Дайджест
8 Февраля 2013 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 601

4 February 2013

 

STORY OF THE WEEK

Information war waged in Chelyabinsk Region

By Irina Gundareva, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

A new information war unleashed by the governor and his team is shaking the region of Chelyabinsk.

Pressed hard by the administration, the regional media have become witnesses to, and involuntary participants in, unhealthy political squabbles that cannot but cause repulsion on the part of sober-minded journalists.

The regional media community has long been divided into two camps – the official Journalists’ Union uniting hardly 300 members, and thousands of reporters throughout the region, who would never agree to join that organisation. In a scandalous precedent a few months ago, the JU chairman, on instructions from the authorities, went as far as suing a fellow journalist – instead of defending his interests! That undermined the Union’s reputation so much that South Urals media prefer not to notice that Union at all – especially as they watch it being manipulated by the regional administration again and again.

Commenting more recently on a search of the office of Vecherny Chelyabinsk Publishers’ general director Vladimir Filichkin (a close associate of the governor and a person claiming human rights defender’s status), in connection with his slanderous attack on a high-ranking government official, JU chairman Aleksandr Yurin described it as “an encroachment on freedom of expression of all journalists in the South Urals” and immediately initiated the writing of an appeal to the Journalists’ Union of Russia – on behalf of all journalists again.

“I nearly agreed to sign Yurin’s appeal to the JUR, but I couldn’t see any signatures of good professionals put to it,” journalist and opposition blogger Yelena Moskalenko said. “For example, I couldn’t see the names of B. Kirshin, L. Shestyorkina or E. Tkachenko among the signatories. To me, they are undisputed masters, whose opinion I sincerely respect. But seeing the appeal signed only by journalists from the governor’s pool, I suspected it was a politically underpinned action that was anything but voluntary.”

The regional JU Board called an emergency meeting but somehow failed to invite everyone.

“Some of us Board members did not receive invitations,” Board deputy chair Yelena Vyatkina said. “My colleagues T. Stroganova, A. Nikitina and B. Kirshin, as well as myself, were not invited. As it turns out, Yurin took the liberty to speak on behalf of the entire journalistic community urging all journalists to make a stand for the incumbent rulers. This is a flagrant violation of the JU charter, which says the regional Union is a purely creative organisation. So it’s up to everyone, including Yurin, to decide whether or not to get involved in politics and support all those wars, squabbles and have-it-outs.”

The searches in First Vice-Governor Oleg Grachev’s office and in that of the “human rights activist” V. Filichkin involved FSB – probably because Filichkin’s office, by a strange coincidence, is housed in the building of the newspaper Vecherny Chelyabinsk, a daughter company of Vecherny Chelyabinsk Publishers’ established by gubernatorial adviser A. Moskalyuk, who is now under arrest for suspected embezzlement of budgetary funds. The newspaper is fully controlled by Governor Mikhail Yurevich.

“I’ve seen the headline ‘Journalists’ Offices Searched’ with photos of Grachev, Skvortsov and Filichkin posted next to it,” Mega-Ural news agency director Alla Lupova said. “However, none of them is a journalist today – they are either administration officials or public activists. Why raise all this hullaballoo? To make Russia’s entire media community stand up for government servicemen?”

Rank-and-file journalists, just as members of the JU Board, show differences in assessing the events that have caused the Chelyabinsk Region to hit the newspaper headlines as one of Russia’s leaders in terms of corrupt practices, bribe-taking, kickbacks and arrests.

Journalists might support Grachev, Skvortsov and Filichkin, but for the aggressive and dictatorial policies the three officials have pursued ever since Yurevich came into power two years ago. The regional JU and media have been under really serious pressure from the governor’s team. Media supervisors represented by Oleg Grachev and Vadim Yevdokimov have carried out barbarous purges within the regional press community and have taken under tight control every newspaper even in remote provinces. Government orders have been available only to members of the governor-controlled media holding. The authorities have sought to lay their hands on all media resources, up to the right to edit stories directly on newspapers’ websites and count the number of publications mentioning the governor’s name. Censorship has never been as tough as it is today!

