Дайджест
23 Октября 2015 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 727

19 October 2015


STORY OF THE WEEK

Larissa Yudina’s 70th birth anniversary

By Valery Badmayev, editor-in-chief, newspaper Sovremennaya Kalmykiya

They sent me a link to [Kalmykia ex-President Kirsan] Ilyumzhinov’s interview for the Ekho Moskvy radio a few days ago, and now I finally sat down to read it. Yet I dropped it halfway through, because a resident of Kalmykia just cannot read quietly this guy’s lies about the time he was head of the republic! Knowing all too well that Mr Ilyumzhinov is simply unable to speak the truth, I don’t want to put up with the lies he tells, either. I will not attempt to disprove all of his fantasies and concoctions – I will limit my comments to his statements concerning the newspaper Sovetskaya Kalmykiya and Larissa Alexeyevna Yudina.

True, during the well-known events of 19-21 August 1991, Sovetskaya Kalmykiya – the republic’s number one newspaper at the time – supported the [putschist] State of Emergency Committee. In many respects, that was explained by its then status as the official press organ of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s republican Committee. Its chief editor, Yuri Ivanovich Yudin, was no relative to L. Yudina. As Larissa herself liked to say, “He isn’t even a namesake to me.”

Naturally, after Boris Yeltsin’s decree, the newspaper, just as its peer publications in many other regions of Russia, was shut down; the regional CPSU committee was dissolved; and Kalmykia’s Supreme Soviet and Council of Ministers refused to co-establish a new newspaper on the basis of the scrapped one. Yudina with a group of colleagues, mostly young women, did not agree with that decision. She made several trips to Moscow, to the Journalists’ Union of Russia headquarters, but it is an established fact that she never met with Ilyumzhinov. Finally, journalists and other staff workers from the number of Yudina’s supporters volunteered to themselves become the new newspaper’s founders, electing Larissa their chief editor.

In 1995, a certain Mr Kapkanov, having received approval and, very likely, financial support from the republic’s leadership, registered a duplicate newspaper of the same name, Sovetskaya Kalmykiya, which instantly became the mouthpiece of Ilyumzhinov and members of his administration. For the following few months, both newspapers were released under the same name; readers referred to them as “Yudina’s Sovetskaya Kalmykiya” and “Kapkanov’s”. The first one was unlawfully stripped of its registration shortly afterwards by a court of law that recognized Kapkanov’s newspaper as “the principal one”.

Yudina and her colleagues then renamed their publication Sovetskaya Kalmykiya Segodnya (SKG), mustered up financial support from Moscow-based Kalmyk entrepreneurs, formed a group of new founders, and had the newspaper registered anew. The staffers and chief editor had to go through many hardships – repeated attacks on the newspaper office, the torching of the editor’s apartment door, and constant moving from one place to another because of the Ilyumzhinov administration’s pressure on lessors to terminate their lease agreements with SKG.

It all ended in Larissa Yudina’s assassination on 7 June 1998. The crime was promptly solved thanks to the republican FSB department’s interference, which is an irrefutable fact. I confess I don’t like that agency much, but in that case, it was only due to the active work of FSB officials that the killers and the murder weapon were found, contributing in a decisive way to the success of the investigation and the case’s going all the way to court.

It so happened that some friends and I – people who had known Larissa Yudina very well – started looking for our missing chief editor on the following morning, 8 June, turning for help to authorities at all levels. We arranged a meeting with the Vice President of Kalmykia, and staged a rally in the centre of Elista. Ilyumzhinov stayed out of the republic until Larissa’s funeral, stubbornly keeping silent while the whole world was discussing that appalling murder.

I can well remember that the vehicle which had carried Yudina’s body to the Yarmarochny Pond was later found in the republican prosecutor’s office’s garage. Also, there were reports that the apartment where Larissa was murdered was a secret place rented by police for holding operative meetings.

The trial over the killers was held in the Kalmykia Supreme Court building in Elista and was open to all. The hitmen did not disclose the mastermind’s name. Now, 17 years after, one of them has been released, although he was sentenced to 21 years in jail. Another is still serving his time behind bars. A third one, whose mission was only to drive Yudina’s body away, got a 6-year sentence, was released a long time ago, and instantly vanished from Kalmykia.

22 October 2015 marks Larissa Yudina’s 70th birth anniversary. In this connection, we, her former colleagues and friends, have proposed that Kalmykia’s Ministry of Culture should open an exposition at the National Museum in Elista to commemorate the courageous journalist who perished while on duty. Our proposal, most likely, would be rejected, but as an alternative, some kind of exposition might be organised at the republican Press House, a source at the ministry said. Hopefully, Kalmykia’s incumbent authorities will not be opposed to that.

