The Surveilled City: More Harassment of Journalists and Activists in Petersburg

Journalists Protest Following Arrests on Nevsky for Use of Foul Language
By Sergey Chernov
St. Petersburg Times
June 23, 2009

On Thursday, two journalists who were detained by the police in the city center last week and charged with using obscene language in public wrote to the City Prosecutor asking for action to be taken against both arresting officers and their colleagues who wrote up the reports at the police station. They suspect the arrests were made to obstruct their professional activities.

Dmitry Zhvaniya, a journalist and the director at the Media SPb news agency, responsible for web sites including Zaks.ru and Lenizdat.ru, and the agency’s reporter Alisa Kustikova were on their way to a coffee house near Kazan Cathedral on Nevsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg’s main street. They were due to have coffee with a colleague and two other men including architecture preservation activist Alexei Yarema when they were stopped by plainclothes policemen at 9.15 a.m. on Wednesday.

According to the journalists, all six present — two reporters, a photographer, two architectural preservationists and a woman who happened to be passing the scene on her bicycle — were bundled into a police van without any explanation and taken to the Precinct 27 police station, where the reports were written.

According to the police report, Zhvaniya and the other detainees were using “obscene language in public,” thus “expressing sheer disrespect for society.” Copies of the Zhvaniya report and the journalists’ letters to the Prosecutor’s Office are available on Lenizdat.ru, a web site specializing in local media issues.

Two hours later, the detainees were taken to a court, but were released when the judge ordered the cases to be sent to their respective local courts for a later hearing.

Speaking on Monday, Zhvaniya claimed that the detentions were related to his and Kustikova’s professional activities, as they were meeting Yarema, an activist with the architectural preservation group ERA, to photograph materials set to be used for a campaign to protect historic St. Petersburg at Media SPb’s nearby offices at 11 Malaya Morskaya Ulitsa.

In their letters to the prosecutor, Zhvaniya and Kustikova wrote that the policemen who made the detentions violated their freedom of movement and the Law on the Police, and that the officers at the Precinct 27 station had written reports containing “deliberately false accusations.” They described the charges as “outrageous and cynical lies,” “libel” and “criminal insult.”

“First of all, if we were detained because they knew Yarema was going to be there, that means there is a political surveillance problem, and secondly, we were detained for no reason, as if we were wanted criminals. Third, we were slandered; these are the three things that I am not happy about,” Zhvaniya said by phone on Monday.

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Filed under political repression, Russian society, urban movements (right to the city)

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