SAMARA, Russia — The judges at the trial of a civil rights activist from Russia’s Republic of Tatarstan for mocking President Vladimir Putin and two of his close associates in a YouTube video have banned journalists from attending the proceedings, saying they were adhering to restrictions to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
Judges of the Central Military District Court in the city of Samara on January 14 refused to allow RFE/RL correspondent Yekaterina Mayakovskaya to attend the ongoing trial of Karim Yamadayev, citing the virus restrictions.
Yamadayev’s lawyer Vladimir Krasikov told RFE/RL that, as his trial resumed, his client protested that no journalists were present in the courtroom.
When Judge Igor Belkin told the defendant that journalists could not be present due to coronavirus precautions, Yamadayev challenged the judge’s explanation, saying that journalists had been present at all of the trial’s previous sessions.
Yamadayev, who says he is innocent, demanded that his trial be covered by the media. The judge rejected these demands and continued the trial.
“It looked strange to me, because when prosecutors were given the floor at the trial, journalists were allowed inside to cover the proceedings But when the defense team’s turn came to present testimony, journalists were banned from attending the trial,” Yamadayev’s lawyer said, adding that the courtroom where the trial is being held was big enough to preserve social distancing.
Yamadayev, a former police officer in Tatarstan, was arrested in January 2020 and charged with promoting terrorism and insulting authorities for a video he posted in late-2019 on his YouTube channel called Judge Gramm.
The video in question features Yamadayev, dressed as a judge, reading death sentences to two men whose heads are covered with black sacks. A white sign hangs from their necks with the names “Dmitry Peskov” and “Igor Sechin” respectively.
Peskov is Putin’s long-serving press spokesman, while Sechin is the powerful chief of Russian state-owned oil giant Rosneft.
Another man in the show portrays a third defendant who also has his head covered with a black sack and a sign with the name “Vladimir Putin.”
If found guilty, Yamadayev faces up to seven years in prison.