Journalist Convicted of Fraud

The editor of a small Moscow newspaper has been convicted on fraud and extortion charges, which her lawyer denounced Friday as fabricated.

Aigul Makhmutova, 24, the editor of Sudba Kuzminok, a newspaper in Moscow's district of Kuzminki, was sentenced Thursday to 5 1/2 years in jail.

Makhmutova's lawyer Yury Zak said the fraud and extortion charges were brought against her in revenge for the newspaper's critical articles about possible abuse by Kuzminki authorities, including suspicious land deals. "The case was fabricated by the municipal authorities, who wanted to put the recalcitrant journalist behind bars," Zak said.

Makhmutova is a member of the pro-Kremlin Just Russia party, which recently defended her in a letter to President Dmitry Medvedev. The Kremlin has not responded publicly to the letter.

"Such actions discredit the government and cast a cloud of doubt over media freedom in Russia," said Just Russia spokesman Dmitry Gudkov.

In December 2006, Makhmutova was arrested on suspicion of defrauding shoppers of 3,500 rubles at a weekend fair, according to the Glasnost Defense Foundation. Significantly, Glasnost said, the first report about the arrest was published in the Kuzminki administration's newspaper in an issue sent to the printers nearly 24 hours before the arrest.

(AP, MT)