Russia: Blogger Arrested on Extortion Charges

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Year 30 Jan 2018 Country Russian Federation Category Detention and imprisonment of journalists Source of threat State Partner CPJ , RSF Alert level Level 1
30 Jan 2018 Russian Federation Detention and imprisonment of journalists State CPJ , RSF Level 1
No state reply yet

On 19 January 2018, Russian authorities detained Aleksandr Valov, the editor-in-chief and founder of local news site BlogSochi, and, two days later, charged him with extortion. Valov ran a video livestream of his arrest during which he narrated the police breaking his door, cutting off the electricity, and beating him. BlogSochi reported that the police seized the blogger's computer, documents, and money during his arrest. On 21 January, a Sochi court charged Valov with extorting 300,000 rubles (US$5,370) from the city's federal parliamentary deputy, Yuri Napso, according to the independent Russian television channel Dozhd (Rain). During court proceedings, the journalist pleaded not guilty and said the case was politically motivated, according to the media reports. The journalist's arrest came after he published a photo report of a beach Yuri Napso's brother Boris rented and allegedly mismanaged. Valov faces up to seven years in prison if found guilty, his defense attorney Aleksandr Popkov told Dozhd during an interview. On 25 January , a judge upheld a lower court's January 21 decision to detain Valov until 19 March when his trial is scheduled to begin, according to BlogSochi. Valov said his arrest was "an attempt to shut down the major and only independent [media] project of Sochi ahead of the [18 March 2018] presidential elections and World Cup - 2018," which will take place in Russia, in an article he wrote from prison that his colleagues published on BlogSochi. Valov has previously provoked the ire of Russian officials with his reporting. In July 2017, Yuri Napso sued Valov and a BlogSochi reporter, Vladimir Melnikov, for defamation and won, after the site published an investigation about a section of beach the politician had allegedly appropriated for a private swimming pool. Valov and Melnikov were ordered in December 2017 to pay the politician 1,000,000 rubles ($18,000) and 500,000 rubles ($9,000) respectively in damages after they lost their appeal. In the lead-up to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, BlogSochi reported on corruption among local officials, according to media reports from the time. Alert : 1 detention

Updates

21 Jun 2018 : Aleksandr Valov who has been in detention since January on extortion charges, was hospitalized with abdominal wounds on June 14. According to a medical report dated June 15, which was viewed by CPJ, Valov was operated on "for the penetrating wound in the abdomen" the previous day, and "his health condition did not allow him to be transported and attend" a previously scheduled hearing. On June 18, a Sochi city court held the hearing in Valov's absence and extended his detention until July 19, 2018. Speaking to CPJ from Sochi, Popkov said the case's chief investigator, Yevgeniy Sidorenko, told him at the hearing that Valov had stabbed himself with a pen in the abdomen. Popkov said he had reasons to doubt the official account of the incident. "Valov was preparing his defense and was not depressed. This incident needs to be investigated," said Popkov. While in detention, Valov had filed numerous complaints about harsh conditions in prison, including cold cells, bad food, and lack of medical care for inmates, Popkov added. The case's investigators and media representatives of the regional and local detention centers did not respond to CPJ's questions via phone about Valov's case. Popkov said he has not been able to see his client, who was transported on June 15 from a city hospital, where he first received treatment, to a prison hospital. He added that he had requested a meeting with Valov for June 20 in Sochi.

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20 March 2018

On 20 March 2018, the European Court of Human Rights issued its Grand chamber judgment on Mehmet Altan’s case. The Court found there had been a violation of Article 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security) and a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention for Human Rights. With regards to article 5 §1, according to the Court findings, “Mr Altan’s continued pre-trial detention, after the Constitutional Court’s clear and unambiguous judgment of 11 January 2018 (…), could not be regarded as ‘lawful’ ”. The Court held that “for another court to call into question the powers conferred on a constitutional court to give final and binding judgments on individual applications ran counter to the fundamental principles of the rule of law and legal certainty, which (…) were the cornerstones of the guarantees against arbitrariness”. Under Article 10, the Court held in particular that “there was no reason to reach a different conclusion from that of the Constitutional Court, which had found that Mr Altan’s initial and continued pre-trial detention, following his expression of his opinions, constituted a severe measure that could not be regarded as a necessary and proportionate interference in a democratic society”. The Court pointed out in particular that “criticism of governments and publication of information regarded by a country’s leaders as endangering national interests should not attract criminal charges for particularly serious offences such as belonging to or assisting a terrorist organisation, attempting to overthrow the government or the constitutional order or disseminating terrorist propaganda”.

20 March 2018

On 20 March 2018, the European Court of Human Rights issued its Grand chamber judgment on Şahin Alpay’s case. The Court found there had been a violation of Article 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security) and a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention for Human Rights. With regards to article 5 §1, according to the Court findings, “Mr Alpay’s continued pre-trial detention, after the Constitutional Court’s clear and unambiguous judgment of 11 January 2018 (…), could not be regarded as ‘lawful’ ”. The Court held that “for another court to call into question the powers conferred on a constitutional court to give final and binding judgments on individual applications ran counter to the fundamental principles of the rule of law and legal certainty, which (…) were the cornerstones of the guarantees against arbitrariness”. Under Article 46 (binding force and execution of judgments) of the Convention, the Court held that it was incumbent on the respondent State to ensure the termination of Mr Alpay’s pre-tria detention at the earliest possible date. Under Article 10, the Court held in particular that “there was no reason to reach a different conclusion from that of the Constitutional Court, which had found that Mr Alpay’s initial and continued pre-trial detention, following his expression of his opinions, constituted a severe measure that could not be regarded as a necessary and proportionate interference in a democratic society”. The Court pointed out in particular that “criticism of governments and publication of information regarded by a country’s leaders as endangering national interests should not attract criminal charges for particularly serious offences such as belonging to or assisting a terrorist organisation, attempting to overthrow the government or the constitutional order or disseminating terrorist propaganda”.
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