Russian reporters complain of pressure after sackings
Journalists from a Russian publisher controlled by a Kremlin-friendly tycoon complained Wednesday they were being prevented from criticising Vladimir Putin after several of their colleagues were sacked.
More than 60 journalists from the Kommersant publisher signed an open letter after its owner Alisher Usmanov fired senior executives for a magazine issue that alleged fraud in this month's parliamentary elections and contained expletive-ridden images insulting Putin.
Kommersant, one of Russia's most respected publishers, publishes the liberally-inclined daily newspaper of the same name, the weekly magazine Kommersant Vlast and also owns the popular Kommersant-FM radio.
"We are being pressured into cowardice which is unseemly and unproductive," said the open letter posted on the Internet.
"It is hard for us to remain objective when we are being pressured and our comrades are being persecuted, and we do not understand why we should continue being objective in these circumstances."
Maxim Kovalsky, editor of Kommersant Vlast, lost his job nominally because the title's most recent issue published two pictures with expletive slogans against Putin. But it also had alleged Putin's party won the elections thanks to substantial vote-rigging.
Journalists who signed the open letter praised Kovalsky as a "man of great talent and high professionalism."
"We consider his firing an act of intimidation aimed at preventing any critical statements about Vladimir Pitin, even in the indirect form of publishing pictures of the texts in which he's spoken about without proper piety."
The director general of the publisher's holding company, Andrei Galiyev, had also been fired.
Speaking in an interview with the Interfax news agency, Usmanov on Wednesday defended his decision, stressing he was driven by ethical norms and not politics.
"I believe I took the right decision and am not going to renege on it," he was quoted as saying.
Usmanov also made clear he also had no intention of selling the publication, despite an apparently serious offer from fellow tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov to buy it.
Prokhorov this week launched a bid to challenge Putin for the presidency, adding further drama to Russia's political scene after the mass protests against the election results at the weekend.
© 2011 AFP