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Journalists interrogated, photos seized after anti-logging protests in Russia

Journalists interrogated, photos seized after anti-logging protests in Russia
Anti-logging protest: Policemen separate unidentified people attacking members of the movement for the protection of Khimki forest, who intend to reach the site of the deforestation, outside Moscow, July 26, 2010. Russian activists attempted to prevent loggers from cutting down a forest where regional authorities plan to build a highway between Moscow and St Petersburg.Photo: Reuters / Daylife

The Russian interior ministry has carried out raids on news media and journalists 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 July 28, Paris-based Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) has reported.

Representatives of the interior ministry’s Moscow region investigating committee raided the offices of the daily Kommersant on August 2 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 August 6, the 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 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 August 8 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.

RSF expressed outrage at the current press freedom situation in Russia and the fact that journalists are being subjected to arbitrary arrest and obstruction when they investigate sensitive stories.

It said, "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 July 28 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 August 4, 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 July 23 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 August 2 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 July 31 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.

Date posted: August 13, 2010 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 226