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A law enforcement officer stands guard outside a closed Moscow mosque A law enforcement officer stands guard outside a closed Moscow mosque 

Russia admits higher Covid-19 deathtoll amid journalist detentions

Russian authorities admit that more people have died of Covid-19 than previously disclosed. The government is also accused of misusing the pandemic to suppress dissent by detaining journalists and other critics.

By Stefan J. Bos

Moscow's Heath Department reluctantly acknowledged that the official death toll from Covid-19 in the Russian capital for April is twice as much as previously reported.

The city's health department now claims 1,561 people died from the disease - not 639 as initially announced.

Confirmation that the numbers had been under-reported emerged before Russia reported 232 new coronavirus deaths. That was its most significant daily death toll during the pandemic so far.

With nearly 8,600 new recorded infections, Russia has the third-highest number in the world of almost 388,000 cases.

The official number of deaths approaches 4,400 people.

Moscow questioned

Journalists based in Moscow had already questioned the official statistics saying the numbers were too low. But they were accused of fake news and distortion.

Being a journalist in Moscow isn't easy these days. A group of well-known Russian journalists was detained in Moscow on Thursday as they took part in single-person protests over a 15-day jail term handed down to a colleague.

Council of Europe Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic said she was "greatly dismayed" and called for their release. The journalists were taking part in single pickets - the only protest allowed without authorities' approval. They accused police of using the Covid-19 outbreak to crackdown on activists.

The reporters detained mostly work for independent media outlets. Most have now been freed, but charged with various offenses. Besides arrests in Moscow, detentions of government critics have also been reported in St.Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city.

It comes at a time when Russian President Vladimir Putin faces growing social unrest over the economic impact of the pandemic and other increasingly criticized policies.

29 May 2020, 15:12