CPJ condemns harassment of weekly, seeks photographer’s release

New York, October 3, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists deplores local authorities’ ongoing harassment of the independent weekly Permsky Obozrevatel, one of the few sources of independent news in the western Russian city of Perm. “We are deeply concerned by the continuing harassment of Permsky Obozrevatel,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said.

Perm police detained Vladimir Korolyov, a photo correspondent for Permsky Obozrevatel, on September 11 on suspicion of disclosing state secrets, according to local press reports. Korolyov had just been released from the hospital after undergoing treatment for a heart condition, the Russian service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty said. Two days later, the Leninsky District Court issued a formal arrest order charging him with “disclosing state secrets” under Article 283 of Russia’s criminal code, the Moscow-based news Web site Gazeta reported. Korolyov is being held in a Perm pretrial detention center. Authorities have not specified or described in any manner the state secrets allegedly disclosed, Permsky Obozrevatel Editor Tatyana Sokolova told CPJ.

Karen Nersisian, a prominent Moscow lawyer who is helping to defend Korolyov, said his client is being pressured to make statements against the newspaper and its founder, Igor Grinberg. Nersisian said his client had been placed in a cell with dangerous criminals.

“In the absence of any publicly disclosed evidence, it appears that the case against Vladimir Korolyov is simply a way to pressure an independent newspaper,” Simon said. “We call on Perm authorities to halt their campaign of harassment immediately.”

Last Wednesday, Perm authorities searched the homes of Permsky Obozrevatel’s eight staff members—from its systems administrator to the executive director of the paper’s parent company, Alfa, local reports said. The law enforcement team assigned to investigate Permsky Obozrevatel consists of officers from the Perm prosecutor’s office, the Regional Department for Combating Organized Crime (RUBOP), and the Federal Security Service (FSB), local press reports said.

Officers seized computers and private items such as photographs, videotapes, and audiotapes, sources told CPJ. All of the paper’s staffers are under criminal investigation and are considered witnesses in three criminal cases, which the Perm Regional Prosecutor’s Office has opened against Permsky Obozrevatel. For information on those cases, read CPJ’s August 25 protest letter.