One of Russia’s most well-known journalists, former Meduza special correspondent Ilya Azar, was sentenced to 15 days administrative arrest in Moscow earlier today. In the days of the old news website Lenta.ru, he wrote brilliant stories on politics in Russia and the near abroad, and breathed new life into the interview genre. During the summer of 2019, Azar — who at that point had already been serving as a municipal deputy for two years — became one the main, new politicians on the scene in Moscow, beginning with his efforts to protect arrested Meduza journalist Ivan Golunov, and then later during his defense of the right of opposition politicians to stand for election to the Moscow City Duma.
On May 26, 2020, Ilya held a protest outside of a Moscow police station. He was wearing a protective mask and disposable gloves, while holding a sign and demanding the release of Vladimir Vorontsov and Viktor Nemytov. Vorontsov is the administrator of an online community known as “Police Ombudsman,” which publishes reports of abuse within the Russian Interior Ministry; he has been accused of extortion and distributing pornography. Nemytov, Azar’s colleague, is known for taking part in “metro pickets” — weekly demonstrations in support of political prisoners. (Nemytov was arrested for holding an individual picket in support of Vorontsov near the police building earlier in the day on May 26, and also received a 15 day sentence).
“I consider the need to publicly express my protest, my disagreement (or, for that matter, agreement) with the authorities’ actions a very valid reason for leaving the house, no less respectable than buying bread or beer,” Azar wrote on Facebook yesterday.
Formally, Ilya Azar was arrested for conducting a picket, which violated Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin’s ban on holding public events during the coronavirus pandemic. This is a controversial decision, to say the least: Azar stood far away from other people with a sign, while wearing a mask and gloves. This “event” consisted of one person. Not to mention the fact according to the Russian Constitution, human rights and freedoms — including the right to conduct protests — can be restricted by federal law, but not by a Mayor’s decree.
We are demanding the immediate release of Ilya Azar.