It is good that Mr Ilyumzhinov is no longer in Kalmykia. Moreover, few people here ever recall him at all, and if they do, they speak very negatively of him as the republic’s leader.


EVENT OF THE WEEK

Criminal Code Article 144 penalizing obstruction of journalists’ work remains de facto ineffective

By Roman Zakharov, GDF correspondent in North-Western Federal District

That Article 144 of the RF Criminal Code, supposed to protect journalists, has been rarely applied in this country is not a secret either for lawyers or for members of the professional media community. The issue has many times been raised at different levels, but it still remains unsolved. Still worse, law enforcement has been ready to use the de facto non-working legal norm as an instrument of pressure on political oppositionists.

The RF Investigative Committee recently announced the completion of investigation into the criminal case of Leonid Volkov, a ParNaS Party activist and leader of the Democratic Coalition’s election campaign in Novosibirsk. According to the prosecutors, Volkov obstructed a LifeNews TV reporter’s work outside the ParNaS regional headquarters in July 2015 by urging him not to disseminate any information and by damaging his microphone. After numerous reports on the subject by other media, the incident was dubbed “the broken microphone case”. The only “but” is that an expert study ordered by the investigators revealed that the microphone was not broken, which was not the sole discrepancy in the case. Surprisingly enough, legal proceedings under Article 144 (“Interference with a journalist’s lawful professional work”) were started promptly.

As is known, numerous cases or physical and administrative pressure on journalists are at best interpreted by law enforcement as “domestic crime” instances. Even where a crime against a journalist is proven to be work-related, and investigators do not deny this, Article 144 is not applied, and the perpetrators are likely to be accused of hooliganism or beating under “more generally formulated” criminal code articles.

The GDF Legal Service has repeatedly pointed to difficulties with that article’s application stemming from investigators’ stubborn unwillingness to “create a precedent”. Of the several dozen criminal cases opened on charges of Article 144 in the past decade, the vast majority have never reached the court.

The Glasnost Defence Foundation reminds the investigative bodies of a clarification on how to apply this article, reading as follows: “In addition to [establishing] the objective victim-defining criteria, it is necessary to establish that these are reflected in the perpetrator’s conscience. The perpetrator needs to realise that his encroachment on the victim – a journalist performing his professional duty – was deliberate and aimed at coercing such journalist into disseminating or refraining from disseminating certain information. [It should be established that] the perpetrator maliciously intended to commit that particular kind of offence, rather than he intended to destroy [the victim’s] property or inflict bodily harm out of personal enmity toward [the victim].” (R. D. Ishimova, “Criteria for Defining a Victim of Interference with a Journalist’s Lawful Professional Work”.)

Volkov, in his turn, has lodged a counterclaim charging LifeNews journalists and managers, among them the media holding’s director Ashot Gabrelyanov, with false reporting to the police. The statement of claim he filed with the Novosibirsk police reads: “I demand that you start legal proceedings under Criminal Code Article 306.2 (‘A priori false reporting about a grave crime’) against four persons – LifeNews director Ashot Gabrelyanov, correspondent Aleksandr Postupinsky, and two managers of the local LifeNews office. The said persons filed a report alleging that I had broken a microphone; an expert study showed that the microphone was not broken. Theirs was an a priori false report intended to smear me.”

The GDF will closely watch progress in the probe into the incident with LifeNews representatives in order to prevent the legal provision designed to protect journalists from encroachments from being used as a political weapon against them.


RUSSIA

Krasnodar-based journalist courageously rebuffs violent attacks

By Galina Tashmatova, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

The magistrate court in Krasnodar’s Precinct No.24 on 12 October commenced hearings of the case of Krasnodar-based journalist Anna Mamayenko, a regular contributor to the newspaper Tainoye I Yavnoye and to a number of other media.

According to Mamayenko, late on 25 February this year, two men attacked her on one of the city streets and attempted to push her into a car. Defending herself, she scratched the car with a kick. A police officer arrived, telling her that the two attackers were secret police informers and that she would have to pay for the car repairs. Criminal proceedings were then started against her on property damage charges.

