Mediazona is the brainchild of Pussy Riot, the Moscow-based punk rock protest group that likes to take pot shots at Putin. As soon as two of its members, Nadya Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, were released from almost two years in prison (they’d been found guilty of “hooliganism” after an illicit performance inside an orthodox cathedral), they decided to launch a Russian-language independent news service.
MediaZona was born, with a remit to focus on police, prisons and the criminal justice system. Its editor in chief is former Gazeta.ru political correspondent Sergey Smirnov, and in a press release touting its launch, Tolokonnikova said they wanted to fill in the gaps in information caused by government restrictions on independent media: “Because of the heavy censorship by authorities, there is no space for anything in the media that criticizes Putin’s policies and tracks human rights abuses by Russian courts and law enforcement.”
Today, MediaZona co-publishes in English on sites like openDemocracy. A story in November, for example, described the conditions endured by anarchists and anti- fascists kept in pre-trial detention after being arrested by the Russian security services for trying to “destabilize the political climate in the country.” Several of those arrested claimed the Russian security service, the FSB, tortured them into making confessions.
In 2018, protestors took to the streets of Moscow after the Russian government attempted to block the messaging app Telegram, which is used as a form of open and free communication. MediaZona’s Sergey Smirnov spoke to the thousands of people who had come to join the demonstration. “Is Putin to blame for blocking Telegram?” he asked them. “Yes,” they chanted. “Telegram is just the first step,” he said. “If they block Telegram, it will be worse later. They will block everything.”
In 2017, MediaZona launched a fashion line with colorful balaclavas, t-shirts and hoodies printed with the words “It’ll be worse.”