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Aleksandr Valov faces up to seven years in prison.

A lawyer says a Russian blog editor accused of trying to extort a lawmaker in the Black Sea city of Sochi has been hospitalized after prosecutors reported he allegedly stabbed himself in the stomach.

Aleksandr Valov, the founder and editor in chief of the site BlogSochi, was arrested in January, charged with trying to extort 300,000 rubles ($5,300) from Yury Napso, a member of Russia's lower house of parliament.

Valov, who faces up to seven years in prison, has denied the charges and called them politically motivated retribution for him publishing a photo report of a beach property belonging to Napso’s brother.

Defense lawyer Aleksandr Popkov said on June 18 that a Sochi court had been scheduled to review new arguments to prolong Valov’s detention.

However, the prosecutor told the court that Valov had been hospitalized three days earlier after he had allegedly stabbed himself in the stomach, Popkov said.

“This all demands a careful investigation,” he said.

Despite his absence, the court ordered Valov’s detention extended by another day.

"And again, without any evidence of Valov's involvement in the crime," Popkov told RFE/RL.

During his arrest in January, Valov live-streamed a video showing police breaking down the door to his apartment, cutting off the electricity, and beating him.

Valov had clashed with authorities prior to his arrest. He and another BlogSochi reporter were sued by Napso for defamation, a case that Valov ended up losing.

BlogSochi also reported extensively on local corruption in the run-up to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, which ended up being the most expensive Winter Olympics in history.

The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists suggested the charges were politically motivated.

"Exposing political corruption is an important function of an independent press,” the organization’s deputy executive director, Robert Mahoney, said in a statement. “Valov should be released immediately and the charges against him dropped.”

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Russian Service and Interfax
Oyub Titiyev attends a court hearing in Grozny on March 6.

WASHINGTON – The United States has called on Russia to release dozens of people it says have been identified by rights groups as political prisoners.

The June 18 statement by the State Department said more than 150 people were being held in all, including Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov and human rights activist Oyub Titiyev.

Sentsov was arrested in Crimea in 2014, after Russia seized the Ukrainian region. A Russian court in 2015 convicted him of planning to commit terrorist acts and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. He has been on hunger strike since May 14.

Titiyev, who heads the Chechen office of the rights group Memorial, has been pretrial detention in Chechnya since his January arrest on drug charges that he and his associates say are fabricated.

“We call on Russia to release all those identified as political or religious prisoners immediately and cease its use of the legal system to suppress dissent and peaceful religious practice,” the statement said.

There was no immediate reaction to the statement by Moscow. In the past, the Foreign Ministry has responded with angry denunciations, accusing Washington of meddling in its internal affairs.

The State Department also mentioned the case of a Jehovah’s Witness who it said had been in pretrial detention for more than a year now. Other religious followers facing pressure include Church of Scientology followers and those of a Muslim Turkish theologian, the department said.

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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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