New York, August 20, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) strongly condemns a district court’s conviction of independent journalist German Galkin on criminal defamation charges in the southern city of Chelyabinsk in Russia’s Ural mountains.
According to local and international press reports, on August 15, following a trial that was closed to the public, the court sentenced Galkin to one year in a labor camp for allegedly libeling and insulting two deputy governors of the Chelyabinsk region, Andrei Kosilov and Konstantin Bochkaryov. Galkin is publisher of Rabochaya Gazeta and deputy chief editor of Vecherny Chelyabinsk, both opposition newspapers.
Kosilov and Bochkaryov filed the criminal defamation charges in June 2002 because of articles published in the February, April, and June editions of the bi-monthly Rabochaya Gazeta, said Andrei Koretstky, a political editor at Vecherny Chelyabinsk. The articles described alleged misspending by the Chelyabinsk regional administration, including the purchase of expensive cars and the creation of a pro-government television channel ahead of gubernatorial elections in 2005. The articles also mentioned a string of assassinations of local politicians and businessmen in the early 1990s, Koretstky told CPJ.
Kosilov and Bochkaryov claimed that Galkin—who is also the local head of the Liberal Russia opposition party—had authored the three articles, even though Galkin was not listed in any of the bylines and denied having written them, according to local press reports.
Lawyers representing Galkin reported numerous procedural violations throughout the investigation and the closed trial. Currently, the defense team is preparing an appeal to the regional court.
Although criminal defamation is on the books in Russia, local journalists and press freedom advocates noted that the conviction was unprecedented in recent Russian history.
“This is a horrible news for Russia’s ailing democracy,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We believe Galkin’s conviction should be overturned and that the parliament should repeal Russia’s antiquated criminal defamation law.”