October 27, 2009 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Death threats followed by lawsuits in campaign against dissident journalist

Freelance journalist Alexandr Podrabinek has gradually re-emerged in recent days after being forced into hiding by a hate campaign orchestrated by “patriotic” youth groups such as Nashi (Ours) but he is now the target of several lawsuits and Nashi is even suing foreign newspapers over their coverage of the case. “This affair has progressed from the brutal phase to the judicial phase,” Podrabinek wrote in his blog on 19 October, 12 days after appearing in public for the first time at tribute in Moscow to journalist Anna Politkovskaya on the third anniversary of her death. He is living at home again and has resumed working, and he says he is determined not to leave the country. Referring to his mainly young critics in a phone call with Reporters Without Borders, Podrabinek said: “They simply do not understand the meaning of free expression, of tolerating the expression of different views. Their education is largely responsible.” “We are relieved that Podrabinek’s situation is gradually returning to normal but we will continue to keep a close eye on developments,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The ‘patriotic’ groups have not let up in their attacks on those who do not share their views. The threats are continuing online and those who are nostalgic for the Soviet Union are now trying to use the courts to get more attention.” The Kremlin’s public criticism of some of Nashi’s activities – although the group was created at Vladimir Putin’s initiative to support his policies – has helped to defuse the situation. Nashi is used to responding with demonstrations of force to all those directly or indirectly besmirching the “honour of Holy Russia” but this time the group clearly went a bit too far even for the authorities. But Nashi has not given up. It announced on 22 October that it was bringing libel actions against four European newspapers – Le Monde, Le Journal du Dimanche, The Independent and Frankfurter Rundschau – for their allegedly one-sided coverage of the Podrabinek case and publishing of inaccurate and insulting information. More seriously, other pro-Kremlin organisations such as “United Russia’s Young Guard” (a ruling party affiliate) have joined in the insults and abuse of Podrabinek, much of it racist and anti-semitic in nature. Yet none of their members have been questioned or arrested. On the contrary, it is Podrabinek who is facing legal actions. A Second World War veteran, Viktor Semenov, and the Communist Party are suing him for damages and an apology, while the “League Against Illegal Immigration” has asked the courts to investigate Podrabinek on suspicion of “extremism.” The outpouring of hate against Podrabinek was set off by an article he wrote criticising the growing tendency of government officials to defend the Soviet Union and the controversial figure of Joseph Stalin. Nowadays, those who are nostalgic for the past are increasingly turning to the courts to make their views known. A libel suit brought by Stalin’s grandson against the Novaya Gazeta newspaper was dismissed on 14 October. But the “patriotic” movement known as the “Generation of the Victory” announced a week later that is was going to sue the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe over a resolution adopted by its parliamentary assembly referring to Stalinism as a “totalitarian regime.”