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New charges brought against "Fakty s Argumentami" newspaper's editor-in-chief over article criticising Elets mayor

(CJES/IFEX) - The Lipetsk region's prosecutors on 4 March 2008 ruled criminal proceedings are to be opened against Nikolai Sokolov, editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Fakty s Argumentami", under Article 319 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, pertaining to "insulting an authority."

Previously, a criminal case was opened against Sokolov under Article 129 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, pertaining to "libel disseminated by a mass medium." The criminal case was based on the request of Viktor Sokovykh, mayor of the town of Elets, who accused the journalist of deliberate dissemination of false information denigrating Solovykh's honor and dignity.

The new criminal case was opened over an article entitled "Turnskin?", published in the 22 November 2007 edition of "Fakty s Argumentami", which contained statements about Sokovykh that the prosecutors found to be deliberately aimed at denigrating the mayor's honour and dignity.

A commission made up of experts in linguistics and criminal law decided that the article contained obscene expressions. However, the experts could not decide whether the expressions are also insulting to Sokovykh as a person and as an authority in connection with the fulfilment of his duties. The commission said in its decision that "the definition of the concept of denigration of the honour and dignity, reputation and insult to an authority is beyond the realm of linguistics as a commixture of legal and linguistic concepts is present in it."

Two years before, similar charges were brought against Sokolov but were eventually dropped because the texts of the articles on the Elets mayor "contained a journalistic opinion or assumption, a value judgment providing a general subjective evaluation." In addition, as the decision to close the criminal case against the journalist notes, "the preliminary investigation did not yield any evidence that Sokolov knew that their articles contained false information prior to the publication of the articles."

As to the new charges, the journalist is afraid that some of the people involved in the investigation may be corrupt, which he believes may prevent the local law enforcement agencies and judicial bodies from remaining independent and unbiased.

Updates the Sokolov case:

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The use of criminal law to silence people who write about public issues is a significant problem in many countries…

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