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Harassment of Sputnik reporters by police in Estonia ‘beyond all existing norms’: Journalist groups call to protect colleagues

Harassment of Sputnik reporters by police in Estonia ‘beyond all existing norms’: Journalist groups call to protect colleagues
The International Federation of Journalists urged Estonian authorities to stop threatening journalists working for Russian news media Sputnik Estonia with criminal prosecution over EU sanctions on Russia’s media chief.

“Media professionals should be allowed to freely carry out their duties, without threats from higher authorities,” IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said while commenting on the harassment of Sputnik journalists by Estonian police. At the same time, the organization’s Vice President Timur Shafir stressed that the threat of criminal proceedings “goes beyond all existing norms,” especially taking into account the fact that the majority of Sputnik Estonia office employees are Estonian citizens.

Sputnik Estonia’s editor-in-chief Elena Chernysheva said that journalists have been receiving letters from the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) of Estonian Police and Border Guard Board, in which they were threatened with “criminal liability” unless they cut work ties with the Russian state-owned media agency Rossiya Segodnya, Sputnik’s parent company, by January 1.

In other words, they want to jail us for simply working for Russian state-owned media.

The head of the FIU, which primarily deals with money laundering, Madis Reimand, confirmed that the journalists were getting “notices” because Rossiya Segodnya’s chief Dmitry Kiselyov is currently under EU sanctions.

Reimand told Estonian ERR media company that sanctions against Kiselyov mean that certain individuals “are banned from working for him,” even if they have not been placed on a sanctions list themselves.

Rossiya Segodnya reported earlier that several foreign banks, operating in Estonia, have unexpectedly frozen transfers of money used to pay taxes and rent for Sputnik’s office in the country. The transfers of salaries to employees, the vast majority of whom are Estonian nationals, have also been frozen.

The company argues that Sputnik itself is not subjected to any sanctions. Sputnik and RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan has already asked the Estonian president to not allow  the journalists to be arrested.

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A veteran journalist and media producer, Kiselyov, was sanctioned in 2014 after Crimea voted to leave Ukraine and rejoin Russia. He blasted the sanctions as “a shame for the European Union” and argued that they “can be equated to the sanctions against the freedom of speech.”

Secretary General of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) Ricardo Gutierrez told RIA Novosti that Estonia’s actions are based on “an excessive interpretation of the European sanctions” and is “absolutely unacceptable.” He added that the actions of authorities lack transparency and “remain unclear.”

The EFJ urges the Estonian authorities to reconsider applying restrictive and selective measures to foreign journalists working in Estonia.

On Friday, Valery Fadeyev, the head of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights called the situation around Sputnik Estonia “highly disturbing.” He sent letters to the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic asking both to investigate the case.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Stephane Dujarric, said that he is looking into the case.

During a Q&A session on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned Estonia for pressuring Sputnik. They are “afraid of the truth you are telling your viewers and listeners,” he told reporters.

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