Russia's Dagestan closes newspaper for extremism

MAKHACHKALA, Russia (Reuters) - Russian authorities have closed a newspaper in the southern republic of Dagestan, accusing it of spreading extremist views, Russia’s Prosecutor-General said on Wednesday.

The Prosecutor-General’s office said the newspaper Chernovik in mainly Muslim Dagestan had glorified rebels and insulted Russian federal forces in an article with the headline “Number One Terrorists”.

“They lionize terrorists and prompt the reader to conclude that Russia’s constitutional order must be overthrown,” said the statement, published on the office’s Web site

“The text of the article distorts the religious situation, calling for ‘heads to be cut off infidels’ and banning the reading of religious texts in Russian.”

Chernovik’s editor, Nadir Isayev, said his newspaper was not promoting militant Islam and was just following an independent editorial agenda.

“One of the pillars of democracy is an independent media which can criticize the authorities,” he said.

Dagestan is wedged between the Caspian Sea and Chechnya -- the focus of fighting between Russian soldiers and rebels since 1994.

It is one of the poorest and most densely populated regions in Russia. Crime and unemployment are rife. Last winter people living in the capital Makhachkala shivered through power cuts.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) wrote in a report in June that Dagestan’s socio-economic problems were driving young, disaffected Dagestanis to violence and that radical Islam had gained popularity.

Almost every week security forces storm suspected rebels’ houses, and bomb attacks kill prominent lawyers and policemen.

“The militant Islamist organization Shariat Jamaat is responsible for much of the violence,” ICG wrote.

“Shariat Jamaat has little difficulty recruiting young Dagestanis who are unemployed, traumatized by cruelty endured in jail and motivated by propaganda promoting jihad and armed resistance.”

Russian authorities have closed other opposition Web sites and newspapers over the last few years for spreading extremism.

Writing by James Kilner in Moscow; Editing by Caroline Drees