Moscow – Russian President Vladimir Putin’s human rights council on Tuesday said that it was “seriously concerned” about troubles at a major business-focused newspaper, Kommersant.
The newspaper has reportedly severed relations with two employees over an article that cited undisclosed sources as saying the speaker of the upper house of parliament, 70-year-old Valentina Matviyenko, would soon resign.
Several other employees have announced they are also leaving the newspaper in solidarity, and 200 have signed a petition defending the publication of the article, according to a senior reporter’s statement posted on Facebook.
The article, published in April, speculated that Matviyenko could take on a sort of pre-retirement job as head of the national pension fund.
Her replacement, it said, could be Sergei Naryshkin, current head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service.
Kommersant employees have accused billionaire shareholder Alisher Usmanov of being responsible for the initial employees losing their jobs.
Usmanov has reportedly denied involvement.
The human rights council, which advises the president, appeared to defend the journalists, saying it would be wise for Kommersant’s ownership to “keep from interfering in editorial affairs.”
On Monday, a senior editor and 10 journalists at Russian daily newspaper Kommersant said they were resigning to protest against the firing of two colleagues over an article about a possible reshuffle of President Vladimir Putin’s close allies.
The two reporters, Ivan Safronov and Maxim Ivanov, said they had been forced to quit after Kommersant’s publishing house – owned by billionaire businessman Alisher Usmanov – took umbrage at an article they authored last month.
A representative for Usmanov said separately that “the shareholder does not interfere in editorial policy let alone make decisions on dismissing or employing journalists.”
The article in question, published on April 17, cited unnamed sources as saying that Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of the upper house of parliament, could be replaced by Sergei Naryshkin, head of the SVR Foreign Intelligence Service, in the coming months.
“The shareholder has the right to take personnel decisions, employees have the right to not agree with them in only one way – by changing their job,” Cherkasov wrote on Facebook.
Renata Yambaeva, a deputy chief editor overseeing business news who did not resign, blamed the firings on Usmanov and one of his representatives, Ivan Streshinsky, denouncing the sackings as outside pressure on the newspaper.
“Maybe there is someone among our readers who can explain to … Usmanov and Streshinsky that right now they are destroying one of Russia’s best media,” she said.