They did not feel ashamed to take away the House of Journalists – a gift to the media community from the previous regional leader.

The way Dekabr PR Agency director Aleksandr Ospennikov looks at it, the distribution of government orders has become for the regional administration’s PR pool an effective instrument of controlling the regional media and skewing the news agenda in favour of Mikhail Yurevich. “Those contracts are tailored to ‘fit the winner’ through meticulously drafted performance specifications, prescribing the names and numbers of rubrics, desired number of website visits, circulations and other parameters, including prices and, sometimes, kickback amounts agreed upon over the telephone,” Ospennikov said. “As a result, we have scores of lookalike pre-ordered publications singing the governor’s praises and discrediting his opponents. In the final count, the authorities effectively control no less than 90% of the region’s media.”

Indeed, why worry about “trifles” like that?

 

EVENT OF THE WEEK

Reporters Without Borders releases “Press Freedom Index 2013”

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières, RSF) on 30 January released its 2013 World Press Freedom Index surveying the media freedom situation in 179 countries around the world based on a variety of criteria, “ranging from legislation to violence against journalists”.

Although the index does not take direct account of the political system, democratic countries are at the top, while those with dictatorial regimes are at the bottom of the list. “It is clear that democracies provide better protection for the freedom to produce and circulate accurate news and information than countries where human rights are flouted,” RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said.

The European countries that headed the index last year – Finland, the Netherlands and Norway – hold the top three positions again this year. The top ten also includes (from 4th to 10th) Luxemburg, Andorra, Denmark, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Iceland and Sweden. The last three positions are again occupied by Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea, where the press freedom situation is seen as the worst.

Russia fell six lines against the previous year’s index to the 148th position, because, “since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency, repression has been stepped up in response to an unprecedented wave of opposition protests,” the report says. Other negative trends include the re-criminalisation of slander; tightened control over the Internet; and Russia’s “unacceptable failure to punish all those who have murdered or attacked journalists”.

Among the other ex-Soviet countries, Estonia rates the highest (11th) in terms of press freedom, followed by Lithuania (33), Latvia (39), Moldova (55), Armenia (74), Georgia (100), Kyrgyzstan (106), Tajikistan (123), Ukraine (126), Azerbaijan (156), Belarus (157), Kazakhstan (160), Uzbekistan (164), and Turkmenistan (177).

It is noteworthy that France holds the 37th position, Germany 17th, Britain 29th, the United States 32nd, and Italy only 57th.

The “worst of the worst” group includes Yemen (169), Sudan (170), Cuba (171), Vietnam (172), China (173), Iran (174), Somalia (175), Syria (176), and the above-mentioned Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.

 

RUSSIA

Reporter spends two days under arrest for filming protest action in St. Petersburg

By Anna Seleznyova, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

An action of protest was staged outside the Dutch consulate in St. Petersburg on 26 January in connection with Other Russia Party activist Aleksandr Dolmatov’s death in Amsterdam. The action [tomato juice was spilled onto the consulate porch to imitate blood, and leaflets featuring Dolmatov’s portrait were scattered around] was covered by Alexander Komelkov, a reporter for the Vladivostok-based newspaper Arsenyevskiye Vesti (AV), who had been notified of the planned action one day prior to its beginning. Police detained him and held him for the following two days under administrative arrest at police station No.78 in St. Petersburg.

“There were no journalists except me covering the protest action,” Komelkov said. “I’d just had the time to make a couple of photo pictures before the protesters scurried across the bridge and drove away. That’s when a policeman approached me to ask, ‘Did you do this?’ I told him I’d come to cover the action as a reporter, and I showed him my press card, which he ignored.”

The photo correspondent was taken to the police station, and a protocol was made, saying he had “littered” the city area, thereby committing an act of “disorderly conduct”.

