Critical journalist jailed in St. Petersburg

New York, November 28, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists expressed alarm today at the imprisonment of Nikolai Andrushchenko, co-founder and an editor of the weekly newspaper Novy Peterburg in the Russian city of St. Petersburg. On Saturday, a court sentenced Andrushchenko to two months of pre-trial detention on charges of defamation and obstruction of justice. If convicted, the journalist could face up to six years in prison.

The charges, according to officials, stem from his coverage in 2006 of a murder investigation and trial in St. Petersburg. However, the reporter’s colleagues say they believe his persecution and imprisonment is the result of Novy Peterburg’s critical coverage of local authorities and its pro-opposition articles in the run-up to the country’s parliamentary elections on December 2.

“We are disturbed by the imprisonment of Nikolai Andrushchenko on more than one-year-old charges just days before an election,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “With a pattern of harassment of the journalist and his paper, it is apparent that the authorities’ actions are aimed at stifling an opposition voice before the parliamentary vote. We call on Russian authorities to release Andrushchenko without delay.”

On Friday, St. Petersburg police officers raided the newsroom and copied files from computers, saying that Andrushchenko was suspected of defaming officials in two articles unrelated to the other charges currently pending against him. The same day, officers of the St. Petersburg’s Directorate for Combating Organized Crime raided Andrushchenko’s house and arrested him, according to local press reports.

Local authorities have repeatedly harassed Andrushchenko, 64, and Novy Peterburg, the paper’s co-founder, Alevtina Ageyeva, told CPJ. Andrushchenko was beaten by unidentified attackers on his way home on November 9. On November 15, the paper’s print run containing articles about an upcoming dissenters’ march and critical stories about St. Petersburg’s head of police was bought out anonymously, and the company in charge of distributing Novy Peterburg refused to allow any remaining copies to appear on newsstands. A week later, the biggest local publishing house, Gazetny Kompleks, said it was overloaded and refused to print the paper’s issue; and another publishing house refused to print the edition carrying an article by opposition leader Garry Kasparov on its front page.