Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the 19-year prison sentence imposed by a Russian military court on Crimean journalist Remzi Bekirov for a false accusation of terrorism and calls for his immediate release.
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As journalists around the world risk their lives to cover the invasion of Ukraine and the Russian authorities continue their crackdown on press freedom, the military court in the city of Rostov-on-Don, in southeast, condemned Remzi Bekirov on March 10 for “organizing a terrorist group”.
A journalist for the opposition news site Grani.ru in Crimea (a Ukrainian region annexed in 2014), Bekirov has sometimes covered Russia’s persecution of the Tatar population and pro-Ukrainian activists in the region. When he was arrested in the nearby town of Rostov-on-Don in March 2019, he was accused of being a member of Hizb-ut-Tahri, an organization legal in Ukraine but 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, denounces Jeanne Cavelier, head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “Remzi Bekirov’s long sentence for a trumped-up charge, combined with that of Vladislav Yesypenko a few weeks ago, is a thinly veiled warning from the Kremlin to journalists in the region. We condemn this decision and demand his immediate release.
A journalist of dual Ukrainian and Russian nationality working for Krym.Realii, the Crimean branch of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), based in Prague, 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 rubles (1,200 euros) for “possession and transportation of explosives”. He was tortured after 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 intensified its crackdown on all independent reporters in recent days and on March 4, eight days after the launch of 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 being detained for their work in Russia. They are Alexander Valov (held since 2018), Abdulmomine Gadjiev (2019), Rashid Maysigov (2019), Ivan Safronov (2020), Ian Katelevsky (2020) and Alexander Dorogov (2020). The 65-year-old journalist Alexander Tolmachev died in a penal colony in 2020 after not receiving proper medical attention.
Russia is ranked 150th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.