More than 180 journalists at the prominent Russian newspaper Kommersant have signed an open letter to readers, saying the country 'deserved freedom of speech.'
The move came a day after almost a dozen journalists covering political news for Kommersant quit their jobs in solidarity with two colleagues who were fired over an article about a possible change of leadership in the upper chamber of parliament, reporters said.
The two journalists were fired at the request of shareholders as a result of their article saying that Federation Council chairwoman Valentina Matviyenko, a staunch Kremlin ally, might be leaving the post.
In the May 21 letter, the journalists said shareholders were 'destroying one of Russia's best media outlets' for 'short-term political gains.'
'We are confident that Russia deserves a better future,' the letter said. 'It deserves freedom of speech.'
Kommersant's deputy editor in chief, Renata Yambayeva, said that the decision to fire a deputy chief editor of the newspaper's political unit, Maksim Ivanov, and special correspondent Ivan Safronov, was made by the newspaper's owner, Kremlin-friendly oligarch Alisher Usmanov.
Usmanov's representative said late on May 20 that the billionaire had nothing to do with the firings and claimed he never interferes in the newspaper's editorial decisions.
Yambayeva said the firings were 'unfounded' and 'disastrous for the newspaper,' adding that it was an act of 'open pressure' on journalists.