The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today welcomed the lifting of a ban on the Russian independent news portal Fergana.

Daniil Kislov, Fergana’s general director, confirmed in a message to IPI that the ban was lifted on October 8. The site was made accessible after part of an online story was edited, Kislov said.

On September 30, Russia’s state internet regulator, Roskomnadzor, had ordered Internet service providers across the country to block access to Fergana, a Moscow-based independent news site focused on Central Asia. The outlet was given no prior warning and its website was added to a registry of blocked pages the next day.

IPI had previously spoken out against the ban. The blocking websites of independent publications has become an increasingly common tactic in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Separately, IPI called on Russia to drop terrorism-related charges against two independent journalists.

On September 20, the authorities indicted freelance journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva on charges of “justification of terrorism”, which carry a potential sentence of up to seven years in prison. Prokopyeva works for Radio Liberty and Echo of Moscow and is based in Pskov, a city in western Russia. The charges stem from comments she made on a radio station in November 2018 about a recent suicide bombing of a Federal Security Service (FSB) office by a 17-year-old boy.

Similar charges have also been brought against Abdulmumin Gadzhiev, the religious affairs editor of Chernovik, the oldest weekly local newspaper in Dagestan. He has been held in pretrial custody since June 2019 after being charged with “financing terrorism”, in particular ISIS. The allegations, which carry a maximum sentence of 20 years, are based on a single article he wrote about an Islamic charity foundation in 2013.

On October 2, masked and heavily armed policemen raided Gadzhiev’s newspaper offices in the regional capital, Makhachkala, as part of the investigation. Searches were carried out without a lawyer or the paper’s management being present.

The Russian Union of Journalists criticized the “lawlessness of the security forces”, describing the raid as “another attempt to put pressure on a truth-telling publication”.

“These incidents illustrate the continued willingness of Russian authorities to wield repressive laws to target independent media”, IPI Director of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad said. “Counter-terrorism legislation and the arbitrary blocking of news websites are being increasingly abused to silence critical voices. We welcome the decision to lift the block on Fergana, but call on Russia to drop all charges against journalists Svetlana Prokopyeva and Abdulmumin Gadzhiev.”