Journalist Igor Kuznetsov, who has been detained by Russia since September 2021, was sentenced to 6 years in prison on Friday, April 5, on charges of inciting mass disturbances. (Screenshot: RusNews/Telegram)

CPJ condemns Russian journalist Igor Kuznetsov’s 6-year prison sentence 

New York, April 5, 2024—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the conviction and six-year prison sentence issued to Russian journalist Igor Kuznetsov on Friday and called on authorities to drop all charges, and release him immediately.

A Moscow court convicted Kuznetsov, a reporter with the independent news website RusNews, on charges of inciting mass disturbances in group chats on Telegram, according to multiple media reports and RusNews. Kuznetsov was sentenced to six years in prison, though prosecutors requested nine years.

The court also banned Kuznetsov from managing websites for two years after he serves his term and sentenced 10 other defendants in the case to time prison, those sources said.

Kuznetsov’s charges stemmed from his involvement in the Chto-Delat! Telegram channel, according to human rights news website OVD-Info. Kuznetsov previously said that while he was a channel administrator, he acted “exclusively as a journalist” and did not organize any protests.

Authorities accused Kuznetsov and the other defendants of running a network of chat groups for “agitational work aimed at organizing mass unrest” during the country’s September 2021 legislative elections and publishing videos containing “incitements to violent actions.”

On March 20, Kuznetsov, who has been in detention since September 2021, received a three-year suspended sentence for allegedly participating in a group Russian authorities accused of being “extremist.”

CPJ was unable to immediately confirm whether Kuznetsov planned to appeal today’s sentence.

“The Russian court’s new verdict on Igor Kuznestov, sentenced to six years in prison today, comes before the court stamp has dried on the previous verdict in equally fabricated case,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Authorities should immediately release Kuznetsov, drop all the charges against him, and stop prosecuting RusNews reporters who are some of the last independent voices in Russia.”

Russia has jailed two more RusNews journalists in addition to Kuznetsov.

Maria Ponomarenko was given a six-year sentence in 2023 for spreading “fake” information about the Russian army and could face an additional five years in jail if convicted in a second criminal case alleging that she used violence against prison staff.

In March, Roman Ivanov was sentenced to seven years in jail on similar charges of spreading “fake news” about the Russian army.

Russia was the world’s fourth worst jailer of journalists—with 22 behind bars, including Kuznetsov, Ponomarenko, and Ivanov—on December 1, 2023, when CPJ conducted its latest annual prison census.

CPJ’s email to the Butyrsky District Court of Moscow requesting comment on Kuznetsov’s sentence did not immediately receive a response.