Vladivostok editor jailed for reporting allegations of corruption in local government

August 1, 2000

His Excellency Vladimir Putin
President of the Russian Federation

VIA FAX: 011-7- 095-206-5173/206-6277

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply disturbed by the arrest of Vladivostok journalist Irina Grebneva, editor of the opposition weekly Arsenyevskiye Vesti. Grebneva was released today after a five-day detention imposed in retaliation for publishing telephone transcripts that appeared to implicate senior political figures in Primorye Territory in political corruption.

On July 27, a court in Vladivostok, the administrative center of Primorye Territory, found Grebneva guilty of “petty hooliganism” and sentenced her to five days in prison. The journalist was taken into custody straight from the courtroom, and was not permitted to appeal the court’s ruling.

According to CPJ’s Vladivostok sources, the local prosecutor’s office filed hooliganism charges against Grebneva after the July 20 issue of Arsenyevskiye Vesti ran transcripts of telephone conversations attributed to Governor Yevgeny Nazdratenko, his deputy Konstantin Tolstoshein, and newly-elected Vladivostok mayor Yury Kopylov. The transcripts suggested that the three officials had conspired in efforts to tamper with the results of the June 18 mayoral elections.

The transcripts were originally introduced as evidence in a July 10 court hearing during which losing mayoral candidate Viktor Cherepkov argued that the election had been rigged in Kopylov’s favor.

Grebneva, 57, began a hunger strike immediately after her sentence was pronounced. During her five days in prison, the editor was not allowed to see her attorney or any other visitors, except for her doctor.

Despite the local court’s ruling, Grebneva’s attorney Yevgeny Korovin appealed the imprisonment sentence to a higher court, which upheld it on July 31. In an interview that same day with the radio station Ekho Moskvy, Korovin promised to file an appeal with the European Court for Human Rights.

This is not the first time that Arsenyevskiye Vesti and other independent media in the region have come under attack from local authorities. Over eight years of its existence, according to CPJ’s local sources, the paper has been sued at least 30 times, all by local government officials. The paper has also been denied access to the state printing service on at least 15 occasions, most recently in June, 2000.

During the November, 1999, gubernatorial elections, according to Radio Free Europe, Governor Nazdratenko shut the offices of the independent radio station Lemma and also forced out the editor of the independent newspaper Moskovskiy Komsomolets vo Vladivostoke, considered by local officials to be too critical of the regional administration.

Democracy cannot flourish if journalists cannot inform the public about official breaches of public trust. As a nonpartisan organization of journalists devoted to defending press freedom around the world, CPJ condemns the Primorye government’s blatant attempts to suppress independent journalism in the territory. We call on you to ensure that all Russian officials refrain from jailing and otherwise harassing journalists for their work.

Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters. We await your reply.

Sincerely, Sincerely,

Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director