Russian Investigative Journalist's Home Raided After Website Labeled As 'Foreign Agent'

MOSCOW -- Police have raided the Moscow apartment of Roman Dobrokhotov, editor in chief of The Insider investigative website, just days after it was added to Russia's controversial registry of "foreign agents."

Dobrokhotov tweeted that police came to his apartment early in the morning on July 28.

OVD-Info, a legal aid group that monitors political arrests, said Dobrokhotov's wife called the group's hotline and reported a police raid. Her phone then went offline, and the group said lawyer Oksana Oparenko was on her way to Dobrokhotov's apartment.

The Baza news website said that police also searched the apartment of Dobrokhotov's parents. In a video placed by Baza on its Telegram channel, several men in civilian clothes who talk to Dobrokhotov's parents say that the search will be conducted as part of a criminal case.

There was no official statement explaining the raids.

According to Baza, the criminal case mentioned by the men in the apartment of Dobrokhotov's parents had been launched at the request of Dutch journalist Max van der Werff, who accused The Insider of libel.

Van der Werff's lawyer, Stalina Gurevich, told the state news agency TASS on July 28 that her client is suing Dobrokhotov, accusing him of falsely reporting that the Dutch journalist has links with Russia's GRU military-intelligence agency.

Van der Werff is known for his articles rejecting international investigators' conclusions that Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur by a Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile fired from territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists in the east of Ukraine, killing all 298 passengers and crew.

Russian opposition supporters, independent journalists, and human rights activists have faced increased government pressure ahead of September elections, which are widely seen as an important part of President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to cement his rule before a possible 2024 presidential election.

Dobrokhotov's colleague Sergei Yezhov wrote on Twitter that Dobrokhotov was going to "leave Russia by plane" later in the day.

The Insider is an investigative website registered in Latvia and well known for its cooperation with the Bellingcat group with which it conducted a series of high-profile investigations, including reports about Russia's secret services' activities abroad and last year's poisoning with a nerve agent of Russian opposition politician and outspoken Kremlin critic, Aleksei Navalny.

On July 23, the Russian Justice Ministry added The Insider to the registry of "foreign agents."

Russia’s "foreign agents" legislation was adopted in 2012 and has been modified repeatedly. It requires nongovernmental organizations that receive foreign assistance and that the government deems to be engaged in political activity to be registered, to identify themselves as “foreign agents,” and to submit to audits. Later modifications of the law targeted foreign-funded media, including RFE/RL’s Russian Service, six other RFE/RL Russian-language news services, and Current Time.

The Russian state media monitor Roskomnadzor last year adopted rules requiring listed media to mark all written materials with a lengthy notice in large text, all radio materials with an audio statement, and all video materials with a 15-second text declaration. The agency has prepared hundreds of complaints against RFE/RL’s services. When they go through the court system, the total fines levied could reach nearly $1 million.

RFE/RL has called the fines “a state-sponsored campaign of coercion and intimidation,” while the U.S. State Department has described them as “intolerable.” Human Rights Watch has described the "foreign agents" legislation as “restrictive” and intended “to demonize independent groups.”

Dobrokhotov has refused to label his website's materials with the "foreign agent" sign and said the situation will not affect the website's operations.