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Russia18 May 2007

Imminent eviction of Russian Union of Journalists condemned as “crass harassment”

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the government’s announced intention to evict the Russian Union of Journalists (RUJ), which represents more than 100,000 journalists, from its offices in central Moscow. RUJ secretary general Igor Yakovenko said the union received a letter from the Federal Property Management Agency on 16 May saying it would have to hand over its premises to the state-owned Russia Today TV station within a month.

“This is a crude act of harassment by the authorities with the apparent aim of obstructing the union’s activities,” the press freedom organisation said. “The failure to give a reason for the eviction, the ridiculously short time the union is being allowed to vacate the premises, and their transfer to a state-controlled TV station created to promote Russia’s image abroad all indicate that this is crass attempt to disrupt the union’s activities.”

Reporters Without Borders continued: “The fact that the RUJ is to host an International Federation of Journalists congress on the subject of press freedom in Russia on 28 May only reinforces this hypothesis.”

The organisation added: “We appeal to the authorities to reconsider, and to let a viable solution be found within a reasonable period. Journalists and those who defend their rights and the rights of the public to independent news and information should be supported and not harassed. The climate currently prevailing in Russian for independent journalists and opposition members is oppressive. This must stop.”

The RUJ trains journalists, defends their interests and promotes the development of an independent press. Its members include press freedom organisations such as the Centre for Journalism in Extreme Situations.

An opposition demonstration was due to take place this afternoon in Samara, where a two-day EU-Russia summit began yesterday. The city authorities reluctantly gave permission for the march, but the main leaders of the movement - Garry Kasparov and Edouard Limonov of Other Russia and Lev Ponomarev of For Human Rights - were arrested at Moscow airport.

A Moscow representative of Human Rights Watch, Alexandre Petrov, was also arrested and then released after the departure of the flight he had planned to take to Samara. “Dissenters’ Marches” organised in March and April in Nizhny-Novgorod, Moscow and St. Petersburg were broken up by anti-riot police, who arrested journalists covering the marches as well as hundreds of demonstrators.

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