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Two journalists charged with slander; newspaper harassed, threatened with possible closure

(CJES/IFEX) - Alexei Kalganov and Viktor Demenev, journalists with the newspaper "Leninskaya Smena", have been charged with slandering a law enforcement officer.

The case against the journalists was opened over a publication run by "Leninskaya Smena" in April 2007, which dealt with a car accident involving Andrei Smirnov, prosecutor of the Shatkovsky district of Nizhny Novgorod.

According to the publication, Smirnov's car drove into the river Tesha while the prosecutor was celebrating an occasion on the riverbank with his friends.

During the probe, Smirnov said he had not witnessed the incident and his driver claimed responsibility for the accident. As a result, the investigators found the article to contain false information accusing the prosecutor of violating the law and opened a criminal case against the paper's observer Viktor Demenev and reporter Alexei Kalganov on the basis of Article 129 of the Russian Criminal Code ("slander"). The paper admitted its fault and published a refutation in April 2007. Kalganov also offered Smirnov an apology, which was accepted. However, the criminal case was re-opened immediately after the publication of the refutation.

Law enforcement officials are currently inspecting the paper's operations and seizing its computers, on which unlicensed software is installed, thus putting the publication of the paper in jeopardy. In addition, a lot of private distributors lately have refused to work with the paper, as a result of which the paper's circulation has gone down from 15,000 to 4,000 copies.

All these things lead the paper's editor Vladimir Kochetkov to believe that the publication is experiencing economic and political pressure.

Under Russian legislation, slander and insult cases are initiated on the basis of a complaint from the victim or a prosecutor. When a case is initiated on the basis of a victim's complaint, the case is dismissed in the event of the parties' conciliation. If the case was initiated by a prosecutor, the case cannot be dismissed even in the event of the parties' conciliation. If a prosecutor takes on a case initiated on the basis of a victim's complaint, the case cannot be dismissed either.

Therefore, this criminal case was not subject to dismissal despite the parties' conciliation because it was initiated by a prosecutor on the basis of a probe into the information stated in the article. The case has been forwarded to court and the trial is to begin in the Nizhny Novgorod Nezhegorodsky District Court in March 2008.

The fact that the journalists have admitted their fault and have apologised to the plaintiff can be seen by the court as an extenuating circumstance and the journalists may be given minimal punishment (a fine).

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