Дайджест
26 Июня 2015 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 713-714

15-22 June 2015


EVENT OF THE WEEK

OSCE conference on journalist safety and conflict reporting held in Vienna

The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, hosted a conference on the safety of journalists and conflict reporting on 15 and 16 June in Vienna to further the efforts in support of journalists working in the armed conflict zone in Ukraine, and to promote media freedom.

The conference became a pad for discussions, analysis, expertise sharing, and for working out practical recommendations for journalists in armed conflict on maintaining safety and observing codes of professional ethics. Considerable attention was given to such issues as propaganda, information warfare, media regulations, and trust building among journalists.

Specifically, Mijatović called on governments to stop manipulating media covering the conflict in Donbas, and expressed regret over many media’s involvement in hate propaganda and war support. Among the countries where media freedom is at risk, she especially pointed to Azerbaijan, Russia and Ukraine.

Topics for discussion included attempts to manipulate history; propaganda and freedom; strengthening of media workers’ safety; free access to information sources; media pluralism; and methods of conflict reporting.

The project “Two countries – one profession: Dialogue of professional organisations in Russia and Ukraine” drew much attention. The dialogue among journalist groups in our countries, which involves representatives of the Union of Journalists of Russia, the Glasnost Defence Foundation, the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine and the Independent Media Trade Union of Ukraine, is the only dialogue today that focuses on journalist safety and, most important, on ways of coping with the conflict’s aftermath. Also, it serves as a platform for strengthening professional solidarity.

Supported by the International Federation of Journalists and the OSCE, the project already has yielded certain results – specifically, its participants have helped in releasing a number of journalists from custody. As part of the project, representatives of UJR, GDF, NUJU and IMTUU prepared and published “Safety and solidarity for journalists in Ukraine 2014: A handbook for journalists unions facing a crisis”. Its text is available on the IFJ website.


RUSSIA

Court in Omsk fines blogger Viktor Korb for a 4-year-old publication that the same court earlier found OK

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

Law enforcement officials in Omsk have finally succeeded in bringing journalist and blogger Viktor Korb “to justice as an extremist”, although this has required the input of considerable forces and resources on their part. Over just five days, they twice detained him and took him to the police, and then to a district court. Both detentions involved regional FSB and Interior Ministry (MVD) officials, among them several commandos armed with automatic rifles.

First, they captured the blogger as he was going with his wife to an “ecological picnic” to share his experience of beautifying the area adjacent to his apartment block. As it turned out, secret services had found on Korb’s website PolitOmsk.ru a 4-year-old article mentioning the name of journalist Boris Stomakhin who is serving yet another prison term on “extremism” charges. The website only announced the release of the Radikalnaya Politika (Radical Politics) bulletin edited by Stomakhin, posting a photo of the bulletin’s cover page with barely readable names of the publications, which themselves had never been posted on PolitOmsk.

“Although I removed that announcement from the website a long time ago, secret agents managed to find its backup copy, evidently saved somewhere in the browsers, for which they should thank those who invented the internet – and evidently address their claims to them again for the fact that the announcement had not been fully erased,” Korb wrote in his blog. There could have been nothing “extremist” about that post at the time, because the Justice Ministry blacklisted Radikalnaya Politika only two years later, and the FSB and MVD attempted to hold Korb liable for his having not suspected in 2011 that one of his publications might be labelled “extremist” in 2013. The court, though, declared that this kind of “short-sightedness” was not punishable under the law.

What caused law enforcement’s anxiety over the same issue two more years later is not clear: as we reported in the previous digest (see digest 712), the materials they presented in court after the journalist’s detention on 7 May were returned to the MVD in view of too many discrepancies.

Yet five days after, the district police inspector, several plain-clothes men and – again – several armed commandos with automatic rifles stopped Viktor Korb a hundred yards from his home, on his way to visit his mother, 80, in hospital. Again, they took him to the police station, seized his cell phones, credit card, spectacles and wallet, and locked him into a cell for about an hour before they took him to the same district court, his wife Tatyana Ilyina told Kvnews.ru.

The hearing was attended by FSB officers who had started and overseen the legal proceedings against Korb. This time, though, Judge Tatyana Abkerimova evidently decided not to “upset” the law enforcers, pronounced Korb “guilty of an administrative offence in the form of announcing on PolitOmsk.ru in 2011 the release of materials” that would be blacklisted as “extremist” two years later, and fined him 1,000 roubles for that.

