Paper Reprimanded Over Georgia

Novaya Gazeta's St. Petersburg edition has been accused by the federal media watchdog of inciting hatred toward Georgians and faces possible closure if the violation is repeated.

The newspaper's editor denied any wrongdoing, saying the outspoken opposition paper was under attack for its critical coverage of St. Petersburg authorities.

The local branch of the Federal Mass Media Inspection Service said Monday that the newspaper had violated media and extremism laws by quoting an ultranationalist group's appeal to isolate Georgians living in Russia.

"In the publication, there are blatant calls directed at inciting ethnic hatred toward Georgian nationals and at violating the rights, freedoms and legitimate interests of an individual and a citizen depending on his national identity," the agency said in a statement.

The agency has issued a written warning to the newspaper, the statement said. By law, another warning in less than a year about violating extremism laws can lead to a newspaper's closure by a court order.

In its Thursday's story, the newspaper quoted a statement posted on the web site of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration that said Georgians living in Russia should be moved to refugee camps.

The statement by the Movement Against Illegal Immigration also accused Georgians living in Russia of "carrying out intelligence and sabotage activities" and "undermining Russia's economy."

The newspaper's editor, Valery Beresnyov, rejected the extremism charges, saying the story containing the quoted statement warned about the dangers of ultranationalism.

"To support our ideas, we cited two statements by the Movement Against Illegal Immigration," Beresnyov said.

He called the charges "absurd" and a "pretext" to exert pressure on a newspaper that has long irritated city authorities for criticizing their construction policy.

Beresnyov also said the newspaper was "well-known for its intolerance toward ultranationalists" and called it "the only St. Petersburg newspaper that has given a voice to members of the Georgian diaspora" during the South Ossetia conflict.

The newspaper will appeal the media watchdog's warning in court, Beresnyov said.

As of Monday, the Movement Against Illegal Immigration had not received any warning from authorities in connection with its statement, said a local spokesman for the group, Semyon Pikhtelyov.

Andrei Richter, head of Moscow's Media Law and Policy Institute, said he saw no legal violations in the newspaper's article but warned that the editor had little chance of winning any lawsuit against the media watchdog.

"Media outlets rarely win such suits," he said.

In November, Novaya Gazeta's Samara edition shut down under what it said was pressure from local authorities.

An investigative journalist with Novaya Gazeta in Moscow, Anna Politkovskaya, was shot to death in her central Moscow apartment building in October 2006.

The killers of Politkovskaya, who had written about human rights abuses in Chechnya, have not been brought to justice.