New York, February 5, 2008—On Friday, police in the southern Russian city of Togliatti raided the newsroom of an independent weekly, confiscating all 20 of its computers, newspaper staff told CPJ.
Special agents from the police department for high-tech crimes told the staff of Tolyatinskoye Obozreniye (Togliatti Review) that they were confiscating the equipment to check for alleged use of counterfeit software. The newspaper staff said they believe they are being harassed because they have backed an opposition candidate in local mayoral elections scheduled for March 2.
“This kind of harassment in the run-up to elections is a blatant attempt to shut-down opposition voices in the media,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on Russian authorities to return Tolyatinskoye Obozreniye’s computers immediately to allow the paper to return to production.”
According to newspaper staff, police raided thenewsroom on Friday afternoon, claiming they had been tipped off to alleged pirated software use. Tolyatinskoye Obozreniye Director Igor Kvasov told CPJ his newspaper bought its software licenses from the local Microsoft distributor last December and tried to show police the documents.
Using a similar pretext—the presence of pirated software—police raided newsrooms of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta and news agency Regnum in Samara in May. In November, police again raided the Novaya Gazeta bureau, confiscating the remaining computers and effectively shuttering the newspaper.
Kvasov told CPJ his newspaper has been subject to harassment before, and that it seemed to be related to the paper’s support of opposition mayoral candidate Sergey Andreyev, who is critical of the governing United Russia party. “We are bound by law to give space to all the candidates,” Kvasov told CPJ, adding that they have also chosen to endorse Andreyev. Kvasov said other local newspapers are afraid to cover the candidate’s campaign for fear of official harassment.
Last week, police tried to seize the print-run of the paper that contained articles on Andreyev. Yesterday, tax police informed the newspaper there would be an unscheduled inspection, Kvasov told CPJ.
Kvasov said he believes police will return computers in a month—after the polls are closed. Tolyatinskoye Obozreniye Editor-in-Chief Pavel Kaledin said the staff will use their personal computers to continue publishing. Kvasov said he had filed a complaint with the local prosecutor’s office to protest the police actions, including a series of mistakes on the warrant served.
Tolyatinskoye Obozreniye has had two of its editors murdered since 2002. Valery Ivanov was shot dead outside his home in August of that year and Aleksei Sidorov was stabbed to death in October 2003. According to newspaper staff, authorities have failed to fully investigate the killings. Tolyatinskoye Obozreniye is known for its investigative reporting on organized crime and government corruption in the industrialized city of Togliatti.