MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian police raided the homes of two investigative journalists on Tuesday and detained a third as part of a criminal investigation into suspected slander that comes amid a wider crackdown on independent media.
Police seized laptops and other property from the homes of Roman Badanin, the editor-in-chief of the Proekt media website, and its reporter Maria Zholobova, the outlet said. Its deputy editor-in-chief, Mikhail Rubin, was also detained, it said.
Police in St Petersburg said they were investigating a criminal case into suspected slander over a film by Badanin and Zholobova that aired on the TV Rain news outlet’s website. Defamation is a crime in Russia.
The police said they had received a complaint from a Russian citizen, but did not identify the person who complained or the film that was the subject of the case. Officers were carrying out several searches, the police said.
Proekt, which is critical of the Kremlin, said the slander case was related to a documentary film by Badanin and Zholobova from 2017 about a St Petersburg businessman.
The Kremlin denied the police action could be seen as retribution for their work, declining to comment further on the case.
Several independent outlets have complained of mounting government pressure in recent months.
News website VTimes announced its closure earlier this month after being labelled a “foreign agent”, a move it said had scared away its partners and made it harder to report the news.
U.S. broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty says Russia has fined it more than $2 million for breaking the same foreign agent law and frozen its Moscow bank accounts. The Meduza outlet has also been labelled a “foreign agent”.
Online news site Newsru announced its closure last month for economic reasons, saying that advertisers were steering clear of it because its story selection did not follow pro-Kremlin state media.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by)