Russian police on Wednesday raided the offices of a student news site and charged four staff with inciting minors to protest as authorities piled fresh pressure on independent media.
DOXA student news site said the charges stem from a video about demonstrations in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who is serving two-and-a-half years in a penal colony over an old embezzlement conviction.
The four DOXA journalists now face up to three years in prison, if convicted.
On Wednesday evening, a Moscow court ordered that three of the journalists, Vladimir Metelkin, Alla Gutnikova and Armen Aramyan, obey a series of restrictions including a ban on the use of internet and telephone for two months.
They are also banned from leaving their homes between 00:00 and 23:59, a measure that one of their lawyers called "essentially a home arrest".
The fourth journalist will likely face the same restrictions.
"It's a politically motivated decision," Dmitry Zakhvatov, lawyer for Gutnikova, told AFP after the journalists were questioned by investigators.
DOXA says the four face charges of "inciting minors to participate in illegal activities", an offence punishable by up to three years in jail.
"Today at six o'clock in the morning searches were carried out in the office of our journal and in the apartments of our editors," DOXA said in a statement.
Dozens of mostly young demonstrators gathered outside the court, AFP journalists at the scene said, lining up along the courthouse walls and forming a human chain as they waited for the ruling.
"What is happening to them -- the pressure on them -- seems illegal to me," Anna Ivleva, a 24-year-old masters student of Soviet history, told AFP.
"I want to do everything to resist this and express support for people who are faced with this," she said.
The media outlet, founded by students at Moscow's Higher School of Economics, came to prominence in 2019 after it supported students who faced jail for taking part in opposition rallies.
- 'New low' -
Nationwide demonstrations were held in January and February demanding Navalny's release after he was arrested on arrival from Germany, where he spent months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning.
DOXA said it had already deleted the video after a request from Russia's media regulator.
"There were no calls to illegal actions in our video -- we were saying that young people should not be afraid to voice their opinions," it said.
"The pressure that the journalistic community has faced recently is unprecedented," the student news site added, vowing to continue its work.
Wednesday's raids came after security agents last week searched the home of prominent investigative journalist Roman Anin and questioned him over a 2016 investigation into the alleged wealth of Igor Sechin, the head of Russia's oil giant Rosneft.
Amnesty International on Wednesday called the police searches at DOXA "a new low for press freedom" in Russia.
"The brazen targeting of the DOXA journalists and Roman Anin is clearly politically motivated," the group cited its Moscow director Natalia Zvyagina as saying.