Russia scraps arrest warrant for media campaigner

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian investigators on Monday scrapped an arrest warrant for the head of a media charity, effectively ending a prosecution that rights campaigners said was a Kremlin attack on civil society.

Russia’s Constitutional Court ruled on Monday that charges against Manana Aslamazyan were illegal — a decision she said could signal a less hardline approach to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) under new President Dmitry Medvedev.

The Interior Ministry’s investigative committee said in line with the court’s ruling it was dropping charges against Aslamazyan for smuggling just over $13,000 into the country, and scrapping an order for her arrest.

The charity boss fled Russia after the charges, saying they were fabricated. Her organization was forced to close when police raided its offices, taking documents and servers.

“The criminal case against Aslamazyan will be closed. She can come right now. No one is going to go after her. The arrest warrant will be cancelled,” said Irina Dudkina, head of the investigative committee’s press service.

Aslamazyan, whose charity trained journalists, told Reuters from France on Wednesday she hoped to return to Russia, though she could not say when.

“I want to believe that there is a certain tendency for our justice system to change,” she said. “But I think it will take many years before … (it) becomes transparent.”

A new set of lesser smuggling charges are likely to be brought against Aslamazyan, but if found guilty she will face a fine, not prison.

Amnesty International on Wednesday urged Medvedev, a 42-year-old former law professor who took over as president last month from ex-KGB spy Vladimir Putin, to initiate a “sea-change” in Russia’s attitude to human rights and media freedom.

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