Press release, Kirkenes, Murmansk, Luleå, Oulu, September 29th 2015
On Monday 28th of September, Thomas Nilsen was fired from his position as chief editor of the online news site BarentsObserver by the owners of the Norwegian Barents Secretariat, the three Northern Norwegian county administrations.
STATEMENT FROM BARENTS PRESS INTERNATIONAL, CONCERNING THE RESTRICTION OF BARENTSOBSERVERS' EDITORIAL FREEDOM
Opposition newspaper editor arrested in Arkhangelsk Region
“After the release of the second issue of the newspaper Golos Shenkurska recently founded by the district branch of the Vazhsky Krai interregional democratic movement, a legal claim was filed against editor Andrei Lebedev by L. V. Ulyanovsky, an officer at the State Inspectorate for Small-Size Vessels, who found his honor and dignity damaged by Yuri Davydov’s article ‘Syumskoye Zavazhye: Surviving, Rather than Living’.
The story said, among other things, that Ulyanovsky had been picking on women pensioners cut off from the mainland by the Vaga River for their failure (due to lack of money) to meet in full the official requirements concerning boat equipment. The plaintiff demanded RUR 500,000 in moral damage compensation.
“That was not for the first time that Shenkursk officials attempted to put pressure on the local opposition by involving law enforcement and judiciary authorities.
Earlier, district head Vassily Minin had repeatedly threatened Lebedev and the editor of another opposition newspaper, Vazhsky Krai–Novy Region, with the institution of legal proceedings against them. Psychological pressure had been exerted on other staffers of the Shenkursk office of Vazhsky Krai too, exposing them to business problems and summons to the law enforcement and supervisory bodies for questioning on various fabricated pretexts.
“Court hearings of the Lebedev case were scheduled to open September 15, but the editor suddenly vanished without a trace. His did not appear at home and his telephone was silent for several days. Finally, September 6, he was found at a detention center where he had been placed by a justice of the peace for seven days of administrative arrest for failure to pay a small administrative fine (sic!).
“As it turned out later, at the moment of his arrest Lebedev had asked a colleague from the official local newspaper to report the incident to his friends, which the man never did. The arrest was ordered by a retired police officer (with a 13-year record of service) turned justice of the peace in 2004. Evidently, the inordinately harsh sentence marked the Shenkursk authorities’ reaction to the emergence in the district of an opposition media outlet and their attempt to disrupt the September 15 court hearings.
“The Coordinating Council […] hereby expresses its resolute protest against Andrei Lebedev’s arrest and sees this administrative measure as an instance of unmotivated cruelty and authorities’ attempt to revenge themselves on Lebedev for his editing an opposition newspaper.
“We demand our colleague’s immediate release from detention and his subjection to a more adequate administrative sanction.”
On Monday, September 13, Tamara Ovchinnikova, the GDF correspondent in the North-Western Federal District, reported that A. Lebedev had been released September 9. According to him, the fire marshal had sentenced him shortly before to a fine of RUR 300 (USD 10) for not equipping his house with a fire alarm. His failure to duly pay the fine resulted in the seven days of administrative arrest – although the fine had already been paid by the date when the sentence was being passed.