It should be noted that Anna is not easily frightened and is well capable of fighting for her own hand. In 2012 she went to the Vsesvyatskoye Cemetery with a man who promised her to show some little-known burial places that might be of interest to her as a journalist. Instead, he attacked the girl and attempted to rape her. Yet Mamayenko knocked him out with a piece of paving tile, and then called an ambulance. The assailant turned out to be a recidivist who had earlier been jailed for raping two other women. Anna Mamayenko’s case has caused broad public repercussions in the Krasnodar Region, so she has a fair chance to win in court.

“I won’t accept amnesty. I’ll be pressing for a fair trial, whatever its outcome. I’ll fight to the end,” Mamayenko wrote in her blog in the VKontakte social network.

Media regulator sanctions Yekaterinburg-based news website for re-twitting link to arguable photo

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

The Yekaterinburg-based news agency Znak.com has complained to the Tverskoy district court in Moscow about media regulator Roskomnadzor’s issuing an official warning to it in the wake of its “publishing a photo of an anti-Russian demonstration in Aleppo, Syria”, featuring an angry mob trampling the Russian tricolour under foot. “Posting a photo image of someone desecrating the national flag is itself tantamount to national flag desecration,” which is an offence punishable under RF Criminal Code Article 329, Roskomnadzor spokesman Vadim Ampelonsky said in a comment for Slon.ru.

Curiously enough, Znak.com did not actually publish any photo image. “We are not the primary source: our news report about the [Aleppo] demonstration only included a link to the photo posted in the Twitter microblog of Rustem Adagamov,” Znak.com deputy chief editor Dmitry Kolezev said, noting that the technique was known as “re-twitting”.

“Since that blogger, at Roskomnadzor’s initiative, is to be treated as a media outlet, it so happened that we only cited ‘another media outlet’ personified by him and should not be held liable for the information he circulated,” Kolezev commented. “Besides, the purpose of that report was not to instigate or promote hate, but to inform the public about a likely reaction to ongoing events from some sections of the population. Neither the author nor the editorial board expressed solidarity with the Syrian protesters’ action; they only posed as neutral observers.”

Significantly, as soon as the journalists learned about Roskomnadzor’s measure, i.e., even before the court decision entered into full legal force, they removed the controversial news report from the agency’s website. If a media outlet receives two Roskomnadzor warnings during one year, the media regulator is entitled to initiate its shut-down. So why take things as far as that – even if the oversight agency’s reaction was not entirely adequate.

Tax-evading company in Perm threatens to sue journalists for disclosing “tax secret”

By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District

The RF Investigative Committee on 15 October announced the start of criminal proceedings against Viktor Pykhteyev, general director of the gas-compressor company Iskra-Avigaz, and Irina Trefilova, his deputy in charge of economic and financial issues; both are suspected of being behind the underpayment of 273 million roubles in taxes into the state budget. Three months earlier, the company management threatened journalists with liability under Russia’s tax and criminal codes for “disclosing secret data” in the course of two open trials.

On 3 July the news portals NeSekretno and PermNews reported about the arrest of Andrei Musikhin, deputy speaker of the Berezniki City Duma. According to investigators, Musikhin attempted to bribe Vitaly Makarikhin, deputy chief of the regional Tax Department, offering him 200,000 US dollars. The tax official reported the illegal offer to the FSB, and security agents secretly watched the course of negotiations and the money changing hands. After his arrest, Musikhin acknowledged his having acted on behalf of Iskra-Avigaz in a bid to have the results of a tax audit cancelled.

The inter-district inspectorate overseeing the largest corporate taxpayers in the Kama River Area charged to Iskra-Avigaz 278.4 million roubles in arrears, plus 72.2 million and 26.6 million roubles in penalties and fines, respectively. Those figures were cited in investigation materials submitted to court to substantiate Musikhin’s would-be arrest. NeSekretno and PermNews based their news reports on data cited during two open trials held in the Leninsky district court and Perm regional court on 26 June and 2 July. We wrote about that story in connection with Musikhin’s defence lawyer Mikhail Postanogov’s request for the press to be asked out of the courtroom (see digest 719).

Meanwhile, the newspaper Kommersant v Permi on 9 July posted on its website an Iskra-Avigaz statement accusing the tax authority, media and competitors of circulating “libellous and smearing” information, though not directly naming any of those accused. The anonymous authors described the amounts additionally charged to their company as “a tax secret” and threatened the journalists with criminal liability for disclosing it, “since the tax authority ruling has not yet taken effect”.

Yet two days prior to that, on 7 July, the regional Tax Department turned down Iskra-Avigaz’s appeal against the inter-district inspectorate’s decision identifying the company as a tax evader, and thereby put that decision into full legal force.


