- Title: Investigative journalism in Russia - against all odds
- Date: 21st October 2019
- Summary: MOSCOW, RUSSIA (RECENT - OCTOBER 8, 2019) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF KREMLIN AND RED SQUARE
- Embargoed: 4th November 2019 10:36
- Keywords: Golunov Wagner mercinaries Russia investigative journalism harassment Prigozhin Badanin Kremlin Novaya Azhgikhina trolls investigators
- Location: VARIOUS LOCATIONS, RUSSIA
- City: VARIOUS LOCATIONS, RUSSIA
- Country: Russia
- Reuters ID: LVA001B21INGN
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: EDITORS PLEASE NOTE: THIS EDIT CONTAINS PROFANE LANGUAGE
Investigative journalists in Russia are determined to continue their work despite physical threats and harassment.
Sometimes threatened, attacked or even murdered for their work, journalists critical of the Russian authorities have led a dangerous existence since the 1990s. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says 28 journalists have been killed in Russia since 2000.
"Proekt," an independent Moscow-based online news outlet which specialises in investigations which looked into the activities of a secretive group of Russian mercenaries in Africa and the Middle East has been subject to a campaign of physical threats and harassment, its editor-in-chief said.
Proekt began to publish a series of articles in March looking into the role of a shadowy group of mercenaries known as Wagner.
The Wagner group was thrust into the spotlight last year when three Russian journalists were killed in Central African Republic while investigating there.
Russian private military contractors use a defence ministry base in southern Russia containing barracks that were built by a company linked to businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, Reuters reported in April.
Around the same time Proekt's investigation started, Editor-in-Chief Roman Badanin said his reporters began to get emailed threats of physical retribution for their work.
Unidentified people tried to break into his staff's personal accounts on Facebook, the Telegram messenger service and Google mail, he said, and one of his journalists was followed in the street by an unknown man who filmed her with a video camera.
Badanin said he could not prove who was behind the harassment campaign, which he said peaked last month when Proekt ran an investigation into Wagner's apparent activities in Libya.
Proekt did not complain to the police over the incidents, he said, saying he had instead decided to speak out publicly to draw attention to the threats.
Generating publicity about the threats is one way to tackle the problem, says Ivan Golunov, an investigative journalist who was wrongly detained in June on trumped up drug charges.
The 36-year-old reporter, known for exposing corruption among Moscow officials, was freed following an outcry by supporters who said he was framed by corrupt police. Putin fired two police generals over the case and other officers involved have been suspended pending an investigation.
Golunov says it is now hard for him to research stories without being recognised. He is also a witness in the criminal investigation over his own detention, and a witness protection programme is yet another obstacle to his journalistic investigations, he says.
For some, Golunov's case and public support for him offered a sliver of hope. Nadezda Azhgikhina, director of Moscow's Pen Center, says the public realised that journalists are in the same boat as everyone else.
"Starting with Golunov's case, a lot of factors came together, including article 228 (of the Russian criminal code which covers illegal drugs use), a so-called people's article... People suddenly realised that it also concerns them."
(Production: Alexander Reshetnikov, Mikhail Antonov, Lev Sergeev, Dmitry Vasilyev, Anton Derbenev)
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