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Russia27 June 2005

Journalist sentenced to seven months forced labour for defamation

Freelance journalist Eduard Abrosimov was sentenced to seven months forced labour for defamation by the regional court in Saratov, southern Russia on 23 June 2005.

He was sentenced over an article carried by Moscow weekly Sobesednik and a draft article found by investigators that was intended for regional daily Saratov-Stolitsa Povoljya.

Reporters Without Borders said this was the second heavy sentence handed down for defamation within a month and pointed out that this latest sentence was contrary to UN and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) recommendations under which press offences should not be punished by prison terms.

"In addition, sentencing a journalist to forced labour for having written an unpublished article seems particularly shocking to us," said the organisation.

Abrosimov was sentenced at the end of a one month trial for disseminating false news under Article 129 of the criminal code. He was immediately taken to prison in Saratov. He said he would appeal the sentence before the Russian Federation Supreme Court.

The case began with the publication of an article "Don’t peep through the keyhole" carried on 2 November 2004 in the weekly Sobesednik, under the pseudonym Andrei Zabelin. The article was referring to the sexual preferences of a deputy in the Duma, Viatcheslav Volodin.

Abrosimov was arrested on 21 January 2005, on the orders of the Saratov prosecutor, who opened an investigation for defamation. The journalist, then adviser to the governor of Saratov, Dmitri Ayatskov, has spent four months in custody. The investigators recovered an unpublished draft article from the hard disk of the journalist’s computer sent by email to a journalist on the daily Saratov-Stolitsa Povoljya.

In the article, Abrosimov reported that one of the investigators in the office of the regional prosecutor, Dmitri Petriaikin, took bribes from certain criminals to release them. The definitive article headlined "Let us reflect on a portrait" was carried in Saratov-Stolitsa Povoljya on 11 November 2004, raising local authority corruption but without naming Dmitri Petriaikin.

The Saratov prosecutor however ruled that the draft article was defamatory as soon as it had been sent by email and at least one person was aware of it.




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