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Russia21 August 2006

Hounding of weekly newspaper condemned

Reporters Without Borders today deplored as “unacceptable” a recent surprise search by police of the offices of the independent weekly paper Permsky Obozrevatel, in the Perm region.

It said it was “very concerned” about the future of the paper, which cannot at the moment be either printed or distributed. “Once again, an independent paper in Russia is being harassed for speaking out,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

Armed and masked federal FSB security police burst into the paper’s offices on 2 August to make a search after a court accused the paper of disclosing state secrets (forbidden by article 283 of the criminal code). They seized nearly all the office computers, CDs, other equipment and journalists’ notebooks.

Editor Tatiana Sokolova said printers and distributors now refused to handle the paper. The paper has its own press near Kirov, but regional official Nikolai Shaklein went to the premises on 17 August and threatened to seize all copies if it continued to print them.

The paper has also been accused (under article 137 of the criminal code) of “illegally interfering in the private lives of 600 Perm citizens” by, according to the paper’s founder, Igor Grinberg, possessing personal details about the city’s officials and major business people.

Grinberg said the “repressive” regime of regional governor Oleg Chirkunov began hounding the paper this spring after the city’s mayoral elections, in which the paper backed none of the candidates and criticised the organisation of the vote.

Permsky Obozrevatel, founded in 2000, was bought in 2002 by Grinberg, head of the security firm Alpha, and prints 10,000 copies.

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