Russia has accused German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) of promoting unrest in the country by allegedly urging Muscovites to take part in "unauthorized mass protests."
Beate Grzeski, the charge d'affaires at the German Embassy in Moscow, was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry on August 8 and was told that Russia "reserves the right to hold Deutsche Welle to account under Russian law if such calls happen again," according to a ministry statement.
It said the alleged calls to protest were made on DW’s Russian-language social media channels, without specifying the exact wording or content of the posts.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova first made the allegation on Russian state television on August 4.
The German media outlet dismissed the accusation as baseless, saying that the Foreign Ministry hadn’t "provided evidence."
"DW has rejected the allegations, believing them to be connected to the arrest of correspondent [Sergei] Dik," the station said, referring to one of its reporters, who was detained on July 27 while covering an opposition rally in Moscow amid a violent police crackdown on protesters.
Dik was released the same day.
'Behavior Of A Police State'
Earlier this week, Zakharova said the DW reporter "was no longer acting as a journalist and therefore shouldn’t have been able to enjoy the protection of usually afforded to the press."
DW Director-General Peter Limbourg later called the spokeswoman's words unacceptable.
"When journalists who are reporting on a demonstration are across the board declared as participants, it is not just a blatant violation of the freedom of the press but rather the behavior of a police state," Limbourg said in a statement.
Nearly 1,400 people were detained during the July 27 rally, which was held to demand that independent and opposition candidates be allowed to run for the September 8 municipal elections in the Russian capital.
More than 1,000 people were detained during a similar demonstration in Moscow on August 3.
At both protests, police threatened journalists and obstructed their work, damaged their equipment, and detained several of them, according to media reports and the Journalists' Union of Russia.
"Moscow's police force should ensure the safety of the press covering protests, not obstruct or detain journalists simply for doing their jobs," the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said in statement on August 8. "This aggression toward Russia's independent press is a clear attempt to intimidate journalists and censor coverage."
The police crackdown on the protesters triggered international condemnation, including from Berlin.
In a statement on August 4, the German Foreign Ministry said the "repeated interventions into the warranted right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression violate Russia's international duties and question the right to free and fair elections emphatically."
The ministry called for "the swift release of all peaceful protesters" and the inclusion of independent candidates who meet all legal requirements in the municipal elections scheduled for September.