Arrests, expulsion, intimidation … In Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, journalists working for Russian media bear the brunt of various hostile measures. Moscow sees it as an attempt to silence alternative views.
In a statement released on January 13, the Russian Foreign Ministry accuses Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia of endangering press freedom by attacking journalists targeted for their links with Russia. Moscow thus evokes a “worrying” situation, some journalists having been arrested, at least one expelled and others still threatened, in the name of European sanctions against Russia.
“We regard these aggressive actions as a blatant example of an attack on the foundations of democratic society: freedom of the media and freedom of expression”, commented the Russian Foreign Ministry about the situation in the Baltic countries.
The press release also underlines that these methods are part of the continuity of the attempt of Western countries to “intensify regulation and de facto, to purge all sources of information representing alternative points of view”. The ministry again equated “mass blocking of Russian content” to “nothing less than open censorship.”
A desire to “criminalize all contact with Russia”?
Recently, several journalists working for Russian media have indeed clashed with the authorities of the three Baltic States, who accuse them of violating European sanctions targeting the boss of the Russian media agency Rossia Segodnia, Dmitri Kisselev.
In December, Latvia thus arrested seven journalists working for media linked to Russia, namely the local branch of Sputnik (a media founded by Rossia Segodnia), as well as the Baltnews site, a subsidiary of the same agency. Indeed, the Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian governments interpret the European sanctions which prohibit Dmitri Kisselev from traveling within the European Union and from owning financial assets there, as an outright ban on working for a subsidiary of Rossia. Segodnia.
However, Vladimir Linderman, a Latvian opposition figure who is one of the seven journalists arrested, sees it above all as a pretext. “[Rossia Segodnia] is a state enterprise, and is not owned by Kisselev, which is on the sanctions list, ”he told RT.
“I think the Latvian authorities are trying to criminalize all contact with Russia, in order to be able to stick a criminal case to anyone who has professional contacts with Russia,” continues Vladimir Linderman. Targeted by a search of his home the previous month, this activist knows something. Faced with several appearances before the courts and in particular accused of having sought to overthrow the government (an accusation which was finally dropped for lack of evidence), the journalist considers himself targeted by attempts to silence his political activism.
And the problems do not end at Latvia’s borders for Russian media journalists. In 2019, Lithuania for its part expelled the editor-in-chief of the local branch of Sputnik, Marat Kasem, a Lithuanian citizen. Declared as a threat to national security, he was banned from returning to Lithuania for five years.
Last year, the two countries also banned RT, still in the so-called name of the same European sanctions, seeming to forget in passing that Dmitri Kisselev does not in any way chair the news channel.
Citing the same alleged violations of European sanctions, the Estonian authorities for their part threatened employees of the local branch of Sputnik with legal action, and put pressure on banks working with the news agency. Since January 1, Sputnik has no more employees in Estonia.