Russia arrests more journalists in intensifying crackdown on dissent

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Russia has arrested two Russian journalists on “extremism” charges in recent days, the latest moves in a continuing crackdown targeting independent reporters and media outlets. A third Russian journalist, with Forbes Russia, was charged with publishing what authorities called “fake news.”

The increasing use of anti-extremism laws to prosecute reporters — one piece of a larger campaign to stifle domestic dissent during Russia’s war in Ukraine — is likely to have a further chilling effect on the few independent journalists still operating in Russia, many of them freelancers or employees of small outlets with few legal protections.

The Associated Press on Saturday reported that video journalist Sergey Karelin, who has worked with the AP, Deutsche Welle and other international outlets had been arrested Friday in the Murmansk region in northern Russia and charged with extremism. He was placed in custody pending trial.

The AP said in a statement it was “very concerned” by Karelin’s detention and was “seeking additional information.”

On Saturday, a Moscow court sent Konstantin Gabov, a Russian freelance journalist who has worked with Reuters, Deutsche Welle and other outlets, to a pretrial detention center.

Both men are accused of working with the Anti-Corruption Foundation started by Alexei Navalny — President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent political rival until his death in an Arctic prison in February — which Russia has designated an “extremist organization.”

Navalny’s family accused the Kremlin of killing the opposition leader, a claim that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied. Western leaders have stated that Putin bears responsibility for his death.

Both journalists have denied the charges against them and face up to six years in prison.

Meanwhile, Sergei Mingazov, a journalist with the Russian edition of Forbes, was arrested in the eastern city of Khabarovsk on Friday and accused of spreading fake news on social media about Russia’s military, according to his lawyer, Konstantin Bubon. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of reposting stories on Telegram about the killing of civilians by Russian forces in the Ukrainian city of Bucha.

Kremlin-connected tycoon Magomed Musaev holds the license to publish Forbes Russia, which has reported on Mingazov’s case but has not commented.

A court in the western city of Kaliningrad last month jailed journalist Mikhail Feldman for two years for “discrediting the military” in social media posts denouncing the war. He was also banned from posting online for two years.

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Putin has jailed hundreds of activists, opposition politicians, LGBTQ+ people, feminists, artists, poets and other perceived enemies, part of what Amnesty International has called an effort to “blindfold” the Russian public.

Russia has swept up a number of other journalists in recent months for past video or photography work for Navalny’s organization. At least six independent journalists were arrested last month, several merely for reporting on Navalny’s imprisonment, death and burial.

Antonina Favorskaya, a journalist with SOTAVision, a small independent outlet that publishes news about government repression on Telegram, was arrested over her reporting on Navalny and is in detention awaiting trial on extremism charges.

She was initially jailed for 10 days for insubordination to police after reporting from his gravesite; after her release, she was immediately detained on the more serious charges.

At least four journalists who covered her arrest and detention were also detained, including Alexandra Astakhova, Anastasia Musatova, Konstantin Zharov, and Ekaterina Anikievich.

Zharov, from the independent outlet RusNews was beaten by police and threatened with sexual violence, according to Reporters Without Borders. Another RusNews journalist, Olga Komleva, was arrested in the city of Ufa, about 800 miles east of Moscow, over her reporting on Navalny and allegations of involvement with the Anti-Corruption Foundation.

The Kremlin banned any criticism of the Russian armed forces in early 2022; after invading Ukraine, it also outlawed the reporting of independent information on the war, with local journalists limited to regurgitating the Russian military’s official version of events. Any reporting on Russian military failures, its massive war casualties, attacks on Ukrainian civilians and civilian infrastructure, or allegations of Russian war crimes are punishable with jail time.

Russia has also targeted Western journalists. Alsu Kurmasheva, a dual Russian American citizen based in Prague for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, was arrested last year during a trip to visit family in Russia and charged with failing to register as a foreign agent.

The most high-profile case is that of the Wall Street Journal’s Evan Gershkovich, arrested just over a year ago during a reporting trip to Yekaterinburg and charged with spying — allegations that he, his employer and the State Department have denied in the strongest terms.

“Journalism’s clearly not a crime,” President Biden said Saturday night at the White House correspondents’ dinner. “And Putin should release Evan … immediately,” he added.

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