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Call Stalin a murderer? Russian judge says an opposition weekly can.

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MOSCOW – A small courtroom victory has Russian liberals breathing a tiny and momentary sigh of relief.

A Moscow judge on Tuesday ruled against Yevgeny Dzhugashvili, the grandson of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, who had attempted to sue the opposition weekly Novaya Gazeta for $320,000 in damages over an article that accused Mr. Stalin of being a "murderer" who ordered the execution of his political foes.

Though the trial received little coverage in Russia's state-dominated media, it has been breathlessly watched by liberals and human rights advocates, who fear that Russian history is being reshaped in order to whitewash Soviet-era crimes and curb criticism of latter-day Kremlin authoritarianism.

The judge at Moscow's Basmanny District Court refused to consider any testimony or evidence concerning Stalin's historical role, and made the narrow ruling that historian Anatoly Yablokov had the right to characterize Stalin as a "bloodthirsty cannibal" amid a discussion of recently declassified documents that show the dictator personally signed death orders for thousands of political opponents during the 1930s.

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