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Russia/Kazakhstan26 April 2005

Russian police step up harassment of Kazakh opposition newspaper editor

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Reporters Without Borders protested as the repeated harassment of Irina Petruchova, editor of Kazakh opposition weekly Respublika and a Russian national, because of her political stand towards the Kazakh government. She was arrested and held for two days by police in Volokolamsk, 120 kilometres west of Moscow.

"This illegal arrest provides new proof of the Kazakh authorities hounding of one of the rare dissident voices in Kazakhstan," the worldwide press freedom organisation said, adding, "We urge the Russian interior minister to in future take responsibility for the protection of their national to shield her from all harassment whatever form it may take."

Four police officers swooped on Petruchova on 23 April 2005 at the town’s police station passport office immediately after she had collected her new identity documents. She was then taken to the main police station and held in custody for around 48 hours until 25 April. It was her second arrest by Russian police this year and it prompted a demonstration in her support by more than 100 Kazakh journalists.

The Interfax news agency reported that the Kazakhstan prosecutor-general had sent Moscow an extradition request for Petruchova, quoting a tax fraud case that went back to 2002. The prosecutor took the view that the case was too old to justify her extradition.

Since she is a Russian national, Petruchova is protected by Article 61 of the Russian constitution, Article 464 of the criminal code and Article 57 of the Minsk Convention of 22 January 1993 and therefore cannot be extradited to another country in any circumstances.

Police in St Petersburg arrested and questioned the journalist for four hours on 9 March 2004, after receiving an arrest warrant from the Kazakh authorities. Police handed her a document from the Russian interior ministry showing that the Kazakh fiscal police were seeking her arrest for infringing the tax law under Article 222-2 of the criminal law.

Petruchova had been forced to leave for Russia in 2002 as a result of constant harassment that she was suffering in the Kazakh capital of Almaty. She was sentenced to 18 months in prison on 4 July 2002, and then immediately amnestied, for failing to declare her Russian nationality.

On 22 May of the same year, the weekly’s offices in the centre of Almaty were wrecked in a fire bomb attack. Three days earlier, the body of a decapitated dog was found hanging in front of the entrance to her apartment. A funeral wreath had been sent to her on 8 March 2002.

More than one hundred Kazakh journalists demonstrated their support for Petruchova in front of the Russian Federation consulate in Almaty on 25 April 2005. Respublika, with a circulation of 40,000, is one of the country’s most read opposition papers.

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