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A number of independent Russian media outlets have boycotted the State Duma, the country’s lower chamber of parliament, amid a sex scandal involving a senior lawmaker.
The Duma’s ethics committee on Wednesday cleared Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the State Duma’s committee on foreign affairs, of multiple allegations of sexual harassment.
CNN was unable to reach Slutsky for comment.
Three female journalists have accused Slutsky of behaving inappropriately toward them, saying he tried to grope and kiss them against their will.
They’ve come forward in a climate in which sexual harassment is widespread, and the #MeToo movement is roundly mocked by members of parliament.
CNN spoke with Ekaterina Kotrikadze, one of the women who has openly accused Slutsky of misconduct.
“My story is, as it appears, one of many stories from female journalists covering the Duma,” Kotrikadze, now deputy chief editor of New York-based RTVI television, told CNN.
“He [Slutsky] invited me into his office and closed the door. Without any words or discussion, he pushed me to the wall and tried to kiss me and tried to touch me,” said Kotrikadze, who was working for a Georgian television station at the time.
“After that I went back to Georgia, not even thinking about declaring something publicly because the times were different. I thought that it was my fault.”
Kotrikadze broke her silence last month after two female journalists spoke out anonymously about similar incidents with Slutsky in an article on the website of Dozhd (TV Rain), an independent broadcaster.
“Very brave women journalists in Moscow are doing the right thing,” Kotrikadze said.
Slutsky has denied the allegations, writing on Facebook on February 23: “Attempts to make Slutsky into a Russian Harvey Weinstein look like a cheap and crude provocation … and are bound to fail.”
Russian media reacts
The decision to exonerate Slutsky has sparked outrage among Russian media, with a number of outlets pulling their reporters from the lower house of parliament.
Moscow-based radio station Ekho Moskvy announced on Thursday that it would stop sending its journalists to the Duma, as they deemed it an unsafe place to work. The station was joined by news agency RBC, TV Rain and RTVI channel in recalling reporters entirely.
Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin responded in kind by revoking their accreditation.
Both Kommersant newspaper and Lenta.ru website said in company statements that they were breaking off all ties with Slutsky. The newspaper Vedomosti said its reporters won’t work with Slutsky or any of the members of Duma’s Ethics Committee in the future.
Speaking with reporters in a daily conference call on Thursday, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, repeatedly batted away questions about the chairman.
“Does the case of the ethical and moral behavior of the deputy Slutsky interest the Kremlin at all?” a reporter with Bloomberg asked, following a series of questions by Kommersant and Meduza online newspaper. “Are the norms of behavior that were considered normal in the Duma also considered normal in the Kremlin?”
Peskov refused to comment.
’They aren’t going to leave this alone’
While she wasn’t surprised by the committee’s decision, Kotrikadze said she was shocked by the language that lawmakers used in delivering the verdict.
“I was astonished by the tone and the words and attitude demonstrated yesterday,” Kotrikadze said. “They were trying to attack the journalists, including myself. They called us liars, they called this a political campaign timed before the elections in Russia.”
Committee members said the timing of the complaints, which coincided with the Russian presidential election campaign, signaled “selectivity” on the part of the female journalists and suggested that their steps had been staged, Russia’s state-run news agency Tass reported.
But she was heartened by the response from other media outlets, who have banded together.
“I really think that the reaction of my colleagues, and lots of Russian media outlets, is the best thing I could imagine. This is the first time in Russian history that the journalists have not obeyed the decision of the state,” she said.
“They aren’t going to leave this alone.”
CNN’s Nathan Hodge contributed to this report from Moscow.