The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today condemned the detention of journalists covering a protest in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Russia.
On Tuesday April 7, at least five journalists and media workers were detained as they were reporting from outside the penal colony east of Moscow in which Navalny is serving his sentence and is currently being treated for a respiratory illness, according to media reports.
Among those detained were CNN correspondent Matthew Chance and his camera operator, as well as Ivan Slobodenyuk, a Russian journalist working for Vot Tak TV, Dmitry Nizovtsev, host of the YouTube channel Navalny Headquarters, and Dmitry Kiselev of the Open Reporters Edition.
Just been detained by Russian police outside navalny penal colony pic.twitter.com/aP2N2t80FP
— Matthew Chance (@mchancecnn) April 6, 2021
The journalists had been covering a rally by pro-Navalny supporters who had gathered outside the prison in Pokorov to demand better medical care for the politician and poisoned Putin critic, who has been on hunger strike and whose health has been deteriorating.
Chance, a CNN senior international correspondent, posted a picture of himself on Twitter after his detention, followed by another tweet around three hours later announcing that he and his team had been released.
Chance said the journalists had been detained alongside lawyers and activists as authorities moved in to break up the crowd, which had been gathered for several hours. The group was taken by bus to a police station, where officers checked their documents before releasing them.
The regional Ministry of the Interior said that a total of nine people were arrested in Pokrov for “public disorder”. All five media workers were released after a few hours.
According to media reports, the journalists were detained for disrupting the functioning of penal colony No. 2 in Pokrov. Police reportedly drew up a protocol under Part 3 of Article 20.2.2 of the Administrative Code for “violating a procedure established for conducting a… rally or demonstration”.
The administrative offence carries a fine of between 500 to 1,000 roubles (5 to 10 euros) for participants, according to the Code of Administrative Offences of the Russian Federation. The journalists will reportedly be required to appear before police on April 21.
“It is intolerable that reporting on the opposition movement in Russia is suppressed by such means”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “We call on the authorities to halt the use of arbitrary arrests and violence as a means of harassment, repression and intimidation of journalists in order to ensure the safety of journalists and press freedom.”
Suppressing opposition reporting
As IPI reported previously, hundreds of other journalists and media workers covering the nationwide pro-Navalny protests earlier this year were subjected to arbitrary arrests and police brutality. According to reports, around 11,000 people were detained in the course of the protests, including about 200 journalists.
In February, the editor-in-chief of the online platform Mediazona, Sergei Smirnov, was prosecuted for retweeting a jokeand had to spend 15 days in prison.
In a statement published on March 18, the European Union criticized Russia’s intensified crackdown on independent media, expressing “serious concern about the deteriorating situation of media freedom in Russia” and denouncing recent cases of judicial persecution, as well as unresolved cases of arrests and violence against journalists.
Alexei Navalny was arrested on 17 January when he returned to Moscow from Berlin, where he was being treated for poisoning. As journalists revealed, the poisoning of Navalny was prepared by Russian FSB chemists. One of the chemists later admitted that they had tried to kill Navalny.