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Russian reporter sentenced to six years in prison for ‘extortion’

Isolated prison cells. (Kecko/Flickr)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A court in Russia has sentenced blog editor Aleksandr Valov to six years in prison after finding him guilty of extortion, a charge the journalist denies.

Valov, the founder and editor in chief of the now-defunct site BlogSochi, was sentenced by the Lazarev district court in the southern city of Sochi on December 26.

The court also ordered him to pay 700,000 rubles ($10,000) in fines.

Valov was arrested in January and charged with trying to extort 300,000 rubles (US$4,300) from Yury Napso, a member of Russia’s lower house of parliament.

In June, Valov’s lawyer Aleksandr Popkov said that Valov had been hospitalized and had undergone an operation for a “penetrating wound in the abdomen.”

Popkov said the case’s lead investigator had told him that Valov stabbed himself with a pen.

Popkov called for an investigation, saying Valov was involved in preparing his defense and “was not depressed.”

Valov filed several complaints about the harsh conditions of his confinement while awaiting trial.

Popkov was quoted by Russian media on December 26 as saying that the ruling was extremely cruel and that it “once again demonstrated the court’s bias.”

Aleksey Navalny, a prominent Russian opposition politician, condemned the court verdict, saying in a tweet that it was politically motivated and demonstrated the “lawlessness” in the country.

“Six years, what a term. This is what murderers get,” Navalny tweeted.

Navalny praised Valov’s blogs as “excellent” work that exposed corrupt officials in the region.

Valov has denied the charges and called them politically motivated retribution for his publishing a photo report of a beach property belonging to Napso’s brother.

Valov has also said the allegation against him was “an attempt to shut down the major and only independent [media] project of Sochi” ahead of the March presidential election and the World Cup soccer tournament in Russia.

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.