Russian editor released after months in detention; case still pending

New York, June 21, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the recent release of Vladimir Chugunov, founder and editor of the independent weekly Chugunka inthe town ofSolnechnogorsk, who had been held incommunicado since January 21 on a charge of “threatening to murder or cause serious health damage.” The criminal case is still pending, however, and CPJ today called on authorities to drop the charge immediately.

Chugunov, who spoke with CPJ on Wednesday, said he was released May 27 from the Butyrsakaya prison hospital in Moscow, where he was held on an undisclosed diagnosis. Chugunov said he was given medications that were not disclosed to him and that he had become infected with lice and scabies during his stay. He said he went on a 10-day hunger strike to protest his treatment.

“We are relieved that our colleague Vladimir Chugunov is free after months of isolation from relatives and colleagues in unacceptable conditions,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on Russian prosecutors to immediately drop the charge against him and investigate the circumstances of his detention.”

Chugunov said authorities did not explain why he was being released after more than four months of being shuttled between prison cells, hospital wards, and psychiatric wards. Nor have authorities disclosed details of the criminal charge against him. An award-winning journalist, Chugunov has written articles critical of local government and judicial officials. A series of stories, for example, examined the consequences of the local government’s takeover of a chicken farm.

Chugunov’s family was not allowed to visit him during his detention, according to CPJ interviews with the journalist’s sister, Anna Zuyeva, and his brother, Dmitry. Chugunov said the Solnechnogorsk prosecutor’s office instructed him to sign a statement promising not to leave the area while the case is pending.

Chugunov was summoned to the 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.

Chugunka went dormant with the editor’s detention, which prevented the paper from covering local elections in March. Chugunov said he plans to restart the paper in the fall.

Chugunov is a 2002 recipient of the Andrei Sakharov Award, administered annually by the Glasnost Defense Fund, a Russian press freedom group. The award is named for Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov and given to those who work in defense of human rights and civil liberties.