Authorities shutter Novaya Gazeta’s Samara edition

New York, November 13, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the effective closure last week of the local edition of the Moscow-based independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta in the southern city of Samara and the criminal indictment of the edition’s editor for alleged use of counterfeit software.

On Thursday, Samara police raided the local bureau and confiscated Editor Sergei Kurt-Adzhiyev’s personal computer—the only one left after an earlier raid on the paper on May 11—along with all the publication’s financial papers, Novaya Gazeta reported. In mid-October, Samara prosecutors charged Kurt-Adzhiyev with violating copyright provisions under Russia’s penal code. Violations carry up to six years in prison.

“The authorities in Samara have effectively silenced an independent newspaper that dared to cover an opposition party campaign in an election year,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on local prosecutors to drop all charges against Sergei Kurt-Adzhiyev, return all seized equipment and financial documents, and allow the paper to print without fear of harassment.”

The pressure on the Samara edition of Novaya Gazeta started in May when the Other Russia opposition coalition, led by Garry Kasparov, was staging one of its Dissenters’ Marches in the southern city. On May 11, several officers from the Samara Main Internal Affairs Directorate (GUVD) arrived at the paper at noon, seized all of its computers, and accused the staffers of “using counterfeit software,” the newspaper reported on its Web site. Hours later, five more officers came to the newsroom and confiscated all of the bureau’s papers, Novaya Gazeta Samara correspondent Darya Grigoryan reported. The local edition regularly reported on Other Russia activities.

Oleg Panfilov, head of the Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, said Russian authorities have used the obscure software charge in the past to harass independent and opposition organizations.  The indictment against Kurt-Adzhiyev claims that U.S. software giant Microsoft and a local software company suffered damages worth 132,409 Russian rubles (US$5,395) because of the editor’s actions, Novaya Gazeta reported.