Igor Rudnikov, the editor and owner of opposition newspaper Novye Kolyosa (New Wheels), has been arrested by Kaliningrad police on spurious extortion charges. In a November 3, 2017, court hearing two days after his arrest, Rudnikov described how three security officials aggressively detained him outside his apartment, causing him to hit his head, and forced handcuffs on him in a way that ultimately broke his arm.
The officials also reportedly beat Rudnikov as they dragged him into a police car and then drove him to Novye Kolosya’s offices. There, they interrogated Rudnikov and searched the premises for several hours, before Rudnikov lost consciousness because of his injuries. He was briefly allowed to go to the hospital to be treated for a broken arm and head injuries, before officials forced Rudnikov, wearing only his underwear and socks, back to his apartment, where they conducted another search. At last week’s hearing, a Kaliningrad court ordered Rudnikov be held in pretrial detention for 60 days. It is not clear if the authorities opened an investigation into the violence used against him.
Rudnikov, who is also a local city council deputy, has been targeted before: he survived a knife attack in 2016. Rudikov’s colleagues believe he was targeted this time for articles about a local official’s real estate holdings.
Kaliningrad is one of 11 Russian cities preparing to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup, football’s biggest global event. Novye Kolosya is known for its investigations into allegations of corruption by local officials, including during the construction of World Cup infrastructure.
While World Cup-related investigations may or may not have prompted this latest attack on Rudnikov, FIFA should take notice, and uphold its pledge to stand up for human rights like media freedom in the lead up to and hosting of the World Cup. Rudnikov’s arrest is just one of many concerning cases about freedom of expression and the media in Russia today.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe has said there are reasons to believe that Rudnikov’s detention is related to his reporting and called on authorities to investigate the incident and allow his newspaper to “continue fulfilling its important work without undue interference.” FIFA’s should be just as vocal and as principled about attacks on journalists in this World Cup host country.