Owner of only independent national media outlet freed
NEW YORK (Reuters) — Russian media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky, who was jailed then freed after being charged with embezzlement, said international and domestic pressure led to his unexpected release on Friday.
Gusinsky, owner of Media-MOST, Russia’s only independent national media empire, said support from journalists around the world, Russian businessmen, the world Jewish community and a strong stand by the U.S. government resulted in his freedom.
“I am grateful to all the people who came to my support,” Gusinsky said in an interview with Newsweek released on Sunday.
President Vladimir Putin said in Berlin on Thursday he thought jailing Gusinsky was excessively harsh, but insisted he had no influence over the prosecution service, which he said was politically independent.
Asked if he believed Putin knew of his arrest in advance, Gusinsky said: “I believe he did.”
Gusinsky said it was clear to many people why he was taken to Butyrskaya jail. “You know, these people, both prison guards and inmates, have seen so many people who were put in prison just for doing nothing, that they immediately grasped that I was there because the authorities just happen to dislike me.”
He said: “The Kremlin would like to establish total control over the country, and will not tolerate any opposition voices.” He added: “I have few doubts that if someone’s business is not favored by the president’s close entourage, this business will be in danger, if not taken away from him.”
The publisher said he had reliable information that the Kremlin was considering further arrests of oil executives. “In any case, it is clear that either we stop them (those who wish to impose a strong hand on society), or all of us will end up in (Butyrskaya prison).”
Gusinsky, whose media empire includes the weekly news magazine Itogi which is published in cooperation with Newsweek and which has been aggressive in its coverage of the war in Chechnya, said conditions in prison were “bad.”
He said: “But the situation there is catastrophic. They do not have money to feed inmates, they do not have simple medicine. I decided while still sitting in my cell that I will do some sort of a charity fund for (Butyrskaya).”
(Tom Birchenough in Moscow contributed to this report.)