Russia jails 'extremist' investigative reporter

A Russian court has jailed an investigative reporter for “extremism” over his work with a group campaigning for laws to make officials accountable.

Alexander Sokolov worked at the RBC news group when he was arrested in July 2015 on suspicion of participating in a banned group.

The court in Moscow convicted the journalist over his involvement in an online group called ‘For Responsible Government’.

The group has campaigned for a referendum on a new law that would allow officials to be held to account.

Prosecutors said Sokolov, 29, had created a website for the group and administered it.

But they said ‘For Responsible Government’ was a cover for another organisation – banned in 2010 for being “extremist” – which wanted to use violence to overthrow the government.

The For Responsible Government (authority) website that prosecutors say was a front for extremism
Authorities said the ‘For Responsible Government’ website was a front for extremism

He was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in jail.

Sokolov said his arrest came two weeks after an investigative report was published looking at government overspending on a new space port.

The report alleged embezzlement of 93 billion roubles (£1.2bn) of public funds during the construction of the cosmodrome in the Far East, a pet project of President Vladimir Putin.

Sokolov denied any involvement in criminal wrongdoing and said he would appeal against the conviction.

He said: “According to this decision, the idea itself of a referendum is seen as extremist. We have not finished yet, we will keep fighting.”

Alexander Sokolov's supporters gathered outside the court in Moscow
Alexander Sokolov’s supporters gathered outside the court in Moscow

Media rights activists denounced the conviction.

Reporters Without Borders said the charges against Sokolov were “unsubstantiated” and described the country’s anti-extremism laws as “arbitrary”.

Russia’s media community has spoken also out in his defence, with nearly 300 journalists signing a letter of support.

Solokov has worked for RBC since 2013. It has been a respected group known for investigations into sensitive subjects, such as Russia’s involvement in the conflicts in eastern Ukraine and Syria.

Two of Sokolov’s co-defendants were sentenced to four years and the third was given a suspended sentence.

Several journalists and human rights activists have been targeted in Russia.

Journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a prominent critic of Mr Vladimir Putin, was gunned down at her Moscow apartment block on 7 October 2006.

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