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Russia puts prominent Russian-US journalist Masha Gessen on wanted list for criminal charges

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TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Russian police have put prominent Russian-American journalist and author Masha Gessen on a wanted list after opening a criminal case against them on charges of spreading false information about the Russian army.

It is the latest step in an unrelenting crackdown against dissent in Russia that has intensified since the Kremlin invaded Ukraine more than 21 months ago, on Feb. 24, 2022.

The independent Russian news outlet Mediazona was the first to report Friday that Gessen’s profile has appeared on the online wanted list of Russia’s Interior Ministry, and The Associated Press was able to confirm that. It wasn’t clear from the profile when exactly Gessen was added to the list.

Russian media reported last month that a criminal case against Gessen, an award-winning author and an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin, was launched over an interview they did with the prominent Russian journalist Yury Dud.

In the interview, which was released on YouTube in September 2022 and has since been viewed more than 6.5 million times, the two among other things discussed atrocities by Russian armed forces in Bucha, a Ukrainian town near Kyiv that was briefly occupied by the Russian forces.

After Ukrainian troops retook it, they found the bodies of men, women and children on the streets, in yards and homes, and in mass graves, with some showing signs of torture. Russian officials have vehemently denied their forces were responsible and have prosecuted a number of Russian public figures for speaking out about Bucha, handing some lengthy prison terms.

Those prosecutions were carried out under a new law Moscow adopted days after sending troops to Ukraine that effectively criminalized any public expression about the war deviating from the official narrative. The Kremlin has insisted on calling it a “special military operation” and maintains that its troops in Ukraine only strike military targets, not civilians.

Between late February 2022 and early this month, 19,844 people have been detained for speaking out or protesting against the war while 776 people have been implicated in criminal cases over their anti-war stance, according to the OVD-Info rights group, which tracks political arrests and provides legal aid.

Gessen, who holds dual Russian and American citizenships and lives in the U.S., is unlikely to be arrested, unless they travel to a country with an extradition treaty with Russia. But Russian court could still try them in absentia and hand them a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

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