“They demanded that I pledge in writing I would come to stand before a court of law on Monday, and I signed the relevant paper,” Komelkov said. “They kept me at the police station till 7 p.m. for no apparent reason, and then the duty officer came up to tell me his superiors had ordered my stay under arrest until Monday’s court hearing. They didn’t show me any warrant. At 10 p.m., an Interior Ministry officer talked to me trying to find out some details, like whether ours was an opposition newspaper, etc. At about midnight, they locked me into a prison cell in which I spent the following two days. The guards kept bringing me the food ordered by my friends; they treated me politely and escorted me to the bathroom whenever I asked them to.”

“At 2 p.m. on Monday, they took me to court,” Komelkov continued. “I told the judge I had come to cover the protest action as an AV reporter, but she wouldn’t listen. The hearing lasted for hardly more than 15 minutes. The judge barely looked at my press card, saying, ‘You did take part in the action, didn’t you? Yes, you did.’”

She sentenced Komelkov to two days under arrest in line with Article 20.1 of the Administrative Code on charges of disorderly conduct (according to the protocol, he had “sworn in public” and “damaged municipal property”).

The police officer who had detained the journalist was absent at the hearing. No one was required to give any testimony.

“After the trial, they didn’t know what to do with me,” Komelkov said. “The judge said the two days I’d spent at the police station were to be included in the term of my arrest. After she read out the sentence, the police officer guarding me asked her for instructions as to my release, since 45 minutes were left before the end of the two-day term. The judge couldn’t tell him anything, since the law said nothing about such details. The guard suggested I should accompany him on his patrol of the city streets for the following quarter of an hour, and then he would release me: he was unwilling to bear responsibility for letting me go before time.”

“I agreed, and that marked the end of my adventures,” Komelkov said, adding, though, that there would be a continuation: he would challenge his administrative arrest before a higher-standing judicial authority.

AmurMedia reporters barred from governor’s news conference in Khabarovsk

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

Reporters for the AmurMedia news agency have been barred from attending a news conference held by Khabarovsk Region Governor Vyacheslav Shport.

A week before the conference, Svetlana Litvinova, spokeswoman for the governor and regional administration, said she “knew nothing” about the planned event. Three days later, however, her deputy Ilya Klimov said reporters’ accreditation was “already over”. On the conference day, 23 January, Alexei Pustovit, the administration’s chief of staff, plainly told the AmurMedia journalists they would not be admitted – and this despite the conference’s status of an open public event.

“What happened once again demonstrated how much the Khabarovsk authorities fear truly independent media,” said Galina Antonets, head of the legal department of the PrimaMedia holding (of which AmurMedia is part). “Evidently, they would like to fully control media content. Amazingly, this happens in the Far Eastern Federal District’s capital, where all the regional controlling and supervising agencies are headquartered! The officials who banned reporters from an open conference that was organised particularly for the press acted unlawfully, I think.”

Antonets stressed that accreditation with government bodies or public associations is not mandatory for reporters to attend any open event held by the authorities; non-accredited journalists, too, are entitled to freely attend any open session of a government body (as provided in Article 47.2 of the RF Media Law) at the show of a press card or other ID.

“We intend to ask law enforcement to bring the guilty officials to justice,” she said. “I see this as a clear instance of office abuse and interference with journalists’ lawful professional activity – an offence entailing criminal punishment, including imprisonment, in line with Article 144 of Russia’s criminal code.”

This is not for the first time that authorities attempted to prevent AmurMedia journalists from doing their job. In October, the new agency offices were searched by police, bringing the work process to a standstill for several hours. The journalists linked the searches with a prior publication that criticised Vyacheslav Shport for his poor performance as Khabarovsk governor.

