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Russia frees editor after outcry

June 17, 2019

A Russian court on Monday released a newspaper editor and former lawmaker, who had been held on extortion charges, after an outcry from supporters and international organisations.

Igor Rudnikov, founder and editor of Novye Kolesa in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, had been in detention since November 2017, accused of extorting $50,000 from a senior investigator.

The prosecution had demanded a 10-year sentence for the 53-year-old.

Supporters had vehemently contested the charges, calling them punishment for his journalism.

On Monday, a district court in the second city of Saint Petersburg reduced the charges, convicting him of acting without lawful authority.

The judge sentenced Rudnikov to community service and set him free.

“He has been released in the courtroom,” the Moskovsky district court said in a statement.

In June 2017, Rudnikov’s newspaper claimed that the head of the Investigative Committee for the Kaliningrad region, Viktor Ledenev, owned an undeclared luxurious country home.

Several months later Rudnikov was badly beaten and arrested.

Supporters and international organisations had condemned the case against Rudnikov, with Reporters Without Borders calling him a “victim of a politically-motivated reprisal”.

Monday’s court ruling is a second rare victory for Russia’s embattled rights community, coming hot on the heels of the aborting of a criminal case against Moscow-based journalist Ivan Golunov.

Golunov, an investigative reporter for Meduza, a Russian-language website based in EU member Latvia, was this month detained after police planted drugs on him, in what was also seen as punishment for his work.

Golunov was released last week and charges against him dropped, after supporters, including many influential journalists, mounted an unprecedented public campaign in his defence.

Kremlin critics say charges of drugs or extremism are routinely used in Russia to silence rights workers and activists or to settle scores with opponents in disputes.

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