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Government charges newspaper with "dissemination of extremist materials" over Putin cartoon

(CJES/IFEX) - The Federal Service for the Supervision of Mass Media, Communication and Protection of Cultural Heritage (Rossvyazokhrankultura) in the Saratov region filed a lawsuit against the region's newspaper "Saratovsky Reporter" on 19 September 2007. The paper is charged with "dissemination of extremist materials."

In late August, the paper ran a cartoon portraying President Vladimir Putin as Shtirlits, a hero of the popular Russian television series Seventeen Moments of Spring, dressed in Nazi uniform. Alexander Lando, one of the leaders of the Saratov division of United Russia, Russia's ruling party, found the publication to be defamatory to the president and asked the prosecutor's office to sue the journalist for insulting an authority.

According to the newspaper's editor-in-chief Serge Mikhailov, the article and the cartoon have been studied by experts from the philology department of Saratov State University, who found the image to portray the Russian president as a Nazi officer.

On 10 September, the paper received a warning "for disseminating extremist materials." "It is a second warning issued to the paper. The first warning was issued to the paper in February. Now that the paper has received two warnings, its accreditation can be cancelled by court [order] under the law on the mass media," said Mihailov.

The first hearing of the case is set for 2 October. Mikhailov told CJES he is confident that the ruling will not be in the paper's favor. He believes the prosecution of the paper is connected to the upcoming State Duma elections and to the paper's constant criticism of United Russia.

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