“The constitutional right of citizens to freedom of expression is inalienable and inviolable.” (February 2013)
If just one word were needed to describe Vladimir Putin, who was catapulted into the presidency in 2000 after a decade of dilution of authority, it would have to be “control-freak.” His first two terms were marked by stern “top-down authority,” his formula for rebuilding a strong and not necessarily impartial state. The media have not escaped. Directly or indirectly, all the national TV stations have been brought back under Kremlin control since 2000. Since his return to the presidency in May 2012, Putin’s rhetoric has become even more militaristic and Cold War-like. Media critics? Manipulated by the US state department. Pussy Riot and their ilk? Anti-Semites who undermine public decency and destroy the country. Human rights NGOs? Foreign agents. ►
However, in the face of the Russian public’s calls for respect and democracy, the government has responded with repression. A spate of draconian laws has been adopted in record time. Legislation regulating human rights NGOs and unauthorized demonstrations was toughened, while defamation was reintroduced into the criminal code after being decriminalized in November 2011.
In the name of “protecting minors,” a federal agency has been told to compile a blacklist of “pernicious” websites that can be blocked without reference to the courts and without any possibility of defence. And the Duma is not stopping there. Plans are under way to vastly extend the scope of what is regarded as “high treason” and “state secrets.” Tools for circumventing online censorship are to be banned. And “offending the feelings of believers” is to be penalized drastically. The desire to control is as plain as ever.
“The media’s active and responsible attitude and a truly independent and courageous journalism are more than ever desired and indispensible for Russia.” (Address to the Union of Journalists, April 2013)
Whether indispensible or not, independent journalism is a risky activity in Russia. No fewer than 29 journalists have been murdered in direct connection with their work since Putin became president. Physical attacks and murders occur with regularity and are encouraged by the impunity enjoyed by their perpetrators. After a particularly intense wave of violence from 2008 to 2010, Putin and Dmitry Medvedev both gave personal undertakings to combat impunity. With no effect. Mikhail Beketov, who suffered lasting injuries in a November 2008 attack, died in April 2013 without seeing his assailants brought to justice. The identity of those who ordered the murders of Anna Politkovskaya and Khadzhimurad Kamalov, and the attack on Oleg Kashin, is still unknown.