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Three Russian editors resign amid threats to press freedom

Three senior editors have resigned from the leading Russian media group RBC in a further sign of official pressure on independent journalism.

RBC said that the resignations on 13 May of editor-in-chief Yelizaveta Osetinskaya and her two close colleagues - newspaper editor Maxim Solyus and news agency editor Roman Badanin - were due to “differences regarding the media company’s future”.

But there was little surprise following a raid on the offices of RBC’s owner, the liberal-leaning billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who ran against Vladimir Putin for the presidency in 2012. Rumours of a criminal investigation into RBC’s management have also been swirling for weeks.

RBC’s newspaper is regarded as one of the last independent publications in Russia and its website has been among the most popular news sites in the country.

Its investigative reporting was championed by Osetinskaya after her arrival in January 2014. It covered the Panama Papers revelations and has published reports about the business links of people close to Putin, including members of his family.

According to the BBC’s report, most observers think that it is RBC’s reporting on Putin’s family that is the root of official displeasure.

And an RBC source quoted by in the Reuters report said the final straw appears to have been an article about an oyster farm that was set up near a luxury Black Sea residence known as “Putin’s palace”.

The editorial departures have been condemned by the International Federation of journalists (IFJ) and its European counterpart along with their affiliate, the Russian Union of Journalists (RUJ).

The RUJ, in expressing its concerns over the situation at the RBC, denounced the wider escalation of attacks against Russian media.

Last week, the newsprint version of the independent national newspaper Novye Izvestia, also known for its investigations, was closed by a sudden decision of its investors.

IFJ president Jim Boumelha said: “The resignation of three top editors is not only a loss for the RBC but also a major blow for press freedom in the whole country.

“It is disheartening to see that the Russian government continues to adopt a censorship approach that is putting freedom of expression and journalists’ work at risk every day.”

Russian government officials have denied that the editors’ departures had anything to do with pressure from the Kremlin.