Russian police on Tuesday raided the apartments of investigative journalists and their relatives as authorities pile more pressure on independent media.
Proyekt (The Project), one of Russia’s last remaining independent media outlets specialising in in-depth investigations, said that police raided the homes of its chief editor Roman Badanin and journalist Maria Zholobova.
Another journalist, deputy editor Mikhail Rubin, was detained while police were searching his parents’ apartment, the media outlet said on social media, adding that police had confiscated the journalists’ computers and phones.
The searches came ahead of the publication of an investigation into the alleged wealth of Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev, his son and other relatives, Proyekt said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that there were “legal grounds” for such searches even though he was not aware of the reason for them.
Badanin is a suspect in a defamation case dating back to 2017, lawyer Anna Bogatyryova told Dozhd TV, an independent channel.
In 2017, Dozhd broadcast an investigation into Ilya Traber, a controversial businessman who allegedly has ties to President Vladimir Putin. The film was authored by Badanin, who was then Dozhd editor-in-chief, as well as Zholobova and other journalists.
Later Tuesday the interior ministry said in a statement that the searches came as part of an ongoing probe into the case and named Badanin and Zholobova as the film’s authors.
A statute of limitations expired in the case in 2019, said lawyer Pavel Chikov, who heads the human rights association Agora.
Putin’s spokesman said the president knew Traber’s name but it was not known if the two were on friendly terms.
Badanin founded Proyekt after leaving Dozhd TV and studying at Stanford.
Since 2018 Proyekt has published a number of high-profile investigations into the Russian elite, in some cases claiming to show how family members are used to hide wealth.
One report alleged that Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov has a second wife, while another claimed that Putin has a secret third daughter with a longtime girlfriend. Neither relationship has been clearly established.
Kremlin critics say that during his two decades in power Putin has silenced most dissidents and has muzzled the media.
The few opposition and independent media outlets still operating in Russia are under huge pressure, Kremlin opponents say.
In April, authorities designated Meduza, a popular Russian-language news website based in Latvia, a “foreign agent”, forcing it to launch a crowdfunding campaign to survive the loss of advertising revenue.
The next month another independent online media outlet, VTimes, received the same tag. It shut down in June.
Groups or individuals identified as “foreign agents” in Russia must disclose their sources of funding and label publications with the relevant tag or face fines. The designation is seen as a deterrent for advertisers and sources.
Russia will hold parliamentary elections in September, and ahead of the polls authorities declared the organisations of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny extremist and barred his allies from running. © Agence France-Presse