English-language paper closes because of state harassment

New York, June 19, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists is disturbed by the closing of the alternative English-language biweekly The eXile in Moscow. The paper announced on its Web site last week that it was forced to shut down after nervous investors withdrew support in the wake of a politicized audit of its content.

“Russian authorities are using politicized inspections and broadly worded extremism legislation to silence critical journalists and media outlets,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. “In the case of The eXile, the state’s targeted harassment has had a chilling effect on the investors. We call on Russian authorities to withdraw all claims against the paper and to allow its staffers to continue their work.”

Investors withdrew support after the publication’s content was audited June 5 by officers from Rossvyazokhrankultura, the state media regulatory agency. The eXile has posted a fund-raising appeal on its Web site. In the publication’s trademark style, the note said: “The thing is, it takes money and we have none, zero, aren’t even getting paid any more. We need help. That’s what this mayday is about. You want us in the foxhole with you, fighting against all that’s good and decent in the name of all that’s funny and honest? Then cough it up, soldier!”

The four Rossvyazokhrankultura officers who reviewed The eXile apparently lacked a sense of humor. They told Mark Ames, the publication’s founder and editor, they were conducting an “unplanned audit” of the paper’s editorial content. “Their very first question was about writer and opposition leader Eduard Limonov,” Ames said on his blog. “The officials asked us why Limonov was in our paper. … Why did we publish him? Why was he on our masthead as a contributor?” Limonov is leader of the banned National Bolshevik Party and partner with former world chess champion Garry Kasparov in the Other Russia coalition. Both Limonov and Kasparov have been airbrushed from the Russian mainstream media, and authorities have forcibly dispersed the coalition’s protest rallies. Limonov wrote a regular column for The eXile since the publication started in 1997.

Ames said officers took several issues carrying Limonov’s work to check for “extremism,” “inciting national hatred,” “pornography” and “pro-drugs propaganda.” They also told Ames and his staffers they had received complaints from unnamed Russians who purportedly thought The eXile degraded Russian culture.

A spokesman for Rossvyazokhrankultura downplayed its role in the closing, telling Reuters: “We have not closed the newspaper. … We have taken away copies for routine analysis.”

The eXile routinely criticized both the Kremlin and the West, using strong and irreverent language, according to local and international press reports. The paper was known for its political satire, which often tackled serious issues such as corruption, crime and poverty.