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Russia29 August 2006

Regional court orders closure of opposition weekly in Kaliningrad

The court-ordered closure of the weekly Novye Kolyosa (New Wheels) in Russia’s western enclave of Kaliningrad on 16 August at the request of the federal media regulatory authority, Rosokharankultura, was just the last chapter in the government’s harassment of this opposition newspaper, Reporters Without Borders said today.

Rosokharankultura had accused the newspaper of violating the confidentiality of a judicial investigation in a series of articles in May 2005 about the murder of local businessman Oleg Pokanevitch that cited video and audio recordings in which two suspects claimed the murder was ordered by members of the FSB (the former KGB).

This accusation against the newspaper was preceded by libel suits, obstruction of its distribution, confiscation of copies, a police raid on its premises and an attempt to murder its founder, Igor Rudnikov.

Reporter Oleg Berezovsky currently faces up to three years in prison under article 298 of the Russian criminal code in a libel suit brought by three Kaliningrad regional court judges over a November 2004 story. The trial began on 7 August.

Last month, the two companies that distributed the newspaper, Komsomolskaya Pravda-Kaliningrad and Pressa, suddenly stopped doing so without offering any explanation.

Meanwhile Ivanovo regional governor Serguey Pakhomov met with Ivanovo Press editor Valery Smetanin about a series of articles in the past two months criticising the region’s leaders. The governor warned that the newspaper could have “serious problems finding premises to rent” if it did not stop “smearing” him.

A few days after the meeting, Ivanovo Press received a letter from the regional government announcing that it was terminating the contract for the rent of its offices. The newspaper must move out by mid-October.

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