In Russia, the crackdown on journalism continues. Independent outlets are deemed undesirable or foreign agents. Individual journalists are targeted and harassed, with arrests and raids of their homes.
That's what happened on Wednesday with Roman Dobrokhotov, the editor-in-chief of the Russian news publication, The Insider.
Police in Russia raided Dobrokhotov's home in the latest move by authorities to raise the pressure on independent media before the country's September parliamentary election.
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A lawyer from legal aid group Pravozashchita Otkrytki said police seized cellphones, laptops and tablets during the raid, as well as Dobrokhotov's international passport.
And Sergei Yezhov, a journalist with The Insider, said Dobrokhotov was supposed to travel outside of Russia on Wednesday.
Other targeted outlets include VTimes and Meduza. VTimes subsequently shut down, citing the loss of advertisers, and Meduza launched a crowd-funding campaign after encountering the same problem.
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The Insider was the latest addition to the list. The news outlet, registered in Latvia, has worked with the investigative group Bellingcat to investigate high-profile cases, such as the nerve agent poisonings of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Dobrahotov joined The World's host Marco Werman to discuss the circumstances around his arrest and what this signals for investigative journalism in Russia.
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Marco Werman: Can you describe how events unfolded on Wednesday for you, Roman? How were you arrested and how long were you detained for?
Roman Dobrokhotov: It was early in the morning. I was sleeping, actually, and suddenly, I heard some noise. I didn't understand what's going on. And suddenly, someone started knocking at the door very loudly and, immediately, I understand that it's only one thing that they can be. I just had, like, one minute to put my clothes on and they started already to knock the door off. So, they even didn't give me, I don't know, one minute to put my clothes on. So, it looked like they also wanted to harass journalists to make it scary ... I don't say that this was very unexpected because a lot of my colleagues already faced such kind of searches and their laptops and phones — always, they take it. The same happened with me. It's not like, a super new story, but you are always unprepared when it happens with you.
So, just before you were arrested, you tweeted
, "Looks like I'm going to be searched. The police are knocking." Then you posted your address and you wrote: "A lawyer wouldn't hurt." What were you thinking?
Yes, it was in the first seconds when I heard that they are knocking at the door. I understood what's going on and I understood that if I want to transfer some message, I need to do it immediately because they will take my phone. So, I tweeted that this is my address. I need a lawyer, and indeed, in one hour, I think, a lawyer came. So, it is very good self-organization in this community when it's happening very often and there are lots of lawyers who are helping journalists.
OK, so you got hit with a charge of libel. For you, then what do you see as the real motivation behind your arrest?
I think that the real motivation was they wanted to get access to my computers and telephones and know more about our investigations. And the second reason is they just wanted to put some pressure. Of course, for me, it changed nothing. But for a young journalist, they can really be afraid that something like this can happen to them. And for some, it is a hard choice whether they are ready to face such kind of reaction of the government.
You get asked about this all the time, but things seem especially fraught for you right now. Have you been thinking about leaving Russia, working to change things outside of the country?
Well, right now I don't have a choice, actually, because they took my passport. Of course, I'm not going to stop the investigations. But yes, you are right that many, many journalists are now living in Russia. I think that actually this is not a bad choice because if you are an investigative journalist, it doesn't matter where you're working from. We, in The Insider, have, I think, like, half of our staff already working from Europe. And you can't even tell by reading The Insider which article was written by the journalist who was writing from Russia and which was written somewhere, I don't know, in Montenegro.
It's interesting, you and I met in Moscow two years ago. We spoke about your bold investigation into the perpetrators of the Novichok poisoning of Sergei Skripal in the United Kingdom. And at the time, you expressed to me your determination to investigate the Kremlin as deeply as you felt you needed to. I'm just wondering, you and I are speaking again, just a day after your apartment was searched and you were arrested. One might have thought you'd want to keep a lower profile today anyway. Why did you decide to speak?
Well, I think it's obvious that the best strategy to be safe is to be in the middle of attention. So if you say out loud everything that you want, sometimes it is more safe than to keep a low profile, because if something happens with you, immediately, everybody starts to speak about this. That's what we saw yesterday when, after my arrest, all the Russian independent media started to write about this and a lot of people really paid attention.
What's next for you? How worried are you about how the Kremlin might try and restrict your work further?
Well, I don't know, because you never know when they'll just try to harass you and make you feel afraid or demotivated or when they're seriously ready to eliminate and arrest you. So, I'm trying just not to think about this and just keep doing my job.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity. AP contributed to this report.