The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) have joined their affiliate, the Russian Union of Journalists (RUJ), in calling for Russian authorities to stop the ongoing suppression and persecution of the country's media.
The call comes just one week before the start of the Sochi Winter Olympics and follows the news that Ruslan Ovchinnikov, editor-in-chief of the website SakhalinMedia, has been named as an official suspect by police investigating allegations that the website wrote a libelous article about Alexander Verhovskiy, Senator of the country's Sakhalin Region.
According to the RUJ, the investigation by Sakhalin police began in November last year when Verhovskiy lodged a criminal defamation claim about an article that appeared on the website called ‘the residents of the village of Ozersky on Sakhalin ask Putin to save them from Senator-businessman.' The article was based on a letter written by the village residents that criticised Verhovskiy.
As a result of Verhovskiy's claim, the offices of SakhalinMedia, part of the PrimaMedia organisation, were searched by police who seized all hard drives, laptops, and other data storage devises from the office, stopping work from taking place. Later, searches were also held at PrimaMedia offices in Vladivostok.
At the time, the RUJ condemned the searches, commenting on the harsh police actions and stating that they violated the work of the organisation and impeded and undermined human rights and press freedom in the country.
Now, following the charges against Ovchinnikov, the union has once again drawn attention to what it says is "clearly unlawful pressure put upon journalists by the Senator Alexander Verhovskiy and unacceptable interference by the police in a situation where the press acted in good faith, while fulfilling its professional mission and playing its role as a public watchdog."
Backing the RUJ's stance, the IFJ has called on Russian authorities to address their international obligations to ensure that press freedom in the country is upheld.
"The number of cases of criminal prosecutions against journalists for libel in Russia is on the increase," said IFJ President Jim Boumelha. "It is clear that these are attempts to suppress freedom of speech and limit of criticism of authorities by the media, particularly via the internet.
"We call on authorities in Russian to carry out an enquiry into the actions of the Sakhalin police in this case and to bring an end to the illegal persecution of journalists."
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The IFJ represents more than 600 000 journalists in 134 countries