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Russia2 June 2008

Paper critical of moscow mayor given notice to quit premises

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The daily Nezavissimaya Gazeta has been ordered to vacate offices it rents from the city of Moscow within one month, in a move seen by Reporters Without Borders as worrying for press freedom in Russia.

The notice to quit is supposedly to allow for major works in the building, but the paper’s management is convinced the decision is linked to recent articles critical of a speech by the mayor, Yuri Lujkov, on the need to review a friendship and cooperation treaty between Russia and Ukraine.

Editor and managing director, Konstantin Remchukov, received a letter from the city of Moscow property department on 16 May informing him that the newspaper had one month to leave the offices it has occupied on Miasnitskaya Street since 1990. The letter from the director of the property service said that the lease was up but added that major work was due to be carried out. Other tenants in the building have not received such letters.

“The letter was dated 16 May, the day after publication of an article on Lujkov’s speech in Sebastopol. It is purely political. We took up a critical position and not just on this speech”, Remchukov said. “It seems it was an article too far, even though we have never criticised Lujkov’s personally”.

“It is a very effective means of applying political pressure. We will never find new premises within one month and the newspaper will therefore cease to appear”, he added.

“The notice to quit received by Nezavissimaya Gazeta a few days after carrying articles critical of the mayor of Moscow is worrying for press freedom in Russia,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

“If as the city hall says, the notice is linked to the need to renovate the building, it should then do everything possible to allow the daily time to find new offices to continue its work”, said Reporters Without Borders.

Moscow city hall rejected the accusations. The mayor’s press secretary, Sergei Tsoy, said that the local authorities were “concerned by the difficulty for the newspaper of finding alternative premises and would do their utmost to see the paper was not left homeless.”

“The mayor has never gone after the press, even in 1999 when it was fiercely critical of him,” said Tsoy. He also called for an apology from Konstantin Remchukov for his “hasty words”. Failing that, “the mayor reserves his right to take it before the courts”, he said.

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