The IPI global network expressed grave concern over recent attacks and harassment targeting journalists with the Russian independent news outlet SOTA. The incidents underscore the continuously worsening environment in Russia for independent media.

On May 30, Piotr Ivanov, a journalist working for SOTA, one of Russia’s few remaining independent news outlets, was brutally assaulted by two unknown attackers in St. Petersburg, resulting in a broken nose and several facial injuries. According to Ivanov’s neighbors, for two days prior to the attack, individuals dressed in camouflage and balaclava masks were observed at the entrance of his apartment block from 6 to 10 in the evening. During the altercation, the journalist was threatened and intimidated due to his work.

On the evening of June 1, another SOTA correspondent, Gleb Yakutov, was arrested in Moscow and detained overnight. His student dorms were later searched by members of the police. The searches were part of a significant police operation in Moscow which has seen Yakutov and three activists being investigated for distributing “false information” about the Russian armed forces, according to Avtozak LIVE. Such accusations have become a norm for all remaining independent journalists in Russia. “After February 24, the repressions drastically increased in their intensity”, said SOTA editor Aleksei Obuhov in an interview with IPI. “In fact, someone’s status as a journalist became a catalyst for attack.”

“IPI condemns the ongoing harassment and attacks against journalists with SOTA, one of the last remaining independent Russian outlets still reporting from within the country”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “Authorities must immediately investigate the attack on Piotr Ivanov and hold the perpetrators to account. Meanwhile, the government’s use of repressive legislation to intimidate reporters and stop them from doing their job must end.”

Systemic harassment 

The invasion of Ukraine has been accompanied by crackdowns and censorship of both international and domestic media in Russia. Many were forced to flee. SOTA has continued to operate using Telegram and YouTube and abandoning bylines for safety reasons.

However, censorship and harassment have gone beyond arrests and charges. On April 7, Darya Poryadina was barred from taking her final examinations at Northern Federal University after pressure from state authorities over her journalistic work for SOTA. The government has used such measures to dissuade journalists from continuing their work, affecting every aspect of their lives.

Furthermore, the criminalization of “spreading false information” about the armed services became a new justification for arrests and detentions. “The law stopped having any meaning”, Aleksei Obuhov told IPI.

Concomitantly, Roskomnadzor, the state communications regulator, began to drastically limit public access to independent information and continues to do so. At the beginning of May, the number of sites blocked by Roskomnadzor in relation to the war exceeded 3,000, according to monitoring group Roskomsvoboda. Among these were numerous independent outlets, such as Republic, Mediazona, and The Moscow Times.

The recent pressure on SOTA exemplifies the systematic harassment campaigns that the government has undertaken against any outlet brave enough to continue independently on the war from within Russia. As of June 4, IPI’s Ukraine War Press Freedom Tracker has recorded 72 arrests of journalists and 141 instances of censorship and regulation attributable to the Russian authorities since February 24.

Even prior to the war, as IPI documented, independent journalism in Russia faced the biggest crackdown in more than a decade, as the authorities moved to solidify control by weaponizing a Soviet-style “foreign agent” law to blacklist independent media outlets and impose crippling fines, forcing advertisers to pull out and starving media financially. However, recent measures represent a drastic new escalation of censorship efforts seeking to completely eradicate independent journalism in Russia.