Russian court upholds six-year sentence for Sochi blogger

A court in southwestern Russia has upheld Sochi-based blogger Alexander Valov’s extremely harsh six-year jail sentence, which means that he will have to spend another four years in prison.

After many postponements, the Krasnodar regional court finally decided on 30 August to confirm the jail term and fine of 700,000 roubles (9,000 euros) that a court in the city of Sochi imposed on Valov in December 2018 on a charge of extorting money from a local parliamentarian. Sochi is part of the Krasnodar region.

Valov, who has been detained since January 2018, was initially allowed to participate in this hearing by videoconferencing from Armavir provisional detention centre but the court’s judges disconnected him on the grounds that he was defending himself in an overly aggressive manner.

As a result, the editor of the Blog Sochi news website was prevented from taking part in the rest of the six-hour hearing and from having a final word. His lawyers say they plan to refer the case to a court of cassation.

“Upholding this harsh sentence and depriving Alexander Valov of the right to speak at his own appeal showed yet again that he is the victim of persecution,”said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. When a court of cassation hears this case, the judges must finally take account of the many procedural violations.”

Despite a lack of material evidence and the repeated procedural irregularities, Valov was convicted in December 2018 of extorting money from Yury Napso, a Sochi representative in the Russian parliament.

Accusing the Krasnodar regional authorities of clearly wanting to silence a blogger who is well-known for criticizing prominent local figures, RSF had called in vain for Valov’s appeal to be heard in a different region.

Russia is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.