Reporters Without Borders is shocked by the raids on news media and journalists that the interior ministry has carried out as part of its investigation into an attack on an administrative building in Khimki, a satellite town on Moscow’s northern outskirts, by hundreds of protesters on the night of 28 July.
Representatives of the interior ministry’s Moscow region investigating committee raided the offices of the daily Kommersant on 2 August and confiscated photos of the Khimki protest, including some that had not been published in the newspaper or on its website. Editor Mikhail Mikhailin said they showed “a warrant authorising the seizure of documents related to the attack on Khimki administrative premises.”
A few days later, on 6 August, police tried to force Kommersant to disclose information about one of the participants in the attack on the Khimki administrative who had given the newspaper an interview by email. Kommersant refused to provide this information, citing a law that protects the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.
The police then went to the office of Svobodnaya Pressa (Free Press) and confiscated photos of the attack, and swooped on the home of Gazeta.ru reporter Grigori Turmanov in the middle of the night with the aim of questioning him. He was not there. They did however interrogate Veronika Malsimyuk, a photographer with the weekly Novaya Gazeta, for several hours.
Interior ministry officials forced another Novaya Gazeta journalist, Alexandre Litoy, to get off a Sebastopol-Moscow train on 8 August in order to interrogate him. Litoy, who says he was not present during the attack, said he was questioned about his many articles about various youth movements, including radical movements. Novaya Gazeta deputy editor Sergei Sokolov described his interrogation as an illegal arrest and said the newspaper would file a complaint.
Reporters Without Borders is outraged by the current press freedom situation in Russia and the fact that journalists are subject to arbitrary arrest and obstruction when they investigate sensitive stories.
The measures used by the police in this investigation are utterly disproportionate. The way several news media and their employees have been harassed is intolerable. Not only have the authorities treated journalists as police auxiliaries but they have violated one of the basic principles of journalism. Investigative journalism is impossible without respect for the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.
The attack on the administrative building in Khimki on the night of 28 July was carried out by about 500 masked protesters, who threw glass bottles and smoke at the building and sprayed its walls with anarchist slogans.
The leader of the movement to save Khimki forest, Yevgenia Chirikova, who was arrested and questioned by the police on 4 August, said she knows nothing about the attack and that it had no link with the campaign to stop the construction of a motorway through Khimki forest.
Novaya Gazeta reporter Elena Kostyuchenko was arrested on 23 July while covering the eviction of environmentalists from the camp they had built on the edge of Khimki forest. They were forcibly dispersed by a large group of men with white T-shirts covering their faces. Released after being acquitted by a court, Kostyuchenko sustained a neck injury at the time of her arrest and is still suffering from a displacement of the cervical vertebrae.
Journalists covering new clashes at the Khimki forest camp site on 2 August had their cameras broken.
Relations between the police and journalists are tense in other parts of the country as well. Three journalists from the newspaper Moy Rayon (My region), the newspaper Evropeetz (European) and the Baltic news agency were arrested in St. Petersburg on 31 July while covering a monthly demonstration by about 200 government opponents in defence of article 31 of the Russian constitution upholding the right of assembly.
The journalists were charged with not cooperating with the police. One of the reporters who took photos of a demonstrator being beaten up at the entrance to a metro station had his camera confiscated. All of his photos were deleted.
Interior ministry officials said the journalists were arrested for “disrupting the work of agents assigned to internal affairs.” Evropeetz editor Ruslan Linkov said he intended to file a complaint accusing the authorities of illegally arresting journalists in the course of their work.
Journalists are often obstructed while trying to cover opposition activity. An unidentified person tried to erase the recordings made by a radio Ekho Moskvy reporter who was covering a demonstration by the Labloko party in Moscow’s Red Square last month. Police officers pretended that they had not seen what took place.