Digest editor’s note: The PrimaMedia news agency is the Far Eastern region’s first online media outlet posting the news for everyone to read in the real-time mode. The agency has grown increasingly popular, recording 3,000 website visits per day in 2005; 6,000 in 2006; 9,000 in 2007; 18,000 in 2010; and 25,000 visits in 2011. Yandex rates PrimaMedia as one of the most frequently cited news agencies in the Far East.

TV anchor’s suspected killer liquidated in law enforcement operation in Kabardino-Balkaria

By Natalia Yusupova, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

A special law enforcement operation in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria, on 29 January resulted in the killing of Zeitun Boziyev, the alleged murderer of Kazbek Gekkiyev, a news presenter with the republican TV/Radio Company. The TV journalist’s tragic death (Gekkiyev was gunned down in the street late on 5 December, an hour after going on the air) caused broad public repercussions in the country.

Boziyev had been wanted by the police since 2010 for a series of grave crimes. The police succeeded in tracking him down due to residents’ assistance, according to the National Anti-Terrorism Committee. After the shooting of Gekkiyev and the no less appalling murder of Boris Zherukov, president of the Agrarian University of Kabardino-Balkaria (in which Boziyev was thought to have had a hand, too), leaflets and videos featuring the gangster’s portrait were circulated throughout the republic.

On 29 January Boziyev was spotted in a computer club; to apprehend him, a special police unit had to urgently evacuate the other visitors from the place as Boziyev went to the restroom. The militant offered resistance and was killed in a fire exchange. A search of his body produced his passport, a pistol with a silencer, and some hand grenades. His identity was later confirmed by witnesses.

Meanwhile, the republic’s parliament has proposed toughening legal liability for attempts on journalists’ lives.

“We are proposing a bill that would add a new clause to Article 144 of the criminal code, which prohibits interference with journalists’ lawful professional activity,” MP Khamid Bashorov said. “We suggest adding a clause whereby an attempt on the life of a journalist or any of his family members as a means of hampering his professional performance would be punished by 12 to 20 years in jail, or by imprisonment for life, or even by death.”

The State Duma discussed this proposal at its first plenary meeting on 31 January, asking the press out.

Court turns down MP’s claim of 1 million roubles in moral damages from Omsk-based newspaper

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

The Kuibyshevsky district court in Omsk has turned down a legal claim filed against the newspaper Vash Oreol by Vadim Tsygankov, head of the Kalachinsky district administration and a member of the United Russia Party. The official claimed 1 million roubles in moral damages from the newspaper for a publication exposing his unlawful engagement in business while holding a public office, and pointing to the fact of his having dual citizenship – Russian and Israeli.

The publication was based on official information, specifically the results of an inspection by the prosecutor’s office, which showed that Tsygankov combined his tenure as a district head with co-ownership of two business companies, RegionProject Ltd. and Laserform Metallurgical Works Ltd. At the prosecutors’ insistence, the city court required him to stop violating the provisions of the federal law “On Combating Corruption”, but that decision has not yet entered into legal force because Tsygankov appealed against it to the higher-standing regional court, which he hoped would satisfy his appeal and punish Vash Oreol for its “hasty” publication. Yet the court decided otherwise.

As regards his dual citizenship, it was recorded in a protocol made in the early 2000s by police officers who were accusing Tsygankov of fraud. The protocol bears his signature, but his lawyer insists that “this fact per se doesn’t prove anything,” which suggests the would-be district leader simply lied to the law enforcers at the time.

The court rejected Tsygankov’s claim against Vash Oreol in full.

A similar claim turned down in Vladivostok

By Anna Seleznyova, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

A few years ago, the retirement home in Sedanka in a Vladivostok suburb won several legal claims against the newspaper Arsenyevskiye Vesti (AV), which had published a series of Tatyana Romanenko’s reports about the deplorable position of the home’s elderly inmates. Some of those who had asked AV’s assistance in the first place fell ill; others refused to confirm their testimony for fear of reprisals; still others were coerced into denying the fact of having ever complained to the newspaper at all.

