RUSSIA — Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) gives an interview to Austrian public broadcaster ORF in Moscow, June 1, 2018

By Polygraph

Vladimir Putin

President of the Russian Federation

Our mass media is free. People are free to speak out and make a name for themselves as representatives of many political movements do.”

FALSE

Russia is rated “Not Free” by an independent democracy watchdog

In an interview with the Austrian TV Channel ORF in the Kremlin, President Vladimir Putin claimed that his government does not restrict political freedoms and civil liberties of the Russian people.

“Our mass media is free. People are free to speak out and make a name for themselves as representatives of many political movements do,” he said.

We find Putin’s statement is false.

His comments came the day before Putin met with the Austrian chancellor.

AUSTRIA -- Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (R) welcomes Russian President Vladimir Putin during a one-day visit in Vienna,June 5, 2018

AUSTRIA — Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (R) welcomes Russian President Vladimir Putin during a one-day visit in Vienna,June 5, 2018

The Freedom House 2018 Freedom in the World report rates Russia “Not Free,” based on Russia’s score on the “Freedom rating” – 6.5; For “Political rights” – 7; And for “Civil liberties” – 6 on a scale of “1=Most Free; 7=Least Free.

“Power in Russia’s authoritarian political system is concentrated in the hands of President Vladimir Putin. With loyalist security forces, a subservient judiciary, a controlled media environment, and a legislature consisting of a ruling party and pliable opposition groups, the Kremlin is able to manipulate elections and inhibit genuine opposition. The country’s rampant corruption is one notable threat to state power, as it facilitates shifting links among bureaucrats and organized crime groups,” Freedom House said.

PUTIN: “Media is free”

“The media is not free in Russia, unfortunately,” Roman Badanin, former editor-in-chief of an independent and privately owned television station TV Rain told Polygraph.info. “Putin says many lies. He is very much aware of the pressure on the media and cases of government pressure on press freedoms in Russia.”

Roman Badanin, Editor-in-Chief of "TV Rain," Russia

Roman Badanin, Editor-in-Chief of “TV Rain,” Russia

The non-state Russian pollster Levada-Center found that in 2018, television remains the main source of information for 85% of Russians, or almost 125 million people.

RUSSIA -- A Russia's state-controlled Russia Today (RT) television broadcast van is seen parked in front of St. Basil's Cathedral and the Kremlin next to Red Square in Moscow, March 16, 2018

RUSSIA — A Russia’s state-controlled Russia Today (RT) television broadcast van is seen parked in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin next to Red Square in Moscow, March 16, 2018

There are twenty-two major national TV channels in Russia, and the federal government owns twenty of them either directly or via proxy firms such as Gazprom, a gas giant with state-controlled majority shares.

During Putin’s 16th “online town hall” with on June 7, Putin said the government does not interfere with the editorial policy of one of the major radio stations, the Echo of Moscow, despite the fact that the station is financed by Gazprom.

“Gazprom does, in fact, pay for Echo of Moscow operations but does not interfere with its editorial policies,” Putin said during the broadcast of Direct Line. “In part, this points to the fact that we pay attention to the so-called ‘freedom of press’.”

RUSSIA -- Workers of the ELSIB machine building company watch a live broadcast of Russian President Vladimir Putin's annual question and answer session in Novosibirsk, June 7, 2018

RUSSIA — Workers of the ELSIB machine building company watch a live broadcast of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annual question and answer session in Novosibirsk, June 7, 2018

Alexey Venediktov, the chief editor of the “Echo of Moscow” radio station, told Polygraph.info: “Gazprom does not interfere into the editorial practices at the radio, the president is correct.”

However, according to Venediktov, “The freedom of press in Russia is constantly diminishing. Specifically, amendments and changes into the law in the recent years as well as court practices and police standards (that) are obviously repressive towards the press freedoms.”

Alexei Venediktov, Editor-in-Chief of radio "Echo of Moscow," Russia

Alexei Venediktov, Editor-in-Chief of radio “Echo of Moscow,” Russia

According to Freedom House, the Russian government under Vladimir Putin has passed laws that have been used as leverage against independent media.

Since 2014, the Russian government implemented policies targeting influential bloggers. The security forces have the authority to monitor and oversee Russian bloggers with daily audiences over 3,000. Such bloggers are required to register as media and obtain a media license.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called Russia one of the deadliest countries for independent media and in most cases crimes against reporters remain unsolved.

“Today, journalists in Russia and post-Soviet states risk intimidation, harassment, arrest, and even murder for their work. Those who criticize the government or investigate sensitive issues like corruption do so at their own peril. More often than not, cases remain unresolved and victims and families do not see justice,” said CPJ in a meeting announcement last year.

PUTIN: “People are free to speak out”

Polygraph.info debunked, in the past, Vladimir Putin’s claims regarding political freedom in Russia. Recently, Putin called the 2018 presidential elections the “most transparent and clean vote in Russian history.

The conclusion drawn by observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was just the opposite.

“The 18 March presidential election took place in an overly controlled legal and political environment marked by continued pressure on critical voices.,” The OSCE reported. “Restrictions on the fundamental freedoms of assembly, association and expression, as well as on candidate registration, have limited the space for political engagement and resulted in a lack of genuine competition. The extensive and uncritical coverage of the incumbent as president in most media resulted in an uneven playing field.”

RUSSIA -- A combination picture shows a voter, holding a ballot before casting it at a polling station number 216 (L) and casting a ballot at a polling station number 215, during the presidential election in Ust-Djeguta, March 18, 2018

RUSSIA — A combination picture shows a voter, holding a ballot before casting it at a polling station number 216 (L) and casting a ballot at a polling station number 215, during the presidential election in Ust-Djeguta, March 18, 2018

Russia’s past elections have been characterized by a number of irregularities, including changes to the rules for candidate registration which favored the incumbent, as well as election day irregularities such as ballot stuffing and carousel voting, the report said.

Below are some Individual cases that demonstrate the types of the consequences people in Russia face for attempting to “speak out.”

June 8- Varvar Mikhailova was fined 160,000 rubles ($2,560) by a St. Petersburg court for participating in the city’s May Day march with an anti-Putin banner.In 2012 Vitold Filipov was charged with extremism for “liking” a photo from the film American History X on the social network VKontakte. Filipov argued that the film is “anti-fascist” and has been shown on Russian television, but he was still fined 1000 rubles (approximately $30 at the time).

In May 2018, 28 organizers from Navalny’s organization were taken into custodyand charged with “inciting riots” for retweets and shared posts on social media.

Participants of an unauthorized opposition rally gather in Tverskaya street in central Moscow on June 12, 2017

Participants of an unauthorized opposition rally gather in Tverskaya street in central Moscow on June 12, 2017

In June 2018, a court sentenced Vladimir Egorov, an activist with Russia’s Yabloko Party, with extremism after he published a post on social media calling for Putin to be removed. He received three years of probation.

In May 2017 a court gave Ruslan Sokolovsky a 3.5 year suspended sentence for “offending the feelings of religious believers” after he played Pokemon Go in a church and later posted a video of himself doing it on Youtube. Sokolovsky did not disrupt the church service in any way.

Volodymyr Balukh, a resident of Russian-occupied Crimea, was arrested after police searched his house when they noticed a Ukrainian flag flying from it. They later claimed to have found 90 rounds of ammunition and some explosives in the house, but this evidence has been largely refuted.

By Polygraph