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Ruling party's defamation action against newspaper intended to intimidate press prior to elections, says CJES

(CJES/IFEX) - The Saratov regional division of the United Russia party has announced its intention to file a libel lawsuit against the newspaper "Saratovsky Rasklad", alleging that an article in the newspaper slandered Vyacheslav Volodin, the deputy speaker of the State Duma and secretary of the presidium of the general council of the United Russia party.

According to the online daily "Kommersant", "Saratovsky Rasklad" published an article on 9 August 2007 accusing Volodin of accidentally injuring a woman while he was spear fishing. The United Russia party denies this allegation and is seeking damages of 3.5 million rubles (approx. US$136,000) from the newspaper and 500,000 rubles (approx. US$19,500) from the author of the article, Korshunov.

On 23 August, the newspaper's editor-in-chief, Vladimir Spiryagin, published an apology for carrying the story with "the name and surname of State Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Volodin." However, Volodin's peers found the article to be defamatory to the reputation of the Saratov division of the United Russia party.

Spiryagin, according to "Kommersant", is sure the information stated in the article is accurate. "I cannot collect the documented proof of the published information and so, according to the laws of journalistic ethics, I had to publicly apologize for having mentioned the name and surname of the United Russia party's general secretary. Nevertheless, we had a reliable source of information and I personally spoke to the victim immediately after the information arrived," he said.

Spiryagin also said he is currently taking part in various investigations into the case, but would not give any details.

Alexander Lando, chairman of the supervision and auditing service of the Saratov division of the United Russia party believes the case should go to court, as an apology is not enough. He believes that by allegedly slandering Volodin, the journalists have slandered the entire party.

CJES believes that this legal action is related to the upcoming parliamentary elections, which the ruling United Russia party expects to win without difficulty. CJES believes that, through this legal action, the party is putting pressure on "Saratovsky Rasklad" to demonstrate to the media at large the consequences of mentioning the party or its candidates in a negative context. Taking into account that courts in Russia, especially regional courts, are controlled by the authorities, there is little hope that the newspaper will get a fair trial.

In addition, CJES does not believe the mentioning of Vladimir Volodin's name in the publication can resaonbaly be considered to have done any damage to the United Russia party. Any issue on this account should be between the newspaper and Volodin, not between the newspaper and the United Russia party.

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