Now that a new series of claims has been filed against the newspaper, the situation looks different, and this should be credited in many respects to the stand adopted by Judge Natalia Shevyakova of the Frunzensky district court in Vladivostok.

The last week of January was marked by a rare occurrence in judicial practices – everyday hearings of the legal claims filed by Viktor Logachev, director of the Sedanka retirement home, against Arsenyevskiye Vesti, its chief editor Irina Grebneva and journalist Anastasia Popova. The plaintiff claimed a total of 1 million roubles from the defendants.

During 2011 alone, Popova published eight newspaper stories about the gloomy state of things in the old people’s home, and prepared a video report to be shown on TV. The plaintiff wanted all of those publications to be pronounced libellous and damaging to the home’s and his own reputation. He asked the court to involve in the proceedings as a co-defendant one of the former inmates, Viktor Lebed, who ran away from the nursing facility, unable to stand harassment and humiliation anymore, and ever since has lived in one of the AV offices. Logachev wanted the symbolic amount of 1 rouble in moral damages from the old man.

After Lebed, who requested the newspaper’s assistance in 2011, several other retirement home inmates came to AV to complain about maltreatment and ask for help. Throughout 2012, witnesses were questioned and claims were specified. Finally, after the end of New Year’s holidays, the first hearings were held, which then became very regular – six days a week towards the end of January. The judge questioned many witnesses for the defence; the plaintiff, too, brought additional witnesses from the number of social workers, physicians, librarians, cooks, nurses, gas welders, and so forth.

But Judge Natalia Shevyakova turned down Logachev’s legal claim in full. Retirement home inmates later called her on the phone, laughing and crying, to say thanks and tell her they had posted copies of the court decision on every floor of their nursing home.

 

OUR CONTRIBUTORS

To use or not to use cameras in courtroom: Conflict of interests in Moscow city court

By Dmitry Florin, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

The Moscow city court is plagued by a conflict of interests: on the one hand, the journalists are allowed by law to make audio recordings and use photo and video cameras in the courtroom, while on the other, security guards are supposed to “ensure safety” within the court building.

That is why, if you come to the city court to attend an open hearing, you will have to submit all your audio and video recording devices to the police officer on duty at the entrance, and get a check after writing your name into the register of things left for temporary keeping.

In theory, though, you can carry through some recording equipment into the building. To do so, you will have to file with the court’s press service, a couple of days prior to a hearing, an official request (printed out on a letterhead signed by your editor) and wait for an answer featuring your name, camera number (as indicated in your request) and the date when you intend to make a recording. However, no one guarantees you will receive such an answer, ever, and it is not at all clear who or how selects “the lucky ones”. Some journalists say the procedure heavily smells of censorship.

On just a few occasions have people with cameras been seen at the courtroom door, waiting for the moment the accused will be entering the room under escort. Sometimes, guards have been seen pushing the photographers aside to clear the way. One photographer, who was quietly filming the proceedings from afar, was nearly swept off his feet, with a guard snapping, “Cameras prohibited!”, although the man wasn’t getting in anyone’s way.

Who said cameras must not be used is not clear at all, but no one carrying any photo or video apparatus is admitted to the courtroom. Once, though, reporters were let inside 15 minutes before the opening of a hearing, to take pictures of the accused sitting on the bench inside a glass box. They were not allowed to take pictures of the prosecutors. During one other hearing, a lady prosecutor protested, “Why are you filming me? If I knew this, I’d have closed the hearing to the press altogether!” Our government officials’ “modesty” is indeed amazing…

This notwithstanding, a cameraman from the court’s press service is always present and recording non-stop. On 28 January, his camera was permanently on and aimed exclusively at the defence lawyers (the cameraman even sat down to rest on a chair next to his tripod). Where are all those recordings stored, and for whom are they made?

Any hearing is constantly tape-recorded, too. No witness is allowed to speak unless right into the microphone. And there is the secretary taking down the proceedings in shorthand, plus pivot-action security cameras scanning every corner of the courtroom.

