U.S. calls on the Kremlin to end crackdown on press freedom

Russian authorities arrested student journalists Natalya Tyshkevich (left) and Alla Gutnikova Russian authorities arrested student journalists Natalya Tyshkevich (left) and Alla Gutnikova

Russian authorities raided student magazine Doxa on April 14, arresting four editors and ransacking their homes. The students' alleged crime? Reporting on university administrators' attempts to intimidate students protesting in support of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Aleksey Navalny.

The students' arrest is the latest in the Kremlin's ongoing crackdown on free and independent media that includes the arrest and reports of torture of journalists, and a legal system that censors regime critics.

"Russia's ongoing campaign against independent media has dramatically intensified, further restricting expression," State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said in a March 18 tweet. "This is unacceptable. The Russian people, like all people, have the right to freely seek, receive, and impart information and ideas."

Freedom House in its annual Media Freedom Index for 2021 calls Russia's media environment "controlled" and its judiciary "subservient" to President Vladimir Putin's increasingly authoritarian political system. "Attacks, arrests, office raids, and threats against journalists are common and authorities actively targeted journalists outside of Moscow throughout 2020," the report says.

Well-documented instances of the Russian government's abuse of journalists include:

Russian authorities arrested the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) contributor Vladislav Yesypenko in Russian-occupied Crimea on March 10. He told a court on April 6 that Russian security forces tortured him with electric shocks, beat him and threatened to kill him.Russian authorities arrested Ivan Safronov, a former journalist for the Russian newspaper Kommersant, in July 2020 on charges of high treason. He remains in jail and says details of charges against him have not been disclosed.A Russian court on February 16 rejected the appeal of Yuri Dmitriyev, a historian of Joseph Stalin's crimes during the Soviet era, who is serving 13 years in prison. He has argued that charges against him are groundless and based on fabricated evidence, in reprisal for his work documenting extrajudicial executions and forced labor camps.Elena Milashina of the independent Russian news outlet Novaya Gazeta, reports that she has faced death threats for her reporting in Chechnya, and alleged abuses that Russian authorities have failed to investigate.The Kremlin has specifically targeted RFE/RL, a private, nonprofit news organization that provides objective reporting and supports democratic values in countries where governments restrict or ban press freedom. Although funded through a U.S. government grant, RFE/RL's editorial independence is protected under U.S. law.

Russia's state media regulator, Roskomnadzor, has fined RFE/RL more than $2 million and issued 520 violations against the outlet since January for refusing to prominently label its reporting as "material prepared by a foreign media outlet performing the functions of a foreign agent," requirements which currently only apply to RFE/RL and other U.S.-affiliated outlets and individuals.

These acts by the Russian government are "an attempt to suppress free speech and the human rights of the Russian people," RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said in an April 16 statement.

Meanwhile, Russian state-run media outlets operate freely in the United States.

Russian independent journalists vow to continue their efforts to hold Russia's government accountable.

"We will not stop our activities," Doxa's editors said in a statement, noting that journalists in Russia face unprecedented pressure. "We will continue to highlight what is important to young people and continue to advocate for their rights."

Source: By Leigh Hartman