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Journalist on suspended sentence harassed by authorities, risks imprisonment

(CJES/IFEX) - The editor-in-chief of the Internet publication "Novy Fokus", Mikhail Afanasyev, risks imprisonment, the interregional human rights association AGORA has reported.

The journalist received a suspended prison sentence for slander in May 2006. All in all, ten criminal cases (all connected to his professional activities) were opened against the journalist over the past three years.

On 21 September 2007, Afanasyev was summoned to the offices of the inter-district inspector of the federal Department for the Enforcement of Punishment (UFSIN) for the Republic of Khakasiya, where he was ordered to pay three fines for traffic violations. The law enforcement officials told him they would file a lawsuit against him for these violations, stressing that they would also ask the court to put the journalist in prison if he continued to violate traffic rules.

Dmitry Kolbasin, the head of the AGORA information department, told CJES the journalist was fined for driving with a bad lamp (which was supposed to light his license plate) and hitting another car with his bumper. "The inter-district inspector told Afanasyev that the department might have to go to court because he is not 'improving'," said Kolbasin.

According to AGORA, this is the second time Afanasyev has been threatened with imprisonment in 2007. In January, after an Abakan court reversed the decision to seize the "Novy Fokus" website, the inspector threatened to put the journalist behind bars for playing the music in his car at a high volume and working on the website without registering it as a media outlet. Afanasyev has since, on orders, been checking into the inspector's office on a month basis.

"AGORA lawyers and analysts believe there is a real threat to Afanasyev and that he could be put in prison. This is connected to the situation in Khakasiya, where the law enforcement, defense and security agencies, which include the prosecutor's office, the Supreme Court, and the Interior Ministry, are in conflict with the government and the State Council. The law enforcement agencies do not like the fact that this conflict is being covered in the media. Mikhail Afanasyev is one of the journalists who writes about this conflict," said Kolbasin.

CJES believes the law enforcement agencies are looking for a pretext to punish the journalist. At issue is that under Russian legislation, a person who has committed a crime while on a suspended prison sentence can be imprisoned. In Afanasyev's case, insignificant crimes, for which he has been summoned to the inter-district inspector's office, usually carry only small fines. For this reason, AGORA lawyers and CJES believe the law enforcement agencies are persecuting the journalist for his professional activities. By summoning Afanasyev and openly threatening to put him behind bars, the authorities are seemingly attempting to intimidate him so he will stop writing critical articles.

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