Amnesty International: Russia shows 'sheer disregard for press freedom'

Amnesty International: Russia shows 'sheer disregard for press freedom'
Russian opposition journalist Alexei Navalny has faced persecution and assassination in order to silence him. Credit: Belga

International human rights organisation Amnesty International has denounced Russia’s treatment of the press, which it states has repeatedly censored domestic media and suppressed opposition to its war on Ukraine, according to a press release on 1 March. 

According to data from Reports Without Borders’ 2021 World Press Freedom Index, Russia ranks one of the lowest in the world for media freedom and independent journalists face a “stifling atmosphere.” 

Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director stated that the “Kremlin remains hellbent on stifling state critics as it coerces domestic media into supporting its policies.”

Journalists murdered and suppressed 

Russia only allows local media to use information provided by “official state source” when reporting on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Those who step out of line face fines of up to €56,000 and outright censorship.   

In February, Russia even blocked the Russian subsidiary of RFE/RL “Nastoyashchee Vremya” (Current Times), for spreading “unreliable publicly-important information” about Russia’s preparations for war against Ukraine. The government is now threatening media outlets with charges of “high treason” for reporting on the conflict.

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Opposition media platforms, such as award-winning outlet Meduza and TV station “Rain”, are forced by the Russian government to declare themselves as “foreign agents.” This means that they must preface all content with a note stating that it has been "created and (or) distributed by a foreign media outlet acting as… a foreign agent."

The European Union, in a statement made 9 February, denounced Russia’s draconian media censorship and called for an end to the "foreign agents" law that contravenes the European Convention on Human Rights. 

Russia has often resorted to killing leading opposition voices and members of the press. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 58 journalists have been killed in Russia since 1992 – many thought to have been murdered by the authorities.

In August 2020, the Russian authorities tried to assassinate dissident journalist and opposition leader Alexei Navalny during a regional flight between Tomsk and Moscow, lacing the journalist’s underwear with nerve agent Novichok. After surviving the attempt on his life, he later was arrested on charges of allegedly breaking the terms of his probation. 

Cracking down on protestors

Anti-war protests, which have taken place in many major Russian cities, have been routinely suppressed by the Russian authorities. In their “desperation to silence dissent,” Russia has resorted to using “state-controlled companies to muzzle those who speak out against the conflict,” Struthers said.

According to human rights organisation OVD-info, over the first four days of Russia’s invasion, 5,900 peaceful protesters in over 67 cities have been detained in Russia for protesting the invasion of Ukraine. 

Protests have now spread beyond Russia, with demonstrations taking place across Europe against Russia’s war against Ukraine.

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