Continuing persecution of investigative journalists in Russia: Irek Murtazin
The Supreme Court in Tatarstan (Russian Federation) is on 15 January due to hear the cassation appeal brought by Irek Murtazin, a journalist, blogger, specialist of the International Institute of Research in Policy and the Humanities and former Press Secretary to the President of Tatarstan M. Shaimiyev.
He was sentenced by a court in Kazan on 26 November 2009 to one year and nine months in a corrective labour colony on charges of defaming Shaimiyev and "instigating hatred and hostility" to an ethnic or social group”. He was also convicted of invasion of privacy and debasement of human dignity.
Last month, on 21 December, in a press release entitled: OSCE media freedom representative gravely concerned about continuing persecution of investigative journalists in Russia (http://www.osce.org/item/42212.html ), the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Miklos Haraszti specifically cited the case of Irek Murtazin, as well as that of 24-year-old journalist Aygul Makhmutova.
Makhmutova, the chief editor of a small Moscow community newspaper that reported on controversial development plans by local businesses, was indicted with fraud, extortion and assault of officials. In two separate trials, a Moscow district court sentenced her to a cumulative five-and-a-half years in a corrective labour colony.
Acknowledging legal flaws, a higher court on 4 December annulled the second of the two verdicts. However, Makhmutova remains in custody to serve her first sentence.
"Makhmutova and Murtazin should be released and charges brought against them dropped. Attempts at curtailing investigative reporting, which is essential for the role of the press in a democratic society, violate OSCE media freedom commitments and principles," Haraszti said.
"As Russian media associations have long been demanding, the judicial handling of journalism should be altogether de-criminalized."
The Memorial Human Rights Centre has also issued a statement calling for justice to be reinstated for political prisoner Irek Murtazin. It considers the sentence to be a brazen attempt to limit Murtazin’s right to express his views and points out that in the quotes from the book he wrote about Shaimiyev used as evidence against him, Murtazin merely criticizes corruption and expresses the opinion that the political system in Tatarstan fosters corruption. He also believes that the spread of drug addiction and alcoholism is convenient to the authorities since they prevent the young from being politically active.
Memorial goes on to give details regarding how the trial and sentence are a violation of Murtazin’s rights.