Joseph Stalin's grandson has sued a prominent Russian newspaper for libel, claiming Novaya Gazeta is tarnishing the former Soviet leader's good name. The news comes on the heels of a United Nation's committee finding that Russia does not do enough to protect those who go against Russian authorities or protect its citizens from human rights abuses.
The grandson of the man, who many believe is responsible for the deaths of millions of innocent people, has sued a prominent Russian newspaper over a recent article. Yevgeny Dzhugashvilli disputes the fact that the former Soviet leader personally signed politburo death orders as stated in the article. He is seeking nearly $300,000 from Novaya Gazeta.
Dzhugashvilli's lawyer claims that the article, based on declassified Kremlin documents, damaged Stalin's reputation as an outstanding leader. Allison Gill is director of Human Rights Watch here in Moscow. "To me it smacks of harrassment. It smacks of harrassing a newspaper to do its job. The claim of the complaintent here is going to be very difficult to prove. Its going to cost Novaya Gazeta time and money to defend itself. when in fact we have a pretty well-established historical record here that establishes what Stalin did as a leader," he says.
Gill says it's unfair that journalists always have to watch their step in a country that claims to be a democracy. And, she says, a suit could be the least of a reporter's problems. "Its dangerous for reporters to work in Russia. There have been many murders and physical attacks and threats against journalists for just doing their jobs. They face harrassment at almost every level," he says.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists ranks Russia as the third most dangerous country to work.
Four journalists that have reported for Novaya Gazeta have been murdered in the last eight years. The newspaper claims the reporters were targeted for their investigative reporting.
Christopher Boian is Bureau Chief for the Agence French Press in Moscow. He says reporting in the former Soviet Union can be an occupational hazard. "The local home-grown Russian journalists that are really on the inside, that know the score, that really practice their profession, run real measurable risks," he says.
Boian goes on to say that he's not bothered that Stalin's grandson has sued Novaya Gazeta, because he feels that everyone has the right to file a suit. He does say, however, that journalists don't have confidence in the Russian courts. "There is a problem with the judiciary. There is a problem with the notion of being able to take cases to the courty, cases where journalists are threatened, publications are supressed, or information distorted. There is something of a culture of impunity here," he says.
A judge recently ruled against Yevgeny Dzhugashvilli's lawsuit. Joseph Stalin's grandson is expected to appeal the decision.
One current prominent Russian leader does not agree with Dzhugashvilli's lawsuit against the Novaya Gazeta newspaper. On Friday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev complained that he thought too many young Russians didn't realize the scope of Stalin's destruction. On his video blog, President Medvedev stated that the crimes of the past should not be forgiven and that Russia should not forget the damage Stalin did.