Another blow to independent media, Russia revokes printing license of major newspaper

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

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

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

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

“The Basmanny court in Moscow invalidated the certificate of registration of the printed 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 “a further blow to the independence of Russian media”.

In this file photo taken on March 24, 2021, journalists from the Russian investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta work at the editorial office of the independent media in Moscow (Natalia KOLESNIKOVA / AFP)

In a statement, the court upheld the verdict, which followed legal proceedings initiated by Russian media watchdog Roskomnadzor.

Roskomnadzor had asked the court to revoke Novaya Gazeta’s license, accusing it of failing to submit the newsroom’s charter to the authorities in time.

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

Novaya Gazeta announced on March 28 that it was suspending operations for the duration of what it quotedly called “the special operation” in Ukraine, the term Russian authorities insist the media use for military action. in Ukraine.

His team, however, launched a new project, Novaya Gazeta Europe, from abroad, criticizing the operation in the former Soviet neighbor of Russia.

Two hearings are scheduled for later this month.

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

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

Nobel Peace Prize-winning journalist Dmitry Muratov holds a portrait of late former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev after a farewell ceremony at the Pillar Hall of the House of Trade Unions in Moscow, September 3, 2022. (Maxim Shipenkov /Pool Photo via AP)

Muratov said after Monday’s hearing that the newspaper would appeal the court’s decision, calling it “political” and “without any legal basis”, the Mediazona news site 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 the course of their work, including investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

Days after Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine on February 24, the Kremlin-controlled Russian parliament approved a law banning the alleged disparagement of the Russian military or the spreading of “false information” about the the country’s military operation in Ukraine.

Dozens of Russian independent media have been banned as a result, while others have announced a halt to all reporting related to Ukraine.

Ex-journalist on trial

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

He was arrested in July 2020, after quitting journalism to become an adviser to the head of the state space agency.

In this image taken from video provided by the Moscow City Court, Ivan Safronov, adviser to the director of the Russian state space company, sits in a courtroom ahead of the hearing in Moscow, Russia, on June 30, 2021. (Moscow City Court via AP)

The FSB’s security service accused Safronov of collecting confidential Russian military, defense and security information and passing it on to the intelligence service of a NATO member country.

In a closed hearing, prosecutors last week requested a 24-year prison sentence for Safronov, after he allegedly refused 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 said his reporting was based on analysis of open sources and conversations with officials.

The Safronov affair sparked a backlash from independent journalists and – unusually – several journalists from the Kremlin press pool covering Putin.

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

“It is clear to us that the reason for the persecution of Ivan Safronov is not ‘treason’… but his journalistic work and the materials he published without taking into account the opinion of the Ministry of Defense and Russian authorities,” he said.

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