Estonian journalist arrested in Russia ahead of presidential elections

PSKOV, Russia (BNO NEWS) — An Estonian journalist working for Estonian Public Broadcasting (ERR) was arrested in northwestern Russia on Thursday for allegedly filming without special permission from the Foreign Ministry, the broadcaster reported.

ERR correspondent Igor Taro was arrested in Pskov Oblast after interviewing a regional campaign representative for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who is participating in Sunday’s presidential election and is expected to win despite widespread protests to demand free elections. He had also interviewed community members and a local representative of the Communist Party.

Taro, who was filming a report for ERR’s Eesti Television (ETV), was working with a valid journalist visa which he had previously used. However, during campaigns ahead of elections in Russia, foreign journalists are required to apply for special permission from the Foreign Ministry.

ERR reported that police interrogated Taro for about three hours after which he was charged with “illegal filming in foreign territory” and released. He was taken to the Estonian consulate and is scheduled to appear in court on late Friday morning, the broadcaster said.

Taro said he does not believe the filmed footage contains sensitive material, but police officers nonetheless confiscated his camera and memory card. Police said the equipment would be returned to Taro after the material has been deleted from the memory card.

“Can you imagine a situation in which, during the Estonian presidential election, a Russian journalist would be arrested and his or her equipment confiscated?” said ETV news chief Urmet Kook, as quoted by ERR. Kook said the incident demonstrates that Russian authorities fear objective media coverage of the presidential election.

Last month, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in downtown Moscow to express their opposition to Putin’s expected return to the Kremlin. A crowd, estimated at approximately 120,000 by organizers but given as a little over 35,000 by police, chanted slogans against Putin, who was barred by the Constitution from standing for a third consecutive term in 2008 and handed over power to his hand-picked successor Dmitry Medvedev.

Rallies also took place in about 30 other Russian cities. Police estimated that 5,000 people rallied against Putin in St. Petersburg, but local organizers put the number at more than 20,000. Russian news agencies said police figures of the number of protesters were believed to be false.

State-run pollster VTSIOM said last month that support for Putin is at 52 percent, with Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov and Liberal Democratic party head Vladimir Zhirinovsky tying for second with 8 percent. A poll by the independent Levada Center, however, said that a mere 49 percent of Russians believe the elections will be fair.

On December 4, Russia held parliamentary elections which many Russian voters and international observers said were marred by large-scale fraud. The ruling United Russia party won more votes than any of the other three parties, but it still suffered a significant drop from the two-thirds constitutional majority it had enjoyed for the past four years.

Throughout December, huge demonstrations took place across the country to criticize the elections which they claim were rigged in favor of Vladimir Putin’s governing United Russia party. Some of the demonstrations were the largest since the fall of the Soviet Union.

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