Maritime Region’s best TV channel put up for sale because of economic difficulties

By Anna Seleznyova, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

The Arsenyev-based media holding Puls – Severnoye Primorye, which issues the popular newspaper Severnoye Primorye, has put up for sale ZAO TV Trek, a local television company broadcasting to part of the Maritime Region. According to the Puls general director, Zhanna Chekrizova, the starting price is 400,000 roubles.

The TV channel broadcasts daily from 5 p.m. till 1 a.m. in REN TV’s federal frequency range on a contractual basis; it is fully staffed and adequately equipped. Its rating in Arsenyev exceeds 50%, with the news show Nasha Nedelya (Our Week) and the interviews programme Otkrytyi Razgovor (Frank Talk) enjoying the best of popularity.

The channel is to be sold for purely economic reasons: its advertisers and partners owed the company more than 300,000 roubles as per 15 October, and had not paid their debts despite numerous promises to pay.

“Those unpaid debts have put TV Trek in a position where they are unable to duly pay rent and for the services of the regional radio/TV broadcasting centre, although they do pay taxes and wages on time,” Chekrizova told the GDF.

TV Trek, she said, is looking for an investor because they want to preserve local television which residents of the central part of the Maritime Region favour so much; their programs are distinguished by high quality and professional mastery. “Last year, the channel won in the Maritime Media Competition’s nomination ‘The Best Regional TV Company’, and has honorary diplomas from the All-Russia Media Contest ‘REN TV Constellation’. Some may feel envious, which causes them to try stifling the TV channel economically. But the staffers won’t give in,” Chekrizova said.

For now, however, the company is up for sale.


OUR CONTRIBUTORS

Authorities in Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Region to shut down their press offices – allegedly to “communicate with people directly”

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

Natalya Komarova, governor of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Region otherwise known as Yugra, was the first to respond to President Vladimir Putin’s call on the regional heads to limit the media coverage of their activities and to give up unseemly PR practices altogether. The All-Russia Popular Front seconded the president in urging regional leaders to keep a lower profile in the media.

While the top-ranking officials in regions and provinces are pondering over what to begin with in cutting down their public presence (and how to distinguish “PR” from “ordinary reporting”), the Yugra head has decided to take a radical approach and instructed the regional government to have the position of its press secretary scrapped along with the entire press office (7 official positions) as soon as possible.

The head of the department slated for liquidation, Vera Tsaryova, has told the GDF that some of her ex-staffers may move to the Public and External Relations Department performing functions that are notably different from those of a press service: after restructuring, it will not handle matters related to what is called “information policy”. “Its primary function will be to secure contact between the government and civil society,” she said.

Tsaryova believes that unlike many other Russian regions, Yugra does have a civil society, and that “to realise this, one should attend at least one of the governor’s meetings with residents of municipalities”, i.e., of district centres, towns, and remote villages. Such meetings, she said, are held regularly and “are anything but purely formal”: anyone may come in, go to the rostrum and speak out on any issue that troubles him or her, without any time limit fixed (sometimes, such meetings last until after midnight). All comments and suggestions are recorded and posted on the Yugra government’s website for everyone to read (there are more than 500 of them at present). They are then forwarded to the relevant government agencies not only for information but also for decision-making, Tsaryova said.

The Public Relations Department also will coordinate “government interaction with public councils and the expert community”; specifically, it will stay in touch with the media, although without a separate unit established for the purpose. “No one is belittling their [the media’s] importance, but our current priorities are different: no press release, newspaper article or TV story can match live contact with the population in terms of efficiency,” Tsaryova said. The regional administration intends to contact people directly: not via the TV screen, PC monitor or newspaper page, but face-to face, aiming to involve as many people as possible in running the region and appointing regional officials. “Public selection” of heads of social affairs departments and chief physicians of hospitals has already been practised for some time in Yugra, she noted.

Everything Ms Tsaryova told us was interesting, although her entire narration looked very much like the notorious “PR” which all regional (and other, except federal) authorities have now been advised not to engage in, and which likely is to be prohibited altogether in the near future. So they will evidently have to keep mum about these kinds of novel practices, and should reporters learn about them by chance, the Yugra government might get a good dressing-down from the federal leadership for “information leaks”. What’s to be done in such a situation? How will the local media in this and other regions feel generally (Natalya Komarova’s colleagues elsewhere in Russia are sure to follow in her footsteps throughout this country) once the regional governments’ press offices have been liquidated? Even if “power remains open to the press forever,” as Vera Tsaryova assured us, openness alone will not be sufficient: media financing is destined to shrink “without PR”. And where will it come from in the absence of formal links with administrations?

