Russia revokes independent newspaper’s printing license, jails ex-journalist for treason

MOSCOW – Russian courts on Monday revoked the printing license of the main independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta and jailed a respected ex-reporter for 22 years for treason, in the latest actions against media and journalists.

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.

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

He later said the decision had “killed” the newspaper.

“The newspaper was killed today. They stole 30 years of life from his employees. Readers deprived of the right to receive information,” Novaya Gazeta said, adding that her “free spirit” will continue to exist.

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

In a statement, the court upheld the verdict which followed legal action by Russian 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 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.

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.

– Ex-reporter imprisoned for treason –

Also on Monday, a Moscow court jailed respected former defense journalist Ivan Safronov for 22 years on charges of treason for leaking state secrets.

The judge said Safronov would serve his sentence in a “strict regime penal colony”, AFP reported from the court.

The 32-year-old worked for business newspapers Kommersant and Vedomosti and was one of Russia’s most respected journalists covering the country’s defence, politics and space program.

Safronov appeared in court on Monday inside a glass cage for the defendants wearing a gray tracksuit and a baggy black vest, his hands cuffed.

About 100 people gathered at the Moscow courthouse for the verdict, applauding Safronov and chanting “Freedom! after reading the sentence.

Safronov smiled and shouted “I love you!” before leaving the courtroom, noted an AFP journalist.

His lawyer, Dmitry Kachev, said the verdict could not be called “other than inadequate” and said Safronov was convicted for his “journalistic work”.

Safronov’s lawyers told reporters they would appeal the verdict.

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

He was accused of collecting confidential Russian military, defense and security information and passing it on to foreign intelligence services.

The Safronov case was heard behind closed doors based on evidence that was also kept secret.

Prosecutors last week called for 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 his former colleagues.

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.

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