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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Paper to Be Warned Over Rebel Interview

The government plans to issue a warning to Kommersant for violating an anti-extremism law by publishing an interview with Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, a government spokesman said Wednesday. Under the law, the government may ask a court to close a publication after two warnings in a one-year period.

The newspaper denied any wrongdoing and said it ran the interview Monday to provide a first-person account of Maskhadov's cease-fire order and his call for peace talks. Some government officials called the order "a lie" after it was announced on rebel web sites.

The Federal Service for Media Law Compliance and Cultural Heritage is having experts analyze the interview and is working on the text of the warning that will formally appear "in the near future," said a spokesman for the service, who asked not to be named.

By publishing the interview, Kommersant violated Article 4 of the 1991 Law on Mass Media and Article 11 of the 2002 Law on Counteracting Extremist Activity, the spokesman said.

The media law prohibits a publication from promoting or assisting "extremist activity," while the anti-extremism law prohibits the media from disseminating "materials that support or justify extremist activity." The anti-extremist law states that a court may close a publication after it receives two warnings within 12 months. The law, however, does not force the government to take legal action, so a publication may be allowed to stay open even after receiving a second warning, the spokesman said.

Georgy Ivanov, head of Kommersant's legal department, denied that the interview justified terrorism. "It calls for peace, if you read it," he said by telephone Wednesday. If the warning is issued, Kommersant will most likely dispute it in court, Ivanov said.

In one of his most aggressive statements in the interview, Maskhadov is quoted as saying, "If the sober mind of our Kremlin opponents prevails, we'll end the war at the negotiating table. If not, the bloodshed will likely continue for a long time."

Kommersant relayed questions and received answers through a Maskhadov envoy, whose whereabouts the newspaper did not disclose.

Andrei Richter, director of Moscow's Media Law and Policy Institute, said the warning could be intended to give Kommersant, a Boris Berezovsky-owned daily, a "cold shower" and discourage other media from giving space or airtime to people the Kremlin does not like.

Kommersant's prospects of disputing a warning in court are likely very slim, as in 90 percent of cases courts refuse to consider such complaints, Richter said. But if a court agrees to hear the case, Kommersant could easily win, he said.

In 2000, the government warned Kommersant for publishing an interview with Maskhadov, but a court overturned the warning, Kommersant general director Andrei Vasilyev said Tuesday, Interfax reported.

"It was an exception, not the rule," Richter said about the court's willingness to hear the case. Three Russian newspapers -- the National Bolshevik Party's Limonka newspaper, Den and Gubernskiye Vesti -- have been closed after warnings, but those were over inciting ethnic hatred, Richter said.