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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hardline Editors Vow to Fight Case in Court

Two hardline newspaper editors who were sacked by government order vowed Friday to fight the measure through the courts, warning that the government was trying to predetermine the outcome of the December elections by muzzling the opposition press.

Gennady Seleznyov of Pravda and Valentin Chikin of Sovetskaya Rossiya said at a press conference that the order from the Press and Information Ministry removing them and ordering their newspapers to change their orientation had no legal basis. They denounced the measure as "arbitrary" and an alarming sign of the state of Russia today.

"This was done as a loyalty lesson for the press", said Chikin. "Now every editor will have to think twice before he puts anything critical of the government in the newspaper".

Several opposition publications, including Pravda and Sovetskaya Rossiya, were suspended Oct. 4, when President Boris Yeltsin declared a state of emergency.

A decree issued Thursday by the Press and Information Ministry stated that both newspapers could reopen, provided they removed their editors and "in the future acted in a civilized manner and did not go outside the law".

Seleznyov and Chikin both said their staff stood behind them, and that they did not intend to comply with the decree.

"Pravda is an independent newspaper", said Seleznyov. "Neither the president nor the press minister can remove me, since they were not the ones who appointed me".

The case of Pravda is an example of how Russian politics has been turned upside down by the country's latest upheaval. Once the mouthpiece of the Soviet Communist Party, it is now in the position of spokesman for freedom of the press.

Thursday's decree also closed down 15 other newspapers, including the extremist Den, and announced that criminal charges were being filed against these publications for "direct calls for bloodshed, which contributed to destabilization and rebellion". Included in the list was "600 Seconds", a St. Petersburg television program hosted by hardliner Alexander Nevzorov.

Also shut down was the newspaper Glasnost, which was briefly the organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, for failing to reregister. The editor of Glasnost, Yury Izyumov, said that the charge was false, and showed journalists a document of re-registration dated Sept. 3, 1991.

A lawyer quoted by Commersant Daily said that the decree contradicted the law on the press, under which newspapers can be closed only by decision of the courts.

"The Press Ministry is trying through typical bureaucratic means to deal with the opposition press", said the lawyer, Genry Reznik. "But the closing of these newspapers is a violation of the democratic rights of the citizens of Russia".

Leonid Prudovsky, a spokesman for the ministry, said in a telephone interview that the ministry was not trying to silence the opposition but was closing down "openly fascist publications".

When asked what the legal basis for the measure was, he replied: "Look at the newspapers that were closed. That's our justification".

He added that Pravda and Sovetskaya Rossiya bore some of the blame for the violence on Oct. 4.

"I consider that some of the blood is on their conscience", he said.

Prudovsky said that the government had wanted to close the two newspapers permanently, but that the ministry had defended them, "because an opposition press should exist".

Of Glasnost he said that the paper had not reregistered in 1991, and any documents it had to that effect were false.

Seleznyov, Chikin and Izyumov all said that they would appeal the decree in the courts as soon as the state of emergency was lifted. The three also intend to sue the Press and Information Ministry for revenues lost while the newspapers are closed.