His Excellency Georgiy Mamedov
Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Canada
285 Charlotte Street
Ottawa, ON K1N 8L5
August 25, 2009
I am writing on behalf of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), a non-profit, non-governmental organization that works to promote and protect press freedom and freedom of expression around the world.
CJFE condemns the defamation charge against online editor Mikhail Afanasyev for reporting on the August 17 explosion at a hydroelectric plant. Afanasyev and his colleagues published a blog entry that challenged the official government version of what happened at the Sayano-Shushenskaya power plant in Khakassia. If the Russian court convicts Afanasyev, he faces at least three years in prison.
Afanasyev reported that up to 100 workers were killed by the explosion and that there were workers trapped in an underground room, who could be still alive. Russian officials and state-controlled media refuted this despite the fact that Afanasyev had gathered concrete evidence of the death toll by interviewing the families of the power plant workers.
Russian authorities confiscated computers, cell phones and the apartment key belonging to the online editor. This is not the first time that Afanasyev has had problems with the law. 10 criminal cases have been opened against him.
CJFE believes that journalists must be free to report the facts about an incident affecting the lives of Russian people. The censoring of journalism like this calls to mind cases such as that of Grigory Pasko, the environmental journalist who broke the stories of nuclear waste dumping by the Russian navy in 1993.
CJFE calls on the prosecutors to drop immediately and unconditionally all charges against Afanasyev. We thank you for your attention and look forward to your reply.
Arnold Amber, President
c.c.: Ralph Lysyshyn, Ambassador of Canada to Russia;
The Honourable Lawrence Cannon, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs