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Russia22 August 2003

Journalist sentenced to year at hard labour for libel

Reporters Without Borders expressed its outrage today at the sentencing of Russian journalist German Galkin to a year in prison with hard labour for libelling regional officials in the Urals area of Cheliabinsk.

Galkin, publisher of the weekly paper Rabochaya Gazeta, deputy editor of the daily Vecherny Cheliabinsk and head of the local branch of the opposition Liberal Russia party, was arrested as he was travelling to Yekaterinburg.

"This is the first time since 1991 that a journalist in Russia has been sentenced to prison for libel," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard. "This is a serious legal precedent that violates international standards of press freedom and we demand that the sentence be cancelled at once," he said in a letter to Russian prosecutor-general Vladimir Ustinov.

"We ask you to do everything you can to ensure he is freed as soon as possible. We also ask you to see that the libel law is amended to remove the provision for jail terms and ensure that journalists can do their job without having to worry about being sent to prison."

Galkin was sentenced at a secret trial by the Kalininsky district court (under articles 129-2 and 130 of the Russian criminal code) for libelling two of the region’s deputy governors, Konstantin Bochkarev and Andrei Kosilov. Kosilov sued in June last year soon after the appearance of three articles in Rabochaya Gazeta that accused governor Piotr Sumin and his aides of embezzlement - "The Real Sumin" (16 April), "Government Patience" (8 February) and "Sumin’s Health" (12 February).

Galkin, who has appealed against the sentence, has often criticised local officials and Gov. Sumin and was physically attacked outside his Cheliabinsk home on 14 June 2002.

Article 130 (paragraphs 2 and 3) of the criminal code says libel can be punished by up to a year’s imprisonment at hard labour and article 129 provides for a jail term of up to three years without hard labour.

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