Since mid-September, I had been keeping a record of how many times our journalists got detained since the beginning of the election campaign: that is, from the beginning of May 2020. 12 journalists were detained 19 times. Among them, Lyosha Sudnikov alone was detained four times. When he was detained on September 1, not just to establish his identity, but to become a defendant in a judicial process, Lyosha and colleagues from other media organizations, six people in total, were sentenced to three days of administrative arrest for alleged participation in an unauthorized protest. This was his fourth time. After that, I lost count, to be honest.
Our regional journalists suffer the most, because everyone knows them well in their towns. They are often detained just as soon as an action starts, or even before its start, taken to a police department to sit there for, say, three hours, and then released. This is total lawlessness.
This is outrageous, so outrageous that when our guys were detained on September 1, and were not released the next day, we just went to the Ministry of Internal Affairs building with posters, hoping that the Minister would come out and talk to us about our journalists, because it all looked like a war against journalists of independent media had been declared by the Ministry. We witness a completely different attitude towards the staff of the state media, when they appear at protest rallies without badges and/or vests, and nothing happens to them. We are in a very different position.
Not only is the behavior of the police outrageous, but also the cynical trials of journalists, when the judge makes a decision based on the testimony of anonymous masked witnesses; or when video materials are not taken into account [as evidence of innocence]; or when the judge allows the transcripts of an administrative case to be 'amended'. I have no words to describe this in terms of the law. We can only state that the law does not work anymore.
When six journalists were detained on September 1, we were all shocked. That was the moment when we realized the legal default position and that unfortunately it was impossible to intervene with any legal means, because both judges and the police would continue to do what they are doing, with no one saying or doing anything to oppose them.
The Ministry of Information declares in words that we need to sort out the situation, we need a dialogue… A round table was even held after the elections dedicated to the detention of journalists at rallies, with the participation of the Minister of Information and a representative of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. What do we actually see at the end of the day? The Ministry of Information merely issues warnings, submits claims, decides to block access to platforms, and when, for example, 15 people were taken to the police department on Sunday, and sat there for many, many hours, the Ministry of Information did nothing. This is a completely outrageous, cynical, unlawful situation.