Tuesday 4 August 2020
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rappler - 29 days ago

Russian journalist avoids jail but given huge fine in terror case

PSKOV, Russia – A Russian journalist avoided a prison sentence on Monday, July 6, but was given a $7,000 fine for justifying terrorism in a controversial case that sparked an outcry at home and abroad. Svetlana Prokopyeva, who is based in the northwestern city of Pskov, was charged with publicly justifying terrorism over a column she wrote about a bombing attack that targeted the FSB security service in the north of the country in 2018. The 40-year-old walked out of a Pskov courtroom a free woman after the judge found her guilty and ordered her to pay a fine of 500,000 rubles ($6,950). (READ: Top Russia newspaper editors quit, denouncing censorship) Prokopyeva works for the Russian service of the US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) as a freelance contributor. Prosecutors had asked the judge to jail Prokopyeva for 6 years and ban her from working in journalism for 4 years on the charges that carry a maximum sentence of 7 years. As the judge read out the verdict, supporters in the courtroom – many of whom had arrived from Moscow – shouted shame and she is not guilty. Standing on the steps of the court building holding a large bouquet of flowers, Prokopyeva thanked her allies for their support and vowed to appeal the decision. The biggest success is that I was not forbidden from working in my profession, she told the crowd, sporting a T-shirt that said We will not shut up . Yulia Galyamina, a Moscow deputy in the opposition Yabloko party who described the verdict as unfair, tweeted that 10% of Prokopyeva s fine was already collected outside the courtroom. The journalist s case has its origins in a November 2018 bombing carried out by a 17-year-old anarchist who blew himself up in a Federal Security Service (FSB) building in Arkhangelsk in northern Russia. In her commentary, published by the Pskov affiliate of the Echo of Moscow radio station, Prokopyeva linked the teenager s suicide bombing to the political climate under President Vladimir Putin. The journalist said she was freed thanks to public pressure. In a statement published by the Memorial rights group, dozens of human rights defenders denounced the case as openly political with the goal of intimidating Russian journalists. (READ: Russian journalist charged with dealing large amount of drugs) A journalist is entitled to freely spread information not only on events but also on ideas, they said. International press advocacy group Reporters Without Borders said it was relieved by the ruling and welcomed the mobilization in support of the journalist. Human Rights Watch said the ruling creates another dangerous precedent, with a journalist found guilty of a terrorism offence for normal journalistic work. The authorities should immediately and unconditionally vacate her politically motivated conviction, the watchdog said. More than 30 prominent Russian journalists spoke out in support of Prokopyeva this month, and more than a dozen of her supporters were briefly detained at a picket last week.  Speaking to reporters after the sentencing, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied the case against Prokopyeva had fueled public mistrust in Russia s legal system.  I see no grounds for that, he said. The case comes amid growing concerns over press freedom in Russia where reporters and news organizations face increasing pressure from the authorities. The arrest of investigative reporter Ivan Golunov on trumped-up drug charges last year sparked an unprecedented public backlash and coordinated media campaign that eventually forced his release.  Last week, a journalist in the second city of Saint Petersburg was hospitalised with a broken arm following a confrontation with police in a polling station during a nationwide vote on controversial reforms to the constitution that allow Putin to extend his rule until 2036. Senior editors at Russia s most influential business newspaper Vedomosti quit last month in protest against what they said was pro-Kremlin censorship. – Rappler.com

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