Russia cranks up the crackdown on independent minded journalists

Financial fraud or tax evasion. Those seem to be the easiest ways to make it appear that rogue investigations and jail sentences are carried out in accordance with standards of justice and the rule of law. For Russia, and in neighboring Ukraine, those are also the quickest ways to silence political opponents.

When masked investigators stormed into the Yekaterinburg offices of popular regional news organization http://www.Ura.ru on Thursday, few people believed that investigators were serious about the newspaper embezzling 10 million rubles from it’s own bank account.

Yesterday as armed investigators raided the offices, journalists were locked in a second floor office without being told the reason for the raid.  The last posting on Publisher Panova’s Facebook page read, У нас идут обыски. Всех журналистов URA.Ru заблокировали на втором этаже редакции. (“We are being searched. All journalists of URA.ru are locked in the office of the publisher.”)

Now it just so happens that the organizations editor-in-chief, Aksana Panova, and her staff have been very reform minded, often critical of President Putin’s handpicked governor of the Sverdlovsk region, Yevgeny Kuivashev. Area prosecutors and other government officials, most belonging to Putin’s United Russia party, have also come under scrutiny by Ura News.

Masked members of Russia’s Special Forces were part of the police raid of Ural News. (photo: Ura.ru)

Police spokesmen however insist that the raid was to investigate financial fraud. Investigators confiscated documents and computers and also conducted searches of journalist’s homes.

Prominent Moscow newspaper publisher Alexander Lebedev was recently told not to leave the country as he is under government investigation. Lebedev is part owner and publisher of Moscow’s Novaya Gazeta newspaper where 4 journalists have been mysteriously murdered in recent years.

Lebedev, part owner of Novaya Gazeta calls the charges against him politically motivated. (Photo: The Independent, London)

Lebedev is identified as a member of Russia’s opposition and a supporter of anti-corruption reform attorney Alexei Navalny. Lebedev is worth 1.1 billion according to Forbes and says that authorities want him to leave the country. Since returning to the presidency of Russia, Vladimir Putin has begun a crackdown on Russia’s growing opposition movement.