OSCE media watchdog concerned about prison sentence for journalist in
Russia

VIENNA, 23 June 2005 – The OSCE Representative on Freedom of
the Media, Miklos Haraszti, today expressed his concern regarding the combined
five year prison sentence handed down to a Russian journalist by a Smolensk
court.

Nikolay Goshko, deputy editor-in-chief of Odintsovskaya Nedelya,
was found guilty of libeling three Smolensk officials in 2000. As a result of
this conviction, his previous suspended prison term for an unrelated offence
nine years ago came into force.

“It would be alarming to see both the
severity of the sentence, and the possibility to combine speech offences with
crimes totally unrelated to journalism, become a precedent for the future, and
thus amplify the chilling effect on journalism,” Mr. Haraszti wrote in a letter
to the Russian Minister of Justice.

“Criminal libel laws have been rarely
used in democratic Russia,” said Haraszti. “However, this sentence proves that
if a country’s laws criminalize speech offences, there will always be a court
that will apply those provisions”.

Mr. Haraszti invited the Russian
authorities to join international efforts in decriminalizing defamation and
handle the offences of libel and insult only in civil courts.

The
Representative suggested an interim remedy – before full decriminalization was
achieved – could be a moratorium. He also said that he would closely follow Mr.
Goshko’s appeal to a higher court and expressed his hope that his prison
sentence for libel would be reviewed.