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Press freedom

Russia jails investigative journalist on 'extremism' charges

Prosecutors had accused the Russian journalist of creating an "extremist" group aimed at overthrowing authorities. But the group had actually called for a referendum for increased transparency from serving officials.

A Russian court on Thursday sentenced an investigative journalist to three and a half years in prison after convicting him on extremism charges.

Prosecutors said 29-year-old Alexander Sokolov created an "extremist organization" aimed at overthrowing Russian authorities. The group was called "For Responsible Government" and called for a referendum to make politicians more accountable.

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"The idea of holding a referendum against the present-day authorities was recognized to be an extremist one. But we have not finished yet, we will keep fighting," Sokolov said from a metal cage in the courtroom.

Sokolov worked for RBK news agency when police arrested him in June 2015. The agency has since been sold to the owner of a pro-Kremlin newspaper.

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'Disgraceful'

The trial drew criticism from several media rights agencies including the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Memorial in Russia.

"This sentence is disgraceful," said Johann Bihr, who heads RSF's Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

"By persisting with this prosecution despite two years of pre-trial detention, vacillating allegations, no hard evidence and an Orwellian charge, the judicial authorities have just reinforced the impression that Alexander Sokolov is being persecuted because his journalist activities were a source of irritation."

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Before his arrest, Sokolov researched the alleged embezzlement of 93 billion rubles (1.32 billion euros, $1.55 billion) from public coffers during the construction of a new space port. The space center was considered a brainchild of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia ranked 148 out of 180 countries on RSF's 2017 Press Freedom Index. "The oppressive climate at the national level encourages powerful provincial officials far from Moscow to crack down even harder on their media critics," RSF said in its 2017 global report on press freedom.

ls/sms (AFP, Reuters)

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