Russia revokes print license of top independent newspaper

This file photo taken on 7 October 2021 shows Novaya Gazeta editor Dmitry Muratov at the entrance to the office of the Novaya Gazeta newspaper in Moscow. (Photo by Natalia KOLESNIKOVA / AFP)

September 5, 2022

A Russian court on Monday stripped investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta, whose chief editor last year was co-awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, of its print license, in the latest blow to the country’s independent media.

The announcement came as another Moscow court is expected to issue a verdict in the case of former defense reporter Ivan Safronov, who faces up 24 years in jail on controversial treason charges.

Russian independent media have in recent years faced unprecedented pressure, with authorities further tightening the screws since the start of Moscow’s February offensive in Ukraine.

All main independent media outlets have been shut down in Russia or suspended their domestic operations after a series of media restrictions were imposed on coverage of the Ukraine conflict.

“The Basmanny court of Moscow invalidated the registration certificate of the print version of Novaya Gazeta,” the outlet, which suspended publication in late March, said on social media.

UN Human Rights Office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said the decision was “another blow to the independence of Russian media”.

In a statement, the court confirmed the verdict which followed legal proceedings initiated by Russia’s media watchdog Roskomnadzor.

The media regulator is also seeking to shut down Novaya Gazeta’s website and a print magazine it launched in July.

Two court hearings are scheduled for later this month.

Monday’s ruling came less than a week after the death of last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who helped in the founding of Novaya Gazeta in the early 1990s.

Novaya Gazeta chief editor Dmitry Muratov led the procession at Gorbachev’s Moscow funeral on Saturday.

Muratov said after Monday’s hearing that the paper will appeal the court’s decision, calling it “political” and “without the slightest legal basis”, news website Mediazona reported.

Novaya Gazeta has paid a heavy price for its independent stance and investigative coverage over the years.

Since 2000, six of its journalists and contributors have been killed in connection with their work, including top investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya.

Ex-reporter on trial

Later on Monday, a decision is expected in the case against respected former journalist Safronov, who reported on the military, politics, and Russia’s space program.

He was arrested in July 2020, after leaving journalism to serve as an adviser to the head of the state space agency.

The FSB security service has accused Safronov of collecting confidential information about Russian military, defense, and security and handing it over to the intelligence service of a NATO member country.

During a closed-door hearing, prosecutors last week requested a sentence of 24 years in jail for Safronov, after he reportedly turned down a plea deal for a shorter sentence.

At the start of his trial in April, Safronov called the case a “complete travesty of justice” and said he was not guilty.

The ex-journalist has said his reporting was based on analysis of open sources and conversations with officials.

Safronov’s case triggered a backlash from independent journalists and — in an unusual move — from several reporters in the Kremlin press pool covering President Vladimir Putin.

On Monday, a dozen independent media, including Novaya Gazeta, published a statement demanding Safronov’s release, saying the harsh sentence was “revenge” for his work.

“It’s clear to us that the reason for the persecution of Ivan Safronov is not ‘treason’… but his journalistic work and materials that he published without regard for the opinion of the defense ministry and Russian authorities,” it said.


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