New York, April 14, 2006—Prosecutors in the western city of Kaliningrad have filed criminal libel charges against Arseny Makhlov, publisher of the weekly Dvornik, the Moscow-based news agency Regnum reported today. The charges relate to three articles in Dvornik during 2004 and 2005 which criticized a local prosecutor for accepting money to close a fraud case against a government official.
“This case is part of a disturbing trend among Russian officials of resorting to criminal defamation laws to curb criticism and investigative reporting,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We urge the authorities to drop the charges against Arseny Makhlov immediately.”
Prosecutors opened a criminal libel case against Makhlov December 5, and ordered him not to leave the region while the case was pending. This coincided with preparations by local political parties for March 12 regional parliamentary elections. Pressure on the local media escalated ahead of the elections with some publishing houses refusing to print newspapers, and several journalists being dismissed for criticizing local officials.
Kaliningrad police confiscated 30,000 copies of the newspaper Kaliningradskiye Novye Kolyosa on March 7 after officials determined it contained articles criticizing the business activities of regional parliamentary deputy Sergei Zolotukhin, according to local press reports.
Makhlov’s attorney Sergei Baranov told CPJ by telephone today that he expected the charges against his client to be filed formally in court in two weeks.
CPJ wrote to President Vladimir Putin in January about the Makhlov case.