(New York, NY) ー PEN America condemned a police raid on the home of the editor in chief of the Russian investigative website The Insider today, just days after the government labeled the outlet a “foreign agent.” Roman Dobrokhotov was preparing to fly out of Russia the same day, but during the search, investigators seized Dobrokhotov’s passport, cellphone, laptop, and tablets. He was then taken to be questioned at the Interior Ministry, and his parents’ apartment was also searched. 

“The raids conducted on Roman Dobrokhotov’s apartment, alongside the recent labeling of The Insider as a ‘foreign agent,’ illuminate both the Russian government’s increased intolerance of independent investigative outlets and their ongoing assault on free expression and press freedom,” said Polina Sadovskaya, PEN America’s Eurasia program director. “The baseless intimidation of journalists and outlets like Mr. Dobrokhotov and The Insider further highlights the hostile environment the Russian government has established in recent months against any and all critics, and we fear that this hostility will only further increase ahead of the September Duma elections.”

News reports suggest that the raid of Dobrokhotov’s apartment could have been connected to the libel case initiated by Dutch blogger Max von der Werff over a tweet Dobrokhotov posted in November 2020 and an article that alleged von der Werff was coordinating with Russian military intelligence  to spread misinformation about the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014.

On July 23,  the Russian Ministry of Justice added The Insider to its registry of “media foreign agents.” The Insider is registered in Latvia, and Dobrokhotov reportedly believes that authorities are using this fact to justify the “foreign agent” designation. 

The labeling of The Insider follows similar efforts from authorities to target other independent media outlets—including the designation of the independent outlet Meduza as a “foreign agent” and the blacklisting of the Proekt media outlet as an “undesirable” organization. The designation has also forced some outlets to shutter; advertisers withdrew their business from VTimes after that outlet received the “foreign agent” designation.