29 Ноября 2012 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 593

26 November 2012


Moscow round table on media-government relations: Journalists feel totally unprotected

As part of World Day to End Impunity, the Moscow House of Journalists on November 23 hosted a round table to discuss journalist safety issues. The event brought together leaders of the Russian Journalists’ Union (RJU), Glasnost Defence Foundation (GDF), media reporters, university students and relatives of journalists who died fulfilling their professional duty.

Among other things, the conferees discussed practical application of Article 144 of the RF Criminal Code, which prohibits interference with journalists’ lawful professional work. RJU Secretary Pavel Gutiontov cited his correspondence with law enforcement, showing that this law provision has remained unworkable despite any effort to make it work.

GDF President Alexei Simonov warned colleagues against contracting for the provision of so-called “information services” for government authorities, describing this as a very dangerous practice: should those at the helm so decide, they may easily present such information services as extortion, bribery or fraud, all of which are criminal offences punishable under the law.

The round table devoted special attention to the situation in Dagestan, where journalists have repeatedly been killed in recent years, and to the investigation of crimes against media workers. The father of Vladimir Sukhomlin, a reporter kidnapped and murdered in January 2003, told the conferees about his futile attempts to get his son’s murderers held liable. Sukhomlin looked into the channels for Russian arms supplies to the North Caucasus. His killers – two police officers and a private security guard – were sentenced to lengthy terms of imprisonment but the mastermind remains unidentified, although law enforcement did have the opportunity to track him down, the victim’s father said.

The GDF news service presented a report on attacks on journalists and threats against media workers, as featured in its “Media Conflicts in Russia” database. Violence and threats of violence have been used as an instrument of intimidating journalists in Russia since the early 1990s up until now, although in constantly changing forms; but the principles of impunity and interconnection between different forms of violence have remained intact, the report said. The authors estimated the number of attacks on journalists by hired assailants at 150 over the past 9 years. In more than half of those cases (77), police started investigations into who attacked the victims and why, but the perpetrators were found only in 5 cases. The villains have almost invariably managed to get away with their crimes.

The situation is the worst with threats against any journalists attempting serious independent investigations, the report said. As a rule, the police have failed to duly look into those cases, not even into those where media workers were threatened in public. Of a total of 242 instances of threats registered, 34 were murder threats and 63 were threats of using violence. Information has been available about police taking real action only against 7 persons threatening journalists with murder. As regards physical menaces, legal proceedings have been started only in 6 of the 63 cases, and in three more cases law enforcement officially refused to bring criminal charges against the suspects.



Rostov police starts criminal proceedings against journalist

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

“If police are threatening you or your family, don’t you ever attempt to report this officially, since you may be in for things like those that happened to me,” prominent Rostov-based journalist Sergei Reznik, a reporter for the newspaper Yuzhny Federalny, wrote in his blog.

After Reznik filed two complaints about threats against him and his family – in his view, from a group involving police officers – the regional Investigative Committee department checked each of his complaints but refused to start criminal proceedings on either of them. Moreover, Capt. Sarkis Amerkhanyan, an investigator with the Pervomaisky district investigative unit, opened ­– on the basis of his own (sic!) report – a criminal case against Reznik.

He wrote a report to his own self, stating that threats had indeed been addressed to Reznik, but the man who had called the journalist on the phone was allegedly acting at Reznik’s own initiative – presumably “to raise his journalistic rating”. Upon consulting (with himself again), Amerkhanyan started legal proceedings against Reznik under Article 136 (“A priori false reporting”) of the RF Criminal Code.

Sergei Reznik appealed against that decision in line with Article 125 of the RF Code of Criminal Procedure. No hearings of his case have been appointed yet.

The first criminal case against Reznik was opened in August under Article 204 of the Criminal Code on suspicion of his giving an auto repair technician 2,000 roubles as a bribe for his unlawfully writing out a certificate of his car’s good technical condition without actually examining the car (see Digest 580). Reznik appealed against that, too; his complaint was not considered within the established timeframe, but the head of the prosecutor’s office unit which should have handled the complaint was dismissed.

The two events, though, may have been unrelated.

