Police in Stavropol have searched the home of a journalist with disabilities confiscating her work equipment.
The raid came at the request of the authorities of neighbouring Karachay-Cherkessia, who are investigating several news outlets that have been critical of their response to the COVID-19 pandemic for ‘disseminating fake news’.
In a video message first published on 23 June by the BAZA Telegram channel, Anna Dargan said she had been left without work after the 15 June raid.
‘They took all my equipment from me. I was left without a laptop, without an iPad, without a phone, even without a SIM card’, she said in the video.
According to her, equipment was also seized from her mother and aunts, with whom she lives.
Dargan said the police had accused her of being ‘possibly involved’ in Instagram posts by Politika09 criticising the local authorities’ handling of the pandemic.
Dargan, who has used a wheelchair since youth, has denied the claim.
Karachay-Cherkessia’s Investigative Committee launched a probe in early June into online programme Chyornyi Kub (‘black cube’) and Instagram channel Politika09 for allegedly disseminating fake news about COVID-19 in the republic.
Both have published allegations that the authorities in Karachay-Cherkessia have been hiding the true number of people infected and to have died from COVID-19.
In a video published on 9 June, Chyorniy Kub pointed the finger at the head of Karachay-Cherkessia, Rashid Temrezov, and called for a state of emergency to be declared.
On 14 June Politika09 protested the investigation, insisting that they could prove the number of those who had died from coronavirus in Karachay-Cherkessia was higher than the official numbers with a list of names of casualties ‘confirmed by their families’.
‘I have nothing to do with this outlet’
Dargan has categorically denied working for Politika09.
‘I tried to explain that I have nothing to do with this outlet’, she said, ‘as well as with Karachay-Cherkessia as a whole. It was useless.’
‘They didn’t even allow me to familiarise myself with the decision on what basis they searched and seized the equipment’.
‘They only let me have a quick read of the document, and even this happened only after my insistent demands in the presence of witnesses. But they didn’t allow me to copy it’, she said.
According to her, the police told her that articles by Politika09 had been posted from her IP address.
‘I’m not a suspect, but a witness, but they still seized the equipment.’
Dargan said she had appealed to the head of the Investigative Committee of Russia and the Chief Prosecutor for more details on her case and for the return the equipment, so she could continue to make a living.
‘The searches are legal’
A day after the publication of Dargan’s video, the Prosecutor’s Office of Karachay-Cherkessia reported that an investigation into ‘media reports about illegal actions of security forces against a journalist’ had been launched.
On 25 June, a representative of the Investigative Committee of Russia defended the actions of the local investigative authorities, telling news agency RIA Novosti that the searches ‘were conducted legally’.
‘Computer equipment and storage devices were seized from the woman, everything is being examined, an examination will be scheduled.’
‘The grounds for the search and the search procedure were verified by the court and recognised as legal’, the Investigative Committee reportedly said.
A representative of the committee reportedly said that several other people, including from other regions of Russia, were being investigated as part of the case.