A police officer checks voters queuing at a polling station in Moscow, Russia, on March 17, 2024. (Photo: AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Russia jails journalist over plane crash coverage, detains another during election

New York, March 19, 2024—Russian authorities must drop all charges against journalist Sergey Kustov, release him, and stop prosecuting the press to stifle their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.

On Monday, a court sentenced Kustov, chief editor of local broadcaster Bars, to 10 days imprisonment on charges of disobeying a police officer, according to his outlet, multiple media reports, and a court statement.

Police detained Kustov, who was reporting on the crash of a Russian military aircraft in Ivanovo, a region northeast of the capital, Moscow, on March 12, for four hours before releasing him; his phone was also briefly confiscated.

“The arrest of journalist Sergey Kustov, who was covering a plane crash, is yet another attempt by Russian authorities to stifle any independent reporting,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Russian authorities should immediately release Kustov, drop all charges against him, and let members of the press work freely and without fear of being detained.”

According to the court statement, Kustov “showed disobedience to military police officers, namely, he did not comply with repeated lawful demands of military police officers to leave the area of the IL-76 [Russian military aircraft] crash site.”

Kustov denied that the military police made any demands, saying that “if they had, he would certainly have complied with them,” his outlet reported. CPJ’s messages to the outlet for comment did not receive a reply.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said on March 12 that one of the aircraft’s engines caught fire, resulting in the death of all 15 people aboard, according to Russian state news agency TASS.

Separately, on Sunday, March 17, police in Saint-Petersburg detained Fyodor Danilov, a correspondent with local news outlet Fontanka, while he was covering the election at a polling station, according to his outlet.

Danilov, who was accredited to cover the elections, arrived at the polling station around 11:30 a.m. and was arrested after 5 to 10 minutes for allegedly waving his arms and using obscene language, which he denied. Danilov was released after two hours without charge, he told CPJ, adding on March 18 that he was “continuing” his work.

At noon on that day, thousands of people, led by the Russian opposition, turned up at polling stations in Russia and abroad to peacefully protest the re-election of Vladimir Putin.

CPJ did not receive a response to emails sent to the Saint Petersburg police and Ivanov district court requesting comment on the journalists’ detentions.