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Newspaper website blocked over forum comment allegedly defamatory of regional official

(CJES/IFEX) - An Internet provider in Kirov region has blocked access to the website of the newspaper "Vyatsky Nablyudatel" at the request of the local law enforcement agencies. The decision was made over a comment posted on the paper's website, which law enforcement agencies found to be defamatory to a regional government official.

Hosting Systems, the company that hosts the newspaper's website ( http://www.nabludatel.ru ), blocked access to the site following a complaint from the local interior affairs department. Representatives of the department stated that the paper's website contained statements defaming the deputy governor of the Kirov region, calling for extremist activities (a crime under Article 280 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation), and fanning hatred or feud (a crime under Article 282).

The paper's editor-in-chief, Sergei Bachinin, admits that the posting in question was unacceptable. "We are trying to delete all such postings, but we missed this particular one," he said.

Bachinin said the newspaper intends to host its website in a different country with a different provider. "I don't see any legal or political sense in waiting. The trial of a similar case involving a different local site took about four months. We are not going to wait four months. For this reason, I have ordered that a different provider be found to resume the operation of the site," he said.

The "Vyatsky Nablyudatel" website was not officially registered as a media outlet. Under Russian legislation, owners of websites have a right to register their sites but are not required to do so. Under current legislation, an Internet site does not fall into the category of "media outlets" as defined by the Mass Media Law.

Responsibility for comments posted on Internet forums is borne by the authors of the comments. By law, if illegal comments are posted on a website, law enforcement agencies are to warn the site's editorial board or owner and/or open a criminal case. In this particular case, the actions taken by the law enforcement agencies can be contested in a higher court. However, as Bachinin said: "It is now much more important to protect our rights in the trial regarding the lawsuit on the December 2007 seizure of a batch of newspapers, and the website will be opened with a different provider in Ukraine.

"In 2006, the Russian Supreme Court partially declined the complaint filed by the Federal Service for the Supervision of Mass Media, Communication and Protection of Cultural Heritage (Rossvyazokhrankultura), which wanted the information agency Banfax to be closed over a comment posted on the forum on the agency's website. The post was later deleted, but the local prosecutors opened a criminal case against the agency on the basis of Article 282 of the Criminal Code ("fanning ethnic, racial, or religious feud"). The investigators managed to identify the author of the post and charges were brought against him, but the case was later closed due to a lack of evidence.

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