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‘One-man picket’ lands Russian journalist in jail for 15 days

May 28, 2020

Russian authorities on Thursday sentenced prominent reporter and activist Ilya Azar to 15 days in prison and detained several prominent journalists who rallied in his support.

Azar, a 35-year-old municipal lawmaker and journalist at the independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper was jailed for repeat violations of a protest law, sparking outrage among his supporters.

Five journalists who gathered to picket the Moscow police headquarters in solidarity with Azar were quickly detained, reported OVD-Info, a website which tracks detentions at political protests.

Azar was arrested this week during a demonstration in support of activist Vladimir Vorontsov, who has worked to expose violations within Russia’s law enforcement agencies.

Vorontsov, a former policeman, was arrested in early May on extortion charges. He was later accused of also illegally distributing pornography.

Vorontsov has denied the charges, saying police are seeking to punish him for his activism.

Police said Tuesday that Azar was detained for violating a ban on rallies during Moscow’s city-wide quarantine to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Azar’s arrest sparked a backlash among his allies who said it was dangerous to keep the journalist in jail for two weeks during a coronavirus epidemic.

“Azar had every right to hold this rally according to law, the constitution, and common sense,” leading opposition politician Alexei Navalny wrote on Twitter.

“None of these three things exists in Russia right now.”

Russia has the world’s third largest number of confirmed coronavirus cases at 379,051, after the United States and Brazil.

Russia has cracked down hard on opposition demonstrations, and the single-person protest is the only kind allowed without prior permission from the authorities.

Last summer Azar helped organise a series of anti-government rallies in Moscow demanding fair elections which drew tens of thousands of people.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.