Anti-Putin jibe wins applause at Russian awards ceremony

Mon Jan 21, 2013 8:57am EST
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By Gabriela Baczynska

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A prominent Russian cartoonist won loud applause at a usually politics-free awards ceremony when he suggested President Vladimir Putin shared responsibility for the death of an anti-corruption campaigner in a Moscow jail.

Putin's opponents frequently lambast him during protests and on the Internet, but criticism of the president is rare at mainstream cultural events and in most broadcast media.

Cartoonist Yuri Norshteyn broke that taboo when he took the stage on Saturday and criticized Putin over the jailed lawyer's death in 2009 that prompted the U.S. Congress to impose sanctions on Russian officials.

Commenting on a previous speaker who had said Russia did not have enough doctors, Norshteyn said: "Immediately, I linked this ... with when Putin said Magnitsky died of heart failure."

"I think he died of a failure of heart on Putin's part and on the part of the prison boss," he said.

The comment was a reference to Putin's statement, at a news conference in December, that Magnitsky had "died not from torture, nobody tortured him, but from a heart attack." The Kremlin's own human rights council has said he was probably beaten to death.

After his initial comments, the rest of Norshteyn's speech at the awards ceremony was drowned out by applause and shouts of "Bravo!" in a clip that had received nearly 290,000 hits on YouTube by Monday afternoon.

Magnitsky, died after almost a year in jail on tax evasion and fraud charges that his colleagues said were fabricated by the investigators he had accused of stealing $230 million from the state through fraudulent tax refunds.   Continued...