Reporters Without Borders condemns the Tatarstan supreme court’s decision on 15 January to uphold blogger Irek Murtazin’s 21-month prison sentence on a charge of defaming the president of Tatarstan, Mintimer Shaimiyev, in a September 2008 post on the LiveJournal website suggesting that Shaimiyev might have died of ill-health while on holiday. Murtazin used to be Shaimiyev’s press spokesman.
As well as defamation under article 129 of the criminal code, he was also convicted under article 282 of inciting hatred and hostility towards a social group in his book “Shaimiyev: the last president of Tatarstan.” The court ruled that its criticism of Shaimiyev was an attack on all the authorities of Tatarstan, a republic 700 km east of Moscow that is part of the Russian Federation. The ruling is without precedent in Russian legal history.
“Murtazin’s conviction is clearly a political reprisal by the region’s highest official,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We hope that the Russian supreme court, to which Murtazin intends to appeal, will recognise that this decision sets a dangerous precedent for free expression in the country’s blogosphere.”
The press freedom organisation added: “Bloggers and online journalists are being prosecuted with increasing frequency in Russia in connection with their views. The Internet is an unparalleled area of freedom for Russians and it is vital to protect it from all attempts to bring it to heel.”
Murtazin is to be transferred from the pre-trial detention centre in which he has been held until now to a prison camp pending the outcome of the appeal he has said he will file before the Russian supreme court.
Russian Internet users and activists are meanwhile undertaking initiatives in his defence and his photo and reports about the local government’s legal actions against him have been posted on various websites.
Murtazin posted his blog entry about Shaimiyev’s possible death after days went by without any word about him during a trip he made to Turkey. Shaimiyev has been the Republic of Tatarstan’s president since 1989.
Read the press release in Russian / Читать на русском :
Read articles in Russian about the case in the Russian media