In Viktor Korb’s view, this fine will not cover even a half-thousandth of the budgetary spending on his detention, case investigation, and the court hearings.

Candidate for Omsk Region governor, his driver threaten independent newspaper’s staff with violence

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

The United Russia party’s gubernatorial primaries in Omsk were held although quite predictably (with the incumbent governor, Viktor Nazarov, winning the vote) but not without a scandal: one of the rival URP nominees, Legislative Assembly deputy Vladimir Sedelnkov, threatened journalists with physical violence.

According to a Biznes-Kurs report, he pulled over to the Political Council building “in a luxury off-road vehicle, got out and asked a photojournalist taking pictures of primaries participants, ‘What are you shooting here? You want me to kick your balls off? Get [all your equipment] away, and fast – or you’ll hear me talking to you in a different language.’”

Evidently, the MP was unhappy to expect electors to learn what a great vehicle his years of “dedicated service” to them had brought him. Upon entering the Council headquarters, he shouted down to his driver through an open window: “Go check they’ve got nothing [filmed]!” Eager to carry out his boss’s orders, the driver demanded that the reporters “show their documents”, and warned them in the same bandit-like tone: “If you don’t erase [the footage], you’ll get thrashed,” Biznes-Kurs reported.

Sedelnikov is known to Omsk residents as the owner of the Galaxy entertainment centre and the Atlantis night club built in the early 2000s on the premises of the Elektrotochpribor defence industry plant he had earlier managed. A distant relative to the previous governor, Leonid Polezhayev, he displays on his MP’s website quite a few official awards, including a medal “For Strengthening Spirituality”.

The Biznes-Kurs staff reported the threats to the police and prosecutor’s office.

Authorities in Khabarovsk and Maritime Regions put economic pressure on “disloyal” media

By Vladimir Dymov, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

Since this year began, the Khabarovsk Region arbitration court has twice reviewed legal claims lodged by the regional administration’s Press and Public Communications Committee against online media outlets that won the government information-support tenders, got the relevant subsidies, but failed to fulfil their contractual obligations. As established in court, the defendants – OOO Amurburg, and Rigma.info belonging to OOO MediaMax – had systematically shirked working off the money given to them: they had failed to produce the “needed amount” of information products, broken publishing deadlines, and not paid “due attention” to “product quality”.

The media community has got a clear impression that the administration is claiming the money back not because some contractual obligations remain unfulfilled but because some subsidy recipients have got “totally out of hand” ideologically. Indeed, just think of it: they took the money to sing the government’s praises – but instead, they started publishing totally different stuff! Suffice it to review the headlines of Amurburg publications in 2014: “Russia’s aggression in Ukraine violates basic OSCE principles”; “Two hundred KamAZ trucks with mercenaries enter Lugansk”; “A military scout unit destroyed in Donbas”; “Russian General Staff sends troops to eastern Ukraine”; “Donetsk commits suicide”, and so on, and so forth. Moreover, the FSB’s border-guard department for the Region of Khabarovsk and the Jewish Autonomous District has started legal proceedings against Amurburg editor Oleg Potapenko, charging him with illegal border crossing. Potapenko himself, judging by his Facebook postings, is currently in New York, seeking political asylum in the United States.

In other words, scandals have grown too numerous to remain unnoticed. The exact amounts of “unearned” subsidies were aired in court, giving rise to the following ruling: Amurburg must return 1,657,237 roubles, and MediaMax, 1,732,767 roubles into the Khabarovsk Region budget, plus tens of thousands in state duty into the federal treasury.

Another scandal has been smouldering in the Maritime Region over the regional Civil Movement Against Corruption’s online report about the regional administration’s decision to allocate nearly 12 million roubles for self-promotion in the media – and this despite a March announcement on the administration’s official website of plans to cut this year’s spending on government performance coverage by 15%.

Considering what the authorities call the “needed” number of publications, the bid-winning news agencies will have to tirelessly write five to six news stories on “government achievements” a day until their contracts expire.

Convicted editor of Perm-based newspaper Kazak Prikamya released on probation

By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District

Alexei Maltsev, the founder and editor of the regional newspaper Kazak Prikamya, who was earlier convicted of extortion of 1.05 million roubles and sentenced to 4 years in jail and 400,000 roubles in fine, was released on probation on 18 June.

