Russian police raided the home of an investigative journalist

MOSCOW – Russian police raided the home of the editor of an investigative news site recently designated as a “foreign agent”, the latest step taken by authorities to increase pressure on independent media ahead of parliamentary elections September in the country.

Insider news site editor Roman Dobrokhotov tweeted on Wednesday that “police are knocking” on his apartment door, and his wife reported the raid to legal aid group OVD-Info before her phone. becomes unavailable.

A lawyer from another legal aid group, Pravozashchita Otkrytki, went to Dobrokhotov’s apartment. The group said police seized cellphones, laptops and tablets during the raid, as well as Dobrokhotov’s international passport. Sergei Yezhov, a reporter for The Insider, said Dobrokhotov was supposed to travel outside of Russia on Wednesday.

Police also raided the home of Dobrokhotov’s parents, The Insider said. After the searches, Dobrokhotov was taken to a police station for questioning and then released.

He told reporters outside the compound that The Insider would continue to operate despite pressure from authorities.

“It will become more difficult to work now. I don’t have a cell phone, I can’t travel and meet my colleagues – a lot of our investigations are international, ”said Dobrokhotov. “And, of course, it’s serious pressure. But it’s clear that The Insider will continue to exist. The surveys will be published even if I am arrested. If they hope to stop the work of the news site, they hope in vain.

Russian opposition supporters, independent journalists and human rights activists faced increased pressure from the government ahead of the September 19 vote, which is widely seen as an important part of President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to solidify his government. reign before the presidential election of 2024.

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 outlets and journalists as “foreign agents” – a label that involves additional government control and carries strong pejorative overtones that could discredit recipients.

Targeted outlets include VTimes and Meduza. VTimes then closed, citing the loss of advertisers, and Meduza launched a crowdfunding campaign after encountering the same issue.

The Insider was the latest addition to the list. The outlet, which is registered in Latvia, has worked with the Bellingcat investigative group to investigate high-profile cases, such as the nerve poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Sripal and Russian opposition leader Alexei. Navalny.

The Russian Ministry of Justice acted under a law that is used to designate non-governmental organizations, media outlets, and individuals who receive foreign funding and engage in activities loosely characterized as political as foreign agents.

Another law is used to ban groups deemed “undesirable” and makes their membership a criminal offense. It has been used to ban 41 groups, including opposition groups, foreign NGOs and, most recently, the publisher of Proekt, an online investigative medium.

The justice ministry also appointed two journalists from Proekt and three other reporters as foreign agents last week.

Russia has used the law to impose heavy fines on the US-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty for failing to identify its material as being produced by foreign agents. The broadcaster asked the European Court of Human Rights to intervene.

According to The Insider, the searches against Dobrokhotov could be linked to a libel case launched in April following a complaint by a Dutch blogger. The insider accused Max van der Werff of collaborating with Russian intelligence and military services to spread false information challenging the findings of the official investigation into the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over the eastern Ukraine, which killed all 298 people on board.

The legal aid group said Dobrokhotov was a witness in a criminal case against “unidentified persons” for libel, launched on a tweet from Dobrokhotov’s account which contained “disinformation about the downed Boeing MH-17”.

Earlier this week, Russian authorities blocked around 50 websites linked to jailed opposition leader Navalny. The move comes just one month after a Moscow court banned Navalny’s political infrastructure – its Anti-Corruption Foundation and a network of regional offices – as an extremist in a ruling that bars those associated groups from running for public office and exposes them to long prison terms. terms.

Navalny, Putin’s fiercest political enemy, was arrested in January on his return from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from poisoning with a nerve agent he attributes to the Kremlin – a charge rejected by the Russian authorities.

In February, the politician was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for violating a suspended sentence of a 2014 embezzlement conviction that he rejected on political grounds.

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 investigations against Navalny’s closest associates.

On Wednesday, Lyubov Sobol, one of Navalny’s main allies and one of the few members of his team who did not leave Russia despite a number of accusations, said the communications watchdog of Russian state Roskomnadzor had asked Twitter to delete his account.

“What is it, if not the Kremlin hysteria before the elections?” wrote Sobol.

It was not immediately clear whether Twitter would comply with the request.

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