World Press Freedom Day 2017
3 May 2017 - The free expression environment in Russia has worsened considerably in recent years, with the authorities taking ever more extreme measures to consolidate their control over the flow of information online and offline. The increasing legislative chokehold on free expression is accompanied by mounting pressure on journalists and other writers to stay in line with official opinion, and by the blocking of websites carrying opposition views. Violence against journalists often goes unpunished while impunity for killings prevails.
In April 2017, staff of the leading independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta were threatened after they exposed horrific abuses of men believed to be gay in Chechnya. Elena Milashina, the prominent investigative journalist who first broke the story, said that she would temporarily leave Russia after she received alarming death threats. In the last ten Russia’s Investigative Committee recently announced that it would open an inquiry into the threats.
In the last two decades six journalists from Novaya Gazeta have been killed in direct retaliation for their work including the investigative journalist and PEN member Anna Polikovskaya and Natalya Estermirova who both worked to expose human rights abuses in Chechnya. Both Politkovskaya's and Estermirova's murders remain unsolved.
On World Press Freedom Day, PEN International calls on the Russian authorities to urgently and effectively investigate the threats against Novaya Gazeta staff members and take all necessary measures to ensure their safety. It further calls on the authorities to publically condemn all threats and attacks against journalists.
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Send appeals to the Russian authorities:
- Urging them to take all necessary measures to ensure that Novaya Gazeta staff members are protected from harm;
- Calling on them to order prompt, independent and effective investigations into the treats made against Novaya Gazeta staff members, in line with Article 144 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, and to bring those responsible to justice;
- Calling on them to publically condemn all threats and attacks against journalists.
Send appeals to:
President of the Russian Federation
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin
Kremlin – Moscow
Emails can be sent via the following link: http://en.letters.kremlin.ru/letters/send
Chairman of the Russian Investigative Committee
Investigation Committee of the Russian Federation
Tekhnicheskii pereulok, dom 2
Fax: +7 495 966 97 76
General Prosecutor of the Russian Federation
General Yuriy Yakovlevich Chaika
Prosecutor General’s Office
B. Dmitrovka, d.15a
125993 Moscow GSP- 3
Fax: +7 495 987 58 41/ +7 495 692 17 25
Send copies to the Embassy of Russia in your own country. Embassy addresses may be found here: https://embassy.goabroad.com/embassies-of/russia
Please keep us informed of any action you take, including any responses you receive from the authorities.
On 1 April 2017, Novaya Gazeta reported that over 100 men perceived to be gay had been abducted, held in secret detention, tortured and otherwise ill-treated by local militia and security forces in Chechnya. These reportedly included TV journalists. At least three men had been killed, according to the article. Local and international human rights organisations also said they had received similar reports from credible sources.
Instead of investigating these allegations, the Chechen authorities categorically dismissed Novaya Gazeta’s investigation and even appeared to condone acts of violence. On 3 April, some 15,000 people gathered in Chechnya’s capital Grozny to protest against the article. Adam Shakhidov, advisor of Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov, addressed the crowd and called Novaya Gazeta and its staff “the enemies of our faith and homeland”. A resolution adopted at the meeting “promise[d] that those behind it [would] face reprisals, whoever they are and wherever they are.” A recording of his speech was widely circulated on Chechen television and social media. On 22 April, Adam Shakhidov announced that the authorities would sue Novaya Gazeta for slander.
On 14 April, Novaya Gazeta published a statement saying that it feared for the safety of its staff. Its website went down shortly afterwards as a result of a suspected cyber-attack. On 19 April, Novaya Gazeta said it had received an envelope containing an unidentified white powder.
Human rights defender and investigative journalist Elena Milashina announced that she would leave Russia. She already received numerous threats in connection with her work exposing human rights violations in the North Caucasus and was notably assaulted by unknown assailants in 2012. She was awarded the U.S. Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award in 2013.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 56 journalists have been killed in Russia since 1992. Of those, 36 were murdered in direct retaliation for their work. Nikolai Andrushchenko, co-founder of the weekly newspaper Novy Peterburg, died on 19 April 2017 of injuries sustained in a beating the previous month. He was known for his reporting on corruption and human rights abuses.
For more information on PEN’s work on free expression in Russia click here.