Police in St. Petersburg seize copies of opposition newspaper

New York, April 30, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the seizure on Sunday of thousands of copies of a special edition of Obyedinyonny Grazhdansky Front, the weekly newspaper of the United Civic Front (OGF), a Russian opposition group headed by the Kremlin critic and former chess champion Garry Kasparov. Confiscated by police in St. Petersburg, the copies were to be transported to Moscow and its metropolitan region ahead of an opposition rally planned for May 1 in the Russian capital, according to local press reports.

Officers from an organized crime unit of the St. Petersburg branch of the Interior Ministry confiscated 52,000 copies, according to the opposition Web site Namarsh. The seized copies represent just over half of the edition’s 100,000 circulation. Copies destined for other locations were not seized.

The special edition, titled Marsh Nesoglasnyh (March of the Dissenters), is devoted to the April 14-15 antigovernment rallies held in Moscow and St. Petersburg, at which special forces in full gear detained several hundred protesters and used physical force against dozens.

Olga Kurnosova, chairwoman of the St. Petersburg branch of OGF, told Namarsh that the seized copies were to be distributed to Moscow and the surrounding area before a May 1 OGF-organized opposition rally that is to call for fair elections. The Russian service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty said police did not have a court order for the seizure. It is unclear whether or when the copies are to be returned.

Police said the vehicle that was to distribute the copies in the Moscow metropolitan region did not have proper documentation, the Russian news Web site Zaks reported.

“We are deeply disturbed by the seizure of much of this special edition of Obyedinyonny Grazhdansky Front,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on Russian authorities to release the seized copies immediately.”