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Court suspends private weekly's printing house for 90 days

(WAN-IFRA/IFEX) - In a letter to President Dmitry Medvedev, WAN-IFRA and the World Editors Forum expressed concern that the closure of a printing house operated by the weekly "Krestyanin" is politically motivated and part of a campaign to silence critical voices.

President Dmitry Medvedev
President of Russia
Ilinka Str, No 23
Via facsimile: +7 (495) 606-90-00

30 May 2011

Your Excellency,

We are writing on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries, to express our serious concern at the court-ordered closure of a printing house operated by the privately-owned weekly Krestyanin in the Rostov region.

According to reports, on 17 May the court of Myasnikovskiy region, Rostov-on-Don, suspended Krestyanin's printing house for 90 days. The closure was ordered on the grounds of alleged breaches of fire safety regulations following an inspection by an officer from the Department of Fire Police on 13 May. On 18 May, court bailiffs sealed the printing house and printing presses.

On 20 May, after holding talks with local officials, the premises were re-inspected and Krestyanin obtained a certificate from the Fire Police certifying that all breaches of regulations had been rectified. (The breaches had in fact been corrected the day after the original inspection.) However, on 24 May, the court requested additional evidence and refused to reopen the printing house, postponing the hearing until 31 May.

We are seriously concerned that the closure of Krestyanin's printing house is politically motivated and part of a campaign by local officials to silence critical voices in the run-up to elections in December and next March. The closure was not the first act of intimidation.

During the night of 12 May, a local official and a representative of the United Russia Party telephoned the printing house suggesting that Krestyanin stop printing election campaign flyers for the Communist Party candidate for mayor of a nearby city. (Under Russian law, a printing house is obliged to print campaign material for any candidate if requested to do so.) Soon after the call, electricity to the printing house was cut off due to a reported fire at the printing house. At 1am, police arrived, claiming that the flyer might contain anti-Semitic content and demanding to see the company's founding documents. The fire inspection, which was not scheduled or ordered by a court, took place the following morning.

We respectfully remind you that closing a printing house - and effectively preventing a newspaper from publishing - for printing election materials is a clear breach of numerous international conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 of the Declaration states: 'Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media, regardless of frontiers.'

We call on you to take all necessary steps to ensure that Krestyanin printing house is permitted to reopen immediately and that all intimidation is halted. We ask you to do everything in your power to ensure that in future your country fully respects international standards of freedom of expression.

We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

Yours sincerely,

Gavin O'Reilly
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

Erik Bjerager
World Editors Forum

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