Yan Katelevskiy, co-deputy chief editor of independent investigative website Rosderzhava, has been in pretrial detention since July 2020, when he was arrested 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. Katelevskiy remained in pretrial detention as of late 2022.
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.
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 that he received as a result of the police beatings.
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 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.
The property damage charge 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$1,400), 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 625,000 subscribers.
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 journalists’ sources. The lawyer also told CPJ that, about two weeks before their arrest, Dorogov and Katelevskiy had 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, 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 two years in prison. 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.
Courts have extended Katelevskiy’s detention multiple times, with the most recent extension coming on November 23, when a court in the Moscow region extended his detention until February 24, 2023, according to a Telegram channel that covers his case.
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.
Rosderzhava chief editor Yevgeny Kurakin told CPJ in October 2022 that both Katelevskiy and Dorogov had health problems, without giving more details, and said their psychological state was “negative.”
Barkovskiy told CPJ that, according to Katelevskiy’s wife, the journalist had important hearing issues and a high intracranial hypertension, a buildup of pressure around the brain, for which he does not receive adequate treatment.
Katelevskiy’s wife said the journalist had at times lost consciousness in his cell, and that during one such incident he fallen on his shoulder and fractured his clavicle, according to Barkosvkiy.
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.