Putin critic, accused of extremism, faces court

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MOSCOW, Sep 25 (Reuters) A political analyst defended himself in a Moscow court today against charges of inciting nationalist extremism in a book critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Andrei Piontkowsky, a pundit in the Western media on a range of Russian issues, asked the prosecutor who brought the case against him to open his 139-page book published last year and point out the objectionable phrases, sentences and words.

''If I'm going to jail for 15 years, I would like to know what for,'' he said.

The prosecutor declined, citing an inability to express her own opinion in matters of state.

Judge Svetlana Klimova of the Basmanny district court declined to rule on the matter until the book ''Unloved Country'' was sent to the Ministry of Justice for further linguistic and literary investigation.

''On the one hand this is a small victory for me and my lawyers,'' said Piontkowsky.

At issue is a 2006 Russian law that widened the legal definition of extremism to include such acts as ''the abasement of national dignity'' and the ''public slander of a state official'', punishable by a hefty prison sentence.

Prosecutors in southern Russia issued a warning in May to Yabloko, one of the country's leading opposition parties, for helping Piontkowsky publish his book.

''Unloved Country'' is a collection of political essays on what Piontkowsky calls Putin's utter disregard for democracy in Russia.

Piontkowsky was summoned to court in June on charges of inciting extremism although prosecutors would not say which passages they considered to be extremist. His case in a federal court is the first under the new extremist law.

Kremlin opponents say the law was designed to help rein in opposition ahead of a parliamentary election in December and a 2008 presidential election.

Backers of the law said tough legislation was needed to stem a wave of hate attacks against ethnic minorities.

''For the next two months my book can't be said to call for extremism, and investigators won't have any grounds to remove the Yabloko party from upcoming elections,'' Piontkowsky said.

In one of the book's chapters, the author imagines Putin walking along the beach in France, not long after the Cannes Film Festival, accompanied only by his black Labrador Koni.

The imagined Putin meets famed Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov, an Oscar winner in 1994 for best foreign language film, and tells him not to worry that his latest movie has failed to garner any awards.

''Nikita, brother, they didn't give you another Golden Palm? Russophobes! Keep your chin up, brother. Anybody who disses (disrespects) us won't live three days!'' REUTERS AE PM2135

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