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Journalist goes into hiding after receiving threats

IPI press freedom advocacy mission arrives in Russia; organisation urges authorities to break cycle of impunity

(IPI/IFEX) - VIENNA, 29 September. On the day an International Press Institute (IPI) advocacy mission arrived in Russia to discuss the state of media freedom in the country, reports emerged that Russian freelance journalist and human rights activist Alexandr Podrabinek has gone into hiding after angering members of a nationalist pro-Kremlin youth movement with an article he wrote criticising Russia's Soviet past.

"I have received information from reliable sources that at a senior level the decision has been taken to settle scores with me by any means," he wrote in a blog post on Monday, Reuters reported.

The article on http://www.ej.ru drew attention to the prison camps and crimes under Stalin, and accused the current Russian authorities of trying to brush over the past in an effort to bolster patriotism.

Podrabinek reportedly wrote that Russia's Soviet past was "bloody, false and shameful."

The article provoked the ire of a nationalist youth movement called Nashi (Ours), whose spokesperson has been quoted as saying: "We believe that people who insult veterans should not have the right to live here."

News reports said the journalist felt compelled to go into hiding after his home address and telephone number were posted on several websites linked to pro-Kremlin groups.

He also reportedly observed unidentified persons near his home, the director of www.ej.ru was quoted as saying.

"The people who are troubling Alexandr Podrabinek and trying to make him leave the country are committing illegal acts. What they are doing is illegal," Mikhail Shevelyov, a journalist with Radio Free Europe in Moscow told IPI by phone.

Mr. Shevelyov said that in his view the article was insensitive to the feelings of many Russians for whom "the past is precious."

However, he added: "Should he be punished for his views in this illegal way? Most certainly not."

This is not the first time Podrabinek, who is also the editor-in-chief of the Prima news agency, has been punished for his writing. He was sentenced in 1978 to five years in Siberia for criticizing the Soviet system, and in 1980 was sentenced to three and a half years at a labor camp for distributing banned literature.

"This case is yet another in a long line of examples that have prompted IPI to conduct an urgent mission to Russia, where journalists are regularly intimidated, brutally assaulted, and killed, and where all too often the perpetrators benefit from a climate of total impunity," said IPI Director David Dadge. "We would urge the Russian authorities to ensure that the threats against Mr. Podrabinek are properly investigated, and to send a clear, broader message to those who think they can threaten, attack and kill journalists without fear of prosecution that this is no longer the case."

Russia, one of six countries on IPI's Watch List, remains one of the world's most dangerous places for journalists, with five killed so far this year alone, and 35 killed since the beginning of the decade, according to IPI's Death Watch figures. The perpetrators of these crimes are seldom brought to justice.

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