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Russian journalist found guilty of 'justifying terrorism'

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Pskov (Russia) (AFP)

A Russian journalist was found guilty on Monday and handed a hefty fine for "justifying terrorism" in a case that sparked an outcry among her allies at home and rights groups abroad.

Svetlana Prokopyeva, who is based in the northwestern city of Pskov, works for the Russian service of the US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) as a freelance contributor.

The 40-year-old was charged with publicly justifying terrorism over a column she wrote about a attack that targeted Russian security services in the north of the country in 2018.

The judge found Prokopyeva guilty, an AFP journalist in the Pskov courtroom reported, and ordered her to pay a fine of 500,000 rubles ($6,950).

Her supporters in the courtroom shouted "shame" and "she is not guilty" as the judge read out the verdict.

Prosecutors last week had asked the judge to jail Prokopyeva for six years and ban her from working in journalism for four years on the charges that carry a maximum sentence of seven years.

Prokopyeva left the court building carrying a large bouquet of flowers, thanking her allies for their support and vowing to appeal the decision.

"The biggest success is that I was not forbidden from working in my profession," she told the small gathering.

The case has its origins in a November 2018 bombing carried out by a 17-year-old anarchist who blew himself up in a Federal Security Service (FSB) building in Arkhangelsk in northern Russia, injuring three service members.

In her opinion piece, published by the Pskov affiliate of the Echo of Moscow radio station, Prokopyeva linked the teenager's suicide bombing to the political climate under President Vladimir Putin.

- 'Politically motivated' -

Dozens of human rights defenders signed a statement published by the Memorial rights group on Monday denouncing the case as "openly political" with the goal of "intimidating Russian journalists".

"A journalist is entitled to freely spread information not only on events but also on ideas," the statement read.

International press advocacy group Reporters Without Borders said it was "relieved" by the ruling and "welcomes the mobilisation in support of the journalist."

Human Rights Watch on Monday said the ruling "creates another dangerous precedent, with a journalist found guilty of a terrorism offence for normal journalistic work."

"The authorities should immediately and unconditionally vacate her politically motivated conviction," a statement read.

More than 30 prominent Russian journalists spoke out in support of Prokopyeva in statements published online this month, and more than a dozen of her supporters were briefly detained at a picket last week.

The case comes amid growing concerns over press freedom in Russia where reporters and news organisations have come under increasing pressure from the authorities.

A journalist in Saint Petersburg was hospitalised last week with a broken arm following a confrontation with police in a polling station during a nationwide vote on controversial reforms to the constitution that allow Putin to extend his rule until 2036.

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