13 Nov 2020 Lvl. 2
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Alert created on: 12 Nov 2020 n° 139/2020 Russian Federation

Russian Journalist Aleksandr Pichugin Awaiting Verdict in False News Trial

Source of threatState
CategoryHarassment and intimidation of journalists
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On 11 November 2020, a court in Nizhny Novgorod is scheduled to announce the verdict and sentence in the trial of Aleksandr Pichugin, editor in chief of the commentary and politics website "Reportyor-NN" and administrator of the political commentary and satire Telegram channel “Sorokin Khvost,” according to news reports.
Pichugin is charged with “public dissemination of knowingly false information that poses a threat to the life and safety of citizens,” and on 9 November prosecutors requested a suspended sentence of two years and six months. If he receives such a sentence, Pichugin would be required to stay at home every night, stay away from public events, and report regularly to a police station.
The charges stem from a 12 April 2020 article Pichugin published on “Sorokin Khvost” , where he has over 1,300 subscribers. The post described a purported message by the Federal Security Service (FSB) calling the church’s Palm Sunday services “a planned activity … with the aim to infect people with a deadly disease,” and potentially infected people “suicide bombers,”according to reports. Pichugin told CPJ that the post was intended to be satirical and expressed his anger over the Russian Orthodox Church’s failure to comply with COVID-19 restrictions and protect congregants from contracting the disease. He published the post after he and other local bloggers met with the governor of Nizhny Novgorod, who asked them to use their platforms to encourage the population to comply with COVID-19 restrictions, the journalist said.
Pichugin was arrested by FSB agents on 16 April and his laptop and mobile phone were seized, according to news reports. He was released the following morning pending investigation, and authorities returned his devices about one month later, after examining them.
During his trial, expert witnesses testified that Pichugin’s post did not contain disinformation and was a metaphor, according to news reports. His lawyer argued that the case would discourage journalists from discussing sensitive topics. When CPJ called Yulya Slyarova, a representative of the Investigative Committee of Nizhny Novgorod, someone answered but did not speak or respond to questions.
13 Nov 2020
On 11 November 2020, the Bogorodsk city court found Pichugin guilty and ordered him to pay a fine of 300,000 rubles (€3,300). His lawyer said the ruling will be appealed.
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