oDR: Opinion

Russian journalist Sergey Smirnov, jailed for a joke

The editor-in-chief of Mediazona has just been sentenced to 25 days. Here are five of his team’s best stories in English.

Editors of oDR
4 February 2021, 3.31pm
Sergey Smirnov
Image: Mediazona

This week, Sergey Smirnov, editor-in-chief of Russian outlet Mediazona, was sentenced to 25 days of administrative arrest. His crime: retweeting a joke that also contained information about an upcoming anti-government protest.

This was, according to the authorities, a call to “an unlimited number of participants to take part in the unauthorised protest on January 23”. He is now serving his sentence – alongside participants of recent protests – at a immigration detention facility outside of Moscow.

So far, more than 30 Russian media outlets have expressed their solidarity and support for Smirnov and the Mediazona project, demanding that he be freed. The team at openDemocracy join this call.

Since 2017, we have translated more than 15 articles by Mediazona into English, bringing their brave, professional and talented coverage of Russia’s law-enforcement system and its effects on people to international readers.

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Alongside other initiatives, Mediazona’s close, detailed coverage of the Russian justice system has helped offset the power imbalance between police, prosecutors and judges on the one hand, and the people that their decisions and often brutal actions affect on the other.

Inspired by Russian media Novaya Gazeta’s decision to repost a story a day by Mediazona over the next 25 days – one for every day of Sergey Smirnov’s sentence – here are five stories by Mediazona that you should know about.

Media workers in Russia are currently under significant pressure. If you work in the international media, please consider reposting any of these articles to your website in solidarity. You can find a full list of translated articles here.

1. “They made this man an invalid. Can you imagine how they crippled my soul?” (2017)

Stasya Sokolovskaya

Mediazona interviewed family members of men who have suffered torture at the hands of the Russian police – raising the long-term physical and psychological impacts on people.

Original in Russian here.

2. Inside Ingushetia’s anti-extremism centre: torture, extortion, murder (2017)

A picture of Magomed Doliev, who was murdered inside Ingushetia's Centre for Combating Extremism | Image: Sergey Smirnov / Mediazona

Editor Sergey Smirnov and Yegor Skorovoda reported on the people at the centre of a torture and murder campaign committed by officers in Ingushetia’s anti-extremism centre, who were eventually prosecuted – though likely not without protection by the regional leadership.

Original article in Russian here.

3. “You should understand: FSB officers always get their way!”: Viktor Filinkov reveals how he was tortured by Russian security services (2018)

Screen Shot 2021-02-04 at 15.27.10.png
A drawing of the room where Viktor Filinkov was taken in St Petersburg airport by Alexandra Filinkova, his wife

Mediazona published a first-hand account of abduction and torture by Viktor Filinkov, who was taken by FSB officers from St Petersburg airport in January 2018 – and tortured into confessing to terrorism charges. This formed part of a high-profile investigation into a young group of Russian anarchists.

Original in Russian here.

4. How Russia’s doctors are dealing with the psychological strain of COVID-19 (2020)

March 2020: Russian paramedics hold signs saying "We're on duty for you", "Stay at home for us" | Image: VKontakte

Journalist Alla Konstantinova speaks to doctors and other medical personnel on the frontline of Russia’s COVID-19 crisis – about how they’re dealing with the psychological effect of stress and overwork.

Original in Russian here.

5. Brutalised Minsk: how Belarusian police beat protesters (2020)

Maria Tolstova

In the weeks after the August presidential election in Belarus, protesters and passers-by experienced an unprecedented wave of police violence, brutality and cruel treatment. But not a single officer has been investigated or charged for this violence and torture. Here, Mediazona used leaked data to recreate the scale of the violence via hospital reports filed with the Belarusian police – suggesting that Belarusian law enforcement was entirely aware of what was happening.

Original in Russian here.

You can donate to Mediazona here.

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