Newspaper editor Igor Rudnikov finally goes on trial in Saint Petersburg

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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the political nature of newspaper editor Igor Rudnikov’s trial, which is due to begin tomorrow in Saint Petersburg, and calls for his acquittal. He has spent 15 months in pre-trial detention.

Rudnikov is an independent journalist whose hard-hitting investigative reporting in Russia’s western enclave of Kaliningrad had elicited two murder attempts and many lawsuits and prosecutions prior to his arrest in November 2017.

In this trial, he is facing up to 15 years in prison on a trumped-up charge of trying to extort money from Gen. Victor Ledenev, a senior Kaliningrad police officer who had been the target of some of his investigative reporting.

Rudnikov’s lawyers have repeatedly pointed to the complete lack of hard evidence and the many procedural flaws in the investigation. The violence to which Rudnikov was subjected at the time of his arrest has never been investigated. His Kaliningrad-based newspaper, Novye Kolesa, was finally banned on 1 February.

“The sole goal of this trial is to silence Igor Rudnikov,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “The length of his pre-trial detention, the violence to which he was subjected and his newspaper’s liquidation all confirm that this is the goal. Not only should he be acquitted and immediately freed but there should also be a thorough investigation into the illegal manner in which he has been persecuted.”

Kaliningrad’s leading independent newspaper, Novye Kolesa was finally stripped of its licence by court order on 1 February but it had already been forced to stop producing a print version in April 2018. The newspaper, which still appears online, has appealed against the decision.

In a sign of official impatience to silence the newspaper for good, the grounds given for withdrawing the licence were two previous warnings from the Russian telecommunications agency Roskomnadzor. In fact, it would have sufficed to note that Novye Kolesa has not produced a print issue for the past year.

The Russian human rights organization Memorial recognizes Rudnikov as political prisoner. Russia is ranked 148th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.