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Monday, September 17, 2007

Annals of the Neo-Soviet Crackdown on Journalism

The Moscow Times reports:

Nezavisimaya Gazeta said Friday that it feared the authorities were trying to silence its critical reporting by arresting its deputy editor on extortion charges. Moscow's Tverskoi District Court on Friday sanctioned the arrest of the deputy editor, Boris Zemtsov, on suspicion of blackmailing a senior official, a court official said. "Having looked at the case materials, the judge ordered Boris Zemtsov, born in 1956, to be placed in custody," Moscow City Court spokeswoman Anna Usachyova said Friday, Interfax reported. Zemtsov was detained Wednesday in a sting operation after threatening to publish damaging material if the bureaucrat did not agree to pay $30,000 per month, the Interior Ministry said.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta said Zemtsov was detained as it prepared to publish a report on rising grain prices that accused Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev of mismanagement. "It is pointless to pressure us," the paper said in an editorial Friday. "We want to assure our readers that the editorial policy of our newspaper will not change, regardless of any pressure of possible provocations." Nezavisimaya Gazeta said the extortion allegations were "absurd" and that it would be providing legal help to Zemtsov. Prosecutors denied pressuring the paper. "To accuse us of putting pressure [on the newspaper] is complete stupidity, and there is no need to comment on this," a spokesman for the Prosecutor General's Office said. He confirmed Zemtsov had been charged with extortion, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.

The Agriculture Ministry declined to comment on the case.

There have been several cases in the past when journalists have been prosecuted for demanding money from officials and businessmen in return for not publishing a potentially damaging report. Nezavisimaya Gazeta is one of the few national newspapers left in the country that has not been bought up in the past few years by a large, Kremlin-friendly corporation.

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