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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says it is concerned about interference into the editorial decisions at Vedomosti that journalists at the business daily say undermine trust in the publication.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says it is concerned about interference into the editorial decisions at Vedomosti that journalists at the business daily say undermine trust in the publication.

Editors of the Moscow newspaper have been under pressure to change the newspaper's editorial line since it was bought in March, RSF said in a news release on April 24.

RSF called the interference "a new blow to independent journalism in Russia" and a further step in the takeover of the Russian media by people close to the government.

As an example, RSF said the daily was recently barred from publishing polls from the Levada Center or mentioning its name after some of its polls irritated the Kremlin.

Jeanne Cavelier, head of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia office of RSF, said the organization denounced this kind of pressure and stands by the editorial staff.

Journalists at Vedomosti this week publicly accused acting Editor in Chief Andrei Shmarov of imposing pro-Kremlin censorship and suggested the board of directors replace him.

In an editorial posted on the newspaper's website, the journalists complained that Shmarov had banned the publication of Levada polls.

"Changes of this kind undermine trust in the publication," the editorial said.

Vedomosti's media reporter had earlier complained that Shmarov banned negative coverage of President Vladimir Putin's plans to change the constitution to allow him to extend his rule until 2036. She said anyone who flouted the ban would be fired.

Shmarov told Reuters he had not threatened to fire anyone and that his editorial decisions were his own, not the result of any instructions given by anyone else, including the government.

Vedomosti continues publishing news items on subjects that he had been accused of banning, he added.

Based on reporting by Reuters
Ilqar Mammadov speaks to reporters on April 23 in Baku.

The United States and European Union have welcomed the full acquittal in Azerbaijan of a leading human rights defender and an opposition leader. ​

The United States and European Union have welcomed the full acquittal in Azerbaijan of a leading human rights defender and an opposition leader. ​

Ilqar Mammadov, chairman of the Republican Alternative Party (ReAL), and Rasul Cafarov, a prominent human rights defender and board member of ReAL, were acquitted by the Azerbaijani Supreme Court on April 23 after serving years in prison on charges that they and their supporters said were politically motivated.​

In welcoming the action, the U.S. Embassy in Baku said in a statement on April 24 that Washington "would welcome further positive steps, such as ending the intimidation and detention of journalists, civil society activists, and members of the political opposition who exercise their freedom of expression."​

"We remain open to continued dialogue and engagement on these and other issues for the benefit of both our peoples," the statement said.​

The EU also greeted the court's decision to acquit the two men and said that it "expects Azerbaijan to live up to its international commitments."​

Rasul Jafarov
Rasul Jafarov

"This judgement, which overturns their previous convictions, is a welcome step that finally fully implements the respective decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. The European Union expects Azerbaijan to live up to its international commitments and to continue to implement the remaining decisions of the European Court of Human Rights," the EU statement said.​

Mammadov, who served more than five years of a seven-year prison term, fought for his full acquittal since his early release in August 2018.​

He was detained in February 2013 and charged with helping stoke unrest in the town of Ismayilli, northwest of Baku. He was sentenced to seven years in jail in March 2014. Mammadov and his supporters insisted the case against him was politically motivated.​

Cafarov was arrested in August 2014 and in April 2015 he was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison after a court in Baku found him guilty of tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship, and abuse of office. He denied the charges, saying they were politically motivated. ​

Cafarov was granted early release in March 2016 and worked on his full acquittal since then.​

Critics of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev say authorities of the energy-rich South Caucasus state frequently jail opposition activists, reporters, human rights defenders, and civil society advocates without grounds in an effort to silence dissent.​

Aliyev, who has ruled Azerbaijan since shortly before his father's death in 2003, has rejected the criticism.​

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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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