As we reported earlier (see digest 704), police originally charged the journalist with four instances of extortion and two fraud schemes that allegedly brought him 2.8 million roubles in illegal revenue. Yet courts at two levels found only one criminal episode proven, closed the five other cases, and acknowledged Maltsev’s right to exoneration.

The public applauded the court’s unexpected decision to release the journalist there and then. For the next 3 years, though, Maltsev will have to report to the probationary office once a month. Also, he is to pay the 400,000-rouble fine within the next 30 days, and pay the victim – OOO Merkuriy – 1.05 million roubles in damages.

Journalists in Yekaterinburg ready to go all the way to Strasbourg to defend the truth

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

Judge Anna Agafonova of the Orjonikidzevsky district court in Yekaterinburg has passed a decision regarding a legal claim lodged by Mikhail Zatsepin, head of the regional department of Rosreyestr [federal State Registration, Cadastre and Cartography Service], and his wife Svetlana Zatsepina, a notary public, against the news website Vedomosti-Ural.ru, accusing it of “belying and smearing” them in the article “Fighting corruption on the example of a separate family?” published two years ago.

The article’s author, Ilya Sobolev, hinted at a corrupt and illegal origin of their family’s multimillion revenues, while actually, he was referring to “strictly lawful and officially declared” incomes, the Zatsepins wrote in their statement of claim which, according to Vedomosti’s acting chief editor Tatyana Popova, made about a dozen other “totally absurd” points. The court turned most of those down, while indeed finding “untrue and smearing” a few sentences describing a 2008 realty swap deal initiated by the head of Rosreyestr (then UFRS), which resulted in nearly 1,500 sq. m of state property in downtown Yekaterinburg swapped for some non-serviceable facilities on the premises of the Uralmash (Urals Machine-building) Works.

The ruling disregarded a thick file of documents concerning the deal, including official replies from competent state agencies, confirming the accuracy of the information reported by Vedomosti. In line with the court decision, the news agency on 5 June paid the Zatsepins 5,400 roubles in moral damages, and on 10 June partially disclaimed its two-year-old publication.

Pursuant to Para 17 of RF Supreme Court Resolution No.3 of 24 February 2005, “On judicial practices regarding claims in defence of honour and dignity, as well as individuals’ and legal entities’ claims in defence of business reputation,” when satisfying a claim, a judge must specify in the operative part of the ruling which particular information was found “not true to fact” and “smearing”. Therefore, with that resolution in hand, the founder of Vedomosti-Ural – OOO Ural Media Plus, before carrying out the court ruling, asked Judge Agafonova which specific phrases from the two challenged passages were “libellous”. Yet the judge refused to provide any clarification in the courtroom, because “the decision is fully clear and unambiguous”.

The journalists are ready to appeal to the RF Supreme Court and, if need be, go all the way to Strasbourg to defend the truth. The GDF will closely follow the developments.

Stray animal control service head who claimed 10 million roubles from Rostov-based news agency now faces legal charges himself

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

The Zheleznodorozhny district court in Rostov-on-Don is starting to review fraud-and- embezzlement cases against Aleksandra Sorokina, director of the municipal Stray Animal Population Control Centre, and Eduard Omelchenko, head of OOO Basya [Pet] Service. As established in the course of investigation, the accused overrated the volumes of work they contracted for, and the services they offered, in catching and impounding stray animals, healing them, or disposing of their bodies. They forged documents confirming their purchase from three companies of cat and dog food that never actually was delivered.

Public activists have long sounded the alarm over the outrageous treatment of animals in cat and dog pounds, and have appealed to different media for help. One publication posted on the web portal of the Rostov News Service “hurt” Omelchenko so much that he claimed legal protection of his honour, dignity and business reputation, and demanded a total of 20 million roubles in moral damages – 10 million from animal defender Svetlana Ivashchenko, the author of the publication, and as much from the Donnews.ru web portal which posted it online. Yet the Leninsky district court in Rostov rejected his claim in full.

Now Omelchenko and Sorokina as his accomplice are themselves to stand trial for allegedly breaking the law in their zealous attempts to make as much extra money as they could on stray animals.

