The target was the independent Russian online outlet Proekt. According to the media, the home of its founder and editor-in-chief Roman Badanin was searched by the authorities on 29 June, as was the home of the media's co-founder and journalist, Maria Zholobova. The police also confiscated laptops, mobile phones, flash drives and SIM cards. In addition, the deputy editor (and also co-founder) Mikhail Rubin was detained, while his parents' house was searched.
Proekt, which specialises in investigative journalism, is notably famous for its investigations into important Russian government leaders, including Mikhail Mishoustin and President Vladimir Putin. Founded in 2018, it is also one of the last independent media in Russia.
According to Proekt, the police searches of Badanin's and Zholobova's homes are linked to a criminal defamation case, following a 2017 documentary that exposed financial transactions of a Russian businessman with alleged links to Putin. However, the case is said to be time-barred.
The raids also coincided with the day of publication of an investigation by Proekt concerning the alleged wealth of the Russian Interior minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev. Despite the police searches, the media decided to publish the investigation.
These searches and detention of journalists come in the context of growing pressure on independent media in Russia. In April and May 2021, the independent online media Meduza and VTimes were declared "foreign agents" by the authorities. Such designation, in addition to having a strong negative connotation, implies increased government control threatening their independence. Following this decision, VTimes ceased its journalistic activity.
With Russia's parliamentary elections coming up in September 2021, the IFJ fears that the authorities will use their power to try to silence any opposition.
The RUJ said: “Our legal department is ready to provide colleagues at Proekt with the necessary assistance. Any violation of the rights of our colleagues is unacceptable ; we will closely monitor the development of the situation and insist that any illegal actions against journalists must be stopped immediately.”
IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said: “This attack is evidence of the growing pressure put on independent media by the Russian authorities. This ongoing repression of press freedom in Russia must be stopped. We urge the Russian authorities to cease its smear campaign of intimidation against journalists and provide an environment where they are able to work without fear of being detained, questioned or having their homes searched.”