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Newspaper facing legal action over reports of police brutality

(GDF/IFEX) - It was the phrase "with opprobrious underworld connotations" that Viktor Biryukov, chief press spokesman for the Moscow police, used to explain the reasons for a business reputation protection claim lodged against the newspaper "Noviye Izvestia" (NI).

The claim filing followed a January 2010 series of NI articles citing complaints by residents of the (now partially destroyed) village of Rechnik, on the outskirts of Moscow, about law enforcement officers' outrageously rude behavior. Specifically, the police claimed to be offended by the following phrases: "I saw police officers beating my wife"; "They pulled my husband out into the street, beat him and pushed him into a bus. He came back bleeding"; "I ran out of the house to see four OMON [special force] officers pushing a lady neighbor into a bus. They gave me a chopping blow on the back of my head."

It should be noted that a week later the newspaper offered the "insulted" law enforcement officers' a right of reply by publishing a letter (signed by the same V. Biryukov) stating that "the law enforcement officers did not do anything unlawful with respect to the residents." But even that failed to satisfy the police command, because the publication did not bear the title "Refutation". So they filed a claim in defense of their business reputation. GDF believes the lawsuit is intended to send a clear message that any criticism of police officers' poor performance will entail negative consequences for the press.

NI editor-in-chief Valery Yakov does not expect this legal claim to improve the police's image in any way. "Their claim came as a surprise to us," he said. "Many of those who suffered at the hands of policemen are ready to testify in court and reiterate their proof."

Meanwhile, the Russian Lawyers' Association For Human Rights has sent President Dmitry Medvedev a message expressing its concern over "an attempt to ban criticism of law enforcement agencies in the media" and urging him to personally interfere and tell police officials to withdraw their claim against NI.

Hearings of the claim are scheduled to open at the Khamovniki District Court on August 27.

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