Дайджест
25 Марта 2016 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 748

21 March 2016


STORY OF THE WEEK

Journalist receives knife stab in Kaliningrad

By Natalia Severskaya, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

The owner and editor of the newspaper Kaliningradskiye Novyye Kolyosa Igor Rudnikov, who is also a deputy of the regional legislative assembly, was attacked in Kaliningrad’s Prospekt Mira in broad daylight on 17 March and left with a knife stab. On the following day, law enforcement started legal proceedings under Criminal Code Article 213 (“Hooliganism”).

The victim was taken to hospital to undergo surgery. His life is no longer endangered, medics say.

“I’ve had no day-to-day conflicts with anyone, so I directly link the assault with my journalistic work and my publications,” the Klops.ru news agency cited Rudnikov as saying. “You may leaf through the past month’s releases and draw some conclusions. As regards the attack, the thugs clearly might have stabbed me in the neck, not in the side, which means they aimed to disparage and intimidate me. I was struck by how brazenly they behaved: they attacked me in a café as I was just opening the door.”

The assailants escaped right after the attack, while passers-by and café employees rushed to give Rudnikov the first aid. “A girl from the café was holding tight the wound to prevent me from losing too much blood [before the ambulance arrived], and I’m very grateful to her for that,” he said.

As established during a preliminary investigation, the journalist was attacked by two men whom eyewitnesses remembered well. The license-plate number of the vehicle in which they drove away was known, too, and police could quickly find the car and detain the suspects.

It should be noted Igor Rudnikov already suffered a previous attack in 1998, when unidentified thugs beat him up with a length of metal tube. That crime remained unsolved.


RUSSIA

Blogger prosecuted for atheistic statements in Stavropol

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

Disputes over “whether or not there’s a God” are rather common, including in social media, and they seldom have led to conflicts. Yet in the below-described case, things started developing according to a different scenario. When Stavropol-based blogger Viktor Krasnov wrote in the social network VKontakte in October 2014 that “there is no God”, and called the Bible “a collection of Jewish fairy-tales”, two of his opponents, students of a law school, wrote a report to the police saying Krasnov had “hurt” their religious feelings.

Subsequent events developed in a landslide-like manner. The authorities started legal proceedings against the blogger under Criminal Code Article 148.1 envisioning liability for public insult to believers’ religious feelings – an offence punishable by up to one year in jail. A complex of operative search measures followed, and a probe was started involving a whole unit of the regional Interior Department’s counter-extremism centre and investigative department.

The best police forces were mobilised to “neutralize the dangerous criminal”. Krasnov’s home was searched, with a telephone and some computer hard discs seized as “material evidence”, and the “villain” himself was sent for a 30-day mandatory examination to a psychiatric clinic to check his sanity.

That was not the end of the story still. Experts at the North Caucasian Forensic Studies Centre were asked to make a psychological-linguistic study of the phrase “There is no God” and the associated text, while police went still farther, sending its officials to the office where Krasnov’s mother worked and urging her boss to fire her because “her son is a dangerous irreligious extremist”.

The magistrate court handling Krasnov’s case has not been in a hurry to review it. The two authors of the notorious report to the police were brought to court only at a fifth try, and once there, they shocked the public by a lack of elementary knowledge about Orthodoxy. Later they both refused to participate in the further proceedings.

The defence has never got the opportunity to question the linguistic experts who analyzed the blogger’s texts. Police operative Sergeyev from the counter-extremism centre, who gathered evidence pertaining to the case, has not contributed any significant information, either. As it so often happens with law enforcement officials in court, he appeared to suffer from “bad amnesia” and kept repeating “I don’t remember” and “maybe” in almost every answer he gave. Even when asked by defence lawyer Andrei Sabinin if he used a PC, he replied: “Well, maybe. Maybe I have a computer.”

Viktor Krasnov is pleading not guilty. Commenting on his case in the Religiya i Pravo (Religion and Justice) magazine, its editor Dr. Anatoly Pchelintsev, Ph.D. (Law), an Honorary Lawyer of Russia, said: “These kinds of actions by law enforcers, of which fact they evidently do not know, fall under the category of criminally-punishable offences involving a person’s discriminative treatment – through abuse of their official powers – based on such person’s attitude to region. That may entail more serious punishment – up to five-year imprisonment in accordance with Criminal Code Article 136.”

