The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Igor Rudnikov
Igor Rudnikov is a prominent opposition politician in the Kaliningrad region and was the editor of Noviye Kolyosa, a now-closed independent newspaper renowned for its investigative journalism, particularly on government corruption. Rudnikov has been in custody since November 1, 2017, awaiting trial on extortion charges (Criminal Code Article 163(3)).
In 2017, Noviye Kolyosa published a story questioning how Viktor Ledenyov, a member of the powerful Investigative Committee (which answers directly to Vladimir Putin), had acquired a lakeside luxury home. Soon thereafter, Rudnikov was arrested by the FSB – it was alleged that he tried to extort $50,000 from Ledenyov in exchange for ending the negative reporting about him. The arresting officials forced handcuffs on Rudnikov so violently that they broke his arm, and they later beat him so badly that he had cracked ribs and a severe concussion and lost consciousness. In a video, members of the FSB can be heard telling their superior that they had given Rudnikov a “good beating.” Yet the violence against him was never investigated.
The charges against Rudnikov are highly implausible. As another opposition politician in Kaliningrad explained: “Only an idiot would try and blackmail a general in the Investigative Committee. It would be like attempting to blackmail Putin himself and hoping he would pay up. And Igor Rudnikov is certainly no idiot.” Similarly, Memorial HRC noted: “It is difficult to imagine a situation in which an opposition MP and a journalist who was persecuted in connection with his public activities would extort money from the head of the regional administration of the [Investigative Committee].”
Leading experts and organizations have connected Rudnikov’s detention to his reporting. The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media stated that “there are reasons to believe that Igor Rudnikov’s detention is related to his journalistic work,” and Reporters Without Borders has described the charges as “clearly trumped-up” and “an act of political revenge.”