A policeman in St. Petersburg broke the arm of a journalist who was attempting to report on the nationwide vote on constitutional amendments last month. Authorities are looking into the incident, but appear to be prioritizing charging the journalist, David Frenkel, with three administrative offenses, for which he could face 15 days in jail. His court hearing is scheduled for July 27.

Frenkel reports for the Russian media outlet MediaZona.

On June 30, Frenkel arrived at the St. Petersburg polling station to look into reports of voting procedure violations there.

While the head of the polling station’s commission was checking Frenkel’s journalist identification, a man wearing an election observer badge tried to provoke Frenkel, to which he didn’t react. In response, the commission head requested police to remove Frenkel “for impeding the commission’s work.” As Frenkel was asking the officer’s name, the latter grabbed him, twisting and breaking his arm.  

Frenkel was hospitalized with a bone fracture and had to undergo emergency surgery.

Local law enforcement immediately started a preliminary inquiry into the police officer’s actions. Frenkel’s lawyer also filed a criminal complaint.

The case resonated widely in the media. The Russian ombudswoman, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe representative on Freedom of the Media demanded a swift investigation.

Yet the preliminary inquiry has been extended by several weeks.

Meanwhile, the police went on the offensive against Frenkel. On July 21 they issued him three administrative citations, for allegedly interfering with the election committee’s work, ignoring police orders, and violating “rules of the Covid-19 pandemic measures.” He faces fines and up to 15 days in jail.

“They’re waiting to use [the charges against me] as an excuse to close the investigation,” Frenkel told me. Frenkel said he fears they also may try to justify breaking his arm as an accidental consequence of preventing his alleged violations.

Prosecuting David Frenkel, instead of police who used disproportionate force against him, could send a chilling signal to Russian journalists peacefully doing their legitimate work. Russian authorities should ensure a prompt and thorough investigation into this case of police brutality and guarantee justice for Frenkel.