Russian court closes news agency, citing new obscenity law

Thu Oct 31, 2013 11:10am EDT

* Court revokes registration over videos, including Pussy Riot clip

* Cites new Kremlin-backed law that bans profanity in media

* Ruling is "most dangerous precedent" - journalists lobby representative

By Alexei Anishchuk

MOSCOW, Oct 31 (Reuters) - A Moscow court on Thursday revoked the registration of web-based news agency Rosbalt for posting videos it said contained profane language, including a clip by punk band Pussy Riot, in violation of a law adopted earlier this year.

Critics say the Kremlin-backed law banning profanity in the media is aimed at further tightening state control of news organisations in Russia as part of a clampdown on dissent under President Vladimir Putin.

A medium-sized agency specialising in political and general news set up in 2000, Rosbalt earlier this year posted two videos on its website containing foul language, the court said.

One clip featured a song by Pussy Riot, whose two members are serving jail sentences for a profanity-laced protest against Putin in a Moscow Russian Orthodox Cathedral.

Rosbalt said that the obscene language was bleeped out and that Russia's communications watchdog agency, Roskomnadzor, had used clips taken from other websites in its argument that it should be closed. Rosbalt said it would appeal.

Rosbalt's editor-in-chief has been fined 10,000 roubles ($310) twice on the same charge.

The head of the Moscow Union of Journalists, Pavel Gusev, said the ruling set an ominous precedent.

"The authorities have given a sign of how they will act and deal with the media, using the provisions of the current legislation to shut the media down," he told Reuters.

"This is the most dangerous precedent in a long time in the media and it can lead to very serious consequences."

Critics of the Kremlin say it has tightened its grip over media since Putin, a former KGB spy, first took power in 2000.

They also say Putin has orchestrated a crackdown on critics since returning to presidency for a third non-straight term last year.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov brushed off the criticism.

"In my view it would be good for the state to apply pressure (on media breaking the law), but... it should be within the current legislation," he said. ($1 = 31.9400 Russian roubles) (Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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