Russian journalists placed in pre-trial detention in alleged extremism cases

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Courts in Russia placed two journalists in pre-trial detention for two months on Saturday after state prosecutors accused them of taking part in the activities of an "extremist" organisation founded by late opposition politician Alexei Navalny.

Moscow's Basmanny court said in a statement that one of the journalists, Konstantin Gabov, had prepared video and photographic material for a YouTube channel, "Navalny Live", run by allies of Navalny, who died in an Arctic prison in February.

It did not provide further details. A spokeswoman for the Navalny movement did not respond to a request for comment.

Neither Gabov nor his lawyer could be reached for comment.

Video journalist Sergei Karelin, who has in the past worked for the Associated Press (AP) among others and has dual citizenship with Israel, was detained in Russia's northern Murmansk region on Friday, AP reported.

AP said in a statement that it was "very concerned" by his detention, and added, "We are seeking additional information."

Karelin, like Gabov, is accused of preparing videos for the Navalny Live YouTube channel. Karelin could not be reached for comment.

Gabov was shown on video footage pacing a courtroom cage with his arms folded. He has worked for various foreign and Russian news outlets in recent years including Reuters and German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

Gabov will remain in pre-trial detention until June 27, the statement, released via the official Telegram channel for the Russian capital's courts, said.

The charge both men are accused of carries a jail sentence of up to six years. Unverified video circulated on Telegram showed two law enforcement officers bursting into Gabov's apartment with automatic rifles shouting at him to get on the floor.

The Moscow court statement noted that Russian authorities have designated the Anti-Corruption Foundation, the organisation run by Navalny's allies which broadcasts on the YouTube channel from outside Russia, as a "foreign agent" and as an extremist organisation whose activities are outlawed inside Russia.

The same statement described Gabov as a producer for the Reuters news agency.

Reuters said in its own statement: "Gabov is a freelance journalist who in the past occasionally contributed to the Reuters news file. He does not do any work for Reuters at this time."

“Journalists must be free to report the news in the public interest without harassment or harm, wherever they are,” Reuters said.

German broadcaster Deutsche Welle said in a story on its website that he had worked as its correspondent in Moscow. Deutsche Welle's press office did not reply to a request for comment.

Russian media reported that during a search of his apartment, a letter dated April 11 of this year was found which confirmed that Gabov had worked with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL)'s Current Time network since July 1, 2022.

Prague-based RFE, which is funded by the U.S. Congress and is itself designated "a foreign agent" by Russia on the grounds it gets foreign funding for activity Moscow deems political, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

RFE says on its website that its mission is to promote democratic values by reporting uncensored news "in countries where a free press is threatened and disinformation is pervasive".

The Russian police did not respond to a request for comment.

A third journalist, Sergei Mingazov, who works for the Russian edition of Forbes, was placed under house arrest on Saturday, the RIA state news agency reported. Mingazov was detained in Friday on suspicion of spreading false information about the Russian army, his magazine said on Friday.

Forbes said it had been unable to contact him after his phone and computer were seized, and did not say how he had pleaded.

Russian authorities have banned Navalny's movement as extremist and have cast the late politician as a U.S.-backed troublemaker out to foment revolution in order to destabilise Russia.

Many Russian journalists working for non-state outlets fled the country after Moscow sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022 and introduced tough new laws which mandated jail terms for people deemed to have discredited the Russian army or to be distributing what the authorities regard as fake news about the military.

(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Frances Kerry)