Independent editor jailed in Russia

New York, February 22, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists is gravely concerned about the fate of Vladimir Chugunov, founder and editor of the independent weekly Chugunka, who has been imprisoned since January 21, according to his family and the independent Moscow daily Novaya Gazeta.

Chugunov was summoned to police headquarters in Solnechnogorsk, 40 miles (64 kilometers) north-west of Moscow, on January 21, allegedly as a witness in a robbery case but was then jailed, his brother Dmitry Chugunov told Novaya Gazeta. Policemen confiscated back issues of Chugunka at his home, Novaya Gazeta said. The robbery charge was eventually changed to “causing deliberate health damage,” a criminal indictment that carries up to eight years in prison.

Novaya Gazeta reporter Elvira Goryukhina told CPJ that she learned that Chugunov was then sent to a mental hospital.

Chugunov, a 2002 recipient of the prestigious Sakharov award for his journalism—a prize named after Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov and given to those who work in defense of human rights and civil liberties—wrote a series of articles critical of local administration. In July 2002, attackers beat Chugunov and broke his right hand, saying, “Here you go now, writer, write if you can!,” Novaya Gazeta reported.

When the printing house GorReklama, owned by the municipality, refused to print Chugunka in January 2005, Chugunov produced the paper at home, reported Moscow-based press freedom group Glasnost Defense Foundation.

“We are shocked at the arrest of our colleague Vladimir Chugunov and his detention in a mental hospital,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on authorities to immediately release Chugunov and to let him publish his paper.”

Authorities told Chugunov’s sister Anna Zuyeva, who has been denied visitation rights, that the charge against Chugunov has changed once again, this time to “threat to murder or cause serious health damage,” a criminal charge that carries up to two years in prison.

On February 6, doctors from the district mental hospital in the nearby village of Chyornaya Gryaz called Zuyeva to inform her that Chugunov was there. On February 23, he is scheduled to undergo psychiatric evaluation, Novaya Gazeta reported.