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The Globe and Mail

Masked Russian police raid opposition magazine

Armed and masked Russian police raided an opposition magazine on Thursday, pressing journalists to hand over interview recordings used in reports on alleged abuse of authority by the much-feared OMON riot police.

The New Times is one of Russia's few prominent opposition media outlets and has published exposés of high-level corruption. Media rights groups say Russia is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist.

A handful of police entered the magazine's Moscow office seeking recordings of interviews and other material used in a February report that cited police sources saying OMON officers are permitted to commit abuses when breaking up protests.

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"We suggest you voluntarily -- voluntarily -- give us the recordings of the interview with the current and former OMON staff," the officer in charge of the raid told New Times editor Yevgenia Albats in the presence of Reuters TV.

The raid was part of a slander investigation by law enforcement authorities into current and former officers the magazine interviewed for its report, Ms. Albats said.

"If you refuse to do this we will put this in writing," the officer, Colonel Stanislav Pashkovsky, said before lighting up a cigarette in the magazine's office, which was decorated with a large poster critical of the government.

Ms. Albats, a vocal Kremlin critic, refused to hand over the recordings, citing legislation protecting journalists' sources.

"One of the sources gave his name and the second source... gave us an interview on terms of confidentiality and repeated several times he did not want to give his name because it would put his life in danger," she told Reuters.

Ms. Albats later said she did hand over a 43-page interview transcript but refused to divulge the names of any confidential sources or any provide any material, such as audio or video recordings, that could help police identify any source.

She said the law prohibits media from disclosing confidential sources unless there is a court order and the case in question has come to trial.

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The case initiated in connection with the magazine's report is still being investigated and has not come to trial.

Moscow's 2,000-strong OMON force has come under fire from the European Union and Russian rights groups that say it has been too heavy-handed in breaking up protests.

On Tuesday, police in Moscow and St. Petersburg detained more than 150 protesters, including vocal critics of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, after Mr. Putin said in an interview demonstrators without permits could expect harsh treatment.

Col. Pashkovsky declined to speak to press. "There are no secrets here, everything is transparent," he said.

Police had searched the magazine's premises in April, an action condemned by the media rights group Reporters Without Borders, which said it was illegal under the circumstances.

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