Russian authorities have arrested a journalist thinking that he had extorted money from a government official.
The daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta said it suspected the accusation and the detention were a "provocation" by authorities seeking to pressure independent media in the run-up to parliamentary elections in December and the presidential vote next in March.
"A planned provocation is taking place with the aim of putting pressure on the independent press during the election campaign," it said.
In a statement on its Web site, the newspaper said its employee was detained Wednesday, and that authorities claimed he was caught red-handed receiving money from an Agriculture Ministry official. The newspaper did not name the employee.
An investigative unit of the Interior Ministry said the detainee was the newspaper's deputy editor and that he was detained on suspicion of extorting US$30,000 (21,600 EUR) in monthly payments from a senior Cabinet official, Russian news reports said. The suspect threatened to divulge information compromising the official if he refused to make payments, the unit was quoted as saying.
The newspaper said that the journalist was accused of extorting money from Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev and insisted on his innocence. On the day of the detention, Nezavisimaya Gazeta published a front page report criticizing Gordeyev for releasing unsubstantiated harvest forecasts which led to a rise in grain prices.
"It's absurd to see such publications as extortion," it said. It said that it has published numerous articles critical of the government and would continue doing so.
"If the arrest of our employee is an attempt to influence the newspaper's editorial policy, it's useless," Nezavisimaya Gazeta said.