Around 80 journalists were arrested in Russia over the weekend amid continued protests against the detainment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, according to the free expression nonprofit PEN America.
More than 5,000 Russians have been arrested during pro-Navalny demonstrations which have called for Russian president Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinUS raises concerns about Russian troop movements to Belarus Putin tests a model for invading Ukraine, outwitting Biden's diplomats White House says Russia could launch attack in Ukraine 'at any point' MORE to resign.
Citing reports from local Russian media, PEN America found that around 80 journalists have been arrested this weekend. Among those arrested were Sergey Smirnov, editor of the alternative new outlet Mediazona and Anton Feinberg of the Russian media group RBC.
“The arrest and detention of Smirnov and dozens of other journalists is an attempt to intimidate and silence Russia’s independent media during a moment of national upheaval,” Polina Sadovskaya, PEN America’s Eurasia director, said in a statement.
“As the government attempts to silence Navalny and all those who call for change, authorities only succeed in reinforcing the power of those dissenting voices and the fragility of the state. Further, in attempting to intimidate and silence the press, Putin’s government exposes its own fear of those who report the truth,” Sadovskaya added.
Navalny returned to Russia earlier in January and was detained at the airport upon his arrival. He had been recuperating in Germany after he being severely poisoned by Soviet-era nerve agent called Novichok.
Newly sworn-in Secretary of State Antony Blinken denounced the Russian government's response to the protests.
"The U.S. condemns the persistent use of harsh tactics against peaceful protesters and journalists by Russian authorities for a second week straight," Blinken wrote in a Tweet on Sunday. "We renew our call for Russia to release those detained for exercising their human rights, including Aleksey Navalny."
President Biden touched on Navalany as a "matter of concern" during his first call with Putin as U.S. president.
“President Biden made clear that the United States will act firmly in defense of its national interests in response to actions by Russia that harm us or our allies. The two presidents agreed to maintain transparent and consistent communication going forward," the White House said in a statement.
According to the 2020 World Press Freedom Index from Reporters without Borders, Russia currently ranks 149 out of 180 countries in terms of press freedom. It holds an abuse score of 53.38, indicating a higher level of abuse and violence towards journalists.