This post is not about investigations, but about those who do them. Our colleagues and friends from The Project. The best, brightest and fearless. About those, whose friendship our Community of Investigative Journalists – Fond 19/29 is proud of, whom we gladly quote, from whom we urge to learn.
Galina Sidorova. Ages ago, now, it seems, in another life, when we founded our first project for the support of investigative journalists, we explained the meaning of the numbers in its name. 19 — number of the Article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights mentioning “the right to freedom of opinion and expression, including freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”; 29 — Article in the Russian Constitution, which reproduces this paragraph virtually verbatim. It seemed very important to us then to emphasize this. It still seems so now. Although that country with rudiments of democracy and political freedoms no longer exists. Rudiments of democracy have been trampled. That Constitution is no more. And Article 29 in its remaining emasculated version looks like a mockery of reality.
A dictatorship rules the ball, a spiteful and hypocritical dictatorship. The dictatorship does not need independent thinkers and media honestly informing society. It needs informants like Mr. Borodin who told on our colleagues from The Project to “Comrade Prosecutor” under the pretext that journalists are engaged in sabotage, while everything in the country should be “quietly calm”.
“Quietly calm” with such journalists is not an option. Just remember the “heroes” of Project’s investigative journalism disturbed over the past year: Arkady Rotenberg and Yuri Kovalchuk, both billionaires and friends of Putin; Viktor Zolotov, head of the Rosgvardia and former bodyguard of Putin; Dmitry Medvedev, former prime minister and now deputy chairman of the Security Council; Ramzan Kadyrov, head of Chechnya; Vladimir Kolokoltsev, Interior Minister; and Vladimir Putin himself. All of these investigations are thoroughly documented and professionally reasoned.
This “community of heroes” was silent for a long time before it came together with a “reply” in the spirit of “punishing the innocent and rewarding the uninvolved”. Henceforth, journalism in Russia is an undesirable profession. And journalists are undesirable citizens. Especially those who independently investigate, independently think and inform the public preventing the authorities from resting on the laurels of corruption and lawlessness.
Alexei Shlyapuzhnikov. Having stomped out independent parties and non-profit organizations from the political arena, the Russian state has launched a systematic attack on independent media. One by one, the most widely read media outlets that enjoy the trust of the Russian-speaking audience have been listed as foreign agents. The same fate befalls the brightest and fearless journalists, who are branded as foreign agents by the authorities in their personal capacity.
Investigative journalism is the most difficult genre in our profession and, in all likelihood, the most dangerous for an authoritarian political system. The Project, a team of talented and very productive investigators, was decided not to be designated as a “foreign agent”, but was immediately made an “undesirable”. The decision of the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation reads as follows: “poses a threat to the foundations of the constitutional order and security of the Russian Federation”.
Let’s make it clear: the threat to the foundations of the system comes from investigations into how millions of cubic meters of timber are stolen, how millions and billions of dollars are plundered from the state budget, how regional “princes” and “padishahs” are building their own pocket states with pocket armies and banks inside Russia. Once again: the threat, as it turns out, is not these facts themselves, but the professional and dedicated work of journalists who open society’s eyes to these crimes.
By destroying independent journalism and outlawing investigative reporting, the system voluntarily cuts off its own eyes and ears. It does not want to see and hear for itself and to allow others to see and hear how the corrupt pyramid of modern Russian statehood, hastily built by former Communists and Chekists on the ruins of the Soviet Union, is rotting, falling apart and cracking at the seams. It is very much like the children’s game, “I’m in the house”, except that unlike the children’s version, the state will inevitably lose. And journalism will remain, because, unlike the government, Russian citizens do not want to participate in this game, wanting to hear, see and know what and how is happening in their country, in their regions, in their cities and on their streets. Since there are those who want to know, there will always be those who can provide this knowledge.
Veronika Shlyapuzhnikova. Unfortunately, what happened to The Project is not an isolated story and, I’m afraid, will not be the last. It is unlikely that the Russian authorities or “silovics” were frightened by the publications of the “undesirable Project”. But they feel uncomfortable. They are uncomfortable with the fact that their deeds are known. They are uncomfortable that an uninvited journalist dared to break into their well-fed world. They ate uncomfortable that investigators throw the truth in their faces.
Even if the journalistic investigations do not result into criminal cases against its protagonists, it is important and necessary to make the corrupt officials themselves nervous from time to time, reading the truth about themselves. So that anyone who decides to commit a crime understands: journalists will find out, present evidence, and publish it.
I believe that Badanin’s team will not give up, the colleagues will become even more meticulous. I believe that The Project will not end.
Grigory Pasko. Of course, persecution of journalists for their professional activities did not begin yesterday. Our colleagues have been beaten, jailed, killed…
Almost all cases of barbaric and criminal attitude towards journalists in Russia, if not carried out by the state, were in fact encouraged by it. That is why cases of such attitude only multiply. This is why the roll of repressions against our colleagues will move on.
We do not only express our solidarity with those persecuted because we ourselves have been in such situations many times. We are convinced that the work of investigative journalists is important for the whole of Russia, for its present and its future. Those who wage war against journalists undermine the foundations of the constitutional system of the country: Article 29 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation is still not cancelled, and it states that everyone has the right to freely seek, receive, transmit, produce and disseminate information by any legal means and that freedom of mass information is guaranteed in the country.
Some Russian media projects had to register out of Russia not out of malicious intentions. And it is not out of fear that they are now forced to declare that they are in the process of liquidation and change their form of existence.
For now, one thing remains the strongest and most certain: journalistic investigations won’t stop. And this is what the team of The Project has declared.
Colleagues, we stand by you!