Rare occurrence: persons threatening journalist with murder promptly tracked down by Ryazan police

By Natalia Severskaya, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

Ryazan police have shown a rare example of efficiency by taking just a few days to identify the persons who had a hand in a grisly incident with Novaya Gazeta observer Yuri Matytsin.

After publishing a story about corruption in the spending of budgetary funds on regional sports projects, Matytsin on 12 November found a coffin lid with his own photo portrait pinned onto it near the door to his apartment. He reported the finding first to his boss and then to the police. “We see this as a murder threat,” Chief Editor Alexei Fedotov said.

The incident caused broad public repercussions; Governor Oleg Kovalev called an administration meeting on 13 November to demand that the reported threat to Matytsin be thoroughly checked to find out whether the wild action was linked with the journalist’s professional work – and if so, that the guilty persons be brought to justice. “Threats against media workers must not be tolerated,” Kovalev said.

Galvanised into action by the governor’s order, the police reported – in fewer than ten days! – that the perpetrators had been identified.

A 21 November notice on the local police department’s website said, specifically, that the man whose fingerprints had been found on the photo portrait was being questioned by the police. Besides, all the funeral parlours had been inspected and documents had been found that pointed to a group of suspects, including the alleged mastermind. The police maintain – quite uncommonly, too – that the conflict is linked to Matytsin’s professional activities. With the governor’s order thus fulfilled, one can now expect the wrongdoers to stand trial soon …

The GDF will closely follow the developments in Ryazan.

Special reporters threatened in Yekaterinburg

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

A service car of the Yekaterinburg-based web news portal 66.ru was smeared with black paint early on 23 November. Between 3 and 7 a.m., unidentified villains daubed “You’re dead men – beware!” on the silvery Opel used by a team of the portal’s special reporters, chief editor Bogdan Kulchitsky told the Ura.ru news agency.

Unlike traditional media, which do not work at night and borrow information about night-time incidents from special agencies, the 66.ru news unit was established as an instrument of gathering first-hand information round the clock to keep abreast of rival reporters.

Team members have repeatedly been threatened by subjects of their news reporting, of whom most belong to the underworld. A note posted on the 66.ru portal described an October incident as follows:

“Three men knocked on the door of our special reporter’s apartment calling him out onto the children’s playground ‘for a chat’. They spoke Russian with a Caucasian accent, uttered threats and produced sounds of metal jingling with something they carried in hand. Curiously enough, they knew the reporter’s home address. By the time a police patrol arrived, they had disappeared.”

The journalists do not know who might leave the threatening message on their office vehicle. They have reported the threat and car damage facts to the police.

Bailiffs seize newspaper’s office equipment in Sverdlovsk Region

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

On 12 November, the bailiffs came to the office of the Nash Lyubimy Gorod (NLG) newspaper issued in Sredneuralsk and Verkhnyaya Pyshma, Sverdlovsk Region, to make an inventory of, and seize, all the office equipment, NLG publisher Tatyana Kazantseva told the GDF correspondent. They said they were fulfilling a writ of execution against the property of Chief Editor Mikhail Lagutin, founder of the media outlet. To prove that the property they were seizing belonged to him, they cited an agreement between the founder and the chief editor, although not presenting its copy to the publisher. They disregarded Kazantseva’s claims that all the office equipment was her private property, that she rented the office space there, and that it was she who signed all agreements with the printing house and advertisers.

NLG was officially registered on 27 June 2011. In October the same year, Kazantseva became the newspaper’s publisher, reflecting the founder’s changed status in the NLG charter and signing the chief editor-publisher agreement delegating to her the full range of responsibility for the newspaper’s property and finance.

Kazantseva complained to the prosecutor’s office about the unlawful seizure. A few days later, the bailiffs transferred the above-mentioned writ of execution to the prosecutor. Their chief refused to meet with the prosecutor personally on the pretext he was away taking a retraining course. On 23 November, Kazantseva came to the prosecutor’s office asking to show her the editor-publisher agreement which the bailiffs had cited as the legal grounds for the seizure of the NLG assets. The agreement turned out to have been signed on 8 April 2011 – prior to the newspaper’s establishment. That meant the bailiffs had seized the NLG property at zero notice, on the eve of a regular issue’s release, and on the basis of a null-and-void document.

