Publisher becomes test case for Russian pornography law

March 04, 1995|By Boston Globe

MOSCOW -- Alexei Kostin, the publisher of a popular erotic newspaper, Yeshcho (More), went on trial here this week on charges of pornography. It is the first such case in Russia's fledgling legal system, and the verdict, expected next week, is likely to stretch or curtail the limits of what is acceptable in free speech.

Even more than the libertine pioneers in the West, Mr. Kostin has already attained martyr's status. If found guilty, he will be sentenced to three years in jail, but he has been languishing in a Moscow prison for more than a year awaiting trial. There is no such thing as bail here.

In the past few months of pretrial motions, his defense lawyers were not allowed to review all of the prosecution's evidence, including 34 hours of wiretapped telephone conversations. They are not being allowed to call all the witnesses they want. Mr. Kostin had a chance to read the 54-page indictment against him for the first time Wednesday.

More bizarre, Mr. Kostin may be locked up but his newspaper, which has long been officially registered by Russia's Press Ministry, continues to be published. Russian law has no definition of "pornography."

The law holds editors, not publishers, responsible for a paper's contents. But Yeshcho's editor escaped to Latvia, so -- as the militiaman who nabbed Mr. Kostin told one newspaper -- arresting the publisher was the next best thing.

In a brief introductory statement, after the charges against him -- were read Wednesday, Mr. Kostin, 38, told the young judge, "I don't understand the logic of this accusation." The judge, Andrei Kalmayev, agreed.

Still, this did not keep the judge from rejecting a slew of appeals from Mr. Kostin's lawyer, including a plea to let the ailing defendant out of jail for the trial's duration.

Yeshcho is a scruffy-looking paper with a circulation of 200,000. It features graphic sex photos and ironically toned literature by well-known, eccentric young writers.

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