Russia Briefly Detains Journalists at Anti-war Protest

WASHINGTON — A Reuters journalist was among 20 reporters briefly detained by Russian authorities Saturday.

Authorities made the arrests as the media covered an anti-war demonstration in Moscow.

The journalists, most of whom work for Russian media outlets, had been reporting on a group of women demanding the return of their husbands who were mobilized to fight in Ukraine. The media also filmed as people laid flowers at the Eternal Flame near the Tomb of the Unknown Solider.

The Russian-based independent news outlets SOTA and SOTA-Vision posted a video of journalists in vests printed with the word “press” being confronted by authorities.

The media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, or RSF, said the journalists were held in a van before being transported to a police station.

The journalists were released several hours later after being made to sign a document stating that the police “have information” that they “took part in public events organized in violation of the law,” said RSF.

Although the document has no legal value, RSF noted that it could be used in later legal cases.

RSF in a statement described the arrests as “unprecedented.”

“This incident reflects the Kremlin’s watchword for the media: ensure that neither the outside world nor the Russian people learn anything about expressions of popular discontent regarding the war in Ukraine,” said Jeanne Cavelier, who heads RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

In a separate case, the Russian outlet Sirena in a video report said that seven journalists were believed to have been detained near President Vladimir Putin’s election headquarters in Pokrovka and taken to a police station.

Russia’s embassy in Washington did not respond to VOA’s request for comment.

At the start of Russia’s full invasion of Ukraine, Moscow introduced a law against sharing news it deemed to be false about the war or armed forces. The law carries a 15-year prison term.

Russia is also a leading jailer of journalists, with at least 22 behind bars for their work as of late 2023, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Moscow has also issued arrest warrants or tried in absentia prominent Russian journalists who fled into exile at the start of the war.

Among the journalists imprisoned currently in Russia are two Americans: The Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, detained since March, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty editor Alsu Kurmasheva, held in custody since October.

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