MOSCOW: A Russian court on Monday stripped investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta — whose top editor shared the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize with Filipino journalist Maria Ressa — of its print license, in the latest blow to the Eastern European country's independent media.
The announcement came as another Moscow tribunal was expected to issue a verdict in the case of former defense reporter Ivan Safronov, who faces up to 24 years in jail on controversial treason charges.
Russian independent media have, in recent years, faced unprecedented pressure, with authorities further tightening the screws since the start of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
All main independent media outlets have been shut down in Russia or suspended their domestic operations after a series of media restrictions were imposed on coverage of the war in Ukraine.
"The Basmanny court of Moscow invalidated the registration certificate of the print version of Novaya Gazeta," the outlet, which suspended publication in late March, said on social media.
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United Nations Human Rights Office spokesman Ravina Shamdasani called the decision "another blow to the independence of Russian media."
In a statement, the court confirmed the verdict that followed legal proceedings initiated by Russia's media regulator Roskomnadzor.
The watchdog is also seeking to shut down Novaya Gazeta's website and a print magazine it launched in July.
Two court hearings are scheduled for later this month.
Monday's ruling came less than a week after the death of Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union who helped found Novaya Gazeta in the early 1990s.
Novaya Gazeta editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov led the procession at Gorbachev's funeral in Moscow last Saturday.
Muratov said after Monday's hearing that the paper would appeal the court's decision, calling it "political" and "without the slightest legal basis," news website Mediazona reported.
Novaya Gazeta has paid a heavy price for its independent stance and investigative coverage over the years.
Since 2000, six of its journalists and contributors have been killed in connection with their work, including top investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya.
Later on Monday, a decision was expected in the case against Safronov, who had reported on the military, politics and Russia's space program.
He was arrested in July 2020 after leaving journalism to serve as an adviser to the head of the state space agency.
The Federal Security Service has accused Safronov of collecting confidential information about Russian military, defense and security and handing it over to the intelligence service of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization member-country.
During a closed-door hearing, prosecutors last week requested a sentence of 24 years in jail for Safronov after he reportedly turned down a plea deal for a shorter sentence.
At the start of his trial in April, the ex-journalist called the case a "complete travesty of justice" and said he was not guilty.
Safronov has said his reporting was based on analysis of open sources and conversations with officials.
His case triggered a backlash from independent journalists and — in an unusual move — from several reporters in the Kremlin press pool covering President Vladimir Putin.
On Monday, a dozen independent media, including Novaya Gazeta, published a statement demanding Safronov's release, saying the harsh sentence was "revenge" for his work.
"It's clear to us that the reason for the persecution of Ivan Safronov is not 'treason'...but his journalistic work and materials that he published without regard for the opinion of the defense ministry and Russian authorities," it said.