Russia bans opposition leaders from travel

7th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Two prominent Kremlin critics said Thursday they had been barred from leaving Russia over a pamphlet attacking a billionaire gas trader and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Former minister Boris Nemtsov and his political ally Vladimir Milov said they had learned of the decision by telephone Wednesday while attending a human rights panel in Brussels.

The six-month travel restriction orders were published on both men's blogs and will go into effect as soon as they return to Russia.

The decision was immediately condemned by European Parliament lawmakers and resulted in another sharp diplomatic exchange in which the foreign ministry accused the EU of interfering in Russia's domestic affairs.

The court orders said Nemtsov and Milov had not cooperated fully with an order to publish a correction to a pamphlet criticising Putin and billionaire gas trader Gennady Timchenko.

The court ruling said the one that appeared in the Kommersant business daily on March 26 was too short.

Nemtsov and Milov both enjoy broad recognition and respect in the West but have only marginal followings in Russia and almost no access to official media outlets.

The documents posted on the two men's blogs show the bailiffs acting on request of Timchenko -- a tycoon whose energy trading firm became a major force in the past decade and who is involved in a defamation case against the two men.

Nemtsov said the ruling stemmed from allegations he and Milov had published about Putin's inner circle that sparked the subsequent defamation case.

"This is the first time in post-Soviet Russian history that a person was banned from travel for political reasons," Nemtsov told Kommersant.

"Of course we have already appealed everything and are convinced that we are right," Milov added in his blog.

The news came as lawmakers in the European Parliament approved a resolution condemning Russia for its decision to bar a party co-headed by the two men from December's parliamentary elections.

The resolution also condemned the travel restriction. A spokesman for the Russian foreign ministry called the vote "nothing new".

"The fact that the European Parliament is once again trying to grossly interfere with our local laws is nothing new," Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told reporters.

"I do not exclude us providing a more explicit response to this later," he added.

A spokesman for the Moscow branch of the Federal Bailiff Service told the ITAR-TASS news agency that the travel ban was imposed because of Nemtsov's failure to publish a proper correction. The service made no mention of Milov.

"Because the charged failed to comply with the court decision, he was issued with a ruling limiting his right to travel outside the Russia," the judicial spokesman said.

The defamation charges concerned a pamphlet that Nemtsov co-authored in 2010 entitled "Putin. Results. 10 Years."

It alleged Timchenko profited from an earlier friendship with Putin and received special favours that helped his Gunvor firm grow. Timchenko insists that he knows Putin only in passing and won several Russian court cases linked to the same allegations.

© 2011 AFP

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