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Russia30 May 2006

Online newspaper editor faces a year of hard labour for insulting Putin

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the closure of online newspaper www.cursiv.ru by its Internet service provider on 22 May, three days after prosecutors being investigating its editor, Vladimir Rakhmankov, on charges of “insulting a representative of the state” under article 319 of the criminal code in an article headlined, “Putin, Russia’s phallic symbol.”

Claiming the article contained “phrases of an offensive nature for the president of the Russian Federation,” Vladimir Galchenko, the prosecutor of Ivanovo (near Moscow), ordered a search of Rakhmankov’s home and office and seized his computer. Rakhmankov has been placed under house arrest for the duration of the investigation, expected to take two months.

"The lack of coherence and transparency in this case is disturbing," Reporters Without Borders said. "We do not know the source of the accusations. Cursiv was closed by its hosting company, which did not wait for a court order and claimed that it had not paid its bills although it is hosted free of charge."

The press freedom organisation added: "There was no reason to close this site down, aside from pressure to do so from the local authorities. This action speaks volumes about the climate of fear in which these companies are now operating."

The offending article was colourfully satirical about President Putin’s appeal to the Russian people to increase the birthrate and thereby defend the country’s borders. It drew parallels with a recent report by the Ivanovo administration that said the city zoo’s animal population had risen.

Rakhmankov said his website was closed down because local officials did not like the way it criticised them for abuse of authority.

No trial date has yet been set. Rakhmankov faces a heavy fine or a sentence of six to 12 months of hard labour. As part of the investigation, a “linguistic expert” will be asked to assess the gravity of the insult to President Putin.


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