Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for newspaper editor Igor Rudnikov’s acquittal after a prosecutor yesterday asked a Saint Petersburg court to impose an exceptionally harsh sentence on this well-known journalist – ten years in a strict-security camp. A verdict in this clearly political trial is due on 17 June.
Held for the past 20 months, Rudnikov is charged with trying to extort money from a senior official he had written about in Russia’s western enclave of Kaliningrad, where he edited the weekly Novye Kolesa and is well known for hard-hitting investigative reporting.
Rudnikov had previously been the target of two murder attempts and many other prosecutions in connection with his journalism.
His lawyers have repeatedly stressed the complete lack of hard evidence and many procedural flaws in the judicial investigation. The violence to which Rudnikov was subjected at the time of his arrest has never been investigated. His weekly, which was Kaliningrad’s main independent newspaper, has been forced to close.
“Everything about this case indicates that Igor Rudnikov is being persecuted, that this is about silencing a journalist who is known for courageous investigative reporting,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
“The ordeal he has endured for the past 20 months is a deep injustice. It is time to acquit him and open an impartial investigation into the many illegal machinations to which he has been subjected.”
Rudnikov was arrested when one of Kaliningrad’s highest law enforcement officials, Gen. Viktor Ledenev, claimed that Rudnikov had demanded money from him in order to stop publishing stories criticizing him. This was after Novye Kolesa reported that Ledenev owned undeclared real estate assets.
A former member of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Ledenev was prosecutor-general in Chechnya from 2008 to 2013, a period marked by systematic impunity for crimes of violence that are widely blamed on Chechnya’s strongman, Ramzan Kadyrov. They include the 2009 abduction and murder of Natalya Estemirova, a well-known journalist and human rights defender.