IT WAS very worrying to learn that a Russian journalist, who has been hounded by his country’s authorities for years because of his work activism, has been in Nicosia Central Prison since his arrest at Larnaca airport on July 15. Andrey Nekrasov, who will be in prison until August 13 when the court will examine the Russian government’s extradition request, has been on hunger strike since July 22 in protest against his harsh treatment, by the Cyprus authorities. He has also requested asylum, but the extradition case will be heard long before that request is processed.
The Reporters Without Borders (RWB) web-site wrote that Nekrasov was “known for his investigative coverage of local government corruption,” in Izhevsk, the capital of the Udmurt Republic. After three years as an investigative reporter at a weekly paper, in 2011 he became editor of an opposition paper, which folded a year later because it had been starved of advertising funds. He then carried on writing on personal blogs and became a grassroots activist, taking part “in a protest movement against evictions and a campaign to defend the rights of workers at the Izhmash factory.”
The head of the factory filed a complaint accusing him of extortion and blackmail and he was questioned by the Federal Security Service (FSB) which placed him in police custody and tried to extract a confession. According to RWB, “as a result of these charges he is facing up to 15 years in prison… in April the Udmurt supreme court upheld a court order to place Nekrasov in pre-trial detention for failing to report to the judicial authorities.”
There is no doubt that Nekrasov is another victim of the Russian Federation’s well-known persecution of journalists that are critical of the government and President Putin’s United Russia Party. The Russian Federation is ranked 152 out of 180 countries in the 2015 World Press Freedom index and RWB reports that “the climate (in Russia) has become very oppressive for those who question the new patriotic neo-conservative discourse and, in some regions local despots have taken advantage of this new climate to step up their persecution of critics.”
The Cyprus authorities should never have put Nekrasov in prison, even if the Republic has an extradition agreement with Russia. The Cyprus courts did not place the suspected Russian spy wanted by the US authorities, Christopher Metsos, in custody until his extradition hearing after he was arrested in 2010, and he fled the country. So why was Nekrasov, a man being persecuted for his journalistic work, put in prison for a month, until his extradition hearing? Was Cyprus showing, in this way, its respect for the right to free speech and commitment to protecting campaigning journalists operating in a repressive regime?
It was a disgraceful decision by the courts which does not exactly support our much-trumpeted commitment to the respect of human rights.