Worthy of noting is that fact that saved on the hard disc of the publisher’s personal computer confiscated by the bailiffs were the logins to the NLG email, website, social networks and Kazantseva’s personal mailbox, as well as accounting documents and invoices to advertisers, software providing access to the publisher’s personal settlements account, advertiser modules, single-copy articles for publication, and other important NLG documentation.

The editorial board did manage to release the following two NLG issues using what makeshift equipment was available, and is now preparing to defend its rights in court.



Freedom of expression on decline, RSF says

The freedom-of-expression situation in Ukraine has continued deteriorating, according to the media freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontieres, RSF).

Ukraine builds on the Russian political model characterised by a curtailing of the democratic processes, the Voice of America cited RSF representative Oksana Romanyuk as saying.

Romanyuk cited statistics and international analysts’ comments pointing to a shrinkage of the freedom-of-expression space in Ukraine since January 2010.

“The development of democratic values in Ukraine has notably slowed down against the pre-2010 situation,” she said. “As far as freedom of expression is concerned, the number of attacks on journalists has increased 150% this year alone, with 30% more instances of censorship registered today than in January 2012.”

As we have reported, RSF already pointed to the drastic deterioration of the freedom-of-speech situation in Ukraine in July. In June alone, according to Romanyuk, the watchdog group registered 15 instances of restriction of freedom of expression in the country, among them attempts to interfere with journalistic work, and attacks and pressure on reporters – and this with a total of 35 such instances recorded during the whole year 2011. “This shows the freedom-of-expression situation has worsened very notably,” Romanyuk summed up.

[MediaBusiness report, 20 November]



RJU seminar in Omsk: nothing is stronger than solidarity

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

A seminar of the Russian Journalists’ Union has been held in Omsk to discuss ways of protecting media workers’ rights and ending impunity for their violators.

Omsk was very appropriately chosen for the 15-17 November seminar as a city where the journalistic community and civil society have won a series of very impressive victories in 2012 after years of decay and inaction; today, Omsk can be called without any exaggeration a city setting an example to follow for the entire country (with the exception of a few other cities, among them Tomsk) as regards defending its rights.

We have already reported on some achievements scored by the Omsk journalists in the relevant area. The first case won by a journalist in court was Marina Yeliseyeva’s reinstatement as editor-in-chief of one of Russia’s best district newspapers, Tarskoye Priirtyshye, after she was fired on orders from the regional governor. Another victory for freedom of expression was marked by a district court’s and the regional court’s turning down a gubernatorial half-a-million-rouble claim against Valentin Kuznetsov, head of the regional Human Rights Committee, who accused the regional leader at a public rally of “subjecting residents to economic genocide”. More than 30 locals volunteered to testify as witnesses in court to confirm the validity of Kuznetsov’s accusations. In August, Omsk acting police chief Col. Viktor Galkin publicly apologised to reporters for the MetroOmsk news agency and Svobodnaya Rech newspaper for insulting them. Specifically, he had threatened to “break the camera against the head” of journalist Dmitry Pozechko. The police chief made his apology soon after representatives of more than 20 newspapers, web publications and other media expressed – for the first time in many years – their solidarity with the victims by signing a collective appeal to the regional interior department head Lt.-Gen Yuri Tomchak, who promptly took action to have the bully punished.

The power of journalistic solidarity is great indeed. Two years earlier, it had been shown by Tomsk media workers after the brutal murder of Konstantin Popov, editor of Moskovsky Komsomolets v Tomske, by police officers in a sobering-up centre. Local journalists, regardless of their party or corporate affiliation, unanimously demanded the replacement of the regional police chief, and their demand was satisfied.

Solidarity is a very efficient instrument of fighting bureaucratic impunity (in addition to the high degree of journalists’ and editors’ legal awareness – another subject extensively discussed during the seminar). That was one of the main points of a report on journalist rights violations in West Siberia, delivered by the GDF correspondent in the Siberian Federal District. In the past two years, the number of such violations there has notably shrunk in comparison with other parts of Russia. Yet in West Siberia too, there have been quite a few attacks on journalists, criminal charges and unlawful legal claims brought against them, etc. Regrettably, elsewhere in the region – in Irkutsk, Tyumen, Khakasia and the Altai Republic – journalistic communities have turned a blind eye to flagrant violations of their colleagues’ rights.

