Memorial Human Rights Centre: Kaliningrad journalist and member of the political opposition Igor Rudnikov is a political prisoner

posted 12 Feb 2018, 09:38 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 12 Feb 2018, 09:42 ]
6 February 2018



Igor Rudnikov, editor of the independent newspaper Novye kolesa ["New Wheels”] and former member of the Kaliningrad region legislative assembly, has been charged with an offence under Article 163 (section 3, paragraph b) of the Russian Criminal Code (large-scale extortion by a group of persons by prior agreement) and has been held on remand since 1 November 2017.

According to the prosecution, Rudnikov, jointly with Aleksandr Datsyshin, a former deputy to the presidential representative in the North-West Federal District, allegedly demanded that the head of the Investigative Committee for Kaliningrad region, Lieutenant-General of Justice Viktor Ledenev, pay $50,000 to prevent publication of defamatory material. Earlier, Novye kolesa had published articles alleging that Ledenev owns undeclared property (a non-residential property, a three-storey detached house and several pieces of land) valued at 150m – 200m roubles.

Rudnikov states that he was the victim of a set-up in which Ledenev passed on to him, through the co-founder of Novye kolesa Svetlana Berezovskaya, a folder that contained not only documents but also money. Rudnikov asserts that Ledenev phoned him and promised to hand over documents containing information about people involved in the attempt on his life on 17 March 2016, and also offered assistance in ensuring those individuals would face charges under Article 277 of the Russian Criminal Code (attempt on the life of a state or civil society figure), which has more serious penalties, in exchange for refusing to publish fresh materials about Ledenev’s property.

Igor Rudnikov is a well-known opposition politician in Kaliningrad region and the editor of an independent newspaper that regularly publishes materials of an opposition point of view and focus on combating corruption. At the regional elections in 2016, Rudnikov was the only candidate in a single mandate constituency to defeat a candidate from the United Russia party. A number of Russian and foreign associations of journalists have spoken out in Rudnikov’s defence, including the Union of Journalists of Russia, Reporters Without Borders, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, as well as individual journalists, politicians and other public figures. They have pointed to the implausibility of the charges, the failure to investigate an assault on the journalist that took place at the time of his arrest, the general context in which the prosecution is taking place, and the fact that the journalist had earlier been subjected to unrelenting pressure.

We consider the actual allegations improbable in nature. It is hard to imagine a situation in which an opposition member of the regional assembly and journalist, who has been prosecuted for his civil society activity, would have sought to extort money from the head of the regional office of the Investigative Committee. Our doubts about the guilt of Rudnikov are confirmed by the human rights organization Rus sidyashchaya [“Russia Behind Bars”], whose lawyers are defending him. Rus sidyashchaya has produced a legal analysis of those case materials to which they have access. Their conclusions indicate with a high degree of certainty that Rudnikov is innocent, and unequivocally that there have been gross procedural violations during the investigation of the case.

One piece of evidence that Igor Rudnikov’s prosecution has been politically motivated is that he has been deprived of his status as a member of the regional legislative assembly by the votes of the United Russia party. The prosecutor’s office, that proposed depriving Rudnikov of his membership of the assembly, alleged Rudnikov had been elected when he possessed a right of residence in the USA, which is forbidden by law. Rudnikov’s defence lawyer, however, asserts that his client had no residence permit for the USA, that it had not been seized during the search and investigation, and that it is not clear how it came into the prosecutor’s possession.

In our view, the prosecution of Igor Rudnikov is politically motivated and is based on extremely weak evidence.

We demand that he be immediately released, and that the criminal case be the subject of an impartial investigation.

Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner, or of a prosecution as politically motivated, does not imply that Memorial Human Rights Centre shares or approves the individual’s views, statements or actions.

For more information about this case, see here.


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