Russian journalists risk safety to cover news

New Russian President Vladimir Putin walks as he attends the inauguration ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin in Moscow. © 2012 Alexsey Druginyn

By Rachyl Houterman

As Russian government officials continue to curtail freedom of speech across the nation, journalists risk their safety and lives to cover the critical issues and fulfill their roles as the “watchdog,” according to investigations conducted by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Imprisonment, poisonings, physical attacks and even murder are not uncommon among bloggers, journalists, political activists or even citizens who oppose Russian President Vladimir Putin and his administration, according to the reports from the Committee to Protect Journalists.   

According to an article from ABC News, a recent case is that of 35-year-old Vladimir Kara-Murza, a former journalist and Putin critic, who woke up from a week-long coma on Feb. 9, 2017, after being supposedly poisoned.

It is apparently the second time he has been poisoned in two years, the last time being in 2015 when the alleged poisoning left him with severe nerve damage, according to the article. It also said he suspected it was his work that made him a target, although he was unsure of who carried out the attack.

Coverage on sensitive topics has generally been a suspected contributing factor in such punishments. The International Human Rights Group Agora, a group of 50 lawyers fighting for human rights in Russia, published a report in 2015 citing the riskiest issues to talk about on the internet as Ukraine, Crimea or anti-government statements.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 36 confirmed murders of Russian journalists have been recorded since 1992, most of whom covered beats on politics, war or corruption.

One example is the 2006 murder of reporter Anna Politkovskaya. She was well-known for her anti-Putin sentiment and coverage of the Chechen conflict, a region formerly fighting for independence from Russia.

Some journalists and bloggers face imprisonment. According to an article from NPR, Alexei Navalny, an anti-corruption blogger and political activist, was arrested in 2011 for leading rallies that condemned the recent parliamentary elections for the Kremlin.

It is a journalist’s job to fulfill the “watchdog” role, but with the threat of persecution or murder, it brings into question the effect it will have on future political coverage by independent journalists and Russian news outlets.

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