(Moscow) – A court in Moscow found Roman Udot, an election rights activist, guilty on November 28, 2019 of threatening the life of two broadcast journalists in a politically motivated prosecution, Human Rights Watch said today. The court sentenced Udot to 320 hours of correctional labor.
The journalists who were allegedly threatened work for NTV, a federal broadcaster notorious for its smear campaigns against human rights activists and political opposition. NTV had repeatedly and viciously targeted Udot and stalked his family members. Udot was a board member of Golos, Russia’s largest independent election monitoring group, which NTV also targeted.
“This case needs to be examined in light of the stalking and smear campaign by the pro-Kremlin broadcaster,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The political motivation behind the prosecution becomes clear.”
Udot’s prosecution stems from an incident in March 2018, when an NTV reporter with a cameraman accosted him at a Moscow airport, peppering him with questions and filming him without his consent. Udot lost his temper, screamed at the reporter using aggressive language, took away her phone, and called the police. When the police arrived, Udot filed a violation of privacy complaint, while the reporter alleged that he had attempted to steal her phone. A month later, however, the authorities opened a criminal case against him on charges of threatening the life of NTV journalists.
In May 2019, a court ordered house arrest for Udot. Memorial Human Rights Center designated him a “political prisoner.” Five weeks later, an appeals court replaced Udot’s house arrest with a curfew and a ban on communicating with other people involved in the case, and using a cell phone and the internet.
In her November 25 court testimony, Udot’s mother spoke of NTV’s smear stories about her son and Golos, which insinuated that the organization sought to destabilize Russia on orders of the United States State Department, and that Udot bought her an apartment with “dirty” money. She said these programs prompted threats and hate calls, including from former family friends, and had a serious negative impact on their lives.
The NTV journalist, Alexandra Miroshnichenko, testified that she was “very frightened, worried about [her] health and life and afraid that he [Udot] could inflict physical harm” on her colleague. However, a video recorded by Udot during the incident, which his defense presented as evidence, shows Miroshnichenko standing calmly near Udot and continuing with her questions about his work, and her colleague, Eduard Zhuravlev, filming Udot and Miroshnichenko without interruption until police officers arrived.
Udot told the court that prior to the incident, he had filed three complaints with police regarding harassment by NTV, but “received no response,” except “useless” formal declarations, and that he felt “helpless to protect his mother.” While not denying his use of aggressive language, Udot contended that his “emotional” outburst was solely aimed at protecting his family and making NTV correspondents understand that what they were doing was “wrong” and they should “stop it.”
“Roman Udot’s behavior toward the journalist was inappropriate,” Williamson said. “But there is little doubt that his prosecution was meant to punish him for his work at Golos and to discourage others from involvement in election monitoring efforts.”