Police in St. Petersburg arrested Andrushchenko, co-founder and editor of the weekly Novy Peterburg, on suspicion of defamation. The next day, a local court placed him in pretrial detention on charges of defamation and obstruction of justice. The combined charges carried up to six years in prison.
Authorities claimed the charges stemmed from Andrushchenko’s 2006 coverage of a murder investigation in St. Petersburg. However, colleagues said they believe Andrushchenko’s imprisonment was the result of Novy Peterburg’s critical coverage of local authorities and its pro-opposition articles.
Local authorities had repeatedly harassed the 64-year-old Andrushchenko, the paper’s co-founder, Alevtina Ageyeva, told CPJ. Andrushchenko was beaten by unknown assailants on his way home on November 9. Copies of the November 15 edition of Novy Peterburg, which carried an article about a dissenters’ march and a critical story about St. Petersburg’s police chief, were bought out wholesale; the company in charge of distributing the paper refused to supply newsstands with more.
A week later, the newspaper’s printing house refused to print the next edition, which carried a front-page article by opposition leader Garry Kasparov. On November 23, St. Petersburg police officers raided the Novy Peterburg newsroom and copied computer files, saying that Andrushchenko was suspected of defaming officials. The same day, officers of the St. Petersburg’s Directorate for Combating Organized Crime raided Andrushchenko’s house and placed him under arrest, according to local press reports.