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Russian magazine editor faces 15 days in jail

December 28, 2014

The editor-in-chief of Russia’s top opposition magazine, The New Times, has been accused of disobeying traffic police and faces up to 15 days in jail amid ever-shrinking tolerance for dissent.

Writing on Twitter, Yevgenia Albats said a court would hear her case on Tuesday.

“Over what?” she said in a tweet late Saturday. “Over nothing.”

Reached by AFP on Sunday, Albats declined to comment.

She said earlier that traffic police had stopped her car on a busy Moscow street on Saturday and requested to see her identification.

She said she had complied but had nevertheless been accused of disobeying police.

“I have not violated a single law,” Albats said on the popular Echo of Moscow radio where she also hosts a show.

She indicated her case may be politically motivated but declined to elaborate.

Albats would be represented in court by her lawyer, she said.

A spokesman for Moscow police confirmed to AFP that Albats had committed an administrative offence but declined to provide further details.

Disobeying police or other representatives of the Russian authorities is punishable by a fine or up to 15 days in jail.

State-controlled television channel NTV aired what it said was “exclusive” footage showing the journalist’s exchange with a traffic policeman.

The channel, which has been behind a number of smear campaigns against anti-Kremlin figures, said that Albats was returning from a “party at a Georgian restaurant”.

NTV said she initially refused to pull over and police were forced to give chase, adding that the editor then bickered with officers.

With a relatively small print run, the weekly magazine known for its searing covers and uncompromising anti-Kremlin stance, punches above its weight.

Along with the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, Internet TV channel Dozhd and a handful of other outlets, the magazine has served as a safety valve of sorts, giving Kremlin critics a platform to air their views.

Tensions are mounting in Russia as international isolation is growing and the country is sliding into a full-blown crisis under the pressure from falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine.

The patriotic euphoria triggered by the seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in March is ebbing as concerns over shrinking salaries and savings take centre stage.

– ‘Condom campaign’ –

Polls shows that most Russians support Putin while a minority disagrees with his policies, claiming the country is hurtling towards political and economic catastrophe.

The raging tensions with Ukraine and the West has left Russian society hugely polarised, with critics accusing the Kremlin of using national television to whip up aggression and hatred towards dissenters.

Authorities are further tightening the screws against key members of the beleaguered protest movement while anti-opposition activists are hounding them with ever-growing impunity.

In an episode broadcast on television, pro-Kremlin activists last week distributed condoms featuring the images of prominent Putin critics including Alexei Navalny and Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

In an eyebrow-raising statement that made many cringe, Putin in 2011 compared the white ribbons opposition supporters pinned to their lapels as a symbol of protest to condoms.

Prosecutors this month called for Navalny to be sentenced to 10 years in prison for alleged fraud in a case he and his supporters say is politically motivated.

Thousands pledged to take to the streets of Moscow on January 15, the day of the opposition leader’s verdict.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.