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Criminal libel case opened against website editor over article on corruption

(CJES/IFEX) - A criminal case has been opened against Andrei Dumler, the head of a Russian media outlet, who is charged with violating Article 129 of the Russian Criminal Code (which deals with libel). In November 2007, a report entitled "Money Vanishes at Noon" was published on the website of the information agency Baikal Media Consulting (BMK). The publication accuses the department of the Federal Service for the Enforcement of Punishments (UFSIN) of forgery, embezzlement, violations of the anti-monopoly legislation, and involvement with criminal structures.

Sergei Such, the head of the UFSIN department for the Republic of Buryatia, filed a civil lawsuit against the agency, demanding the right to a refutation and 1 million rubles (approx. USD 42,200) in moral damages. A criminal case was opened against the site's editor, Andrei Dumler, who is charged with libel.

"The publication posted on our site was reproduced from a different Internet site and was not authored by us. I see this solely as an attempt to intimidate the independent media," said Dumler. Under current legislation and adopted judicial practice, liability for information published on a website is borne by the author. If the author cannot be identified, liability rests with the owner of the site as the person controlling the information flow and creating the technical capacities for the dissemination of information.

Under the civil legislation, the burden to prove that the information disseminated is true rests with the defendant. In this case, the head of the UFSIN department only has to prove that BMK disseminated the information, if the actual author of the article (the appropriate defendant) is not identified. Such as an interested party, can demand the right to publish a refutation on the website, but he can hardly demand that the website be closed.

As for the criminal case against Dumler, as the owner of the site that disseminated the information, the responsibility to find evidence of a crime rests with the plaintiff. If no evidence is found, the journalist's criminal prosecution may be seen as illegal and aimed at impeding his professional activities.

CJES is calling on the authorities to change the criminal legislation and decriminalize defamation, replacing criminal liability for defamation with civil liability. If that could be done, this case would be tried as a civil case, not as a criminal case.

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