. She also reported on his funeral and how Russian people mourned the politician. A Sota.Vision representative told CPJ under the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal, that Favorskaya was “persecuted for her journalistic activities.”

On March 17, around seven law enforcement officers in Moscow detained Favorskaya and Anastasia Musatova, another Sota.Vision journalist, in a café near the cemetery where Navalny is buried. The journalists had laid flowers and taken pictures of the grave a few hours earlier.

Police claimed Favorskaya tried to escape and refused to show her identity documents, which the journalist denied. Musatova was released without charge three hours later.

On Wednesday, police detained Musatova and Alexandra Astakhova, a freelance photojournalist with independent news outlet MediaZona, as they came to meet Favorskaya. The police searched the journalists’ homes, seizing a laptop, a phone, flash drives, as well as a poster, badges, pictures, and leaflets with Navalny’s face from Astakhova’s home, she told Sota.Vision. Astakhova and Musatova were later taken for questioning and released as witnesses in the case against Favorskaya.

Police detained Sota.Vision journalist Ekaterina Anikievich and Konstantin Zharov, a journalist with independent news outlet RusNews, while they reported on the search at Favorskaya’s apartment, according to those reports. Zharov was beaten by an unspecified number of police officers during the detention.

“They beat me with their feet, put a foot on my head, twisted my fingers, mocked me when I tried to stand up, demanded to show my backpack as if it might contain explosives,” he told RusNews, adding that he was in pain “all over” his body.

Both were released without charge and taken by an ambulance to the hospital, where Zharov was treated for “a broken skull, bruises, dislocated fingers, sprains,” he said, adding that he believed the officers attacked him because he was filming near Favorskaya’s home. RusNews chief editor Sergey Ainbinder told CPJ on Thursday that Zharov was “alert.”

On Thursday, human rights news website OVD-Info reported that Favorskaya was charged with participating in Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), which the authorities banned as “extremist” in 2021. Authorities accused Favorskaya of collecting material, and making and editing videos and publications for the organization.

Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s spokesperson, denied in a Thursday post that Favorskaya published anything on the organization’s platforms, saying, “even if we set aside the falsity of the accusation, its essence remains—the journalist is accused of engaging in journalism.”

Separately, on Thursday, a court in the western city of Ufa ordered RusNews journalist and activist Olga Komleva to be held for two months for allegedly participating in the FBK after law enforcement questioned her on Wednesday.

Komleva, a former volunteer at Navalny’s regional campaign office in Ufa before the network was banned as “extremist” in 2021, covered protests in the southwestern Bashkortostan region for RusNews, including the January 2024 protests in Baymak.

“I think the regime’s jaws have clenched again after the active coverage of the events in Baymak and the subsequent trials of activists…” Ainbinder told CPJ.

CPJ did not receive a response to its emails to the Basmanny Court in Moscow and the Kirovsky District Court of Ufa requesting comment on the journalists’ arrests.

Editor’s note: The thirteenth paragraph was updated to clarify Yarmysh’s role.