Tomsk-based blogger Vadim Tyumentsev kept in isolation ward for unclear reasons

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

Critical blogger Vadim Tyumentsev, arrested in Tomsk on charges of “public calls for acts of extremism” and for “instigating hatred or enmity” (see digest 707-708), was recently locked again into an isolation ward on grounds that are not known to his defence lawyer. As reported in Tymentsev’s blog by his representative, Anton Ivanov, his client was twice locked up (for 10 and 15 days, respectively), presumably “as a result of a conflict with the prison administration over the fulfilment of his work duties”. What particular duties are referred to is unclear: Tyumentsev is kept in a pre-trial detention centre; he is not a convict; and until his guilt is proven in court, he bears no obligations under the law except maintaining elementary order in his cell, observers say.

The detention centre management, Ivanov wrote in the blog, has left unanswered his inquiries about what kind of wrongdoing Tyumentsev has been punished for; the officially established time period for furnishing a reply has already expired. “I have to appeal to the Penal Department and the prosecutor’s office asking to press them for an answer… If he did break some internal rules and was punished fairly, why not officially announce that? And why not give the details to prevent further questions and guesswork? I can only explain their silence by the fact that they are finding it very difficult to prove that Tyumentsev was locked into the isolation ward legitimately,” Ivanov wrote.

Also, he has tried to challenge the extension of the preliminary investigation term which expired on 30 April. In line with the RF Code of Criminal Procedure, this term can only be extended if “the investigation process is particularly difficult”. In Tyumentsev’s case, however, everything is more than simple: there is one accused person, two or three witnesses, and no victim at all. Nor has the journalist’s activity harmed either society at large or any particular individual – except, actually, Tyumentsev himself. As we reported earlier, the criminal charges were brought against him over two video clips the blogger had posted: one about a potential action of protest against “the outrageous behaviour of fixed-route taxi drivers”, the other urging the authorities to “expel Donetsk and Lugansk refugees from Russia”. However, the investigators, having failed to duly examine the two 3-minute videos in the three months officially allotted to them, asked for two more months to finish their job.

If the investigation term was extended unlawfully, then keeping Tyumentsev in custody is, too, illegitimate, which point Anton Ivanov made in his message to the Investigative Department. The latter replied that it would not consider his arguments because “you are not a participant in the criminal case review”. This is true: a radio physicist by training, he is not a member of the Bar, became a human rights defender by the call of his heart, and has so far failed in obtaining the official status of the defendant’s authorised representative. “This, however, does not deprive me of the right to draw the Investigative Department’s attention to some or other law violations, while the Department is entitled, but evidently not willing, to take remedy action,” Ivanov said, adding that the case is likely to fall apart in court.


GLASNOST DEFENCE FOUNDATION

Coordinators of GDF schools for investigative journalists and bloggers hold seminar near Moscow

Coordinators of the regional schools for investigative journalists and bloggers held a seminar on 19-20 June at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ holiday hotel in Zvenigorod near Moscow.

The first such schools were organised in Moscow in 2009, and about 20 more, held in the subsequent six years all across Russia – from St. Petersburg and Petrozavodsk to Vladivostok and Yakutsk – have provided additional education to nearly 300 journalists and bloggers. Each school has a regional coordinator responsible for everything, from publishing invitation ads to handing graduation certificates.

The seminar also involved the main instructors of all the 20 schools – Igor Korolkov, Grigory Pasko, and GDF President Alexei Simonov, who came up with this comment:

“That was the best seminar in the nearly 25 years of our Foundation’s operation – concise, to the point, and highly competent.

“We discussed a wide range of views – from the uselessness of such schools to the need to work out flexible timetables adapted to local conditions. I want to name all of the GDF’s old-time friends who participated in the latest seminar: Ali Kamalov of Dagestan; Yuri Vdovin of St. Petersburg; Anna Seleznyova of Vladivostok; Svetlana Shaikhitdinova of Kazan; Sergei Plotnikov of Yekaterinburg; Lyudmila Prokosheva of Izhevsk; Valentina Lezvina of Stabropol; Roman Sholud of Voronezh; Aleksandr Krutov of Saratov; and Anatoly Tsygankov of Petrozavodsk. I would like to express to them my deep respect for their commitment, soundness and optimism without which neither this nor other GDF programmes would ever be possible.”

The next schools are scheduled for September and October this year.


OUR CONTRIBUTORS

First-aid service settles conflict with media holding in Perm Region amicably

By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District

The Perm Region Court of Arbitration on 9 June confirmed an amicable settlement between OOO AktivMedia and the First-Aid Service of the city of Perm. The parties agreed on the need to draw public attention to the falsity of the news report under the heading “Perm ambulances will service VIP patients in the first place”, posted online on the eve of the 16 April “direct line” with President Vladimir Putin.

