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Russia24 September 2003

Call for immediate release of journalist jailed for year at hard labour

Reporters Without Borders called on top Russian officials today to immediately release journalist German Galkin, who was sentenced to a year in prison at hard labour on 15 August for libel and whose appeal will be heard on 26 September.

The press freedom organisation stressed the serious precedent it would create to confirm a prison sentence on a journalist as punishment for what he had written.

In letters to Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin, Sergei Mironov, chairman of the Federation Council (upper house of parliament), and Gennady Seleznev, chairman of the Duma (the lower house), it also called for the defamation law to be amended to abolish prison sentences for the offence.

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, had been arrested as he was travelling to Yekaterinburg.

He 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 deputy governors in the Urals area of Cheliabinsk, 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 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.

Freimut Duve, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)’s press freedom representative, and Walter Schwimmer, secretary-general of the Council of Europe, called on the Russian authorities on 29 August to bring this law into line with European press freedom standards.

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