Opposition Newspapers Shelved By Printers
By Sergey Chernov
A newspaper that was to have been handed out during the March for the Preservation of St. Petersburg, which takes place this Saturday, has been rejected by two printing plants and will not appear in printed form, the democratic party Yabloko said in a news release on Wednesday. Meanwhile, law enforcement authorities are looking for evidence of “extremism” in two leftist newspapers, which had their print runs seized late last month.
According to Yabloko, the management of the Atlant printing plant, which should have printed 10,000 copies of the special march issue by Wednesday evening, said it had to obtain permission from the police before printing the newspaper.
When Yabloko asked the printers to give them this same explanation in writing, Atlant dropped its story about the police and claimed it had “internal problems” that prevented it from printing the publication, Yabloko spokesman Alexander Shurshev said by phone on Thursday.
The March for the Preservation of St. Petersburg special issue was planned as a four-page publication. It features articles criticizing Governor Valentina Matviyenko’s city planning policies, the ongoing destruction of historic buildings, and widespread infill construction, which march organizers claim violates the rights of residents.Censorship is forbidden by the Russian Constitution.
Earlier, on Tuesday another printing plant, Kuryer, refused without explanation to print the newspaper despite a prior agreement, Shurshev said.
On Wednesday, Yabloko placed jpeg files of the publication on its website to be downloaded and printed. Officially, the march leaflet was to be published as a supplement to St. Petersburg Yabloko’s newspaper, “Vperyod, Peterburg.”
“Maybe it’s self-censorship, but I can’t rule out that there was pressure put on them, because two different printing plants refused to print one and the same paper,” said Shurshev.
The police’s clampdown on the unofficial press in St. Petersburg started on Aug. 27, when Alexei Drozdov, the publisher of a small-circulation left-wing publication, “Za Rabochuyu Vlast,” (For Worker Power) was detained by two Kalashnikov-toting policemen outside the Sea Port after he had spent around thirty minutes there distributing his newspaper to dockers leaving the port after the day shift.
The publication’s lead article, entitled “Peace Enforcement,” criticized the Russia-Georgia war as “imperialist.” A policeman at the 7th Police Precinct of the Kirovsky District, where Drozdov was taken, characterized this as “anti-Russian,” Drozdov wrote in his account of the event.
According to Drozdov, he was interrogated by policemen as well as by a man introduced to him as an officer of UBOP, the organized-crime task force that deals with “extremism” suspects under a law introduced in 2004 by then-President Vladimir Putin. On Saturday, President Medvedev signed a decree making UBOP officially responsible for “extremism”cases.
The next day, Drozdov, who had spent the night at the precinct, was charged with “using obscene language in a public place” (a standard charge applied to oppositionists) and taken to court, where he was fined 500 rubles ($19). After the hearing, Drozdov said he was taken to the 4th Department of the UBOP, responsible for “combating political extremism,” where he was interrogated once more.
On Saturday, Drozdov got a phone call from Sergei Nabokin, the head of the department, who said he had no more questions about Drozdov’s detainment, though he asked Drozdov to show him the next issue of “Za Rabochuyu Vlast” when it was ready. Later on Saturday, Drozdov, who had spent nearly 24 hours at the police precinct, wrote a letter to Sergei Zaitsev, the St. Petersburg chief prosecutor. In the letter, Drozdov described his detainment as “unlawful” and a violation of his rights, and asked for an investigation into the police’s actions.
After they confiscated the 314 copies of the newspaper that Drozdov had with him when he was detained, the police raided the Atlant printing plant, also known as Polyarnaya Zvezda, where “Za Rabochuyu Vlast” had been printed.
During their search of the plant, two hours after Drozdov’s detainment, the police discovered and seized the print run of another newspaper, Chto Delat (What Is to Be Done), a leftist art publication that law enforcers found suspicious.
Entitled “What Does It Mean to Lose? The Experience of Perestroika,” the new issue of Chto Delat focuses on the hopes and outcomes of the Gorbachev era. It was supposed to be distributed at the U-Turn Quadrennial for Contemporary Art, which opened in Copenhagen on Sept. 5. The newspaper’s editor, Dmitry Vilensky, had been invited to the exhibition along with several other Chto Delat contributors.
Vilensky, who was interrogated by the police and UBOP officers, had to leave for the exhibition without copies of the newspaper. According to his account, he was told by the police that the case had been taken over by Olga Moiseyenko, the prosecutor of the Kirovsky District, who ordered an inquiry into whether the publication’s content violates the constitution.
“It is not we who are the extremists, but those who prevent free expression of opinions, introduce censorship, and hinder creative work,” Vilensky wrote.