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Russia18 May 2006

Supreme Court orders release of opposition journalist

Viktor Shmakov, editor of the sole opposition newspaper in the small semi-autonomous republic of Bachkortostan, Provintsialnye Vesti, was released from custody on 18 May 2006, on the order of the Supreme Court which ruled that his arrest was illegal.

The journalist was nevertheless put under house arrest while awaiting the outcome of the case in which he has been accused of inciting terrorist activities through the media..

After his release he told Reporters Without Borders that he was determined to continue bringing out his newspaper. He added that he was pleased at a demonstration in his support held in the capital Ufa on 18 May and that a foundation in support of the mass media (Fond Poderjki SMI Bashkiri) had been set up on 15 May.

3 May 2006

Opposition newspaper editor arrested in Bashkortostan

Reporters Without Borders today called for the immediate release of Viktor Shmakov, the owner and editor of the local opposition newspaper Provintsialnye Vesti (Provincial News), who was arrested on 28 April in his apartment in Ufa, the capital of the semi-autonomous republic of Bashkortostan, on a charge of inciting terrorist activities through the media.

“Shmakov has been the editor of a small, free opposition newspaper for 15 years and had never been troubled by the authorities,” Reporters Without Borders said. “But now they have arrested him and accused him of being an extremist for criticising the local government. These charges are shameful and unwarranted.”

The organisation added: “President Murtaza Rakhimov of Bashkortostan should not be allowed to get away with violating press freedom and human rights like this, and the president of the Russian Federation should condemn Shmakov’s arrest and demand his release.”

Shmakov, aged 63, faces three to five years in prison on the charges, which were brought under article 280-2 of the Russian criminal code because of articles published on 26 April in which he echoed the local communist opposition’s calls for the President Rakhimov’s resignation. Copies of the issue were distributed during a meeting on 27 April.

Shmakov is currently being held in a pre-trial detention centre run by the local interior ministry. Reporters Without Borders has learned that he is sharing a cell with 18 other detainees. His wife, Lyudmilla Shmakova, told Reporters Without Borders his arrest could jeopardize his health as he receives treatment for high blood pressure.

The judge in charge of investigating the case went to Shmakova’s home on 29 April and showed her the arrest warrant issued against her husband. The judge had the apartment searched and confiscated copies of the newspaper. Shmakova was unable to get any information about the sentence her husband is facing or when the trial will take place from either from the judge or the Federal Security Service agents who arrested him.

Bashkortostan is part of the Russian Federation. It has been ruled with an iron hand since 1993 by President Rakhimov, who came under severe criticism in April 2005 during a wave of discontent prompted by the Kirghiz revolution.

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