Yet Another Valiant Journalist Off to the Neo-Soviet Gulag (should he consider himself lucky it wasn't a bullet in the head)?
The Moscow Times reports that yet another heroic Russian journalist has been sent off the the neo-Soviet gulag for daring to tell the truth about his country.
A Moscow journalist was sentenced to five years in prison Monday on charges of inciting ethnic hatred in reports about the conflict in Chechnya.
Human rights activists and lawyers said the sentence for Boris Stomakhin (pictured left, listening to the verdict), editor of Radikalnaya Politika, a Moscow-based monthly newspaper, was unprecedented in its severity.
"Putting people in prison for words is unfathomable. Some get less prison time for murder," said Boris Timoshenko, head of the monitoring center at the Glasnost Protection Foundation.
The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists condemned Monday's ruling and expressed hope that it would be overturned.
"Five years is a very serious and troubling sentence," said Nina Ognianova, the organization's Europe and Central Asia program coordinator.
"We are seeing fewer and fewer journalists who can provide reliable and truthful reporting on Chechnya," she said.
Last month, Reporters Without Borders ranked Russia 148th out of 168 countries in its World Press Freedom index.
Stomakhin, who also contributed opinion articles to the rebel Kavkaz Center web site, frequently called the presence of federal troops in Chechnya an "occupation," and compared President Vladimir Putin to Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic.
Stomakhin's lawyer, Alexei Golubev, said he planned to appeal the ruling within 10 days, saying it hinged on a dubious linguistic analysis of the journalist's articles.
Moscow's Butyrsky District Court ruled that "Stomakhin approved of the terrorists' actions, which were aimed at destroying the Russian people as a race," Interfax reported.
Stomakhin maintained his innocence Monday, saying he was "tried for his views and not for any real crime."
"In the articles, I expressed my opinion, with which people were free to agree or disagree," Stomakhin said after the sentence was read, RIA-Novosti reported.
An opinion is not a "call to action," he said.
A spokeswoman for the Prosecutor General's Office declined to comment on the sentence Monday, saying she had no information about it.
Golubev said that in comparison to other cases against journalists, Stomakhin's sentence was exceedingly harsh.
Last month, Vladimir Rakhmankov, editor of the web magazine Kursiv, was found guilty of insulting a public official and fined 20,000 rubles ($750) for referring to President Vladimir Putin as "a phallic symbol."
In February, Stanislav Dmitriyevsky was given a suspended two-year sentence for publishing comments from Chechen rebel leaders who were calling for peace talks in 2004. Dmitriyevsky was editor of Pravo-Zashchita, a publication of the Nizhny Novgorod-based Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, which was closed by the authorities last month.
Speaking after Monday's hearing, Prosecutor Dmitry Kulakov said he was satisfied with the ruling, news agencies reported.
Timoshenko of the Glasnost Protection Foundation said he could not understand why the written word had inspired such a harsh prison sentence, while the authorities do not seem to respond similarly to racially motivated violence.
He noted that seven people charged in connection with the 2004 killing of a Tajik girl in St. Petersburg were acquitted of murder charges and received prison terms ranging from 1 1/2 years to 5 1/2 years. The Supreme Court this year upheld their relatively light prison sentences and hooliganism convictions.
"St. Petersburg is becoming downright dangerous for people who don't have a Slavic appearance, and Moscow's outskirts are also moving in that direction," Timoshenko said.
Four dark-skinned foreigners have been killed and dozens of others attacked in St. Petersburg this year, including an Indian medical student and an Uzbek man who were fatally stabbed in September and July, respectively. Students from Africa in St. Petersburg and an Armenian teenager in the Moscow region also died this year in apparent hate crimes.
Despite the rise of racially motivated violence, the authorities seem to be more concerned with statements critical of ethnic Russians than with acts of violence against other ethnic groups, Timoshenko said.
If upheld, Monday's ruling would set a dangerous precedent of prosecuting journalists, Golubev said.
Stomakhin asked the court for leniency because of his disability and the health problems of his mother, whom he supports. Stomakhin was injured during his arrest in March, when he fell from a fourth-story window in a failed attempt to avoid capture. He suffered spinal injuries and a broken leg in the fall and now uses crutches to walk, his lawyer said.
A criminal investigation into Stomakhin's activities was opened in December 2003, but the case did not go to trial until last month because Stomakhin had managed to avoid arrest.