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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Joker Journalists Face 'Hooliganism' Charges

Two journalists detained on criminal charges this week for an April Fool's joke were released by a Moscow judge Friday, after pledging to remain in the capital.


The pair, Alexander Nikonov and Dmitry Bykov, from the weekly newspaper Sobesednik, were detained Wednesday evening, according to a spokesman for the newspaper.


They are facing charges under Article 206 of the Russian Criminal Code, which provides for up to five years incarceration for "vicious hooliganism" defined as "gross violations of the public order, expressing disrespect for society, carried out with particular cynicism."


But at a hearing at Moscow's Tverskoi court Friday, Judge Azer Mamedov ruled that the prosecutor's decision to keep Nikonov and Bykov in custody was unjustified and ordered their immediate release, Interfax reported.


The two signed a pledge to remain in Moscow.


The "particular cynicism" in this case involves a special supplement to Sobesednik's April 1 edition.


Titled "Mat" -- the Russian collective word for obscene language -- the paper contained words that the Prosecutor General's Office apparently found offensive enough to warrant a criminal charge


Sobesednik's editor, Andrei Dyatlov, told Ekho Moskvy radio that the harassment of the journalists had nothing to do with their April Fool's escapade.


"I think the real reason for what has happened are some recent publications in Sobesednik," he said.


Dyatlov singled out an interview with Aleksei Kazannik, a former prosecutor general who has been outspoken in his criticism of the current administration, as well as other materials on corruption in the Duma.


"The 'Mat' supplement was just a pretext," he added.