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Editor acquitted of libel in Abakan; mayor's office denies information to television station in Dalnegorsk

(GDF/IFEX) - GDF is pleased with the acquittal of a website editor in Abakan, but concerned over efforts to obstruct information and impose censorship by the mayor of the far eastern town of Dalnegorsk.

On 1 August 2008, Mikhail Afanasyev, editor of the web-based magazine "Focus", was fully acquitted of libel charges by the city court in Abakan, Khakassia.

Legal proceedings against Afanasyev were instituted by the republican prosecutor's office in late 2004 in response to a complaint by a would-be local parliamentarian about an allegedly "libelous" article posted on his website. The editor was even placed in a pre-trial detention facility but was released soon after (see http://www.gdf.ru/digest/digest/digest209.shtml#event ).

In November 2005, a district law court acquitted Afanasyev, having found nothing libellous in his publications, but the prosecutor's office protested that ruling before the higher-standing city court of Abakan which, on 24 May 2006, sentenced the editor to a suspended two-year prison term with a three-year probation period. The Supreme Court Presidium canceled that sentence, directing the case to a court of appeals.

Now it looks as if the legal battle has finally been settled. The Abakan city court declared the defendant fully acquitted in view of there being no legally defined crime in his actions.

In a separate development, Alexei Nikolayev, editor-in-chief of the TV/Radio Company "Dalnegorsk-Novosti" (DN), reports that his organization has had problems with access to information because of Mayor Grigori Krutikov's "sealing off the information channels" in the town of Dalnegorsk, in Russia's Far East.

"Company staffers have only been allowed to attend administration conferences on Monday. Each time we have requested information, the mayor has offered us, in return, to sign a 'cooperation agreement' imposing censorship practices," the editor said.

DN has sent official complaints to Oleg Safonov, the President's Personal Envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District; the presidential administration department charged with reviewing citizens' complaints; Maritime Governor Sergey Darkin; United Russia Party regional leader Pyotr Savchuk; and Dalnegorsk prosecutor Nikolai Skorika, calling attention to the pressure under which the company has long found itself. An investigation ordered by the prosecutor's office revealed serious breaches of law by the town administration, which gave rise to legal proceedings.

Yet, nothing has changed. When a crew of DN reporters arrived at the town administration headquarters to cover a series of pre-planned working meetings (one reviewing the performance of passport offices, the other preparing for Youth Day celebrations), Mikhail Shilov, chief of the mayoral staff, told the journalists to leave.

Updates the Afanasyev case: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/86656

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