Sergey Mikhaylov, publisher of Listok, an independent local newspaper in southern Siberia, has been detained in Russia since April 2022 on charges of spreading “fake” information about the Russian army. If convicted, Mikhaylov, who is also a member of the federal political council of Russian opposition party PARNAS, faces 10 years in prison.
On April 13, 2022, police detained Mikhaylov in Lyubertsy, a city in the Moscow region, for allegedly spreading “fakes” about the Russian military, according to media reports and Stanislav Seleznyov, a lawyer and senior partner of Setevye Svobody, which provides legal assistance in freedom of expression cases. Seleznyov, who is familiar with Mikhaylov’s case, spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
Mikhaylov was forcibly transported by plane to Gorno-Altaysk, the capital of the Siberian republic of Altai, those sources said. The same day, law enforcement in Gorno-Altaysk searched the Listok editorial office as well as the homes of an unknown number of its employees, and seized their phones and other technical equipment, according to the same reports.
Russian state media regulator Roskomnadzor blocked Listok’s website on February 28.
MVD Media, a news website linked to the Russian Interior Ministry, published a video showing the April 13 search of Listok’s offices and Mikhaylov’s detention. According to the video, the police worked with the Altai department of the Federal Security Service and the Investigative Committee and found that, during March and April, “knowingly false information” about the Russian army “was publicly disseminated” by Listok “under the guise of reliable information.”
Mikhaylov was charged under Article 207.3.2.e of Russia’s criminal code for having allegedly disseminated false information on the basis of “political, ideological, racial, national, or religious hatred,” according to the video.
On April 14, Mikhaylov appeared before a judge in Gorno-Altaysk, who placed the journalist under arrest for two months, pending investigation, according to news reports.
On April 24, Mikhaylov was quoted as saying by independent news website SOTA that two cases of spreading “fake” information about the Russian army had been opened against him. The first one was initiated in mid-March over a series of war-related reposts in Listok’s Telegram channel. The second one was opened on April 6 over the publication in Listok of a short version of a Wikipedia article about the Bucha massacre, which occurred during Russia’s occupation of the Ukrainian city outside of Kyiv.
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.
Also on April 14, the Gorno-Altaysk city court fined Listok 300,000 rubles (US$4,900) and its director Olga Komarova, Mykhaylov’s wife, 100,000 rubles (US$1,630) for discrediting the army, according to reports.
An investigation conducted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs alleged to have found that several Listok articles “discredited the use of the Armed Forces,” under Article 20.3.3, Part 1, of Russia’s administrative code, those reports said. The fines imposed on Listok and its director are the minimum fines stipulated by this section for officials and legal entities.
On April 27, the Gorno-Altaysk city court again fined Listok 300,000 rubles for calling for sanctions against Russia, under Article 20.3.4 of the administrative code, after Listok chief editor Viktor Rau, in a March 30 printed article, urged the outlet’s readers to send the names of officials who support the war in Ukraine to the Telegram channel “Nuremberg Process 2.0,” according to multiple news reports.
“Nuremberg Process 2.0,” created in August 2020, publishes the names, photos, and statements of supporters of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Its first post was dated February 26, and its founders are unknown, according to those reports.
On May 11, Mikhaylov was quoted as saying by SOTA that a member of Altai’s center for combating extremism came to see him in detention and asked him to delete Listok’s Telegram channel in exchange for favorable treatment in his case.
On September 9, the Gorno-Altaysk city court extended Mikhaylov’s detention until October 12, SOTA reported.
Mikhaylov is held in Pretrial Detention Center No. 1 in the Altai village of Kyzyl-Ozyok, according to the banned human rights organization Memorial.
Komarova told CPJ via messaging app in October that Mikhaylov was placed in solitary confinement for two days at the end of September for allegedly brushing his teeth after curfew. But she said the journalist had no health issues and that his psychological state was “normal, as far as it can be in this situation.”
“Sergey is a strong man and is managing,” said Komarova, adding that she was not allowed to visit him or send letters, and that they are communicating through a lawyer, who visits Mikhaylov on a weekly basis.
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.