Prominent Yugra-based political scientist Aleksandr Korneyev does not believe in power openness or in closer government-people ties. “With the things as they are today, we may expect the local media to disappear altogether – both print and online media, and not only private but government-controlled ones as well,” he told the GDF. The media space is bound to shrink also as a result of the latest amendments to the Communications Law, requiring local providers to borrow the TV signal from the Russian TV/Radio Broadcasting Network (see digest 724). Regional air time will be taken up by federal channels, and the regional authorities will become as “invisible” as they were in Soviet times, when few people ever knew what their regional Communist Party Committee secretary looked like. Although party committee secretaries did from time to time meet with ordinary people at factories and plants, it seemed their faces were “dissolved” in, and “made impersonal” by, their official titles. The situation looks much the same today, when only Russia’s head of state – unlike lower-standing officials – enjoys absolute freedom as regards the duration and frequency of his public appearances.

Adygei Republic left with virtually no independent press

By Galina Tashmatova, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

Just five or so years ago, the Adygei Republic had, in addition to official and advertising publications, about a dozen independent public and political newspapers belonging to different public groups and parties. Today, there are practically none left. The website Svobodnoye Slovo Adygeyi (Adygei’s Free Word) has been shut down and Svezhaya Gazeta (Fresh Newspaper) is no longer issued. Zakubanye, the press organ of the Slav Union of Adygei public group, and its authors spend most of their time in courts, defending against all sorts of lawsuits and legal claims. We have written in detail in GDF digests about problems each of those publications has faced in the past two years.

Zakubanye reporter A. Petin was among the participants in a recent journalists’ forum in Dagomys. In his address to colleagues, he acknowledged that a journalist expressing a view that differs from the official opinion finds himself in an increasingly dangerous position today. “Vassily Purdenko, editor of Svobodnoye Slovo Adygeyi and a member of the Writers’ Union of Russia, was declared ‘an extremist’ for posting an article about the Adygei leadership’s personnel policy,” Petin said illustrating his point. “To begin with, a court of law, without notifying the author, labelled his article ‘extremist’, and then put the same tag on Purdenko himself. After 12 months of litigations, during which the journalist was forced to defend his good name, and after a stress condition resulting in his Category 2 disability, he lived only for a short time more.”

Natalya Namitokova, a brilliant political writer and editor of Svezhaya Gazeta, was fined for publishing absolutely truthful information about the outrageous behaviour of so-called “new Russians”. Her video recording of thugs indulging in violence, when presented in court, was dismissed as “non-acceptable evidence” only because police officers had seized the video from her with some procedural violations. Thus a journalist who described a real fact of life turned out to be a “liar” in the eyes of Russian Lady Justice.

Several legal claims and a criminal lawsuit against Valery Brinikh, a prominent ecologist and a regular contributor to Zakubanye, are currently under consideration by the judiciary. After journalist Svetlana Bolotnikova posted on the Bolshoi Kavkaz news website a report about an inter-ethnic conflict in Beloye village, the local (Krasnogvardeisky district) court – without notifying the author again – declared the publication extremist, which Bolotnikova learned only a year after, when reading the Justice Ministry’s federal list of banned extremist literature.

The main problem we have faced is the partiality of law enforcement agencies and courts. You may publish records of a road accident provoked by a friend of the republic’s leader, but you will never see an adequate response from law enforcement. You may write about a “straw” firm established by high-ranking officials for deflecting budgetary funds abroad with the connivance of tax collectors, but law enforcement will stubbornly keep silent. Still worse, it will crack down on journalists (if they grow exceedingly insistent) by choosing an appropriate article from the “essential set” – demonstration of Nazi symbols (Art.20.3 of the Administrative Code), extremism (Art.282 of the Criminal Code), instigation of hate toward a certain social group, etc.

In this situation, the independent media and journalists in the Adygei Republic have to choose between curtailing their activity altogether and drawing public attention to what is going on in the republic by engaging federal media. Yet one needs a lot of money to have an article published in a central newspaper. In this regard, we cannot compete with Adygei’s leadership which is sufficiently far-sighted to make provisions in the budget for “creating a favourable public image” of the republic. Thus all we have to hope for is expressions of solidarity by our fellow journalists, who should clearly understand, though, that disseminating information about Adygei developments is unsafe.


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:

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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