Journalist and writer Mikhail Zygar in an August 2023 interview with Washington Post Live. (Screenshot: Washington Post Live/YouTube)
Journalist and writer Mikhail Zygar in an August 2023 interview with Washington Post Live. (Screenshot: Washington Post Live/YouTube)

Russia orders exiled journalist Mikhail Zygar’s arrest in absentia

New York, April 16, 2024—Russian authorities must drop all legal proceedings against journalist and writer Mikhail Zygar and cease their ongoing repression of independent journalism, said the Committee to Protect Journalists on Tuesday.

On April 16, a Moscow court ordered that Zygar, the former editor-in-chief of the now-exiled Russian broadcaster Dozhd TV (TV Rain) and a CPJ 2014 International Press Freedom Awardee, be arrested in absentia on charges of disseminating “fake news” about the Russian army. The order against Zygar is the latest in a growing list of repressive actions recently used by Russian authorities to punish journalists already under detention and stifle the voices of independent journalists in exile.

On April 10, Russian authorities added imprisoned journalist Igor Kuznetsov to the list of “extremists and terrorists.” Kuznetsov, a Russia-based correspondent of the independent RusNews site, has been detained since September 2021 and is currently serving a six-year prison sentence on charges of inciting mass riots ingroup chats on Telegram.

On April 12, Russian law enforcement searched the former Moscow apartment of exiled journalist Zalina Marshenkulova, who currently lives in Germany, on charges of “justifying terrorism.” Marshenkulova runs the Telegram channel Zhenskaya Vlast, covering feminism and women’s rights, with over 18,000 followers.

On the same day, the Russian Justice Ministry designated two exiled journalists, Ilya Barabanov and Ivan Filippov, as “foreign agents.” 

“In a blatant attempt to silence and punish journalists simply for doing their job, Russian authorities continue prosecuting and harassing independent journalists in exile, as well as those in detention,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities should drop all charges against independent journalists, repeal their ‘foreign agent’ and ‘fake news’ laws, and allow independent media to work freely and without fear of reprisal.”

Marshenkulova told CPJ via a messaging app that she believed the charges were related to her journalistic work and activism as a feminist. She explained, “I’m a feminist and feminism is forbidden in Russia.” In her Telegram channel, Marshenkulova wrote that the criminal case was “absolutely surreal and outrageous.” 

In a statement, the BBC condemned the “foreign agent” designation for Barabanov, a BBC Russian correspondent. “We are incredibly proud of all our journalists, and our priority right now is to support Ilya and all his colleagues to ensure that all are able to continue their jobs reporting on Russia at such an important time,” said the broadcaster. Barabanov has covered Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the operations of the Russian Wagner mercenary group in Mali.

Filippov is the author of the Telegram channel “All Quiet on the Zzzzz Western Front,” where he analyzes the content of Telegram channels and blogs belonging to supporters of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “Will I stop talking and writing about the war? No, of course not. … I will continue to write in this channel about what I learn from reading hundreds of [pro-war] channels,” Filippov wrote in the channel on April 15, commenting on his “foreign agent” designation. “I suspect that it’s the stories I dig up from the texts of war supporters that have caused such a strong reaction from the authorities, which means I’m doing the right thing.” 

Russia held at least 22 journalists behind bars when CPJ conducted its 2023 prison census, making it the world’s fourth-worst jailer of journalists that year. CPJ’s prison census documented those imprisoned as of December 1, 2023.