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Website editor convicted in slander case

(CJES/IFEX) - On 21 June 2007, Mikhail Afanasyev, editor of the website Novy Fokus, was found guilty of slander and insulting a police officer under Articles 129 and 319 of the Russian Criminal Code and sentenced by an Abakan court (Republic of Khakassiya) to a fine of 50,000 rubles (approx. US$2,000).

The charges stem from a lawsuit filed in September 2006 by Natalya Sunchugasheva, former senior aide to the public prosecutor, after Novy Fokus reported that Sunchugasheva had hit a child with her car. However, it turned out that the driver who ran over the child was not Sunchugasheva, but a distant relative claiming to be the former senior aide. Afanasyev subsequently apologized to Sunchugasheva and her husband, the deputy interior minister of Khakassiya, for his mistake and published a retraction on the Novy Fokus website. But despite Afanasyev's efforts to rectify the error, on 15 September, Sunchugasheva filed a libel lawsuit against him.

Afanasyev's lawyer, Pyotr Lysenko, intends to appeal the decision. "I will not call this case a political one, but the whole chain of cases against Afanasyev makes one think about freedom of speech in our country," he was quoted by news agency Novy Region as saying.

The total amount of fines and compensation payments Afanasyev has been ordered to pay the state and public officials over the past year has reached 101,000 rubles (approx. US$4,000).

The journalist says he also believes an attack he suffered on 17 June, which he suspects may have been the work of law enforcement officials, may be the result of his journalistic investigations.

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