Another Journalist Detained

The infamous law on extremism was again put into use against a journalist whose only extreme act was doing his job in an environment that does considers any criticism to be extremism. This time it stopped at intimidation, perhaps more insidious than actually arresting someone, which would expose the preposterous and exaggerated nature of the law in its current expanded form. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Valery Panyushkin, special correspondent at Vedomosti, a leading Russian business newspaper that is part-owned by Dow Jones & Co., the publisher of The Wall Street Journal, was the latest of several well-known commentators and activists who have been targeted under the law.

In what officials said was an effort to quash terrorism, amendments passed last year broadened the definition of extremism to include some forms of criticism of government officials. Penalties include prison terms, and the law allows courts to ban organizations and parties deemed extremist. Kremlin critics say the law is being used to muzzle or cripple opponents ahead of parliamentary elections in December and a presidential poll in March. Officials have denied that.

Mr. Panyushkin said an officer stopped him for questioning late Thursday as he prepared to board a train for a business trip to a city in southern Russia. Mr. Panyushkin said the officer didn’t specify the grounds for suspecting him of violating the law against extremism and let him board the train once he had signed a statement that he wasn’t a member of any extremist organization. A police spokesman said he couldn’t immediately comment on the incident.

“It’s incomprehensible to me on what grounds and by whom Valery could be suspected of violating that law,” said Tatyana Lysova, editorial director at Vedomosti. “He’s just a journalist.”

Mr. Panyushkin, 38 years old, writes about business and politics, and his columns have frequently attacked the Kremlin’s crackdown on dissent and political opposition. He was among a number of journalists arrested in Moscow this spring while attempting to cover an opposition march led by former chess champion Garry Kasparov that was violently subdued by riot police.

In Putin’s Russia, there is no such thing as being “just a journalist” if you report anything unflattering about the regime. The KGB is expert at the chilling effect created by such stops that say to everyone, “we are watching, we are listening, be very careful.” This is typical of the “version 2.0” of their repression tactics. Instead of direct confrontation that leads to uncomfortable scrutiny, they now prefer to work behind the scenes and in the dark when possible. They have learned the lesson of the chessplayer Aron Nimzowitsch, who famously wrote, “the threat is stronger than the execution.” Of course that doesn’t mean executions are off the table entirely, as many journalists have discovered when they didn’t cave in to the threats.