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Newspaper accused by authorities of "extremism" over article on ethnic tensions in Republic of Yakutia

(CJES/IFEX) - The newspaper "Izvestiya" reported on 28 August 2007 that it had received an official warning from the Federal Service for Control over Mass Media, Communications and Cultural Heritage Protection (Rossvyazokhrankultura), in which the newspaper is accused of publishing "information containing indications of extremism."

The warning is in response to a report by "Izvestiya" reporter Dmitry Sokolov-Mitrich, run by the newspaper on 18 May, which dealt with Russians living in the Republic of Yakutia (Sakha). What most irritated Rossvyazokhrankultura about the article was its headline: "Russian Residents of Sovereign Yakutia Have Been Living under the Yoke of Local Nationalism for 15 Years."

Rossvyazokhrankultura alleged that the article contained information aimed at fanning ethnic conflict, which constitutes "extremism" under Article 1 of the federal law On the Prevention of Extremist Activities. According to "Izvestiya", the elements of "extremism" were identified by linguists who studied the text of the article. The newspaper denies the "extremism" accusation.

"We believe that the 'indications of extremism' are contained in the situation in the Republic of Yakutia, not in the words that we used to describe it," says "Izvestiya". The newspaper's journalists state that the article aimed to improve the situation and to promote ethnic peace in the republic.

"By the authorities' logic, media outlets have no right to tackle serious conflict issues that deal with ethnic, social, territorial, or gender matters. If civilized attempts to get to the bottom of these problems are considered to be 'extremism', tomorrow the press will only be reporting on fishes in aquariums and government meetings, and the day after tomorrow the country will find itself considerably weakened by the problems which will have been overlooked," reported "Izvestiya".

CJES expert Mikhail Melnikov believes an official warning of this kind represents a very serious sanction. Under the law on mass media, if a registration authority (in this case, Rossvyazokhrankultura) issues a warning to a publication, this authority has the right to file a lawsuit seeking the annulment of the publication's license within a year following the issuance of the warning.

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