TALLINN, January 1. /TASS/. Employees of the Sputnik Estonia news outlet (owned by MIA Rossiya Segodnya) have ben forces to terminate their labor contracts from January 1 becaise of the pressure from the authorities, Elena Cherysheva, head of MIA Rossiya Segodnya’s Estonian office, said in a statement released on Wednesday.
"We have been deprived of a possibility to work for you," the statement reads. "Estonia’s Police and Border Guard Board has faced each of us with an ultimatum: either we terminate our labor contracts with MIA Rossiya Segodnya and no longer work for Sputnik Estonia or they open criminal cases against us."
"We discussed the situation over and over in last days of the past year and arrived at a conclusion that, despite, to put it mildly, the absurdity of the authorities’ demands and threats we don’t want to believe to be true, we have no right to risk the lives of our people," she noted. "As a result, the office’s employees had to terminate labor relations with Sputnik Estonia and MIA Rossiya Segodnya."
However, in her words, Sputnik Estonia’s website will not be closed. "The website will continue its work but we will need some time to organize its work in a way to avoid permanent pressure from the Estonia authorities," she explained. "Naturally, we will do our best to resume operation the soonest possible."
"By fighting for our right to work we are fighting for the right of Estonian audience to have complete information," Chernysheva stressed. "Our opinion may not be shared. It can be challenged or criticized. But what is most important for us is a possibility for our audience to open our site every day, read reports and comments, and derive their own conclusions. This what is called the freedom of expression. Regrettably, we have none in Estonia, despite the fact that Reporters Without Borders have placed it on the 11th place in termsn of the freedom of speech."
The situation around Sputnik Estonia worsened in the autumn when local offices of foreign banks froze the bureau’s assets and the premises owner demanded Sputnik’s employees vacate the rented place in Tallinn by the end of February.
MIA Rossiya Segodnya said later that the Estonian authorities were threatening to open criminal cases against the Sputnik employees if they continued labor relations with the head organization. Tallinn explained that Sputnik’s employees may face sanctions because Rossiya Segodnya's head Dmitry Kiselev was blacklisted by the European Union.
Russian President Vladimir Putin described the situation around Sputnik Estonia as "incredible cynicism." OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir called on Tallinn to refrain from restrictions against journalists. Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu promised Desir to provide exhaustive explanations about the sanctions against the Russian news outlet.