European Federation of Journalists

Russia: we demand the release of Antonina Favorskaya and Olga Komleva

SOTAVision journalist Antonina Favorskaya. Credits: SOTAVision.

Women journalists Antonina Favorskaya, known for her independent reporting, and Olga Komleva, a dedicated correspondent for RusNews, were arrested in March on charges of “extremism” linked to the coverage of the trials of the Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny. If convicted, they will face up to six years in prison. The International and European Federations of Journalists (IFJ-EFJ), together with their affiliate the Journalists’ and Media Workers’ Union (JMWU), express deep concern over the unjust detention of Favorskaya and Komleva, in the context of a wider crackdown in Russia on press freedom.

SOTAVision journalist Antonina Favorskaya, who recorded the last video of the late opposition figure Alexei Navalny on 15 February, was arrested on 17 March, after visiting the grave of Navalny, where she laid flowers and took photographs. One day after, the Moscow Nagatinsky District Court sentenced Favorskaya to 10 days in jail, on charges of disobeying the police. However, authorities did not release her.

On 29 March, Moscow’s Basmanny District Court charged Favorskaya with involvement with an extremist group for her alleged work with Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), labelled as an ‘extremist organisation’ by Russian authorities in 2021. The journalist will be remanded in custody until 28 May.

Favorskaya’s case is not an isolated one. In March alone, the Russian authorities detained at least six journalists working for independent media.

On 27 March, police detained SOTAVision correspondent Ekaterina Anikiyevich and RusNews reporter Konstantin Zharov, who were reporting next to Favorskaya’s home as police searched the premises. Zharov, who was reportedly beaten at the time of his detention, and Anikiyevich are now free after being questioned.

Photographer Alexandra Astakhova and journalist Anastasiya Musatova, who were waiting outside a Moscow prison where Favorskaya was supposed to be released, were also taken into custody and later released after questioning.

RusNews reporter Olga Komleva was also taken into custody on 27 March in the republic of Bashkortostan, in a similar case of “extremism” linked to Navalny, with whom she was in correspondence.

Media outlets have reported that the judge in the Kirovsky Court of Ufa has ruled to detain Komleva until 27 May.

The detentions of Antonina Favorskaya and Olga Komleva, and all journalists being charged unjustly by the Russian authorities, underscore the increasingly oppressive environment faced by journalists in Russia. Their commitment to journalistic integrity and the pursuit of truth has made them targets of harassment and intimidation by the authorities.

JMWU International Secretary Andrei Jvirblis said: “Unfortunately, we are once again seeing the Russian regime imitating the techniques applied earlier to our colleagues in Belarus. Today, journalists working on the ground in Russia are also beginning to be branded as ‘extremists’. The aim of this attempt is clear: to cut off the rest of the world from information about what’s going on, trying to turn the country into an information desert.”

The IFJ-EFJ urge Russian authorities to respect the rights of journalists like Antonina Favorskaya and Olga Komleva, and to ensure their safety and health as well as freedom to report without fear of reprisal. We stand in solidarity with the two journalists, their families, and all journalists in Russia facing similar persecution. We call on the international community to exert pressure on Russian authorities to release Favorskaya and Komleva and to uphold the principles of freedom of the press and human rights.

On 18 October 2023, Prague-based journalist Alsu Kurmasheva working for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty was detained by Kazan Authorities in Russia on charges of “failing to register herself as a foreign agent”. On 30 March, a Moscow-based reporter with The Wall Street JournalEvan Gershkovich, was also detained for allegedly “collecting classified information” and he faces up to 20 years in prison. Both their pre-trial detentions have now been extended by a Moscow court.