The entire story, which isn’t worth a brass farthing, highlights two problems as a minimum. First, it points to the complete ignorance, both as an expert in religion and a lawyer, of the prosecutor of the Promyshlennyi district of Stavropol, who oversees the handling of this case, as well as of police officials and investigators as professionals in their respective areas. I may concede that the law-school students who squealed to the police had missed too many lectures in State Law and know nothing about existing constitutional and legal guarantees of the freedom of thought and religion, but the prosecutor and law enforcers must know that stuff well because it is part of their profession. Second, I think that counter-extremism centre and investigative department officials have been guided by their narrow selfish interests, rather than by law. Their superiors demand statistical reports on solved crimes from them, and they willy-nilly have to show at least some “achievements”. Police officers have more than once told me in private conversations that they don’t have enough time for real work sitting over those cooked-up reports about their seemingly active pursuit of evildoers. Just think of how many people are involved in this! The investigation alone lasted more than a year, with every official “kept busy” and duly receiving his salary. Now that the case has been submitted to the magistrate court, one is left to guess how long the trial may last. Hopefully, it will end well for Viktor Krasnov, and the man will be acquitted. For true believers, atheism, except in its worst and most radical manifestations, has never been deemed insulting. The ancient Romans had the principle, “Deorum injuriae diis curae”, meaning “An insult to Gods is a matter for the Gods themselves to settle”. Demanding that sacrilegers be punished in accordance with secular laws was blasphemy in itself, because that implied doubts in the Gods’ ability to inflict penalty on a profaner.

Bloggers are not journalists, and why write about them here, one may wonder. Yet social networks are very close to the media, and many, including judges, see no difference between the two. Freedom of expression cannot be selective, while absurdities, unless they are cut short soon, tend to spread to adjacent territories, much like forest fires.

Omsk judge suspected of bribe-taking sues three web publications

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

Judge Sergei Moskalenko of the Kuibyshevsky district court in Omsk, suspended for two months on suspicion of bribe-taking, has filed lawsuits against three local web publications – SuperOmsk, Biznes-Kurs and Delovoy Omsk – demanding compensation for his “damaged” honour, dignity and reputation. He is claiming “hurt” by news reports about a bribe of 8-odd million roubles that investigators think he took from entrepreneur Viktor Berg, whose construction company had left hundreds of shareholders without housing they’d paid for in advance. According to the regional Investigative Department, the judge took the money for acquitting Berg in court, which he could not do because Berg was killed shortly before the trial began. Three weeks after, Moskalenko himself became the target of a murder attempt: an unidentified man left the judge with four stab wounds on the stair landing of the apartment house he lived in. Luckily, Moskalenko was quick to recover after the attack; he was discharged from hospital on 1 December.

Two days later, RF Investigative Committee head Alexander Bastrykin asked the regional court’s judge-qualifying board’s consent to having legal proceedings started against Moskalenko. On 12 December, the board suspended the judge for two months, stripping him of his judicial immunity.

What specifically Moskalenko did not like in the news reports he is challenging is not clear, because those were based on information posted on the Investigative Department’s official website. Nor is the essence of his demands explained in the statements of claim accepted by three courts, according to the newspaper Kommercheskiye Vesti. He might feel hurt by the way the author of one of the reports interpreted that official information (the author, Delovoy Omsk journalist Asker Abishev, has been involved in the relevant case as a co-defendant).

The claimant is demanding 100,000 roubles in moral damages from the web publication BK55 (Biznes-Kurs). The amounts of compensation claimed from the other defendants have been kept confidential so far, while the defendants themselves have refrained from commenting. Hearings to review the lawsuits in essence are scheduled to start at the end of March.

Newspaper owner in Karelia meddles in editorial policy: what can this lead to?

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

Sergei Prokopyev, head of administration of the Olonetsky district of Karelia, who has made the municipal newspaper Oloniya loosen its purse strings, is likely to himself suffer for that now.

