Silence in Samara

“Novaya Gazeta in Samara,” a local branch of the internationally renowned independent newspaper, has ceased publication. According to editor-in-chief Sergei Kurt-Adzhiev, the editorial staff were forced to suspend their work as result of pressure from the authorities.

In the last two months, it was fairly difficult to operate, and closer to elections it has become impossible,” Kurt-Adzhiev said. According to the editor, the paper has been targeted by militsiya and security services, as well as bureaucratic means. Nearly every day, someone from the staff has been called in for questioning by the militsiya. The paper’s registration was threatened, and officers regularly visited partner organizations, including printing houses, for so-called “prophylactic chats.” The publication’s offices were frequently searched. Kurt-Adzhiev himself has a criminal case looming over him. He is accused of using pirated software, and has submitted to the authorities by signing a written pledge not to leave town.

In the course of the last raid on the offices, which took place on November 8th, agents siezed all the publication’s records since 1999. In addition, law enforcement took the last computer left in the offices – the personal computer of Kurt-Adzhiev. The machine contained all of the editor’s correspondence with his attorney, Irina Khrunova. “My attorney, Irina Khrunova is not located in Samara, and as result we don’t correspond by mail. And now we need to think up how we’ll communicate with her.”

Kurt-Adzhiev underscored that the decision to cease publication was taken jointly with the chief-editor of the national “Novaya Gazeta,” Dmitri Muratov. The obligation to readers and subscribers will be continued at least until the end of the year. Instead of the local edition, they will now receive the Moscow version of the paper.

Authorities have clamped down on the newspaper before. In May, on the eve of a “Dissenter’s March” being held in Samara, law enforcement confiscated all the computers and financial documents from the paper’s offices. Several days later, a criminal investigation was launched on the basis of pirated software found on hard drives taken from the paper. This seems a political move, as piracy is a common crime, and very few cases are ever prosecuted by the government. Recent reports have shown that 80% of Russia’s software is pirated. News of the investigation was only announced to Sergei Kurt-Adzhiev in mid-October.