Two Russian journalists jailed on ‘extremism’ charges for alleged work for Navalny group

Two Russian journalists were arrested by their government on “extremism” charges and ordered by courts there on Saturday to remain in custody pending investigation and trial on accusations of working for a group founded by the late Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny.

Konstantin Gabov and Sergey Karelin both denied the charges for which they will be detained for a minimum of two months before any trials begin. Each faces a minimum of two years in prison and a maximum of six years for alleged “participation in an extremist organization,” according to Russian courts.

They are just the latest journalists arrested amid a Russian government crackdown on dissent and independent media that intensified after its full-scale invasion of Ukraine more than two years ago. The Russian government passed laws criminalizing what it deems false information about the military, or statements seen as discrediting the military, effectively outlawing any criticism of the war in Ukraine or speech that deviates from the official narrative.

A journalist for the Russian edition of Forbes magazine, Sergei Mingazov, was detained on charges of spreading false information about the Russian military, his lawyer said Friday.

Gabov and Karelin are accused of preparing materials for a YouTube channel run by Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption, which has been outlawed by Russian authorities. Navalny died in an Arctic penal colony in February.

Gabov, who was detained in Moscow, is a freelance producer who has worked for multiple organizations, including Reuters, the court press service said. Reuters did not immediately comment on the ruling by the court.

Karelin, who has dual citizenship with Israel, was detained Friday night in Russia’s northern Murmansk region.

Karelin, 41, has worked for a number of outlets, including for The Associated Press. He was a cameraman for German media outlet Deutsche Welle until the Kremlin banned the outlet from operating in Russia in Feb. 2022.

“The Associated Press is very concerned by the detention of Russian video journalist Sergey Karelin,” the AP said in a statement. “We are seeking additional information.”

Russia’s crackdown on dissent is aimed at opposition figures, journalists, activists, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and ordinary Russians critical of the Kremlin. A number of journalists have been jailed in relation to their coverage of Navalny, including Antonina Favorskaya, who remains in pre-trial detention at least until May 28 following a hearing last month.

Favorskaya was detained and accused by Russian authorities of taking part in an “extremist organization” by posting on the social media platforms of Navalny’s Foundation. She covered Navalny’s court hearings for years and filmed the last video of Navalny before he died in the penal colony.

Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s spokeswoman, said that Favorskaya did not publish anything on the Foundation’s platforms and suggested that Russian authorities have targeted her because she was doing her job as a journalist.

Evan Gershkovich, a 32-year-old American reporter for The Wall Street Journal, is awaiting trial on espionage charges at Moscow’s notorious Lefortovo Prison. Both Gershkovich and his employer have vehemently denied the charges.

Gershkovich was detained in March 2023 while on a reporting trip and has spent over a year in jail; authorities have not detailed what, if any, evidence they have to support the espionage charges.

The U.S. government has declared Gershkovich wrongfully detained, with officials accusing Moscow of using the journalist as a pawn for political ends.

The Russian government has also cracked down on opposition figures. One prominent activist, Vladimir Kara-Murza was sentenced to 25 years.