Yan Katelevskiy, co-deputy chief editor of independent investigative website Rosderzhava, is serving a prison sentence of nine and a half years after being convicted by a Russian court on extortion charges in November 2023. Russian authorities detained him in July 2020, along with his colleague Aleksandr Dorogov, also co-deputy chief editor of the outlet, in the village of Mosrentgen, near Moscow. Authorities charged the two journalists with extortion and insulting a public official, and they also charged Katelevskiy with property damage and Dorogov with hooliganism. The property damage, “insulting a public official,” and hooliganism charges were later dropped.
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 had a blog on YouTube, Ya.N, where he posted 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.
Police beat Katelevskiy severely when he was arrested, according to Balabanova and a report by Radio Svoboda, the Russian service of U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/FL). 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. Katelevskiy was taken to the hospital but did not receive proper treatment, according to Balabanova, who told CPJ that Katelevskiy was denied access to an ear specialist who could address the serious ear injury resulting from the police beatings.
Katelevskiy was charged with “intentional destruction or damage to property” on July 29, 2020, and with extortion on August 26. He denied both charges, according to his lawyer.
The extortion charge stems from a May 2020 complaint filed by a traffic officer, who alleged that he paid Katelevskiy and Dorogov 1.3 million rubles (US$21,000) to stop them from making videos about him, according to Balabanova and human-rights news website OVD-Info. The two journalists had previously published YouTube videos on their channels mocking and criticizing that officer.
Balabanova told CPJ that she believed 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 had about 625,000 subscribers at the time of the journalists’ arrest.
Balabanova said that police had confiscated the journalists’ electronic equipment, and that she suspected that the authorities had gained access to their social network and cloud storage accounts in order to find out the journalists’ sources. The lawyer also told CPJ that, about two weeks before their arrest, Katelevskiy and Dorogov had received informal warnings from sources close to the police that they had upset some of the “important people” and would be punished.
On September 21, 2021, Katelevskiy’s lawyer, Stanislav Manochin, told CPJ in a phone interview that there was no evidence at all indicating the journalist’s guilt. Manochin also said Katelevskiy had filed a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, saying the charges were fabricated in retaliation for his journalism, and that the court had accepted the complaint.
On November 17, 2023, a court in Lyubertsy, in the Moscow region, convicted Katelevskiy of extortion and sentenced him to nine and a half years in prison. The court also convicted Dorogov on two counts—extortion committed by a group of persons and extortion in order to obtain property on a particularly large scale—and sentenced him to 10 and a half years in prison. Both journalists will appeal the verdict, Rosderzhava chief editor Yevgeny Kurakin told CPJ via messaging app.
Kurakin told CPJ in October 2023 that Katelevskiy was in good health.
In October 2023,
CPJ emailed the press service of the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office
but did not receive any replies.