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Sergei Mikhailov
The governor of the Altai Republic in western Siberia has filed a libel lawsuit against a local journalist, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

Governor Aleksandr Berdnikov is demanding 500,000 rubles ($16,000) from Sergei Mikhailov, the chief editor of the local opposition weekly "Listok," as compensation for "moral damage."

Berdnikov says Mikhailov damaged his personal honor and business reputation in several articles he published in his newspaper. Berdnikov says in one of those articles Mikhailov called the local government "a cesspool."

Mikhailov was charged with libel and extremism earlier this year, and the local prosecutor's office says those cases are still being investigated.

Those earlier charges derive from a placard Mikhailov was seen holding during an opposition demonstration in the republican capital, Gorno-Altaisk, with derogatory comments about Berdnikov's deputy, Sergei Tevonian, who is Armenian. Police said the placard incited hatred toward Armenians. They subsequently searched the editorial offices of "Listok."

Mikhailov says that he had nothing to do with the placard and was simply asked to hold it by another participant in the demonstration. He denies all the charges against him, which he claims are politically motivated. Mikhailov says the local authorities are hitting back at him in retaliation for his articles criticizing local officials.
A Baha'i International Community representative says she hopes seven jailed Iranian Baha'i leaders will now get a proper appeal hearing after their sentences were reportedly halved, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reports.

The New York-based community said on September 16 it had learned that the 20-year sentences against the five men and two women had been reduced.

"The only oral news which I have received from Iran is that the lawyers representing the seven Baha'i leaders were informed orally on September 15 that the 20-year jail terms have now been reduced to 10 years," Diane Ala'i, the community's representative to the United Nations in Geneva, told Radio Farda.

Ala'i said she is not overly optimistic as the judiciary system in Iran is inefficient and unpredictable.

"These seven detainees never had a file, they have never been informed officially -- even their 20-year jail terms were [communicated] also orally," she said. "In Iran judiciary proceedings generally are not clear and efficient."

But she expressed hope that an appeals trial will be held officially in the presence of lawyers.

Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaluddin Khanjani, Afif Naeemi, Saeed Rezai, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakoli, and Vahid Tizfahm were sentenced on August 8 after being found guilty of "espionage," "acting against national security," and being "enemies of God."

Ala'i strongly rejects these allegations, saying they were arrested because of their faith.

"I am sure if there is a fair trail these seven prisoners will be freed," she told RFE/RL.

Some 300,000 Baha'is live in Iran, making it one of the largest Baha'i communities in the world. Iran is where the religion was founded in the 19th century.

But the Iranian government does not officially recognize the religion and severe limitations are imposed on its followers, including a ban from attending university.

The government has also sanctioned the destruction of Baha'i holy sites, including the former residence of one of the religion's prophets in Shiraz.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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