Thanks to Russia’s new broad and flexible extremism legislation, just about anyone who inconveniences the government can face arrest. Such a wide definition of extremism allows the Kremlin to use this legislation to punish and threaten its critics (such as Andrei Piontovsky), and impose a chilling effect on any journalists who should dare to write about the true state of Russia politics, lest they offend the masters of the dark arts in the FSB. Case in point, late Thursday, the Kremlin once again invoked the extremism law to briefly detain the Vedomosti reporter Valery Panyushkin as he was boarding a train for a business trip. From WSJ: Russia Briefly Holds Writer On Suspicion of Extremism
“It’s incomprehensible to me on what grounds and by whom Valery could be suspected of violating that law,” said Tatyana Lysova, editorial director at Vedomosti. “He’s just a journalist.” Mr. Panyushkin, 38 years old, writes about business and politics, and his columns have frequently attacked the Kremlin’s crackdown on dissent and political opposition. He was among a number of journalists arrested in Moscow this spring while attempting to cover an opposition march led by former chess champion Garry Kasparov that was violently subdued by riot police.
Furthermore, the harassment of Panyushkin comes with suspicious timing, on the exact same day that we on the Mikhail Khodorkovsky defense team won a major landmark decision from the Swiss prosecutor which underscores the political nature of his persecution, and the illegitimacy of the Russian procuracy. Panyushkin, in addition to being a consummate professional journalist, covering not only democracy movements in Russia but also Belarus and the Ukraine, is also the author of the bestselling book about Mikhail Khodorkovsky entitled “Khodorkovsky: the Prisoner of Silence.” It is furthermore tragically ironic that back in April, while reporting on the March of the Discontented, Panyushkin speculated that “most of the people who feel disgusted about the lies of Putin’s regime do not take to the streets, because they are afraid to be seen in the company of “extremists,” but this fear evaporates as the lack of freedom becomes suffocating.” We can only hope that people like Panyushkin only feel more emboldened and inspired by these outrageous repressive acts.