Free Pavel Zelenski

Photo: telegram channel of Pavel Chikov

On Friday, Jan 16th, a court ordered the arrest of Navalnyi Live and FBK operator Pavel Zelenski for “incitement of extremism.” The FSB have accused him of violating the second part of article 280 of the Russian criminal code because of two tweets written by Zelenski after the self-immolation of journalist Irina Slavina on October 2nd

Early in the morning around ten agents searched our colleague’s apartment, which lasted for 6 hours. They took his work computer, his wife Natalia’s cell phone, and external hard drives.

Zelenski was arrested at his mother’s house. Upon searching him they took his laptop and phone, and beat him in the leg and head. In the court photographs one can see a fresh bruise on his left temple.

Pavel Zelenski is being investigated for his thoughts on the self-immolation of Irina Slavina, which shocked many of her journalist colleagues:

Irina, forgive all of us, forgive that we allow it. It’s very hard for me to write this, it’s hard to think about it and worry, thank you for your life and deeds. With these words, I ask all of us to get up, wake up, stop tweeting and electronically worry. Let’s f*** with this unworthy government“.

He faces up to five years in prison. The Journalists’ Union is disturbed by Zelenski’s arrest and by the allegations made against him. We understand his shock, dismay, and indignation after the death of Irina Slavina. We are confident that there is no incitement to extremist actions in what Zelenski has written, but rather only emotion. No one should be put behind bars for their words.

Pavel Zelenski is a professional correspondent and videographer. He began his career at the start of 2000 in municipal publications, then worked for CBS and BBC, including in Afganistan and Tajikistan, took photographs at international summits, recorded the tragic hostage-taking crises at the theater on Dubrovka in Moscow and the school in Beslan.

We consider the persecution of Zelenski to be politicized. Three months have passed since he wrote the offending two tweets. Yet the journalist was only arrested just two days before the announced return to Moscow of politician Aleksei Navalnyi. Zelenski worked together with Navalnyi, recorded his investigations and programs, traveled as part of his team to Tomsk before the politician’s poisoning in August. Pavel’s arrest can be considered an additional means of pressure on the opposition politician.

Meanwhile the administration of Vnukovo Airport, where Navalnyi is due to arrive this Sunday, has declared that it would be impossible to allow journalists to cover this event. As our colleagues from the Center for the Defense of the Rights of Media, the arrivals area of the airport is a public place; there are no restrictions for photography there, nor should their be.

The Union demands that the authorities swiftly cease their creation of a case against Pavel Zelenski, free him from detention, and publicly apologize to him and his family. All journalists should be guaranteed their right to work freely and cover any significant events—free of pressure, violence, or persecution.