Russia: RSF deplores search of well-known journalist’s home

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns yesterday’s raid on the Moscow apartment of the well-known Russian opposition journalist and human rights defender Zoya Svetova, regarding it as an attempt to intimidate her.

Svetova’s home was searched by around ten officials including members of the Investigative Committee, which is charge of investigating the most serious crimes in Russia. They arrived at around 11 a.m. and conducted a detailed examination of her books, her computers and other electronic equipment, copying some of their contents. They confiscated her husband’s phone, a tablet and several memory cards.

Other journalists gathered outside Svetova’s apartment but most of them were prevented from covering the search. Vasili Polonsky, a reporter for independent Dozhd TV who was in the apartment, began filming with his phone but police officers quickly snatched it from him.

Officially the raid was linked to an investigation launched in 2003 into alleged embezzlement of public funds by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former oligarch and Kremlin opponent who now lives in exile. He funds several civil society organizations including Otkrytaya Rossiya, a news website that Svetova writes for.

“How was this search essential to solving a case that is nearly 15 years old?” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “It is hard not to see it as an absurd pretext for trying to punish and intimidate Zoya Svetova.

“By invading her home and examining the contents of her computer equipment, the authorities violated the principle of the confidentiality of sources – a principle guaranteed by Russian law and the European Court of Human Rights – and obstructed her professional activities as a journalist. We urge them to return her material at once and to let her do her work.”

Svetova has written extensively about the condition of prisoners in Russia and the way the authorities abuse the justice system. Nowadays she writes mainly for the opposition weekly New Times and for Otkrytaya Rossiya.

She has received many awards including the Sakharov Prize for Journalism, which is awarded by the Glasnost Defence Foundation, an RSF partner organization. For many years, she was member of the official prison inspection commission, but was ousted from the commission in 2016, like most of its other independent members.

“Zoya Svetova (...) regards all this as senseless and crazy,” her lawyer, Anna Stavitskaya, told BFM radio. “We are back where we started. The same raids were carried out in the past on the home of her parents [well-known Soviet dissidents] and today it is her turn.”

Russia is ranked 148th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index. With the aid of draconian laws and tighter Internet controls, harassment of independent media outlets and investigative journalists has grown steadily since Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin in 2012. Several leading independent news outlets have either been brought under control or throttled out of existence.

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