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Prominent Russian Academic On Trial On Extremism Charges

Andrei Piontkovsky faces extremist charges over his book "Unloved Country" (Courtesy Photo) Prominent Russian political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky went on trial today in Moscow on charges under the country's antiextremism legislation. Piontkovsky is under criminal investigation for alleged extremist statements he wrote in a book critical of the Kremlin.

September 25, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Andrei Piontkovsky faces extremist charges over his book, "Unloved Country," a political essay strongly critical of President Vladimir Putin's government.

Piontkovksy, an active member of the liberal opposition party Yabloko and a commentator for RFE/RL's Russian Service, is one of several individuals and organizations targeted in the past months under new antiextremism legislation.

His lawyer, Yury Schmidt, tells RFE/RL that a guilty verdict would set a dangerous precedent.

"If his book is ruled to contain elements listed in the law on extremism, I don't exclude the possibility of a criminal case and repressions against the Yabloko party," Schmidt says. "The consequences would affect society as a whole. It would represent another stage in the introduction of censorship into our lives and in the reduction of freedoms."

Yabloko has already come under fire from the authorities for supporting the embattled academic. In June, the Federal Security Service in the southern region of Krasnodar threatened to shut down Yabloko's local office unless it stopped distributing Piontkovsky's books.

The legislation, which advocates say aims at curbing a countrywide surge in racist violence, punishes actions such as "slandering" an official, introduces fines for publishers deemed to disseminate extremist literature, and bars individuals suspected of extremism from applying for government posts. But in the run-up to the December parliamentary elections and a presidential vote in March, fears are growing that the government is using the legislation to tighten its already firm grip on political life.

Critics of the new law says the definition of extremism is deliberately vague to allow authorities to crack down on journalists, human rights campaigners, and opposition leaders.

A verdict in the trial may be delivered later today.

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