Journalist on trial for satirizing Putin

New York, September 21, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned by the prosecution for criminal insult of a Russian journalist who satirized President Vladimir Putin’s campaign to boost the birth rate.

Vladimir Rakhmankov, editor-in-chief of the independent news Web site Kursiv, went on trial today in the city of Ivanovo, northeast of Moscow, charged with insulting the president in a May article titled “Putin as Russia’s phallic symbol.” The article satirized Putin’s goal, outlined in a May 10 speech to the Federal Assembly, of increasing Russia’s population. Under Article 319 of Russia’s criminal code, “Insulting a Public Official,” Rakhmankov could be penalized with up to one year of corrective labor.

Local prosecutors brought the case without the involvement of Putin or presidential representatives, according to local press reports.

“It is outrageous that local prosecutors should bring the full force of the criminal law to bear on a journalist for writing a commentary on the public policy of an elected politician,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Prosecutors should never resort to the criminal law to shield public figures from the press. Satire is an essential and vital element of democratic discourse. We call on the authorities to halt the prosecution of Vladimir Rakhmankov immediately.”

Read CPJ’s May 23 alert.

On May 19, investigators from the Ivanovo regional prosecutor’s office raided Kursivs newsroom, seized computers, and searched Rakhmankov’s apartment, confiscating his personal computer. Kursiv was forced to change Internet providers after its previous provider halted service following the Putin article.

The criminal insult charge follows the publication of several articles critical of the local governor, Mikhail Men, on the Kursiv site. On March 15, Rakhmankov went to meet with the governor’s press secretary, Andrei Parnov. When he arrived, an unidentified man walked out of Parnov’s office and hit Rakhmankov several times, according to the Moscow-based press freedom group Glasnost Defense Foundation. On March 17, Rakhmankov filed a complaint with local prosecutors but they refused to take up the case, the news Web site Lenta reported.