Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says she will speak out about the lack of media freedom in Russia during a conference that Canada is co-hosting next month with Great Britain.
Her comments Monday came the same day as Russia’s three major newspapers — in a rare show of solidarity — put out nearly identical front pages to support a detained journalist.
Prominent investigative reporter Ivan Golunov was beaten and kept in custody for 12 hours without a lawyer after he was stopped by police in Moscow last Thursday, according to his lawyer. He faces drug dealing charges he alleges are fabricated by the police.
Freeland, a journalist before she entered politics, told reporters, “We are following the current situation in Russia very closely and with great interest and attention.”
She and British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt are hosting an international conference on media freedom in London in mid-July. Freeland said the event will bring up “specific cases” around the world where the lives of journalists are at risk but wouldn’t go into details.
“We will be talking at that conference about media freedom — or lack of it — in Russia, among other countries,” she said, following a talk at the International Economic Forum of the Americas in Montreal.
“This will be the first of what becomes an annual event,” Freeland continued, adding Canada has committed to hosting the second conference next year.
Kommersant, Vedomosti and RBK, among the most respected daily newspapers in Russia, published a joint editorial Monday under the headline, “I am/We are Ivan Golunov,” calling for a transparent probe into the case.
The papers dismissed evidence presented against the journalist. Russia’s media landscape is fragmented, and such a show of solidarity in the media is rarely seen. All three papers have faced pressure from authorities and covert censorship.
The circumstances of the journalist’s arrest have alarmed the media community. In an apparent attempt to portray Golunov as a professional drug dealer, police on Friday released several photos, reportedly from Golunov’s home, of what appeared to be a drugs lab before they retracted the statement, saying that the pictures were taken elsewhere.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 58 reporters have been killed in Russia between 1992 and 2019. One of the more famous cases involved Anna Politkovskaya, renowned for her critical coverage of the Russian military’s invasion and occupation of Chechnya. She was shot dead in her apartment building in 2006.
Also on Monday, the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights along with a coalition of other international groups produced a report claiming the number of political prisoners in Russia increased from 50 to almost 300 in the last four years.
Former Canadian justice minister and Raoul Wallenberg Centre chairman, Irwin Cotler, said in a statement the report “exposes and unmasks” the Russian government’s “culture of corruption and criminality.”
Cotler said the report identifies “the individual architects of this repression” and called on the Canadian government to impose targeted financial sanctions and travel bans on them.
Those identified include President Vladimir Putin, Alexander Bortnikov, director of the federal security service, and Aleksandr Konovalov, minister of justice.
Freeland spoke of her “tremendous respect” for Cotler and said she would study the report “with great interest.”
She said Canada has already imposed sanctions on an “extensive list” of Russian officials “and we are constantly reviewing … our sanctions and will continue to do that.”
— With files from The Associated Press
Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press