Russian journalist fined in case that drew broad outrage

U.S. & World

Russian journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva holds a bunch of flowers after a court session in Pskov, Russia, Monday, July 6, 2020. A court in the city of Pskov convicted Prokopyeva on charges of condoning terrorism on Monday and ordered her to pay a fine in a case that has been widely criticized as an attack on freedom of speech. (AP Photo)

MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian journalist on Monday was convicted on charges of condoning terrorism and ordered to pay a fine in a case that has been widely criticized as an attack on freedom of speech.

The court in the city of Pskov has found Svetlana Prokopyeva guilty of “justifying terrorism” and ordered her to pay a fine of 500,000 rubles (about $6,950). Prosecutors had asked for a six-year prison sentence for Prokopyeva.

Speaking to several dozen journalists and supporters who waited for her outside the court building, Prokopyeva thanked them for their backing.

“If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have walked out of here like that,” she said with a smile. “It’s your achievement that I’m walking out without a (police) convoy.”

The case of Prokopyeva stems from a commentary she published in the wake of an October 2018 suicide attack, in which a 17-year-old Russian man blew himself up at the entrance of the office of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, in the northern city of Arkhangelsk. The attacker was killed and three FSB officers were injured.

In her commentary, Prokopyeva criticized repressive government policies, arguing that they leave little chance for the young people to express their discontent and drive them to despair.

Prokopyeva, a freelance contributor to RFE/RL’s Russian Service, has maintained her innocence, rejecting the charges as an attack on freedom of speech.

“I am not afraid to criticize law enforcement or tell the security organs that they are wrong,” Prokopyeva said in her final statement Friday. “Because I know how really horrific it will become if I don’t speak out — if no one speaks out.”

She insisted that she only did her work as a journalist.

“I did not do anything that was beyond the framework of my professional duty,” Prokopyeva told the court “And that is not a crime.”

Prokopyeva said she would appeal the verdict.

Human rights groups and media watchdogs in Russia and abroad have criticized the charges against Prokopyeva as an attempt to trample on freedom of speech and demanded her acquittal.

Asked about the verdict, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, denied that it represented an attack on media freedom. Peskov said the ruling reflected “legal nuances” related to Russia’s counterterrorism law.

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This story has been corrected to show that the suicide attack happened in October 2018, not November 2018.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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