Russian police have put prominent Russian American journalist and author Masha Gessen on a wanted list after opening a criminal case against them on charges of spreading false information about the Russian army.
It is the latest step in an unrelenting crackdown against dissent in Russia that has intensified since the Kremlin invaded Ukraine more than 21 months ago, on Feb. 24, 2022.
The independent Russian news outlet Mediazona was the first to report Friday that Gessen’s profile has appeared on the online wanted list of Russia’s Interior Ministry, and The Associated Press was able to confirm that it was. It wasn’t clear from the profile when exactly Gessen was added to the list.
Russian media reported last month that a criminal case against Gessen, an award-winning author and an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin, was launched over an interview they did with the prominent Russian journalist Yury Dud.
In the interview, which was released on YouTube in September 2022 and has since been viewed more than 6.5 million times, the two among other things discussed atrocities by Russian armed forces in Bucha, a Ukrainian town near Kyiv that was briefly occupied by the Russian forces.
After Ukrainian troops retook it, they found the bodies of men, women and children on the streets, in yards and homes, and in mass graves, with some showing signs of torture. Russian officials have vehemently denied their forces were responsible and have prosecuted a number of Russian public figures for speaking out about Bucha, handing some lengthy prison terms.
Those prosecutions were carried out under a new law Moscow adopted days after sending troops to Ukraine that effectively criminalized any public expression about the war deviating from the official narrative. The Kremlin has insisted on calling it a “special military operation” and maintains that its troops in Ukraine only strike military targets, not civilians.
Between late February 2022 and early this month, 19,844 people have been detained for speaking out or protesting against the war while 776 people have been implicated in criminal cases over their anti-war stance, according to the OVD-Info rights group, which tracks political arrests and provides legal aid.
Gessen, who holds dual Russian and American citizenships and lives in the U.S., is unlikely to be arrested, unless they travel to a country with an extradition treaty with Russia. But Russian court could still try them in absentia and hand them a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
Pressure is also mounting on dissidents imprisoned in Russia. On Friday, supporters of Alexei Gorinov, a former member of a Moscow municipal council sentenced to seven years in prison for speaking out against the war, reported that his health significantly deteriorated in prison, and he is not being given the treatment he needs.
Gorinov was sentenced last year and is currently serving time at a penal colony in the Vladimir region east of Moscow. In a post on the messaging app Telegram, his supporters said his lawyer visited him on Friday and said Gorinov “doesn’t have the strength to sit up on a chair or even speak.” He told the lawyer that he has bronchitis and fever, but prison doctors claim he doesn’t need treatment, the post said.
The 62-year-old Gorinov has a chronic lung condition, and several years ago had part of a lung removed, the post said.
Allies of imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny were also concerned about his well-being on Friday.
Navalny is serving a 19-year prison term on the charges of extremism in the same region as Gorinov, and for the last three days his lawyers have not allowed to visit him, the politician’s spokesperson Kira Yarmysh said on X, formerly known as Twitter. Yarmysh said that letters to Navalny were also not being delivered to him.
“The fact that we can’t find Alexey is particularly concerning because last week he felt unwell in the cell: he felt dizzy and lay down on the floor. Prison officials rushed to him, unfolded the bed, put Alexey on it and gave him an IV drip. We don’t know what caused it, but given that he’s being deprived of food, kept in a cell without ventilation and has been offered minimal outdoor time, it looks like fainting out of hunger,” Yarmysh wrote.
She added that the lawyers visited him after the incident, and he looked “more or less fine.”
Navalny is due to be transferred to a “special security” penal colony, a facility with the highest security level in the Russian penitentiary system. Russian prison transfers are notorious for taking a long time, sometimes weeks, during which there’s no access to prisoners, and information about their whereabouts is limited, or unavailable at all.
Navalny, 47, has been behind bars since January 2021. As President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest foe, he campaigned against official corruption and organized major anti-Kremlin protests. His 2021 arrest came upon his return to Moscow from Germany, where he recuperated from nerve agent poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin.
Navalny has since been handed three prison terms and spent months in isolation in prison for alleged minor infractions. He has rejected all charges against him as politically motivated.