Yan Katelevskiy

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Yan Katelevskiy, co-deputy chief editor of independent investigative website Rosderzhava, and his colleague Aleksandr Dorogov, also co-deputy chief editor of the outlet, were arrested in July 2020, in the village of Mosrentgen, near Moscow. Authorities charged the two journalists with extortion; they also charged Katelevskiy with property damage and Dorogov with hooliganism. Katelevskiy remained in pretrial detention as of late 2021.

Rosderzhava covers alleged corruption among law enforcement officials, focusing on the Moscow region, according to CPJ’s review of the website and Katelevskiy’s lawyer, Olga Balabanova, who spoke with CPJ in a phone interview. Katelevskiy also has a blog on YouTube, Ya.N, where he posts reporting and commentary about alleged police misconduct to his nearly 300,000 followers. 

Officers of the special unit of Russia’s National Guard arrested Katelevskiy and Dorogov in the early morning of July 29, 2020, in Mosrentgen, and took them to a pretrial detention center in Lobnya, near Moscow, according to Balabanova and media reports.

Katelevskiy was charged with “intentional destruction or damage to property” on July 29, and with extortion on August 26; he formally denied both charges, according to his lawyer. 

The extortion charge stems from a May 21 complaint filed by a traffic police officer, alleging that he paid Dorogov and Katelevskiy 1.3 million rubles (US$17,000) to stop them from making videos about him, according to Balabanova and news reports. The two journalists had previously published YouTube videos on their channels mocking and criticizing that officer.

The property damage charge against Katelevskiy stems from an August 2019 incident in which Katelevskiy was accused of damaging someone’s car, with the car owner filing a complaint to the police and saying the damages equaled 85,000 rubles (US$1,100), Balabanova said. The charge was based on the testimony of the car owner, according to Balabanova and news reports.

Balabanova told CPJ that the arrest was in retaliation for the journalists’ investigative work, in particular their recent joint investigation into alleged corruption between funeral businesses and senior police officials, published on the YouTube blog Dvizhenie, which investigates corruption and irregularities by the road police and has 580,000 subscribers. 

Balabanova said that police had confiscated the journalists’ electronic equipment and that she suspected that they had gained access to their social network accounts and cloud storage in order to find out journalists’ sources. Balabanova also told CPJ that Katelevskiy and Dorogov received informal warnings from some of their sources close to the police that they upset some of the “important people” and would be punished, which had happened approximately two weeks before their arrest. 

If convicted of extortion, Katelevskiy could face up to 15 years in prison, according to the Russian criminal code, and if found guilty of property damage, the journalist could face up to five years in prison.

Police beat Katelevskiy severely when he was arrested on July 29, according to his lawyer and news reports. The lawyer said that during the arrest, officers threw the journalist on the floor, handcuffed him, and punched him in the head, causing him to lose his hearing in one ear as a result. Katelevskiy was taken to the hospital but did not receive proper treatment; Balabanova told CPJ that Katelevskiy was denied access to an ear specialist who could address the serious ear injury that he received as a result of the police beatings.

On August 19, 2021, the Ramenskiy city court of the Moscow region ruled that Katelevskiy should remain in pretrial detention, and later that month ruled to hold him until October 28 and dismissed his appeal for release, according to multiple news reports and Balabonova. In September, the Moscow Regional Court extended his detention until November 21, reports said. 

On September 21, Katelevskiy’s lawyer, Stanislav Manochin, told CPJ in a phone interview that there was no evidence at all indicating Katelevsky’s guilt. Manochin also said Katelevskiy filed a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, saying the charges were fabricated in retaliation for his journalism, and said the court accepted that complaint.

Katetevskiy broke his collarbone when he fell from bed in detention, independent news website Mediazona reported in September 2021.

In September 2021, CPJ called the Moscow Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Russian prosecutor general’s office, and the Investigative committee in Kemerovo, for comment on Katelevskiy’s case but no one answered.