It all began back in November 2015, when Prokopyev put pressure on the local newspaper’s management to become a co-sponsor of the annually held winter festivities, “The Oloniya Games of Grandfathers Frost” [Russian analogue of Santa Claus – Translator.]. The management was to contribute part of the needed funds – nearly 80,000 roubles – from the newspaper’s budget. Disobeying the district administration, which is Oloniya’s co-owner, was out of the question, because Prokopyev made the chief editor face the choice: either to obey his orders or start looking for an alternative job.

The management, in implementation of the district head’s instructions, concluded agreements with entrepreneurs, undertaking to pay them for the services provided. But when it came to settling the scores, Oloniya’s chief accounting officer, understanding all too well she was being forced to breach the financial discipline by misspending budgetary funds, wrote to the Olonetsky district finance department asking how to formalize an essentially unlawful transaction. She received a purely formal reply, because the finance authorities, too, reckoned they’d better distance themselves from this suspicious deal that might give rise to criminal proceedings. The accounting officer felt much the same, understanding that misuse of funds might result in administrative, if not criminal, liability for her.

By that time, the former chief editor of Oloniya had been replaced by a new one, T. Zenina, who had served in the police together with Prokopyev at one time. Zenina took upon herself the responsibility for borrowing from the newspaper’s cash box the amount of money needed to pay the contractors for their services, but when it came to reporting to the newspaper’s accounting office about that, she chose not to. The accountant then withheld the money from the editor’s salary, notifying the prosecutor’s office and the district administration of the shady operations carried out at Oloniya.

Few knew about that story until recently, when someone posted online an audio recording of last year’s conference at which Prokopyev was urging the ex-editor to contribute Oloniya money in payment for New Year’s festivities. This instance of a co-owner’s barefaced meddling in a media outlet’s editorial policy caused the Journalists’ Union of Karelia to appeal to the Olonetsky district prosecutor’s office to take a closer look at a situation displaying clear signs of corruption.

The conflict is not yet over and escalating. Judging by the newspaper’s charter, Oloniya as a legal entity subject to regulation by the Federal Law “On Autonomous Enterprises” may use its budgetary funds strictly for production- and distribution-related purposes. So a co-owner’s demand for money to be deflected to finance New Year’s festivities should be seen as a flagrant violation of the law. Now it’s up to the prosecutors to find out whether or not the district leader exceeded his authority by issuing the wrongful order.

The Glasnost Defence Foundation will closely watch the situation.

Reporters barred from attending communist news conference in Krasnodar

By Galina Tashmatova, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

Attendees of the 15 March news conference held by State Duma deputy Sergei Obukhov at Intourist Hotel in Krasnodar watched a vexing incident: the organisers refused to let through reporters for the municipal television company MTK Krasnodar Plus, who in their turn raised such an uproar in the corridor that the speakers Obukhov and Luzinov were compelled to use microphones to make themselves heard by the audience.

Colleagues in the conference room wondered why some of the reporters had been left behind closed doors. Communist MP Sergei Luzinov said those people were not accredited, while Obukhov pointed to them as the individuals who had “attempted a provocation” during a prior event organised by the Communist Party.

MTK journalists expressed indignation at having been barred from the conference, which news reporter Anna Fyodorova described as an infringement of her professional rights. “On Friday, 11 March, we received by e-mail a press release announcing MP Obukhov’s would-be news conference,” she told GDF. “We dialled the phone number indicated in the release, identified ourselves, and asked for accreditation, but their press secretary replied they had changed the format and the conference would be held in a closed regime. That notwithstanding, we came to attend the event, but they wouldn’t let me or cameraman Yevgeny Girnik into the conference room.”

Dividing journalists into “loyal” and “disloyal” is taboo in advanced democracies. In the Krasnodar Region, meanwhile, the authorities have increasingly often used accreditation as an instrument to isolate “disagreeable” reporters.

District MPs in Sverdlovsk Region stop showing their debates live online

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

For the third week running, residents of Asbest, a district centre in the Sverdlovsk Region, have been protesting the City Duma decision to stop showing its working sessions live in the Internet. On 25 February, one of the MPs proposed – quite unexpectedly – “switching off the cameras in order not to turn Duma debates into a public show”. Not all of the deputies supported his idea, while a lawyer and a prosecutor resolutely voted against it, noting that the citizens were entitled under the law to openly receive information about the local authorities’ work. Yet the decision to end the live coverage of parliamentary sessions, practised for more than two years until then, was passed by a majority vote.

