Exclusive investigation of media fleeing Russia to escape repression, editor says Reuters

© Reuters. On July 27, 2021, Roman Badanin, the editor-in-chief of the investigative news media “Proekt”, gave a speech in an interview with Reuters in New York, USA. The photo was taken on July 27, 2021. REUTERS/Maria Tsvetkova

Maria Cvetkova

New York (Reuters)-The editor-in-chief of the investigative news media Proekt, Roman Badanin, told Reuters that after Proekt was banned in the media crackdown, he had left Russia with no plans to return and was evacuating him Staff to avoid possible prosecution.

Proekt published a series of in-depth studies and unflattering surveys of Russia’s ruling elite. Russian authorities declared the organization an “unpopular” organization on July 15 citing national security, effectively banning it.

This move is part of an expanded crackdown before the parliamentary elections in September, targeting media that the authorities consider hostile and foreign-backed.

In an interview in New York, Badanen said that he does not plan to return to Russia soon due to the possibility of criminal prosecution. According to a 2015 law, members of “unpopular” groups may be fined or imprisoned for up to 6 years for ignoring the ban.

The Kremlin denied that the media was targeted for political reasons, and stated that any actions taken against the media or its employees were based on specific circumstances and out of the need to uphold the law.

Badanen said he didn’t know where he would settle, he was only temporarily in New York. When Proctor was labeled “unwelcome”, he was on vacation abroad with his wife and children, and he decided not to return to Russia on the spot.

He stated that Proekt’s staff were also exposed due to criminal investigations for alleged defamation of the media and the authorities’ promotion of labeling some reporters (including several reporters working at Proekt) as “foreign agents”.

The term carries negative, Soviet-era connotations, and makes those who are designated for additional government scrutiny and labeling requirements. The police raided the home of Badanen, his deputy Mikhail Rubin and Proekt in a defamation case last month. Rubin was briefly detained.

Badanen said: “We are trying to evacuate the staff-of course, if the staff agrees-to one of the nearby countries.”

He said that Rubin was also in New York and had no plans to return to Moscow. Both were labeled “foreign agents”.

Badanen said that Proekt will continue to operate in some form, but how it will operate in practice is still unclear. “The main difference is that a large part of the team will leave Russia to avoid the possibility of any legal and extrajudicial actions against them,” he said.

Several other non-state media have complained about increasing pressure from the government, but none of them have been labeled as “unwelcome.”

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