Novaya Gazeta chief editor Dmitry Muratov, seen here in a 2021 photo, led the procession at Mikhail Gorbachev's funeral

Russia revokes license to print independent newspaper, ex-reporter jailed for treason

Novaya Gazeta editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov led the procession at the funeral of Mikhail Gorbachev in a 2021 photo – Copyright AFP/File Natalia KOLESNIKOVA

Russian courts on Monday revoked the printing license of Novaya Gazeta, a leading independent newspaper, and sentenced a respected ex-reporter to 22 years in prison for high treason in connection with recent actions against the media and journalists.

Russian independent media have faced unprecedented pressure in recent years as the authorities tightened the screws even more since Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine began in February.

All major independent media outlets in Russia have been closed or suspended domestically following a series of restrictions on coverage of the Ukrainian conflict.

A Moscow court “annulled the registration certificate for the print version of Novaya Gazeta,” the social media outlet reported, which suspended publication at the end of March.

It later said that the decision “killed” the newspaper.

“The newspaper was killed today. They stole 30 years of life from his employees. They deprived readers of the right to receive information,” Novaya Gazeta said, adding that its “free spirit” would continue to exist.

Representative of the UN Human Rights Office Ravina Shamdasani called this decision “another blow to the independence of the Russian media.”

In a statement, the court upheld the verdict following a trial initiated by Russia’s media watchdog, Roskomnadzor.

The media regulator is also trying to shut down Novaya Gazeta’s website and print magazine, which it launched in July.

Two court hearings are scheduled for the end of this month.

The Monday ruling came less than a week after the death of the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, who helped found Novaya Gazeta in the early 1990s.

Novaya Gazeta editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov led a procession at Gorbachev’s funeral in Moscow on Saturday.

Novaya Gazeta has paid a high price for its independent position and investigative journalism over the years.

Since 2000, six of its journalists and staff have been killed in connection with their work, including leading investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

– The ex-journalist was imprisoned for treason –

Also Monday, a Moscow court sentenced Ivan Safronov, a respected former Defense Ministry correspondent, to 22 years in prison on charges of high treason for leaking state secrets.

The judge said that Safronov would serve his term in a “high-security colony,” AFP reported from the court.

The 32-year-old worked for the business newspapers Kommersant and Vedomosti and was one of Russia’s most respected journalists covering the country’s defense, politics and space program.

Safronov appeared in court on Monday in a glass cage for the defendants, wearing a gray tracksuit and black puffy vest, and was handcuffed.

About a hundred people gathered in the Moscow court building for the announcement of the verdict, applauding Safronov and chanting “Freedom!” after the announcement of the verdict.

Safronov smiled and shouted: “I love you!” seen by an AFP reporter before he was escorted out of the courtroom.

His lawyer, Dmitry Kachev, said the sentence could only be described as “inadequate” and said that Safronov had been convicted of “journalism.”

Safronov’s lawyers told reporters that they would appeal the verdict.

Safronov was arrested in July 2020 after he left journalism to work as an adviser to the head of the state space agency.

He was accused of collecting confidential information about the Russian military, defense and security and passing it on to foreign intelligence.

Safronov’s case was heard behind closed doors on the basis of testimony that was also kept secret.

Prosecutors last week asked for a 24-year prison sentence for Safronov after he reportedly refused a plea deal for a shorter term.

At the start of the trial in April, Safronov called the case “a complete travesty of justice” and said he was innocent.

The ex-journalist said that his reports are based on the analysis of open sources and conversations with officials.

Safronov’s case caused a negative reaction from independent journalists and his former colleagues.

On Monday, a dozen independent media outlets, including Novaya Gazeta, issued a statement demanding Safronov’s release, saying the harsh sentence was “revenge” for his work.

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