Prisoners of Conscience: DOXA, Russia
In January 2021 DOXA, a Russian student magazine, ran a video report before a national protest. Little did they know that three months later, that video would be used to launch an investigation against four of its staff members for inciting minors to protest. The report addressed the expulsion threats issued by universities against some students for taking part in nationwide rallies in support of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Although DOXA had already complied with a demand by the Russian state media regulator and taken down the video, (though still appealing against that demand), the Russian authorities decided to launch an investigation anyway.
In April 2021 police raided the magazine’s office, the homes of several of its editors, and even some of their parents and seized their cell phones and laptops. Four of its editors – Armen Aramyan, Alla Gutnikova, Vladimir Metyolkin, and Natalya Tyshkevich – were briefly arrested. Later the DOXA journalists were charged with “involving minors in the commission of acts endangering the lives of minors on the Internet”. If convicted, they face up to three years in prison. A Russian district court ordered the students not to leave their homes for the next two months and even banned them from using the internet and communicating with anyone other than their immediate families before the trial.
In a statement the DOXA editorial board called the arrests “illegal and representing political persecution”.
DOXA was launched in 2017 by students from Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, covering youth-related topics and higher education. Some of its stories tackled issues like academic harassment, police violence, and politics. Two years later, the school suspended their funding for what many see as politically motivated reasons. However, the founders kept running the magazine as an independent publication, reporting on problems Russian youth and students face.
The detention of the four journalists spurred an international outcry to release the editors. Both Russian and international human rights organizations recognized the four editors as political prisoners.
“Russian authorities should immediately drop all the charges against the DOXA editors, return their equipment, and let them do their jobs covering important political events in the country without fear,” said Gulnoza Said, Europe and Central Asia programme coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists, in a statement following the arrest. “It’s apt, but sad, that student journalism in today’s Russia must include a lesson in just how afraid Vladimir Putin’s government is of independent news coverage.”
The reputable human rights organization Amnesty International also condemned the operation.
“Today the authorities have stooped to a new low as they tighten their grip on media perceived to be disloyal to the Kremlin,” said Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director. “From slowly suffocating these outlets with economic penalties or forcing their owners to self-censorship, they have moved to an all-out attack on journalists and other media workers. Silencing those brave enough to speak up – including students – shuts down the future of press freedom in Russia.”
The crackdown on DOXA came at a time of intensified pressure on independent Russian media. Earlier in April, the editor-in-chief of the investigative site Vazhnye Istorii, Roman Anin, was interrogated by the police for seven hours as part of a criminal investigation.
In their 2021 Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders said that pressure on independent media in Russia had increased significantly in the past decade. “The harassment has risen to a new level since Kremlin opponent Alexei Navalny’s return to Russia and his immediate arrest on arrival. Journalists trying to cover Navalny-related events, including demonstrations in his support, are being subjected to unprecedented and sometimes violent obstruction,” the media watchdog said.
Despite the detention and the searches, the DOXA journalists are undeterred. “The pressure the Russian journalist community has faced recently is unprecedented, but we won't stop our work,” they said following the operation against DOXA. “We will continue to cover what's important for young people and continue to stand up for their rights.”
Disclaimer: As of February 10, 2021, the four DOXA editors are still under house arrest.
Prisoners of Conscience from East and Southeast Europe
We feature select few prisoners of conscience out of the many in East and Southeast Europe. One political prisoner is one too many.
Find out who the other political prisoners are #PrisonersofConscience #FreeThemAll and in the special Focus on our website.