The heads of Russia's leading media outlets on Wednesday sent an open letter to the interior minister demanding protection for journalists and society against police arbitrariness after a court fined a photographer for covering an anti-government rally.
A Moscow court found RIA Novosti photo correspondent Andrei Stenin guilty of taking part in an unsanctioned protest in front of the presidential administration building in December and fined him 500 rubles (about $17).
The state-run agency called the decision "unjust" in a statement earlier on Wednesday and confirmed the journalist had been assigned to cover the event.
The ruling has stirred a wave of criticism in the Russian media community, with the chief editors of some 20 major newspapers, agencies, TV and radio stations signing the letter to Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev.
The letter said the journalistic community is alarmed the incident that may set a precedent for prosecuting journalists "while they perform their professional duty" in Russia.
"The incident with Stenin creates a situation when we have to send our correspondents on assignments putting them under the threat of prosecution by law enforcement bodies," the letter said.
"Not only journalists whose rights are protected by the law on media, but any Russian national can fall victim to police arbitrary action when facts and evidence are falsified."
Stenin was arrested and later charged even though he had professional photography equipment and showed police officers his journalist identity card.
The media leaders requested a probe against the police officers who arrested the reporter.
Russia has been rocked by a series of police scandals recently, prompting President Dmitry Medvedev in December to order reform of the Interior Ministry, trimming police numbers and raising salaries in an effort to reduce corruption and attract professional and faithful people in police ranks.
MOSCOW, January 20 (RIA Novosti)