Authorities drop prosecution over coverage of hydro-electric plant disaster

The interior ministry of the Republic of Khakassia (in southwestern Siberia) yesterday withdrew the charges of spreading false rumours that were brought against Mikhail Afanasyev, the editor the Novy Focus news website, on 20 August in connection with his coverage of an explosion at a hydro-electric plant. “We welcome this decision but we nonetheless regard this case as indicative of the hostility that many Russian officials feel towards independent news media,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Both the central and regional governments must abandon their high-handed attempts to control the news in times of crisis.” A total of 73 employees were killed as result of an explosion that flooded a turbine chamber at the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydro-electric plant on 17 August. читайте на русском -------------------------------------------------------- 25.08.2009 - Journalist could get three years for disputing official version of hydro-electric plant disaster Reporters Without Borders condemns the defamation charges brought by the authorities in Abakan, in southwestern Siberia, against freelance journalist Mikhail Afanasyev (photo Rambler), the editor the Novy Focus news website, over his coverage of the 17 August disaster at the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydro-electric plant, and the confiscation of his computer and mobile phone. “We urge the Abakan public prosecutor to drop the charges against Afanasyev,” Reporters Without Borders said. “He did not, as the prosecutor claims, try to ‘attack the dignity’ of the rescue efforts or ‘sow panic in the local population.’ He just posted information he had received from journalists at the scene of the explosion, which confirmed what the relatives of the victims had said. Thanks to his reporting, human lives may have be saved.” The press freedom organisation added: “These tragic events recall others. The Russian government was accused of passivity when the nuclear submarine Kursk was trapped under the Barents Sea in August 2000 and 118 crew members died. To avoid similar accusations, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin rushed to the scene of last week’s disaster. But Afanasyev quoted the claims of relatives that the authorities did not do everything possible to rescue the victims and now he is paying the price.” Afanasyev is facing a possible three-year jail sentence and heavy fines on charges of defamation and violating article 129, paragraph 3, of the Russian criminal code for his coverage of the situation at the hydro-electric plant in his blog on 18 August, the day after the explosion that flooded a turbine chamber (read the article). He reported the findings of two journalists who were at the scene, Eric Chernyshev and Gregory Nazarenko. He also quoted the claims of relatives that there were survivors in air pockets in the flooded chamber who could be heard banging on its walls. And he quoted angry comments by relatives of employees who felt the authorities were not doing everything possible to extricate survivors from the rubble.

The Russian authorities insist that every effort was made to rescue those trapped in the flooded chamber but Putin said there was little chance of finding survivors when he visited the site on 21 August. (Photo Ekho Moskvy) Russian Union of Journalists secretary-general Mikhail Fedotov has also called for the withdrawal of the charges against Afanasyev. “If Mikhail Afanasyev requests the help of the Russian Union of Journalists, we will give him all the help he needs and, as a law professor, I will personally follow the case,” Fedotov said. An outspoken journalist, Afanasyev has been the target of several defamation suits since 2004. Some were dismissed but an Abakan court ordered him to pay 3,884 dollars in one case in June 2007. The Khakassia regional authorities refused to give him a passport to travel to Moscow in December 2004 to receive the Sakharov Prize from the Foundation for the Defence of Glasnost. And he was physically attacked by police officers near Abakan on 16 June 2007. Afanasyev denies the latest defamation charges and says he just wanted to help save lives through his reporting. Officials say 71 employees died as a result of the explosion at the hydro-electric plant, while more than 20 are still missing. читайте на русском
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Updated on 20.01.2016