The Russian news agency Sputnik says it is closing its operations in Estonia after nearly three dozen of its employees resigned following what they said was pressure from Estonian police.
Earlier in November, the Estonian public broadcaster reported that financial sanctions against Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today) were forcing Sputnik to close its offices in Tallinn, as banks froze the payments of salaries, taxes and rent. Sputnik is controlled by Rossiya Segodnya, whose CEO is under Western sanctions.
Sputnik published a statement on January 1 saying 35 people employed in its Estonian unit had ended their labour contracts and resigned, fearing possible criminal prosecution.
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"Estonia’s Police and Border Guard Board has presented each of us with an ultimatum," the statement said: "either we terminate our labor contracts [...] and no longer work for Sputnik Estonia or they open criminal cases against us".
“Unfortunately, experience dictates that despite the apparent absurdity of the Estonian government’s threats, criminal prosecution of journalists is a reality in today’s Europe,” the announcement said.
Last month, Estonian law enforcement sent Sputnik's Estonia unit a warning saying that staff members could be prosecuted due to European Union sanctions against Russia.
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"But what I want to emphasize is that we have not taken measures against the portal's media content," Estonia's Foreign Minsiter Urmas Reinsalu told the country's public broadcaster. "They are financial sanctions aimed at economic activity. I believe it to be justified."
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Sputnik Estonia, which publishes text and audio online in Russian and Estonian, is controlled by the Russian state media company Rossia Segodnya, which also includes the TV channel formerly known as Russia Today and the news wire RIA-Novosti in its holdings.
Dmitry Kiselyov, a TV commentator known for anti-Western diatribes, is among those included on the European Union's sanctions list. He is the CEO of Rossia Segodnya.