Why have the proceedings recorded by only one person using a semi-professional camera? Defence lawyer Murad Musayev answered this question on 28 January as he protested against the press being left behind closed doors while the court’s cameraman was working without any problem. He also protested against the practice of making courtroom recordings always available to the Investigative Committee and, by some miracle, to the authors of the “Man and Law” TV show not so long ago.

If the recordings are made for the media, why not allow media reporters themselves to shoot video sequences in the courtroom? Why require security guards to ban the use of cameras even in the lobby, compelling reporters to stay outside and often take pictures in the cold and in dim light?

To complete the picture, a lady reporter once used her cell phone to take some pictures of the accused during a break. A security guard saw that, required the girl to erase the images, and reported the “scandalous incident” to all participants in the hearing so they could demand, if they wished to, the reporter’s ejection from the courtroom. Then the senior security guard came, to give the girl a good dressing-down and warn everyone that if anything of the kind occurred again, anyone entering the courtroom would be required to submit his or her cell phone…

 

NEWS FROM PARTNERS

Human Rights Watch publishes “Freedom in the World 2013” report

Human Rights Watch on 31 January released its annual “Freedom in the World” report analysing key issues facing 90 countries as of end-2012.

The Russia section marked a “notable decline” of the human rights situation in this country as a result of “unprecedented” repression against civil society – the worst in the entire post-Soviet history.

It would seem the mass protests that followed the December 2011 parliamentary election compelled the authorities to start discussing political reform, the HRW report said; yet Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin was followed by quick reversal of the modest liberal changes seen through during D. Medvedev’s presidency, and by the launch of an unprecedented offensive against civil society. In the second half of 2012, laws were enacted imposing serious restrictions on freedom of expression, freedom of opinion, freedom of assembly and freedom of association. Human rights violations continued in the course of law enforcement operations in the North Caucasus.

After Putin’s return to the presidency in May 2012, the ruling United Russia Party’s parliamentary majority secured the passing of a whole range of laws additionally restricting civic activity. In June, sanctions for breaching the rules of conduct of mass events were tightened almost to a level of criminal punishment; slander was re-criminalised; and additional restrictions were imposed on information exchanges via the Internet.

Also in June, non-governmental organisations engaging in vaguely defined “political activity” and funded by foreign-based sources were required to register as “foreign agents” – clearly a move aimed at discrediting NGOs in the eyes of society. In November, treason charges were expanded to embrace, in theory, even ordinary participation in international human rights activities. On the eve of New Year (2013) President Putin signed a law allowing suspension and freezing on Russian soil of the assets of NGOs engaged in “political activity” and financed by American individuals or organisations.

Details,

 

Letters

Congratulations to my brave colleagues on the release of the jubilee – 600th – edition of the GDF digest! I read your stuff regularly. We all need you!

Thank you very much,
Yelena Aligozhina

 

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.

Editorial board

  • Editor-in-chief, Alexei Simonov
  • Boris Timoshenko, Head of Monitoring Service;
  • Svetlana Zemskova, GDF Lawyer;
  • Vsevolod Shelkhovskoy, translator.

We welcome the promotion of our news items and articles but if you make use of any information from this digest or other GDF materials please acknowledge the source.

Contacts:

Glasnost Defence Foundation, Room 432, 4 Zubovsky Boulevard,
119992 Moscow, Russia.

Telephone/fax: +7 (495) 637-4947 and +7 (495) 637-4420
e-mail: boris@gdf.ru , or fond@gdf.ru

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Архив
ФЗГ продолжает бороться за свое честное имя. Пройдя все необходимые инстанции отечественного правосудия, Фонд обратился в Европейский суд. Для обращения понадобилось вкратце оценить все, что Фонд сделал за 25 лет своего существования. Вот что у нас получилось:
Полезная деятельность Фонда защиты гласности за 25 лет его жизни