A New Means of Censorship

In the Russian region of Bashkortostan, the sole independent newspaper is becoming harder to find in stores. Novaya Gazeta reported on October 13th that the “Ufa Meridian,” which publishes out of the regional capital of Ufa, is facing not-so-subtle moves from above that amount to a new form of censorship. Rather than direct confrontation, the authorities use bureaucratic means to silence their opposition.

It began when the municipally-owned printer, “Ufa-Press” broke its contract with the Ufa Meridian, which pays several hundred thousand rubles for their services each year. In a letter to the editor, the municipal enterprise attributed the move to a “reduction of production capabilities.” Apparently, a similar reduction happened simultaneously at several local distribution firms as well, which didn’t bother sending a letter to the editor. Instead, they simply told the newspaper’s driver that he shouldn’t bring them the paper any more. Their administration had informed them that they shouldn’t accept the paper, or distribute it to the point of sale.

In the opinion of Ufa Meridian editor Artem Valiev, the order came from the top ranks of the local authorities. Earlier this week, just before the arrival of President Putin on an October 12th visit, the newspaper had disappeared from the shelves of many news-stands and kiosks. Putin came to Ufa to head a regional council meeting, and to participate in celebrations marking the 450th anniversary of Bashkortostan’s entry into the Russian Federation. The publication believes its issues were pulled because they may have ruined Putin’s temperament, had he a chance to see them. According to the Sobkor®ru news agency, the city of Ufa also arrested several student activists prior to the president’s visit, on suspicion of planning anti-Putin demonstrations.

The editors of the Ufa Meridian have pledged to continue using all means available to continue publication. The newspaper has a loyal circulation of around 25 thousand. Recent stories have included features on the rising cost of public housing, corruption among local figures, and the living conditions of ordinary Russians in the countryside.