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Tatar Activists Plan Protests In Support Of Jailed Blogger

Irek Murtazin
Irek Murtazin
Activists in Tatarstan say they are preparing to launch protest actions in support of a jailed blogger, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reports.

Irek Murtazin, 45, a former spokesman for Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiyev, was sentenced on November 27 to 21 months in prison for libeling his former boss and "instigating hatred and hostility" toward a social group.

Murtazin posted a blog entry in September 2008 that said Shaimiyev may have died while on an extended vacation in Turkey because he was gone for so long and there were no reports of his whereabout in the local media.

Shaimiyev, 72, accused Murtazin of breaking privacy laws by including personal details about the president's life in his book "Shaimiyev: The Last President Of Tatarstan." Shaimiyev said that certain passages in the book, which was published in 2006, "instigated hatred."

Murtazin's supporters announced today that T-shirts with his picture and a sign saying "Irekke-Irek!" (Freedom to Irek!) will soon be distributed in Kazan.

Murtazin's first name means "free" or "freedom" in Tatar.

Bloggers in Tatarstan and other Russian republics and regions have started online campaigns in support of Murtazin.

Murtazin told RFE/RL after the verdict that it sets a dangerous precedent in which "any word of criticism" against a Russian leader could be used to file criminal charges against someone.