Russian Federal Security Service Sues Opposition Newspaper

The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) filed a lawsuit this month against prominent opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta. The lawsuit is based on defamation claims by the Russian intelligence agency after Novaya Gazeta published two articles online claiming the FSB tortured a man in order to obtain a confession.

On January 25, 2019, Novaya Gazeta reported that Kyrgyz migrant Husnidin Zaynabidinov was detained in the town of Magnitogorsk. According to his wife and human rights activists, Zaynabidinov was tortured by FSB agents in order to obtain a confession for causing an explosion at the 164 Karl Marx Street apartment building.

The explosion occurred on December 30, 2018, and killed 39 people. Local officials reported that the explosion was the result of a gas leak. Some publications refuted the official story, claiming it was a deliberate act of terrorism.

Officials have not made it clear why Zaynabidinov was detained, but Novaya Gazeta reported that Husnidin’s wife’s claims agents demanded a confession for the explosion, refuting authorities’ official gas leak narrative.

The FSB filed a lawsuit against the author and publication over two Novaya Gazeta articles reporting on the torture and detention of Husnidin Zaynabidinov. The lawsuit claims the reports are untrue and that “the content and semantic tenor of [Novaya Gazeta’s] statements about the use of torture and violence against a citizen by a state agency, which serves as a mechanism for the protection of individual rights, freedoms, and dignity, undeniably creates a negative view of this federal agency for a wide range of readers.”

The lawsuit is representative of the overall trend in the Russian Federation of the suppression of independent journalists and journalism critical of the government. Novaya Gazeta is considered one of Russia’s last major opposition publications.

Six Novaya Gazeta journalists have been murdered in connection to their work since 2001. In 2017, then editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov declared Novaya Gazeta would arm its journalists after a “host of assassination attempts” on staff. As recently as October 2018, Novaya Gazeta received a funeral wreath and a severed goat head in the mail along with a vague threatening message.

The lawsuit is part of an alarming trend of legal action against critical journalism in Russia, as new legislation against “fake news” and “disrespecting authorities” continues to gain traction. The lawsuit against Novaya Gazeta by the FSB could set a dangerous new precedent for legal attacks on the press and represents a greater pattern of silencing opposition media in the Russian Federation.

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