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Russia launches criminal case against journalist Masha Gessen for “spreading false information” about Bucha war crimes in YouTube interview


Russia has launched a criminal case against prominent Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen for allegedly spreading “false information” about the Russian military’s campaign in Ukraine, according to a report by independent outlet TV Rain citing a ruling dated August 29, 2023.

The case was initiated because of Gessen's interview with journalist and YouTuber Yury Dud, in which they discussed war crimes committed by the Russian army in Bucha, a city west of Kyiv. The interview was posted on YouTube in September 2022.

If convicted, Gessen could face up to 10 years in prison.

Gessen — who uses they/them pronouns — is a nonbinary and transgender person. They moved to New York in 2013, when Russia started imposing restrictive policies against the LGBT community.

This is not the first investigation against Gessen opened in 2023. In early September, news broke that the Russian Investigative Committee had opened a criminal case against Gessen for “discrediting” the Russian army over the same interview. This case was reportedly opened on September 1.

In September 2022, Gessen gave an interview to Dud in which, according to the investigation, they allegedly “discredited” the army and commented on the crimes of Russian forces in Bucha. Gessen visited Bucha after Russian troops had pulled out of the area, and when asked by Dud what they thought of the chances of the Bucha crimes being “fake” or staged, as claimed by Russian propaganda, they said they thought the chances were zero.

“There’s a lot of evidence,” they said. “We know who the murdered people are, we know their relatives, we know that the stories of people in different parts of Bucha are very similar. [...] It’s impossible to imagine that a whole town has somehow conspired to talk about the Russian military in this way. Nothing in Bucha's story surprised me. I've seen the same thing in Chechnya.”

Gessen is a journalist, writer and LGBT rights activist. A former director of Radio Liberty's Russian service, they now lives in the United States and write for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New York Review of Books, and many other publications. Since 2017, Gessen has been a staff writer for The New Yorker.

Bucha was occupied by Russian troops after Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine in February last year. The mayor of Bucha reported that 20% of the city's population was killed during the Russian occupation.

Despite accusations of war crimes committed against civilians in Bucha, Moscow has denied the Russian army's involvement in the atrocities, alleging that Ukraine and its Western allies staged the scenes.

Multiple opposition activists, politicians and journalists, such as anti-war media founder Ilya Krasilshchik and politician Ilya Yashin, have been convicted over similar allegations relating to Bucha.

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