New York, February 8, 2008—For the second time in a week, Russian police have raided an independent newspaper and seized its computers, accusing it of using pirated Microsoft software.
The latest incident was on Wednesday, when police in St. Petersburg raided the offices of the weekly Minuty Veka and its publishing house, seizing its computers. The previous day, a newspaper in the southern city of Togliatti was also raided. In November, another newspaper in Samara was raided on the same accusation of allegedly using pirated software.
“We are alarmed by this seizure, which is part of a trend of confiscations of ‘pirated’ software,” CPJ’s Executive Director Joel Simon said. “It is a flimsy excuse for paralyzing whole newspapers. We call on the authorities to return computers to Tolyattinskoye Obozreniye, Novaya Gazeta, and Minuty Veka.”
On Wednesday morning, a St. Petersburg tax crime police unit raided the office of Novy Peterburg, the publisher of Minuty Veka—the successor of the embattled paper Novy Peterburg, after city prosecutors shut down the latter on charges of extremism in November, and a local court imprisoned its editor, Nikolai Andrushchenko, on charges of defamation and obstruction of justice. Officers demanded the publisher submit all its financial papers because its local printer was being investigated for an unspecified crime, Alevtina Ageyeva, director of Novy Peterburg’s publishing house told CPJ. Novy Peterburg could not comply because all its financial documents were with an auditing company for an annual tax inspection, Ageyeva said.
A group of police from St. Petersburg’s directorate for organized crime then raided Minuty Veka’s office and seized all six computers in the newsroom, according to news reports. The officers told the paper’s staff they were acting on a tip that the paper had been using unlicensed software, said Ageyeva. The seizure prevented Minuty Veka from publishing its Thursday edition, and the weekly has been defunct ever since.
A spokeswoman for Microsoft in Portland, Oregon, told CPJ she is checking into whether the paper had licenses for its software.
Days before the raid, Novy Peterburg’s imprisoned editor publicly denounced his Russian citizenship to protest his jailing, which the successor paper’s staff now believes is related to the raid.
“I am confident we are being harassed because of Andrushchenko’s statement,” Ageyeva told CPJ. She also said that since Andrushchenko’s arrest in late November, local authorities have pressured Minuty Veka to stop publishing information about his case.
Andrushchenko was sentenced to two months in pretrial detention in November and sent to a psychiatric hospital the following month for evaluation; in January a St. Petersburg court extended his detention till after the March presidential election. Before Andrushchenko was jailed, Novy Peterburg published pro-opposition articles in the run-up to Russia’s December 2 parliamentary vote.