Police in Russia raided the home of the editor-in-chief for an investigation news site, recently designated a “foreign agent”, the latest move by authorities to lift pressure on independent media ahead of the country’s parliamentary elections in September.
Insider news editor Roman Dobrokhotov tweeted on Wednesday that “police are knocking” on his apartment door, and his wife reported the raid to OVD-Info’s legal aid group before her phone became unavailable.
A lawyer from another legal aid group, Pravozashchita Otkrytki, headed to Dobrokhotov’s apartment. The group said police seized cell phones, laptops and tablets during the raid as well as Dobrokhotov’s international passports. Sergei Yezhov, a journalist with The Insider, said Dobrokhotov was to travel outside Russia on Wednesday.
Police also looted the homes of Dobrokhotov’s parents, The Insider said. After the search, Dobrokhotov was taken to a police station for questioning and then released.
He told reporters outside the district that The Insider will continue to operate despite government pressure.
“It’s getting harder to work now. I do not have mobile phones, I can not travel and meet my colleagues – many of our surveys are international,” Dobrokhotov said. “And of course it’s a serious pressure. But it’s clear that Insider will continue to exist. Investigations will be released even if I am arrested. If they hope to stop working on the news site, they hope in vain.”
Russian opposition supporters, independent journalists and human rights activists have been under increasing government pressure ahead of the September 19 vote, which is widely seen as an important part of President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to cement his regime ahead of the 2024 presidential election.
The 68-year-old Russian leader, who has been in power for more than two decades, pushed through constitutional changes last year that would potentially allow him to stay in power until 2036.
In recent months, the government has designated several independent media and journalists as “foreign agents” – a brand that implies additional government control and carries strong destructive connotations that could discredit the recipients.
The targeted outlets include VTimes and Meduza. VTimes then shut down citing the loss of advertisers, and Meduza launched a crowd-funding campaign after encountering the same problem.
Insider was the latest addition to the list. The news outlet, registered in Latvia, has been working with the Bellingcat investigation team to investigate high-profile cases, such as nerve agent poisonings by former Russian spy Sergei Sripal and Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
The Russian Ministry of Justice acted under a law used to designate as foreign agents non-governmental organizations, media and individuals who receive foreign funding and participate in activities loosely termed political.
Another law is used to ban groups considered “undesirable” and turn their membership into a criminal act. It has been used to ban 41 groups, including opposition groups, foreign NGOs and most recently the publisher of Proekt, an online investigative media outlet.
Last week, the Ministry of Justice also appointed two Proekt journalists and three other journalists as foreign agents.
Russia used the law to impose heavy fines on US-funded television radio station Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty for failing to identify its material as produced by foreign agents. The broadcaster has asked the European Court of Human Rights to intervene.
According to The Insider, the searches directed at Dobrokhotov may be related to a slander case that was initiated in April following a complaint from a Dutch blogger. Insider accused Max van der Werff of working with Russian intelligence and military services to spread false information challenging the results of the official investigation into the downsizing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine that killed all 298 people on board.
The legal aid group said Dobrokhotov was a witness in a criminal case against “unidentified persons” on charges of libel launched over a tweet in Dobrokhotov’s account containing “misinformation about the downed Boeing MH-17.”
Earlier this week, Russian authorities blocked about 50 sites linked to the imprisoned opposition leader Navalny. The move comes just a month after a Moscow court banned Navalny’s political infrastructure – his Foundation for Fighting Corruption and a network of regional offices – as extremist in a decision that prevents groups affiliated with the groups from seeking public office and exposes them to prolonged prison. conditions.
Navalny, Putin’s strongest political enemy, was arrested in January when he returned from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a drug poisoning he blames on the Kremlin – an accusation denied by Russian officials.
In February, the politician was ordered to serve 2 years in prison for violating a conditional sentence from a 2014 conviction that he was fired as politically motivated.
His arrest and imprisonment sparked a wave of mass protests across Russia in what appeared to be a major challenge for the Kremlin. Authorities responded with mass arrests of protesters and criminal probes against Navalny’s closest associates.
On Wednesday, Lyubov said Sobol, an ally of Navalny and one of the few in his team who has not left Russia despite being prosecuted for a series of charges, Russia’s state communications watchdog Roskomnadzor demanded that Twitter remove her account.
“What is it, if not the Kremlin’s hysteria before the election?” Wrote Sobol.
It was not immediately clear whether Twitter would comply with the request.
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