As journalists from all over the world risk their lives to cover the invasion of Ukraine and the Russian authorities continue their crackdown on press freedom, the military tribunal in the southeastern city of Rostov-on-Don convicted Remzi Bekirov on 10 March on a charge of “organising a terrorist group.”
A reporter for the opposition news website Grani.ru in Crimea (the Ukrainian region annexed in 2014), Bekirov sometimes covered Russia’s persecution of the Tatar population and pro-Ukrainian activists in the region. When arrested in nearby Rostov-on-Don in March 2019, he was accused of being a member of Hizb-ut-Tahri, an organisation that is legal in Ukraine but is banned as a “terrorist” group in Russia.
“While Ukrainian, Russian and foreign journalists risk their lives to cover the war in Ukraine, Moscow continues to undermine independent journalism in Crimea,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “Remzi Bekirov’s long sentence on a trumped-up charge, combined with Vladislav Yesypenko’s a few weeks ago, is a barely veiled Kremlin warning to the region’s journalists. We condemn this decision and demand his immediate release.”
A reporter with Ukrainian and Russian dual nationality working for Krym.Realii, the Crimean branch of Prague-based Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Vladislav Yesypenko was sentenced in February by a court in the Crimean city of Simferopol to six years in prison and a fine of 110,000 roubles (1,200 euros) on a charge of “possession and transport of explosives.” He was tortured following his arrest in March 2021.
It has become very difficult for reporters to work in Ukraine since its annexation by Russia in 2014. The Kremlin has meanwhile stepped up its crackdown on all independent reporters in recent days and on 4 March, eight days after launching the invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin signed a law making “fake news” about the Russian armed forces punishable by 15 years in prison.
According to RSF’s tally, at least six other journalists are currently detained in connection with their work in Russia. They are Alexander Valov (held since 2018), Abdulmumin Gadzhiev (2019), Rashid Maysigov (2019), Ivan Safronov (2020), Ian Katelevski (2020) and Aleksander Dorogov (2020). The 65-year-old journalist Aleksandr Tolmachev died in a penal colony in 2020 after not receiving proper medical care.
Russia is ranked 150th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.