Jailed Russian journalists take the field in pre-World Cup protest
A Reporter Without Borders (RSF) activist, wearing a mask depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin, stands next to a giant portrait of journalist Alexei Kungurov on Place de la Republique, transformed into a soccer field to denounce abuse of press freedom in Russia before the start of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, in Paris, France, June 13, 2018. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

Free speech campaigners rolled out a soccer pitch in central Paris on Wednesday with posters of jailed journalists as the players, in a demonstration about press freedom in Russia on the eve of the World Cup.

Standing like giant stickers from a collector’s album, the posters bore the faces of several journalists jailed in Russia, peering out form behind bars, under a banner reading “During the World Cup, repression continues”.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which organized the protest, says seven journalists are in prison in Russia due to their work and 34 have been killed since President Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000.

“The cameras are going to be focused on the pitch, on the corridors leading to the changing rooms, but what we want to do is focus them the other way, on Russia the country,” RSF’s Christophe Deloire told Reuters.

Among the “players” at the protest was investigative reporter Alexander Sokolov, convicted of organizing an extremist group and attempting to overthrow the authorities, a verdict RSF called “spurious” and politically motivated.

Before his arrest, Sokolov was researching alleged embezzlement of 93 billion roubles ($1.55 billion) of public funds.

Editing by Robin Pomeroy