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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ministry Tries to Close Provincial Newspaper

Authorities in Bashkortostan are trying to close down a local newspaper in what local journalists and civil rights activists say is just the latest in a series of infringements on press freedoms in the Ural Mountains republic.

Earlier this month, the republic's Press Ministry sent a notice to the Vecherny Neftekamsk newspaper saying it would be going to court seeking a closure order, because the paper had "published doubtful material and slanderous fabrications directed at discrediting the policies of the leaders of the republic."

The ministry denies any infringement of press freedom and local journalists say that Vecherny Neftekamsk is not always scrupulous with the facts.

But other journalists concede that much of what the paper prints is true and that it is the victim of the republic's Soviet-style authoritarian approach to freedom of speech.

While newspapers in Moscow have shaken off the state control which prevailed during the Soviet era, much of the news media in Russia's provinces is still closely linked to local governments.

"There is no justice [in Bashkortostan]," said Eduard Khusnutdinov, founder of Vecherny Neftekamsk, in a telephone interview this week. "We publish articles that are interesting or help people understand their rights. People are so afraid they can't talk. They're afraid to talk and they can't show their opinion because it's a really totalitarian government, like under Stalin."

Amir Sultan-Gareyev, Bashkortostan's deputy press minister, denied that there was any political motive behind moves to close down Vecherny Neftekamsk. "We have complete freedom here," he said Thursday by telephone from the Bashkortorstan capital, Ufa.

The notice sent to the offices of Vecherny Neftekamsk cites a series of articles which, it claims, defame the republic's leadership and its president, Muraz Rakhimov.

The Press Ministry also charges that the paper lacks a proper license and has not sent all of the copies of the paper to all of the appropriate organs of government, as required by law. The newspaper's editors deny these charges.The newspaper is published weekly in the small town of Neftekamsk, 1,000 kilometers east of Moscow.

According to Ferard Valeyev, the paper's editor, this is not the first time he has come into conflict with the authorities.

He said the weekly is forced to use a printing press in the neighboring republic of Udmurtia because government-owned printing presses in Bashkortostan refuse to publish it.

Journalists at other Bashkortostan newspapers criticized Vecherny Neftekamsk's reporting style as sensationalist and scurrilous.

Several local journalists interviewed this week, however, said that many of the allegations against the republic's leadership made in Vecherny Neftekamsk are essentially correct, although the paper offers no hard evidence to back them up.

Sergei Fufayev, a free-lance journalist, said that Vecherny Neftekamsk was the victim of political oppression.

"There is no freedom of the press in Bashkortostan," he said. "We practically have freedom to publish advertisements, entertainment programs and anecdotes, but if you want to try to objectively cover politics, problems arise."