MOSCOW, Russia (AFP)— A Russian court on Wednesday sentenced Sergei Smirnov, chief editor of Mediazona, an online news publication often critical of the government, to 25 days in jail over a re-tweet amid a growing crackdown on critics.
Smirnov, 45, was found guilty of repeatedly violating legislation on public gatherings, his lawyer Fyodor Sirosh told AFP.
Ahead of a January 23 protest in support of top opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Smirnov re-tweeted a joke that included the time of the protest rally.
In the re-tweeted post, a Twitter user quipped that the editor looked like the leader of the punk group Tarakany (Cockroaches), Dmitry Spirin.
Sirosh said the Mediazona editor had been accused of urging Russians to protest.
The journalist was detained on Saturday in front of his young son.
Mediazona is an online publication which writes about court cases and abuses of prisoners’ rights, among other subjects. Its publisher is anti-Kremlin activist Pyotr Verzilov.
“This is the first arrest of an editor-in-chief of a media outlet in the history of Russia,” Verzilov tweeted.
“The Kremlin is not only trying to harshly crack down on protests but is also trying to intimidate journalists who are writing about what’s happening.”
Verzilov said Smirnov did not even attend the January 23 rally.
- ‘Theatre of the absurd’ –
Smirnov’s jailing sparked a chorus of condemnation from international watchdogs and Russian media outlets.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called the Mediazona editor’s sentencing “the theatre of the absurd!”
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said journalists in Russia should be able to work without fear.
“CPJ is concerned with the baseless persecution of the chief editor of @mediazzzona Sergey Smirnov and calls for his immediate release,” it tweeted.
Syndicate 100, a coalition of Russian media outlets, said Smirnov had been jailed over a “joke about himself” but also stressed that it was retribution for his work.
“The journalistic community is convinced that Smirnov’s arrest is linked to his professional activities,” it said.
Russia’s top independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta said it would for the next 25 days publish “key Mediazona articles” in a gesture of solidarity.
Over the past two weekends tens of thousands of Russians took to the streets across the country in support of opposition leader Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critic.
On Tuesday, the 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner was given a jail term of two years and eight months for violating the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence on embezzlement charges he claims were a pretext to silence him.
Protest monitors say that more than 10,000 people have been detained at the most recent pro-Navalny rallies.