Russian police seize computers from Novaya Gazeta bureau

New York, August 31, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by reports that police in the Volga River city of Nizhny Novgorod raided the local bureau of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta on Thursday, seizing all of the office’s computers.

“This raid on Novaya Gazeta is yet another installment in the unending saga of harassment and intimidation against one of Russia’s few remaining independent voices,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “The authorities in Nizhny Novgorod must return all the newspaper’s equipment intact immediately and allow its journalists to work freely.”

Several officers from the Nizhny Novgorod Main Internal Affairs Directorate confiscated all six of the bureau’s computers, allegedly to check for unlicensed software, according to local press reports.

The directorate also raided the Nizhny Novgorod-based Foundation to Promote Tolerance, the successor to the shuttered Russian-Chechen Friendship Society. Four computers were seized from the group’s headquarters on Tuesday, according to local news reports.

Zakhar Prilepin, Novaya Gazeta’s chief editor in Nizhny Novgorod, said the raid was politically motivated retaliation for the paper’s critical coverage of the regional government. Prilepin said he believes there is a connection to the raid at the Foundation to Promote Tolerance. Foundation Director Oksana Chelysheva and staffer Stanislav Dmitriyevsky—former director of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society—are columnists for Novaya Gazeta’sNizhny Novgorod edition. Novaya Gazeta, which publishes three times a week, is based in Moscow.

The newspaper has criticized the local government’s plan to raze buildings, which the paper called historic, to allow for new construction. Chelysheva and Dmitriyevsky had both written on the subject. The paper has also given a forum to local opposition leaders and human rights defenders, according to Yevgeny Lavlinsky, director-general of Novaya Gazeta’sNizhny Novgorod operation. Lavlinsky’s comments were made to the independent radio station Ekho Moskvy.

This spring, another Novaya Gazeta bureau was raided and its computers confiscated on the same accusation—“using counterfeit software.” On May 11, police in the southern Russian city of Samara seized all computers from the local bureau of the newspaper ahead of a demonstration planned by political opponents.