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Russia14 November 2003

Court commutes Galkin’s sentence of one year’s hard labour

The Chelyabinsk regional court yesterday commuted journalist German Galkin’s sentence of one year’s hard labour to a suspended sentence of six months. Galkin, who was convicted of defaming two members of the Chelyabinsk regional government, has appealed against his conviction to the supreme court.

Reporters Without Borders has strongly protested at a Russian court decision on 7 October 2003 to uphold a one-year forced labour sentence against journalist German Galkin for libelling local officials in the Urals.

The decision to confirm an earlier sentence handed down on 15 August was taken by the Kalininsky district court in the Cheliabinsk region.

" The sentence at the first hearing was shocking but it could have been seen simply as a warning. Confirming this sentence on appeal shows that the judicial system really wants German Galkin to serve such a sentence, which is completely unacceptable ",said Robert Ménard, secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders.

The organisation has urged German Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder who meets in summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the central Urals town of Yekaterinburg on the 8-9 October, to voice his dismay at the case. He has also been asked to raise the issue of risks facing Russian journalists because of articles in the penal code that provide for prison sentences for libel.

German Galkin, deputy editor of the daily Vecherny Cheliabinsk, publisher of the weekly Rabochaya Gazeta and head of the local branch of the opposition Liberal Russia party was first sentenced on 15 August 2003.

He was accused under article 129-2 and 130 of the penal code of the Russian federation for libelling two deputy governors of Cheliabinsk, Konstantin Bochkarev and Andreï Kosilov.

Kosilov sued in June last year after publication of three articles in Rabochaya Gazeta that accused the governor Piotr Sumin and his aides of embezzlement - "The Real Sumin" (16 April), "Government Patience" (8 February) and "Sumin’s Health" (12 February).

Galkin frequently criticised local officials and Governor Sumin in his articles and was physically attacked in front of his Cheliabinsk home on 14 June 2002.

The organisation recalled that under Article 130 (paragraphs 2 and 3) of the criminal code libel was punishable with up to one year‚s imprisonment with hard labour and that under Article 129 (paragraphs 2 and 3) a jail term of up to three years with hard labour.

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