New York, November 13, 2003—The Chelyabinsk Regional Court today amended the sentence of imprisoned journalist German Galkin from one year in jail to one year of probation, according to local press reports. Authorities immediately released Galkin from prison in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk.
Galkin, publisher of Rabochaya Gazeta and deputy chief editor of Vecherny Chelyabinsk, was convicted of criminal defamation on August 15 for allegedly libeling and insulting two deputy governors in his publications. He was sentenced to one year in a labor camp. Galkin’s defense team appealed the conviction but on October 7, the Kalininsky District Court in Chelyabinsk upheld the journalist’s conviction.
A popular outcry against the conviction and numerous procedural violations that occurred during the first trial had built pressure for Galkin’s release, according to local sources, including Galkin’s lawyer Anatolii Arastovic. That pressure may have led to the unusual action taken this week by the two plaintiffs in the case, Chelyabinsk Region deputy governors Andrei Kosilov and Konstantin Bochkaryov, who petitioned the court to reduce Galkin’s sentence.
Arastovich said that although Galkin is free, he will still appeal to have the conviction overturned.
The news Web site, Uralpolit.ru, noted that Galkin was the first journalist in post-Soviet Russia to be imprisoned for libeling a government official.
“We are delighted that the Chelyabinsk regional court has released German Galkin from prison,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). “Galkin’s conviction should now be overturned, and Parliament should move quickly to decriminalize Russia’s antiquated libel laws.”
Both of Galkin’s publications, Rabochaya Gazeta and Vecherny Chelyabinsk, are critical of Chelyabinsk’s pro-Communist governor, Pyotr Sumin. Kosilov and Bochkaryov, who report to Sumin, filed the charges in June 2002 because articles published in the February, April, and June editions of Rabochaya Gazeta 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.
Kosilov and Bochkaryov claimed that Galkin—who is also the local head of the Liberal Russia opposition party—had penned the three articles, even though Galkin was not listed in any of the bylines and denied having written them, according to local press reports.