21:39 GMT29 January 2020
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    MOSCOW (Sputnik) - Sputnik Estonia staffers have been forced to terminate contracts with the outlet starting 1 January after receiving threats of jail terms of up to five years from the Estonian police, which is erroneously convinced that the news agency is on the EU sanctions list over the Ukraine crisis.

    Sputnik Estonia website has launched an emergency regime of operation in the wake of threats from the Estonian authorities to open criminal prosecution against the agency's staff, Sputnik Estonia head Elena Cherysheva said addressing the readership.

    "Starting from 1 January, we have been deprived of the opportunity to work for you. The Estonian Police and Border Guard Board issued an ultimatum to each of us — either we are breaking employment contracts with the Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency and we are no longer working in Sputnik Estonia, or criminal cases will be launched against us ... Does this mean that the website has finished its work? No, it doesn’t. The website will continue to work in a full volume, it will take us some time to organize it in a way to avoid constant pressure from the Estonian authorities. Naturally, we will try to restore the work as quickly as possible", Cherysheva said.

    During this period, the editorial office will mainly publish the news related to the situation around Sputnik Estonia, and not the news of the Estonian agenda.

    In December, the Estonian Police and Border Guard Board warned Sputnik Estonia that its journalists could face criminal prosecution if they did not sever their ties with Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency, Sputnik Estonia's Moscow-based parent company, by 1 January.

    The Estonian authorities have cited the 2014 EU sanctions as a pretext for potential legal action. Rossiya Segodnya has insisted that is not mentioned in any EU sanctions lists.

    The situation with Sputnik Estonia has already sparked an international reaction, with Harlem Desir, the head of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe media watchdog, urging Tallinn to "refrain from unnecessary limitations on the work of foreign media that can affect the free flow of information".

    Brussels, in turn, has pledged to deal with the matter, adding that the implementation and enforcement of the EU's restrictive measures was the unique responsibility of individual member states.

    Related:

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    Estonian Foreign Minister Says Tallinn Will Not Change Position on Sputnik Estonia Issue
    Rossiya Segodnya Submits Appeal to Estonian Police Calling for Reviewing Sputnik Estonia Sanctions
    Russian Ombudswoman Asks Estonian Counterpart to Protect Sputnik Estonia Employees' Rights
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