Opposition editor placed in two-month pre-trial detention

New York, May 2, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by the detention of an opposition newspaper editor for criticizing the president of the Russian republic of Bashkortostan. Viktor Shmakov, editor-in-chief of Provintsialniye Vesti (Provincial News), was arrested April 28 by Federal Security Service (FSB) agents in Ufa, the capital of the semi-autonomous republic, 680 miles (1100 kilometers) east of Moscow, local and international media reported.

A court in Ufa remanded Shmakov, 63, in custody for two months while the FSB and Interior Ministry conduct a joint investigation into two articles published in a special edition of Provintsialniye Vesti in April. The articles criticized corruption and human rights abuses in Bashkortostan and called for the resignation of President Murtaza Rakhimov, who has ruled the oil-rich and mostly Muslim republic since 1993.

The special edition of Provintsialniye Vesti was distributed to opposition activists ahead of an April 27 meeting of local opposition parties in Ufa. Authorities deployed police to search cars entering the city ahead of the opposition meeting for opposition newspapers, according to the ANNews.ru news Web site. On April 27, FSB agents raided the offices of the Communist Party and the Coordination Council of the United Opposition, questioned opposition leaders, and confiscated computers, documents and copies of Provintsialniye Vesti.

“Locking up an editor for two months while security agents decide whether political criticism constitutes grounds for criminal prosecution is outrageous,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “Viktor Shmakov should be released immediately and all proceedings against him dropped.”

Authorities had charged Shmakov on April 26 with seeking to overthrow the government under Article 280 of the Criminal Code, which bans using the media to call for “extremist activity.” The two articles, bylined only with the initials “A.D,” provided advice on how to participate in antigovernment protests.

Airat Dilmukhametov, who acknowledges writing the two articles, said Shmakov was making arrangements for Mikhail Kasyanov—a former Prime Minister and outspoken critic of the Kremlin—to visit Ufa in late May, Regnum.ru news agency reported.
About 1000 opposition activists protested the editor’s arrest on Monday and more protests in front of the local FSB headquarters in Ufa are planned for next week, ANNews.ru reported.