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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Far East Police Close Opposition Papers

VLADIVOSTOK, Far East -- Newspapers critical of regional Governor Yevgeny Nazdratenko are claiming political harassment after police temporarily confiscated their entire press run and barred the doors of their printing press.

Police say the newspapers are being kept out of the building because a court last week ruled that the press room does not belong to them and that they have no right to be there.

But the newspapers' publishers claim that Nazdratenko is using the police to silence his critics. The printing press is co-owned by the mayor of Vladivostok, Viktor Cherepkov -- Nazdratenko's enemy in an ongoing political feud.

"It's absolutely illegal," said Vladimir Gilgenberg, a regional lawmaker and critic of Nazdratenko, whose Dalyokaya Okraina newspaper was seized by police. "I think it is an outright political action, an effort to repress the alternative press."

Police seized three weekly papers -- Krasnoye Znamya, Vestnik and Dalyokaya Okraina -- when newspaper staff drilled through a wall into a press room sealed by court order. They ran off 11,000 copies of their papers before police kicked them out at 2 a.m. Monday and shut down the press.

The publications had their papers back by late afternoon, but a 24-hour police guard is making sure the press does not run again.

The press building was previously owned by the Communist Party and was home to several party newspapers. When, in 1991, all party property was handed over to the state, the regional government asked Dalpress, its publishing organization, to take over the building and ordered the occupants to vacate.

But Vladimir Shkrabov, the publisher of the former party paper Krasnoye Znamya, refused to move out and sued to regain ownership of the building. In a conference hall on the ground floor, Shkrabov located the region's only independent printing press -- co-owned by the office of Mayor Cherepkov. Until the press was closed last week, it printed 19 newspapers, including Primorye, a publication of the Mayor's Office.

The conflict came to a head after a local court sealed the room containing the press last week. Shkrabov, Gilgenberg and others broke through a supporting wall to the building and began publishing their newspapers. They didn't violate the court order, Gilgenberg said, because they didn't break the seal on the door.

Police called to the scene found themselves confronted by state parliament deputies supportive of the mayor and officials of the Mayor's Office, said the Dalpress publisher, Yury Bondarenko. At the order of an investigator, they seized all the newspapers.

Police inspector Tamara Medvetskaya said police, confronted by rival sides waving court papers, acted to maintain order. "We don't support either side," she said.

Lada Astikas, spokeswoman for Nazdratenko's office, said the regional administration had nothing to do with the court order or the police action.

"You could blame it on the United Nations or whomever you wish," Astikas said. "But from a normal point of view, it was simple hooliganism [by those who broke through the wall]."

The newspaper owners said they do not have anywhere to publish now. Primorye, the mayor's paper, will be printed in Khabarovsk, 600 kilometers to the north, Gilgenberg said.

As he carried bundles of seized newspapers from the police station to his pickup truck Monday, Sergei Semerikov, the head of the Krasnoye Znamya news department said, "The war continues."