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Russia21 December 2005

Prison administration lays complaint against a REN-TV journalist

REN-TV presenter Marianna Maximovskaya has had a complaint laid against her by the prison administration after she referred on air to jailed Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s hunger strike in August.

The former head of the oil giant Yukos has been in prison since 25 October 2003.

“We are baffled by the desire of the Russian authorities to deny a fact that was widely covered by the national and international press”, said Reporters Without Borders.

“One might wonder what the prison administration hopes to achieve by demanding a public retraction for something that it is alone in refusing to acknowledge.

“This kind of harassment is unacceptable in a country like Russia, which is a member of the G8 and purports to be democratic”, it added.

Maximovskaya told Reporters Without Borders that she had no idea why the Federal Service for the Execution of punishments (FSIN) had last week lodged a complaint against her and demanded a retraction for something that happened more than three months ago.

Le FSIN denies that the Russian billionaire went on hunger strike, arguing that no official sources of the federal service had acknowledged it.

The radio Echo of Moscow, the daily Kommersant and the newspaper Izvestia all picked up the report but, strangely, only REN-TV has been taken to task by the prison administration. Maximovskaya does not know what penalty she is at risk of, only that she has to appear before a court in Moscow on 12 January 2006.

REN-TV is 70% owned by private companies close to the government since it was taken over in July this year. News anchor Olga Romanova, was forced to resign on 5 December after being taken off air. Three managers, including head of news, Yelena Fedorova then resigned from the company.

Reporters Without Borders is concerned at the tightening grip on Russian media and escalating incidents of censorship and harassment brought to bear on the last few journalists who still dare to challenge the official version of events.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky was sentenced on 21 May 2005 to nine years in prison for tax fraud. He began a hunger strike last August in solidarity with his former associate Platon Lebedev, who had been sentenced to solitary confinement.

News agency Ria Novosti, which is close to the government, had put out a release quoting health bulletins on Khodorkovsky from doctors within the prison.

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