Journalist Mikhail Afanasyev, editor-in-chief of online magazine Novy Fokus, has been detained in Russia since April 2022 on charges of spreading “fake” information about the Russian army. If convicted, he faces 10 years in prison.
On April 13, 2022, police searched Afanasyev’s home in Abakan, the capital of Siberia’s Khakassiya republic, seized his technical equipment, and took him to the Abakan investigative department, according to a Telegram post by the Mass Media Defense Center (MMDC), a local group that provides journalists and media outlets with legal aid, and news reports.
Afanasyev was charged under Article 207.3.2.a of Russia’s criminal code for spreading false information about the Russian army “using his official position,” according to a separate Telegram post by the MMDC, which has provided a lawyer to defend Afanasyev. A conviction carries up to 10 years in prison.
On April 15, a court in Abakan ordered Afanasyev to be detained for two months, pending investigation, according to media reports. On August 8, the court extended Afanasyev’s detention until October 13, according to media reports and the MMDC.
Afanasyev’s charges are related to a news article, which CPJ reviewed, that he wrote for Novy Fokus earlier in April 2022 about 11 members of special riot police from Khakassiya who refused to fight in Russia’s war in Ukraine, according to the MMDC and independent news outlet SOTA, which published a screenshot of the material. Authorities accused the journalist of publishing "misleading information" in the article about the number of missing and wounded employees of the Khakass department of Russia’s National Guard, according to media reports.
On March 4, Russian President Vladimir Putin enacted amendments to the criminal code that impose prison terms for spreading “fake” information, specifically about the Russian military, as CPJ documented and media reported, in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February.
Afanasyev was previously criminally charged in 2009 with "spreading false information on the internet,” as media reported at the time, over articles about the Sayano-Shushenskaya disaster, when a broken turbine at the Sayano–Shushenskaya hydroelectric plant cost 75 lives. Authorities later closed that case, according to media reports.
Afanasyev is held in Pretrial Detention Center No. 1 in Abakan, according to the banned Russian human rights organization Memorial. His detention was extended for two more months on October 6, MMDC reported.
Galina Arapova, director of the MMDC, told CPJ via messaging app that Afanasyev was physically and psychologically fine in detention. “We organized a campaign for his birthday and people sent him a huge number of letters of support, which encouraged him, and he is ready to fight with us,” Arapova said, referring to the organization’s letter-writing campaign in July.
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.