Aleksandr Dorogov, co-deputy chief editor of independent investigative website Rosderzhava, has been in pretrial detention since July 2020, when he was arrested with Yan Katelevskiy, also co-deputy chief editor, in the village of Mosrentgen, near Moscow. Authorities charged the two journalists with extortion and insulting a public official, and they also charged Dorogov with hooliganism and Katelevskiy with property damage. Dorogov remained in pretrial detention as of late 2022.
Rosderzhava covers alleged corruption among law enforcement officials, focusing on the Moscow region, according to Dorogov’s lawyer, Konstantin Barkovskiy, who spoke with CPJ in a phone interview, and CPJ’s review of the website. Dorogov also has a YouTube blog, Priklucheniya Dorogova i Ego Druzei (Adventures of Dorogov and His Friends), where he posts reporting and commentary about alleged police misconduct and has about 55,000 followers.
Officers of the special unit of Russia’s National Guard arrested Dorogov and Katelevskiy in the early hours of July 29, 2020, in Mosrentgen, and took them to a pretrial detention center in Lobnya, near Moscow, according to Barkovskiy and media reports.
During the arrest, the police beat Dorogov, according to Barkovskiy, who added that officers punched, kicked, and pushed his client against the wall, possibly giving him a concussion. Dorogov was taken to the hospital, but was not treated or properly examined, and was just provided with painkillers, according to the lawyer.
Authorities charged Dorogov with extortion on July 14, 2020. The Tverskoy District Court in Moscow ordered Dorogov to be placed under house arrest on July 28, but failed to inform the journalist or his lawyer of either action, Barkovskiy said.
On August 20, an investigative unit of the Central Administrative District of the Ministry of Internal Affairs also charged Dorogov with “hooliganism executed by a group of people,” his lawyer said.
The extortion charge stems from a May 21, 2020, complaint filed by a traffic officer, who alleged that he paid Dorogov and Katelevskiy 1.3 million rubles (US$21,000) to stop them from making videos about him, according to Barkovskiy and human-rights news website OVD-Info.The two journalists had previously published YouTube videos on their channels mocking and criticizing the officer.
The hooliganism charge stems from a 2019 incident, during which employees of a certification company in Moscow beat up Dorogov and his colleagues from Rosderzhava after they came to the company’s office building to investigate its allegedly unlawful actions, according to Barkovskiy. Authorities allege that Dorogov entered the premises of that company with “criminal intent” and intentionally provoked the attack.
“Dorogov was the victim and not the perpetrator in that case. Не came to that organization in a yellow vest with a visible ‘Press’ badge, and the crowd of employees started beating him and his colleagues. All he did was in self-defense, and he maintains his full innocence,” his lawyer told CPJ.
Barkovskiy denied all the charges against his client in court. He told CPJ that the arrest was retaliation for the journalists’ investigative work, in particular their joint investigation into alleged corruption between funeral businesses and senior police officials, published on the YouTube blog Dvizhenie, which investigates corruption and irregularities in the work of the police and has 625,000 subscribers.
Olga Balabanova, Katelevskiy’s lawyer, told CPJ that the police confiscated the two journalists’ electronic equipment after their arrest, and that she suspected that the authorities had gained access to their social network and cloud storage accounts in order to find the journalists’ sources. The lawyer said she based that suspicion partly on the fact that, shortly after the journalists’ arrest, Katelevskiy’s YouTube blog was deleted. The journalists’ friends have since been able to restore it, she said.
Balabanova also told CPJ that, around two weeks before their arrest, Dorogov and Katelevskiy received informal warnings from sources close to the police that they had upset some of the “important people” and would be punished.
If convicted of extortion, Dorogov could face up to 15 years in prison, according to the Russian criminal code, and up to seven years in prison for hooliganism. If convicted of insulting a public official, he could face a fine of up to 40,000 rubles (US$650) or up to one year of corrective labor.
In August 2020, Dorogov was transferred from the pretrial detention center in Lobnya to Pretrial Detention Center No. 7 in Yegoryevsk, in the Moscow region, Barkovskiy said. The lawyer told CPJ that Dorogov’s cellmates at the new facility had beaten him in retaliation for his journalistic work, and during a visit the journalist had a limp in one leg, a bruise under his left eye, a large bruise on his left shoulder, a torn ear, and complained of strong pain in his ribs and dizziness. Barkovskiy told CPJ that prison officials gave him minimal first aid after those beatings and suffered from persistent back pain.
The Public Monitoring Commission for the Moscow region, a public body in Russia that monitors the observance of human rights in places of detention, visited Dorogov in detention on August 21, 2020, and documented his injuries following his lawyer’s complaint, Aleksandr Maltsev, a member of the commission, told CPJ via email. Maltsev said the commission filed a report to the Yegoryevsk investigative department of the Russian Investigative Committee and to the Yegoryevsk city prosecutor’s office for further investigation.
On September 25, 2020, a Moscow court ordered Dorogov released on house arrest pending trial, but prosecutors appealed the decision and authorities returned him to jail on October 15, 2020, according to Barkovskiy, Dorogov was transferred a detention center in Serphukhov, in the Moscow region, the lawyer said.
On August 27, 2021, officials in the Serpukhov center grabbed Dorogov and bruised his neck, according to OVD-Info.
On October 13, 2021, the Babuskinskiy Court of Moscow gave Dorogov 10 working days to read his file, which is 2,400 pages long, OVD-Info reported.
Barkovskiy told CPJ in October 2021 that Dorogov’s health was poor, and that he had been given medicine to reduce his back pain but had not received any other treatment. Barkovskiy said the journalist had been placed in solitary confinement three times during his detention.
Rosderzhava chief editor Yevgeny Kurakin told CPJ in October 2022 that both Dorogov and Katelevskiy had health problems, without giving more details, and said their psychological state was “negative.” Kurakin told CPJ that Dorogov’s arrest was recently extended for six months.
Courts have extended Dorogov’s detention multiple times, most recently until February 24, 2023, OVD-Info reported.
In October 2022, CPJ called the Russian Ministry of Interior, but nobody answered the phone. CPJ emailed the press service of the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office, but did not receive any replies.