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Russia: Navalny-linked journalists arrested over 'extremism'

April 28, 2024

Two Russian journalists have been accused of working for a group founded by the late Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny. If convicted, they could face years in prison.

Russian journalist Konstantin Gabov at a hearing in Moscow
Russian journalist Konstantin Gabov has been accused of 'extremism'Image: Basmanny District Court Press Of/Tass/dpa/picture alliance

Russian journalists Konstantin Gabov and Sergey Karelin, both of whom have worked for DW and other international media in the past, have been arrested by Russian authorities over accusations of "extremism."  

The accusations against both are linked to YouTube videos published on the channel that was once run by late opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Navalny died in an Arctic penal colony in February, but the YouTube channel is still active and managed by his aides and allies. Navalny's movement is designated by Russian authorities as an "extremist" group, meaning his staff and supporters can face prosecution.

Gabov was detained in Moscow, while Karelin, who also has Israeli citizenship, was detained in Russia's northern Murmansk region.

The charges against the two men are not connected to their work with the DW.

What do we know about the charges?

Gabov worked for the Russian broadcasters Moskva 24 and MIR, according to media reports. Additionally, he had worked with the Belarusian news agency Belsat and for Reuters news agency. In 2019 and 2020, Gabov also worked as DW's correspondent in Moscow.

Konstantin Gabov hold up DW microphone while reporting for the German foreign broadcaster from Moscow in 2019
Gabov worked as one of DW's correspondents in Moscow in 2019 and 2020, before the German broadcaster was banned in RussiaImage: DW

On Saturday, court officials said Gabov was accused of participating "in preparing photo and video material" for the YouTube channel "Navalny LIVE."

Officials said the channel was created by Navalny's associates and employees of the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) NGO, which was founded by the late opposition figure and is designated as an extremist group in Russia.

Similar charges were leveled at Karelin, who also worked for DW as a cameraman until the Kremlin banned the outlet from operating in Russia in February 2022.

Karelin also worked for The Associated Press.

 Russian journalist Sergey Karelin appears in court in the Murmansk region of Russia, Saturday April 27
Karelin was detained in Russia's northern Murmansk regionImage: AP Photo/picture alliance

Gabov is to be held in pre-trial detention until June 27. Details on Karelin's detention have yet to be made public. If found guilty, the men could be receive sentences of up to six years in prison.

Russia's crackdown on journalists

The arrests are only the latest in Russia's clampdown on critical reporters, which has escalated since the start of Moscow's war in Ukraine.

"Independent journalism in Russia is, in fact, absolutely prohibited," Sergey Lukashevsky, director of the Andrei Sakharov Center for Human Rights, told DW. "All really independent media have to work from abroad," Lukashevsky said.

He explained that extremism charges could be leveled against individuals for "any connections, any contact with somebody of the Navalny team," describing it as "such a repressive strategy."

Russia's clampdown on Kremlin-critical journalists

In March, photographer Antonina Favorskaya was detained and accused of taking part in an "extremist organization" for posting on the Navalny Foundation's social media platforms. She also worked for the independent Russian news outlet SOTAvision, which has been classified as a "foreign agent" by Russian authorities.

Russian-American journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, who works for the Tatar service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, has been in prison since October for not registering as a "foreign agent."

Also, Russian officials are holding  Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on espionage charges. Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal and the US government have all denied the claims.

A journalist for the Russian edition of Forbes magazine, Sergei
Mingazov, has also been detained on charges of spreading false information about the Russian military, his lawyer said Friday.

sdi/sms (AP, AFP, Interfax) 

This article has been updated with additional details on the arrest of Sergey Karelin.