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17 Oct, 2020 03:24

Russia warns of harassment & provocation against journalists after US authorities question RT staffer over… Covid-19 vaccine shot?

Russia warns of harassment & provocation against journalists after US authorities question RT staffer over… Covid-19 vaccine shot?

Russian journalists are facing prejudice and routine harassment by American authorities, Russia’s embassy in Washington has warned, after US security services questioned an RT filmmaker for hours and combed through his devices.

RT documentary director Konstantin Rozhkov was stopped by US federal agents at a New York airport soon after arriving in the country on Wednesday, where he was subjected to a three-hour interrogation and forced to provide access to his electronics. Konstantin was subjected to the sort of treatment Washington would be up in arms about, if it was meted out to an American media worker in a foreign country. 

“The journalist was requested to open all electronic media, as well as explain publicly available information, including about him receiving the Russian-made [Covid-19] vaccine, Sputnik V,” the embassy said in a statement, adding that Rozhkov was also questioned about his “correspondence related to journalistic activities.”

This interrogation of a Russian journalist clearly went beyond the usual public safety procedures. We consider what happened to be a brazen attempt by US authorities to pressure alternative media that challenge the dominant mainstream narratives.

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Rozhkov – whose employer is registered as a “foreign agent” with the Department of Justice in line with US law – traveled to the country to report on the 2020 presidential race, like countless other journalists, correspondents and filmmakers from news organizations around the globe. The journalist said that soon after landing in New York, he was “asked to go to a private room,” where security personnel “immediately took my passport, phone and laptop. They said to unlock my iPhone so they could view its content.”

The interrogation lasted hours, seeing the agents ask a litany of probing questions, which Rozhkov said “became more and more sophisticated” over time, including queries such as “Are you aware that RT is a foreign agent,” and “How was your vaccination, Konstantin? Any shoulder pains?”

The journalist was also asked why he was “going to film protests during the presidential election,” summarizing his answer: “Because this is what's happening in America right now, and it's being filmed by journalists from all over the world.”

Rozhkov was later released when US authorities could not find “anything to complain about,” with his belongings returned.

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It is unclear whether the agents really hoped to learn anything about the vaccine or were merely trying to intimidate Rozhkov. It is similarly unclear what they expected to find on the journalist’s electronics, but despite calls from Moscow to the US State Department to explain the incident, the embassy has yet to receive a response.

In light of the trouble faced by Rozhkov and other Russian reporters in the past – such as Alexander Malkevich, who was detained for questioning by the FBI at a Washington, DC airport in 2018 – the embassy cautioned journalists to “consider the biased attitude towards them by the American authorities” and the “high probability of provocations to create a pretext to blame our citizens for interfering in US internal affairs.”

The Russian diplomatic office also cited a number of cases in which US law enforcement used excessive and “arbitrary” force against Russian nationals covering unrest in Minneapolis and Portland earlier this year. To date, US officials have refused to comment on those cases, despite repeated requests from the embassy.

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