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Journalists Covering Russia Protests Face Violence

An interesting subplot to add to the plethora of media coverage on the Dissenter’s March held last weekend, was how the authorities handled the journalists themselves.

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Covering last year’s G-8 Summit was a bit easier that last weekend’s demonstrations

While undoubtedly many journalists were left untouched to photograph and scribble away notes on the proceedings, there are also numerous accounts of acts of violence committed against members of the media – and there are rumors abound that Russian TV “scrubbed” its footage and that some OMON officers confiscated film and erased digital photo records of some instances. Specifically, Kommersant reported that their correspondent Andrei Kozenko suffered a blow to the back, and that Thomas Peter of Reuters “had his face beaten in.” The same report notes that Ekaterina Savina of Kommersant received a blow to the back as she was herded along with another group of people including economist Andrei Illarionov into the Metro. Reporters without Borders also reports numerous violations committed against journalists:

Some ten journalists were among the hundreds of people who were clubbed, kicked or manhandled when the broke up the demonstrations. Several German journalists with the public TV stations ARD and ZDF were beaten and arrested. A Japanese newspaper’s photographer was also beaten and the Reuters correspondent was roughed up. Journalists working for local media including Kommersant, Novaya Gazeta and Vedomosti were also the victims of violence. Other journalists were arrested during the demonstration. All had official accreditation.

One of the most interesting accounts about the threats faced journalists on the frontlines of the demonstrations comes Nick Spicer of CBC, who was with the only production crew to capture footage of Garry Kasparov’s arrest (which can be viewed here), and was able to record his statements issued from the police van before being carted off. The CBC crew was smart enough to quickly hide the tape in case there was any attempt to confiscate the recording. Here are some excerpts from Spicer’s gripping account of the day:

It is a sad truism of foreign reporting that what a nation’s inhabitants see on their TV screens, and what the resident foreign press sees, are often two entirely different countries. That was never so clear to me than last Saturday when, by being in the right place at the right time, CBC was the only foreign television crew to film the forceful arrest of Russian opposition leader Garry Kasparov. A CBC cameraman, a producer and I were journalistic flotsam in the violent surge of demonstrators, citizens and riot police, all roiling down Tverskaya Street, the principal avenue leading to the Kremlin. We were watching a small political movement called “Other Russia,” which accuses Russian President Vladimir Putin of turning Russia into an authoritarian regime, as it was trying to hold a rally and march. But some 9,000 riot police were waiting for the marchers on Pushkin Square and neighbouring streets, arresting anyone who looked like they might be a demonstrator. In the melee, journalists were pushed and hit with nightsticks, old ladies waving the constitution were manhandled and young activists were shoved into waiting police wagons. Kasparov, famous as a chess grandmaster who habitually crushed his competitors with sheer intellectual power, now had to face brute physical force. This was a match he could not win. Tell your leaders Police spotted him before he could say anything in public, then pulled him out of a café where he had taken refuge to throw him into a police wagon. I happened to be standing next to it. I knocked on the window. It slid open and a man escaped, falling to the ground. Kasparov yelled out: “Tell your leaders that this regime is criminal, it’s a police state… they arrest people everywhere.” As if on cue, riot police moved in and shoved us all away. We got it all on tape. We also took the precaution of changing the tape in the camera and hiding the cassette.