New York, February 9, 2005—Federal authorities in Moscow have issued an official warning to the independent Moscow daily Kommersant for publishing a February 7 interview with Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, according to local and international press reports.
The Federal Service for Oversight of Compliance with Media Laws issued the warning Tuesday under the Media Law and the Law Against Extremist Activities, which bans the distribution of information that supports “extremist activities,” according to the Russian news agency Interfax.
By law, authorities can shut down media outlets that receive three warnings in a year. This is Kommersant‘s first warning in 2005. The newspaper has yet to receive official notice of the warning, but an unidentified official at the regulatory agency said it would be sent later this week, the Moscow radio station Ekho Moskvy reported.
Georgii Ivanov, head of the legal department at the Kommersant Publishing House, said the publisher was planning to challenge the validity of the warning in court, Ekho Moskvy reported. Ivanov said the newspaper succeeded in having a court strike down an April 2000 warning issued after Kommersant published a similar interview with Maskhadov.
In the recent interview, Maskhadaov called on President Vladimir Putin to open peace talks with the rebels in response to their unilateral ceasefire, something Putin has refused to do. Recent polls show that about half of Russians support some form of official contact between the government and the rebels, Agence France-Presse reported.
Russian law enforcement officials placed a $10 million bounty on Maskhadov and a second rebel leader, Shamil Basayev, after a string of deadly attacks against Russian forces and civilians.
Under Putin, the Kremlin has intensified its efforts to block news coverage of rebel views. The Foreign Ministry pressured several neighboring countries to shut down the pro-rebel news Web site Kavkazcenter last year, and it strongly criticized British authorities last week for allowing Channel 4 independent television to broadcast an interview with Basayev, according to press reports.