Thousands Rally in Siberia and Moscow to Protest Closure of Russian TV Station

Tomsk's TV2, one of the last politically independent channels in Russia, will be forced off the air Jan. 1

Several thousand people rallied Sunday in two separate demonstrations in Moscow and Tomsk, Siberia, to protest the imminent closure of Russia's last politically independent TV station.

Around three thousand people turned out in Tomsk, a small Siberian city 2,235 east of Moscow, calling for the reversal of what they say is a politically motivated decision, Russia's opposition-leaning Internet TV channel Dozhd reported.

In bright sunshine and sub-zero temperatures, protestors joined in shouts of, "Hands off TV2."

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In Moscow, a smaller gathering of 300 people, held at a city-center park beneath a statue of famous Russian novelist Lev Tolstoy, heard speeches by journalists from opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta and independent Internet news service calling for pressure to be put on Russian state broadcasting regulator Rozkomnadzor to prevent the closure.

Georgy Satarov, a prominent civil activist who heads Russia's InDem Foundation that exposes government corruption, said it was "no accident" that a station of the caliber of TV2 was founded in Tomsk, a city renowned for its university and intellectual tradition.

In remarks that compared the station's plight to the wider loss of free speech and an independent press in Russia under President Vladimir Putin, Satarov added: "We are here to defend the future of our country. 2013 was the last peaceful year in Russia; I hope that next year is the last for this regime."

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Tomsk's TV2, which has won more than 20 Russian television Tefi awards -- the local equivalent of an Emmy -- since it was launched in May 1991, has been told its signal will be switched off beginning Jan. 1.

The privately owned station, which has a reputation for editorial independence, has long been a thorn in the side of regional authorities in Siberia.

Last December, it was the only television station in Russia that broadcast Putin's Games, a controversial German-made documentary that exposed corruption surrounding the Sochi winter Olympics.

Two weeks ago, state transmission authority Russian Radio and Television Broadcasting Network (RTRS) unilaterally decided to take the station off air. The decision came just days after TV2 was told that its license was to be renewed for another 10-year term.

Roskomnadzor subsequently backtracked, telling the station the paperwork was lost or not correctly formulated, and the station is set to close with the loss of 300 jobs just as Russia begins its 10-day national New Year's holiday.

Station chiefs are understood to be planning to fly to Moscow this week for last-ditch talks with the regulator to try to save the station from closure.