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Russia. 5,000 dollar ransom on a journalist escaped to Georgia

It’s the prize promised on Facebook to find out where he is hiding. Sasha Sotnik told of his case in an interview to the Italian agency Aba News

by Gianfranco Sansalone – It’s been two months, exactly from the second half of September 2016, since the Russian journalist Sasha Sotnik left Moscow in secret and took refuge abroad, perhaps in Georgia. He fled after a man, who defined himself as an “admirer” within the Russian secret services, phoned him to tell him that “at the top floors” they were discussing on how to bring in him to the “fruit and vegetable department.” That is, they had decided to grind him, as you do with dissidents who persist in raising their voice.

Sotnik is 48 years old. He has been a musician, a performer, a composer and a singer. He has recorded six albums, is a member of the Writers Union of Russia. In recent years he has dedicated himself to journalistic and editorial activities. His most popular television services are interviews with passers-by gathered in the street, with simple and direct questions. Questions like: Do you agree with the invasion of the Crimea? Do you agree with the sending of Russian soldiers in the Donbass? Do you believe the statistics according to which Putin has an approval rating of 86% in the country? Do you trust the election results, or do you think they are the result of fraud?

Sasha Sotnik has collected hundreds of interviews, has edited them and uploaded them onto YouTube making way to criticism. To do this he founded a small but influential web TV, “Sotnik TV.” It seems that Sotnik’s videos have bothered someone, much to the annoyance of the iron regime that reigns under the domes and behind the historical walls of the Kremlin.

The story of Sasha Sotnik was made known in Italy through Aba News agency with a long interview conducted via Skype (see video). Sotnik has told how for years, despite the regime’s iron fist, he has been trying to express dissent, and of having suffered, as a result, threats, detentions, arrests, and intimidation. He expressed his concern for the few independent colleagues who still guard the freedom of information in Russia. He made the names of Arkadiy Babchenko and Igor Yakovenko in Moscow, Mikhail Afanasjev in Abakan, Vitaliy Schikelskiy in St. Petersburg. He said that they too are suffering pressure and threats on a daily basis. How and how long for they will be able to resist, it’s not possible to predict, he said.

What is certain is that the voices of dissent have been weakened, and today – Sotnik argues – even some media traditionally in the opposition, such as “Novaya Gazeta” (the newspaper that was once Anna Politkovskaya’s), the radio station “The Echo of Moscow”, the TV channel “Dozhd” (Rain), have been reduced to shadow of themselves, and are no longer the wagers of battles that they used to be. This is the situation, “the rest – Sasha Sotnik says, heating up for the indignation – is propaganda, it is not information managed by journalists but by propagandists that should be suspended from the profession, and which will soon pay for what are real crimes.”

During his four-year activity as a video journalist, violent reactions have not been amiss. But today the situation has become much more serious: against Sasha Sotnik an actual manhunt has been launched. It seems that Asab Khamchiev, son of the deputy of the Duma (the Russian Parliament), elected in Ingushetia, Belan Khamchiev, is trying to find him and has promised a prize of $ 5,000 to those who will provide the address of the place where he has taken refuge. In other words, a ransom or something similar.

Sasha Sotnik received on Facebook the following post. Olga Boloshina: “Good morning. It really sucks to pass on this latest “something”, that the bandits on duty sent me, but here it is. Just to put you in the know, that they’re trying to threaten you through “friends” and that Asad is among my followers. I blocked him”. From Asab Khamchiev: “Hi! We’re looking for Sasha Sotnik. He is among your Facebook friends. Do you have information on the apartment where he is hiding? For the address, $ 5,000 in hand under Sotnik’s door.”

After that for precaution he has left Moscow without leaving contact details, on the journalist’s Facebook profile several threatening messages appeared. An experienced blogger, Surkaten, investigated and found out that among the senders of those messages there was Asab Khamchiev. The investigation leading to him was published on the “LiveJournal” platform (read here) which brings together blogger communities from around the world.

The situation is serious. Sasha has left Russia, but does not want to ask for political asylum, nor he intends to stop being a journalist and denounce the repression of press freedom and freedom of expression in his country. A drama that the International Federation of Journalism summed up in this fact: three hundred journalists killed between 1992 and 2009. The situation has not improved in recent years. Over the past year yet more journalists have been killed, others attacked, other intimidated. Sasha Sotnik risks his life. Luckily on his Facebook profile and on other Russian social networks not only did insults and threats arrive, but also thousands of messages from citizens expressing solidarity, which encourage him to resist, offer him donations to help him. These donations are the only source of income available to Sotnik and allow him to continue publishing news and comments.

GSA

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