Human Rights Watch (HRW) has joined international and Russian media-freedom watchdogs in deploring the shake-up at Russia's prominent newspaper Kommersant, calling it "the latest episode in the gutting" of the country's independent media.
"This week brought the bombshell announcement that Ivan Safronov and Maksim Ivanov, two veteran reporters for Kommersant, were pressured into resigning, spurring the paper's entire politics desk to quit in protest," Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at HRW, said on May 22.
Kommersant has been "one of the country's most respected news outlets" and "one of the last remaining mainstream newspapers still clinging to editorial independence while continuing to produce high-quality investigative reporting," Denber said in a statement.
"Russia needs more strong and independent newspapers like Kommersant. Let's hope it can hold out," she added.
Ivanov, a deputy chief editor of the business daily's political unit, and special correspondent Safronov were fired earlier this month over an article about the possible demotion of Federation Council Chairwoman Valentina Matviyenko, a staunch Kremlin ally.
Eleven journalists at Kommersant tendered their resignations in solidarity, and more than 180 others issued a joint letter saying that the newspaper' shareholders were "destroying one of Russia's best media outlets" for "short-term political gains."
The Russian Journalists and Media Workers Union condemned what it called a "brutal interference by shareholders in editorial policy."
In Paris, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said, "This editorial meddling in the Kommersant newsroom by the owner is a terrible blow to what is left of journalistic independence in Russia."
Kommersant's deputy editor in chief, Renata Yambayeva, said that the decision to fire Ivanov and Safronov was made by the newspaper's owner, Kremlin-friendly oligarch Alisher Usmanov. A spokesperson for the billionaire denies that.