The de facto owner of AktivMedia is Dmitry Skrivanov, 43, a deputy of the regional Legislative Assembly. One of the private companies he controls has purchased the local newspapers V Kurse and Permskaya Tribuna, distributed free of charge, and the radio station Ekho Permi. The media holding also includes the Vkurse.ru web portal that has been built from scratch. To run AktivMedia, the owner invited from Moscow private entrepreneur Timur Marder, a former manager of the LifeNews media holding who ran the newspapers Tvoy Den’ and Zhizn’.

In his statements for the press, Skrivanov has said he plans AktivMedia as a business project, which many say is too far-fetched an idea because the advertising market in the Perm Region has long since been fully divided. The regional authorities have sought to place state and municipal orders with “friendly” media. Under the previous governor, Oleg Chirkunov, MP Skrivanov was first deputy speaker of the regional Legislative Assembly. The new governor, Viktor Basargin, has staffed all the high posts with his own people. So the media business of United Russia party member Dmitry Skrivanov has from the outset been viewed as a “challenge” to Governor Basargin.

The news hoax about “VIP ambulances” was meant to hit the same target. An anonymous report on Vkurse.ru told the readers that “there is a special phone number” for public officials and big businessmen to dial when they need urgent medical aid. The scandalous report did not mention a single fact proving its accuracy, other media later cited Chief Physician Yevgeny Kamkin as saying. The municipal first-aid company turned to the arbitration court to defend its business reputation and have the wrongful allegations disproved.

The litigation got an additional degree of public importance after Artur Gainanov, spokesman for the regional MVD department, told journalists that the disputed publication was “deliberately prepared” for airing during April’s direct line with Russia’s president. The media interpreted the senior police spokesman’s words quite straightforwardly: the hoax aimed to undermine the Perm medics’ professional reputation.

After three sittings of the arbitration court, the parties came to an amicable settlement. In line with the 9 June determination, the media holding undertook to publish the plaintiff’s reply statement reading as follows: “Our medics in Perm rush to provide first aid to anyone regardless of their social status, wealth or ethnicity, without any priority given to ‘VIP patients’. All phone calls are registered in the ADIS automated system used throughout the Perm Region and in many other regions of the Russian Federation.”

Karelia resident sentenced to 200 hours of forced labour for posting nationalist placard in social network

By Valeria Tsygankova in Moscow

A story that started back in November 2013 recently ended in a convictive sentence for a resident of the Prionezhsky district of Karelia, who had posted on his page in a social network a placard that the Investigative Committee classified as an attempt to instigate inter-ethnic hatred and enmity. As established in the course of investigation, the man committed an offence falling under Criminal Code Article 282.1 (“Public actions aimed at instigating hate or enmity, as well as disparaging the dignity of an individual or a group of persons, based on their ethnicity”). The court sentenced the accused, considering the proofs of guilt presented by the prosecution, to 200 hours of forced labour.

Judging by the prosecutor’s office statistics, most such crimes in 2014 were committed in three Karelian municipalities – Kem, Lahdenpohja and Suojärvi.

Compared to 2013, the number of prosecutorial representations filed last year in the Kem district grew 160%, in Suojärvi doubled, and in Lahdenpohja increased 70%. Over the same period, the number of cases requiring prosecutorial response decreased by a third in the Olonetsky district, and by two thirds in the Prionezhsky district, taking the two municipalities to the leading positions in the republic.

The categories of offences were virtually the same across the board: social network users either published materials fanning inter-ethnic strife, or posted Nazi symbols.

Two episodes, though, stood out. In the first one, a resident of Petrozavodsk, 61, circulated online information about an organisation that is outlawed in Russia as an extremist group. In the second, Stockholm-based owners of a website and its page in a social network set Russians against local people in Karelia by urging the latter to “fight the Russian occupiers”. A court of law declared the website and the social network group extremist and put both web resources on the Federal List of Extremist Materials and the Unified Register of domain names and web links which are banned for sharing in Russia. Currently, access to the said web resources is blocked.


Letters

Happy birthday, dear GDF! Happy anniversary, my courageous and knowledgeable colleagues! You helped me out once. Your services are needed very much! Thanks that you are around! (And that piece of verse was very good, too.)

Best regards,

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.

We acknowledge the assistance of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.

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 Monitring 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 438, 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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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