Story satirizing Putin’s birth goal prompts government retaliation

New York, May 23, 2006—The Ivanovo regional prosecutor’s office in central Russia has opened a criminal libel investigation against Vladimir Rakhmankov, editor-in-chief of the news Web site Kursiv, for allegedly insulting President Vladimir Putin, according to Russian press reports.

On Thursday, Kursiv published an article headlined, “Putin as Russia’s phallic symbol,” in which Rakhmankov satirized the president’s goal to boost the country’s birth rate as outlined in a May 10 address to the Federal Assembly, independent radio station Ekho Moskvy said. Rakhmankov used data from a recent report by the Ivanovo city administration, which pointed to an increase in the population of certain species in the local zoo.

He commented that the animals “immediately responded to the president’s appeal,” the business daily Kommersant reported.

The next day, investigators from the Ivanovo regional prosecutor’s office raided the newsroom, seized the paper’s computers, and sealed the premises. Investigators also searched Rakhmankov’s apartment and confiscated his personal computer. “My article is nothing more than a harmless satire of the presidential address,” Rakhmankov told Kommersant.

By Monday, the Internet provider hosting Kursiv refused the newspaper its services, alleging an unpaid debt, the news Web site Newsru reported. Rakhmankov disputed the assertion, saying Kursiv had made its payments. “The moment Kursiv became inaccessible to readers, I became sure this is a political order to kill the paper,” Rakhmankov told Newsru.

Kursiv recently published articles critical of the local Ivanovo administration.

“This case illustrates the outrageous lengths that authorities will go to silence critical voices,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call on the Ivanovo regional prosecutor’s office to drop the criminal investigation against Vladimir Rakhmankov and allow him to resume work without fear of retaliation.”