Russia intensifies its offensive against the foreign press

Three reporters have been arrested in three days, accused of discrediting the Russian army and association with the organization of deceased dissident Alexei Navalny

Konstantín Gábov
Russian journalist Konstantin Gabov during his court hearing on April 27.AP
Javier G. Cuesta

In just three days, the authorities in Moscow have detained at least three Russian journalists from Western media and news agencies considered “unfriendly” by the Kremlin. Sergey Mingazov, a reporter for the Russian edition of the U.S. magazine Forbes, has been arrested on charges of discrediting the actions of the Russian army in Ukraine for sharing third-party information about the massacre in Bucha on social media. Sergey Karelin and Konstantin Gabov — from the Associated Press (AP) and Reuters, respectively — are accused by the Kremlin of collaboration with the team of dissident Alexei Navalny, who died in a Russian prison in February. The latest arrests of journalists follow the expulsions and imprisonment of other Western and Russian correspondents over the past year.

Russian security forces detained Mingazov at his home at 6 a.m. last Friday in the Siberian city of Khabarovsk, located about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) from the Chinese border. Authorities seized his computer and cell phone as well as those of his wife and children, Forbes reported. A court ruled on Saturday that he must remain under house arrest until the conclusion of his trial. Upon leaving the hearing, Mingazov told local media outlet 7x7 he hoped to settle the matter by pleading guilty and paying a fine.

The indictment against the Forbes reporter also calls for a prison term of between five to 10 years. “The formal complaint is based on Article 207.3 of the Russian criminal code: dissemination under a reliable appearance of deliberately false information about the armed forces for hatred, political, ideological, racial, national or religious enmity,” the reporter’s lawyer, Konstantin Bubon, said via his Facebook profile.

The Russian regime has accused Mingazov of discrediting its armed forces for sharing posts on his personal Telegram profile and other channels about the March-April 2022 massacre in the Ukrainian city of Bucha. Among the messages is one broadcast on April 4, 2022 with the title “Bucha: evidence and proof.” It is a compilation by freelance reporter Dmitry Kelezev — who has been wanted by Russian authorities since the same year — of images taken on the spot by media outlets such as CNN and The New York Times showing the bodies of residents of Bucha lying in the streets, some of them gagged.

A day earlier, the Russian Defense Ministry had denied that its troops had killed civilians in Bucha, stating that “not a single local resident has suffered from any violent action” during the Russian occupation of the town. Weeks later, at the end of April, Russian President Vladimir Putin told United Nations Secretary General António Guterres that the massacre had been staged and that the Kremlin knew “who prepared this provocation.”

Mingazov’s case has certain similarities with that of German WDR radio correspondent Bjorn Blaschke, who was fined 40,000 rubles ($428) in February for the crime of having discredited the Russian army. According to an anonymous source in the independent media outlet Ekho Moskvy, Blaschke was pulled off a train by police while traveling from Vladivostok to Moscow for a tweet posted in 2022 linking the offensive on Ukraine to the rising cost of wheat and fuel in several African countries. WDR pulled the correspondent out of Russia after his arrest.

Links to Navalny

Unlike the Mingazov trial, Russian authorities have opted to file “extremism” charges in the cases of Reuters and AP contributors Konstantin Gabov and Sergey Karelin, respectively. Both will remain in custody for at least two months on charges of involvement in the activities of Alexei Navalny’s organization.

“Gabov participated in the preparation of photographic and video materials for publication on the YouTube channel Navalny LIVE,” the Basmanny district court of Moscow said in a statement. According to the court record, Gabov was detained in the Russian capital last Saturday. Reuters has not commented on the arrest of its collaborator, who previously worked for Russian channels Mir and Moskva 24, as well as Belarusian broadcaster Belsat.

Karelin was arrested last Friday in the Arctic region of Murmansk, near the border with Norway and Finland. The cameraman, who is also an Israeli national, had previously worked for German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, whose Russian headquarters was shut down by the Kremlin in 2022 in response to Berlin’s veto of Russia Today’s German-language broadcast. “The Associated Press is very concerned by the detention of Russian video journalist Sergey Karelin. We are seeking additional information,” AP said in a statement.

The arrests of Gabov and Karelin carry the same charge as that of journalist Antonina Favorskaya, a reporter for the independent SotaVision channel, who was detained in late March. The reporter, who could be sentenced to six years in prison, had been linked to Navalny’s team after attending his criminal trials in recent years and visiting his grave in the days after his burial to photograph tributes to the dissident.

These latest arrests add to a list which, in addition to the expulsions of several correspondents, also includes two detained American reporters: Evan Gershkovich, of The Wall Street Journal, whom the Kremlin accuses of espionage for a report on the manufacture of tanks, and Alsu Kurmasheva, of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFERL), which was recently declared an “undesirable organization” by Moscow. Following this measure, sharing a news item from RFERL or talking to the station is enough to be fined or sentenced to jail in Russia.

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