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Russia2 June 2009

Journalist seeks asylum in Finland after being convicted for prison torture articles

Elena Maglevannaya, a Russian journalist who was recently ordered to pay a fine of 200,000 roubles (4,500 euros) and to publicly retract her articles about the torture of a Chechen detainee, has asked for political asylum in Finland.

She filed her asylum request while in Helsinki to attend a civic forum organised by the Finnish human rights group Finnsforum. She is now staying in a residence for refugees while the authorities consider her request.

A court in the southern city of Volgograd found Maglevannaya guilty on 13 May of “disseminating false information discrediting the federal prison service’s reputation” in a series of articles about torture in Russian prisons, including the case of Zubayr Zubayrayev, a young Chechen imprisoned in Volgograd since 2007.

Maglevannaya had said she would appeal against her conviction.

20 May 2009

Journalist convicted of defaming prison service by reporting detainee torture claims

Reporters Without Borders condemns journalist Elena Maglevannaya’s conviction by a court in the southern city of Volgograd of defaming the prison service in articles about torture in Russian prisons that she wrote for the website Vestnikcivitas. Some of the articles were about the case of Zubayr Zubayrayev, a young Chechen imprisoned in Volgograd.

In a 13 May ruling, the court found Maglevannaya guilty of “disseminating false information discrediting the federal prison service’s reputation” and ordered her to pay a fine of 200,000 roubles (4,500 euros) and to publish a retraction. Maglevannaya has said she will appeal, and has no intention of retracting.

“The logic of the court’s ruling escape us,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The case involves serious allegations about the torture of a detainee, so why punish the journalist rather than get to the bottom of the case by examining all the evidence, starting with the prisoner’s own statements.”

The press freedom organisation added : “If the evidence is sufficient, the judicial system should investigate these inhuman practices instead of prosecuting the journalist. This would be a better way of defending the prison service’s reputation than silencing those who expose the mistreatment of detainees.”

Zubayrayev was arrested soon after his return to Chechnya in early 2007 from Austria, where had obtained refugee status. Thereafter his family received no word about him and he was on missing persons lists until August 2007, when a court convicted him of “assaulting a member of the security forces” and he began serving a five-year prison sentence in Volgograd.

At that point, he was able to establish contact with his sister and told her he was being mistreated. Human rights activists managed to visit the prison camp where he was being held and photographed his injuries. Two leading human rights activists - Lev Ponomariov of For Human Rights and Svetlana Gannushkina of Civil Solidarity - participated in a February 2009 news conference in Moscow about his case.

Maglavennaya began writing her articles about Zubayrayev and other cases of torture in Russian prisons in January 2009, prompting the federal prison service to bring the libel action against her.

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