This week’s arrest of activist Roman Udot in Moscow should put in the spotlight the Russian authorities’ unwillingness to rein in stalking, invasion of privacy, harassment, and other abusive tactics by the state-affiliated television station, NTV.
The arrest stems from an incident in March 2018 when NTV reporters descended on Udot, a board member of Golos, Russia’s largest independent election monitoring group, at a Moscow airport. NTV, owned by Russian state gas company Gazprom, is notorious for harassing human rights activists and political opposition members and broadcasting smear campaigns against them.
The reporters peppered Udot with questions on camera. During the heated exchange, Udot used aggressive language toward the reporter, calling out the station’s earlier efforts to get at him through his mother. He then filed a privacy complaint with the police.
The police opened a criminal case against Udot for threatening the reporter’s life. The case was suspended while Udot was on an extended trip abroad.
When Udot returned to Russia in May, he immediately filed a request to reopen the case, to tell his side of the story. On May 20, police questioned and detained him, and he was placed under house arrest. If convicted, Udot faces up to two years in prison.
Udot’s ordeal with NTV started in 2011, when NTV – and the authorities – began targeting Golos for its nationwide monitoring of the parliamentary elections. Golos was the first group to be fined for refusing to register as a “foreign agent” under the 2012 law demonizing nongovernmental organizations that accept foreign funding. Every year, just before election day, NTV broadcast films smearing Golos staffers with misrepresenting the facts or falsely portraying them as paid agents of foreign powers. To get footage, NTV reporters have aggressively stalked Golos activists, including Udot, and their families and interfered with their privacy.
For the 2017 piece, NTV reporters stalked Udot’s ex-wife and their child. One of their films featured a story about Udot’s parents and the apartment they bought in Moscow so Udot could care for them. The film falsely suggested Udot had bought it with foreign money.
Golos has said that instead of receiving protection from the police, law enforcement may be sharing surveillance data with NTV. Some NTV videos feature audio recordings of Golos staffers’ conversations that appear to have been tapped. In 2016, another Golos staff member said that the group’s phones were likely tapped because NTV seemed to have detailed information about his whereabouts and confidential meetings. NTV journalists also had details of Golos members’ international travel and harassed them at the airport. After police searched the apartment of one Golos staff member in 2015 and confiscated photos, the photos were included in an NTV “documentary.”
At least two Golos activists relocated because of their ordeal. Udot chose not to, and his ordeal continues.