As poet Bulat Okudzhava said, “Let’s join our hands together, friends, so that we don’t get defeated one by one!”



Karelia’s Council of Judges and Journalists’ Union discuss co-operation prospects

By Anatoly Tsygankov, GDF correspondent in North-Western Federal District

The Council of Judges and the Journalists’ Union in the Republic of Karelia have held a round table to discuss the prospects of the judiciary’s co-operation with the media community.

In Russia, there are two interconnected realities having to do with the courts and civil society. On the one hand, there is a clear trend toward humanizing judicial proceedings and making the courts more transparent in terms of public access to the information they release. On the other, people’s trust in the judiciary has been declining, sociologists say, which they see as a clearly negative trend. A survey carried out by the Public Opinion Foundation (POF) showed that in March 2011 through June 2012 alone, the percentage of people negatively assessing the performance of the Russian courts increased from 34% to 40%, while the share of those still trusting our judiciary shrank to less than 25% of the total.

Significantly enough, the federal 2007-2012 Russian Justice System Development Programme was aimed to result in people’s greater trust in the Russian courts. However, the POF data show there is a wide gap between the results of the poll and the plans written down into the programme. Considering the findings of other sociological centres, which are generally the same, one can speak of a stable negative trend in popular attitudes toward the judiciary.

The round-table participants representing Karelia’s Council of Judges had mixed feelings about those statistics: challenging them would seem odd, while humbly accepting those figures would be difficult to say the least. We all are living beings, so each judge tried to measure those average statistical data against his own vision, evidently doubting that as many people as that don’t trust the national justice system – particularly in view of the number of judicial cases heard in Karelia growing from year to year to reach several hundred thousand, which means people wouldn’t seek protection of their rights in courts unless they trusted these to a sufficiently high degree.

Attempting to explain this contradiction, the judges shifted part of the blame to the journalists themselves, hinting that the style and tonality of typical media coverage of judicial proceedings is bound to cause the general public to feel suspicious about the decisions passed and feel almost certain that any judge is on the lookout for bribes. Svetlana Shmotikova, deputy chair of Karelia’s Supreme Court, reacted very emotionally to the latter assumption: “Karelian judges don’t take bribes at all – this practice is just non-existent in our republic!” Without questioning this assertion, Aleksandr Lukin, a Karelian lawyer and prominent public activist, remarked, “Elsewhere in Russia, there are actual price lists showing who takes how much for which particular judicial decision…”



The GDF has received the following message from the staff of the autonomous media company Chernogorsk-Inform:

“This is to inform you about the conflict that has plagued our organisation ever since a new director, S. A. Polishchuk, was appointed.

“In the months that have followed, we have lived in a very unhealthy, deliberately created atmosphere, in which no professional or creative process seems possible. The director has disrupted our creative efforts by regularly meddling in the work of the chief editors. […] By today, the company has already lost a number of creative specialists and journalists at Polishchuk’s initiative, among them Anna Semenova, chief editor of the newspaper Chernogorsk, and Lyubov Skroban, anchor of the Five Evenings TV show. The prospect of dismissal looms large over Ivan Tinnikov, chief editor of Radio Mir and another anchor of Five Evenings; Yelena Atorkina, chief editor of the Five Evenings show; and Grigory Medvedsky, deputy director for technical and legal issues […]. One way to settle the conflict would be to have the director change her attitude toward the Chernogorsk-Inform staff and stop abusing her official position. Otherwise, unless […] the city authorities replace our director with another person, the staffers of Chernogorsk-Inform will be compelled to collectively resign in protest against the personnel and administrative policy pursued by the company management.”


This digest was prepared by the Glasnost Defence Foundation in Moscow. The digest has been issued once a week, on Mondays, since August 11, 2000.

Currently it is distributed by e-mail to 1,600 subscribers in and outside Russia.

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