UN Rights Chief Urges Russia to Halt Record Journalist Detentions

The United Nations

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Russia to end its crackdown on journalists in a statement issued on Tuesday shortly after President Vladmir Putin began a fifth term in office.

Volker Türk said he was concerned by the increasing number of journalists charged, convicted and jailed for their independent reporting, in what appears to be an intensification of a crackdown on dissenting voices.

He described the continuous attacks on free speech and the criminalization of independent journalism in Russia as "very troubling".

"The intensification of the crackdown on journalists' independent work must immediately cease and the right to inform - a key component of the right to freedom of expression - needs to be upheld," he said.

Criminal charges, lengthy sentences

The number of imprisoned journalists in Russia has reached an all-time high since the start of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, the High Commissioner's Office, OHCHR, reported.

At least 30 journalists are currently detained under a variety of criminal charges that include terrorism, extremism, disseminating knowingly false information about the armed forces, spying, treason, extortion, infringing upon people's rights, violating the provisions of the law on foreign agents, inciting mass disturbances, and illegal possession of explosives or drugs.

Twelve are serving sentences ranging from five-and-a-half to 22 years behind bars. They include Vladimir Kara-Murza, a contributing columnist to The Washington Post newspaper in the United States, who was on Monday awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Commentary.

Controlling the narrative

Since March, at least seven journalists have faced administrative or criminal charges, particularly for criticism of Russia's actions in Ukraine or for alleged links to the late opposition politician Alexey Navalny, and his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), which was labelled as 'extremist' in 2021.

"The Russian authorities appear to be attempting to further strengthen control of the narrative, both around domestic issues and the conduct of hostilities in Ukraine," Mr. Türk said.

"As a result, people in Russia have increasingly restricted access to non-State information and viewpoints, which hampers their ability to benefit from diverse sources and make fully informed decisions on matters of vital public interest."

Release jailed journalists

The UN rights chief also expressed concern over the frequent use of the broad legislative framework to combat terrorism and extremism, urging the authorities to amend the legislation.

"Journalists should be able to work in a safe environment without fear of reprisals - in line with Russia's international human rights obligations," he said. "I call on the authorities to immediately drop charges against journalists detained solely for doing their jobs, and to release them."

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