A “picket” was held at the Latvian Embassy in Moscow, led by the head of the Rossiya Segodnya news agency Dmitry Kiselev, propagandists Maria Butina and Petr Lidov. Together with a dozen unknown people who covered their faces with masks under hoods, they demanded that Latvia release Marat Kasem, editor-in-chief of Sputnik Lithuania, and asked what is happening with freedom of speech in Europe. The latter was detained in Latvia on suspicion of espionage and violation of EU economic sanctions against Russia. Sputnik Lithuania is part of the Rossiya Segodnya media holding.
All participants of the "picket" held in their hands the same standard posters with the same inscriptions "Marat, we are with you", "Freedom of speech in free fall", "What's with the freedom of speech, Latvia?". Those present chanted "hands off Russian journalism."
What exactly the detention of Kasem has to do with freedom of speech is not clear, since the broadcasting of the Sputnik radio network has long been stopped in the European Union in connection with the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Meanwhile, the situation with Russian journalism is indeed unfavorable - only not in Latvia, but in Russia itself. In April 2022, Human Rights Watch published a study that noted that the already massive campaign by the Russian authorities to harass non-pro-government journalists intensified with the outbreak of war.
Dissenters are subject to arbitrary arrests, searches and public defamation. Unidentified individuals attack activists and vandalize the offices of human rights organizations. In statements by high-ranking officials, including President Vladimir Putin, opponents of the war were repeatedly called "national traitors."
Independent journalists covering protests are routinely detained by the police and sometimes visited at their homes, apparently to force them to stop covering the protests. Massive criminal cases are initiated under the new criminal article “on fakes” about the Russian army – the law on its introduction passed all the necessary instances in just two days – immediately after the February invasion of the territory of Ukraine.
On March 10, the State Duma adopted a law on a unified register of individuals - "foreign agents" and persons affiliated with them, where those who have already been recognized as a "foreign agent", as well as former and current founders, managers and employees of "media-foreign agents" should be included.
“The authorities have clearly decided to do away with civil society and the peaceful anti-war movement in Russia and are ready to resort to intimidation, defamation and ostracism in order to do this,” said Hugh Williamson, head of Human Rights Watch. “It looks like the ground is being set for a police state with total control and fear.”