MP Natalya Krylova, a local oppositionist, believes the measure was directed against her in person, because she used to take the floor at every session to criticise various political groups and ill-performing individual officials. Some of her colleagues question this allegation, thinking that deputies simply wouldn’t like to draw broad public attention to some of their decisions.

“Residents should see and know what issues the city authorities discuss, and what decisions each MP votes for,” Tatyana Plotnikova of the Asbest Small- and Medium-sized Business Association said. “People were interested in watching and discussing the course of the debates, which helped maintain dialogue within society.”

Curiously enough, “big brothers” from the City Duma of Yekaterinburg and the regional Legislative Assembly still continue showing their debates live on their respective websites. Hopefully, the prosecutor’s office will go beyond “inadmissibility” statements to take due legal action against deputies’ self-isolation from their own electors…

ECHR starts checking three complaints by Maritime Region journalists, puts questions to Russian government

By Anna Seleznyova, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

The newspaper Arsenyevskiye Vesti (AV) is the Maritime Region’s definite leader in terms of the number of legal claims lodged against it in connection with its publications. Its chief editor, Irina Grebneva, has already complained to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) over some court decisions passed in those legal cases, and has won. Since then, she says, the lawsuits have not really grown fewer but Maritime courts have started reviewing them far more thoroughly and accurately, and the number of AV ’s judicial victories has been growing, while the amounts of compensation payable in the event of a loss have decreased.

Currently, the ECHR has started checking three complaints about Maritime courts’ decisions that strike her as unfair, the editor said. The first is about the decision passed in the case of Alexander Rybin, author of the article “Yogurt Fraud Scheme with Pacific Fleet Funds”, published by AV in 2010. The story was about the alleged embezzlement of money allocated for the purchase of dairy products for sailors: reports about milk supplies were forged, while the budgetary funds were pocketed by the fraudsters. The latter sued and, unfortunately, won.

The second complaint is about the decision passed in the case of Oleg Yeliseyev, head of the analytical unit at the Far Eastern Customs Service’s internal security department, who alleged in a 2010 interview that the “contraband vertical” went all the way up to the federal government. The third one is about the decisions passed by Russian courts in a lawsuit against Natalya Fonina, author of the article “Torture-in-Court Case”, published in November 2011. Fonina has more than once received threats following her publications.

Now the editor has been notified that the ECHR “has started the checking process and has put a number of questions to the Russian government”.


OUR CONTRIBUTORS

Newspaper office in Birobijan disconnected from central heating for debts

By Vladimir Dymov, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

Birobijanskaya Zvezda correspondent Alexei Zlivko has posted the following report in his Facebook blog:

Birobijan Publishers’ and the newspapers Birobijanskaya Zvezda and Birobijaner Stern have been in a state of agony since the beginning of March. The cash boxes are empty, and debts to utility and energy companies amount to thousands of roubles.

“On 4 March, they disconnected us from the central heating, completely. We have to work in overcoats in offices where the temperature never rises over +4oC. It’s been getting colder day by day, and some house plants have frozen. The few electric heaters we’ve been able to fetch have been of little help, and there are not enough of them for each office, anyway.

“The management is 45 days behind on wage payments, and salaries have been paid – if paid at all – in part and not to everyone.

“We expect to be cut off from electric supply and the Internet for debts as of 20 March.

“All those are sad results of the ‘work’ of former general directors and the Jewish Autonomous Region (JAR) administration’s policy toward us. We’ve appealed to the JAR governor, and have written letters to different ministries. The governor has been ignoring our messages, although he has described our publishing company in an interview for EAОMedia as ‘miserable beggars who only want money from the government’.

“At a meeting with not-so-high-ranking officials, they dropped a hint that our staffers should start looking for alternative jobs. Yet no one has quit – people just don’t have any place to go…

“Alarming word has gone round about a top-to-bottom reorganisation of our company and final settlements with the sacked workers… The atmosphere in the newsroom where I’ve worked for nearly 14 years is really depressing – I’ve never felt like this before…”

All-Russia journalistic contest Truth and Justice: many questions left unanswered

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

The All-Russia Popular Front (ONF)’s Truth and Justice fund in support of independent and regional media last week announced the results of the 2016 Second Journalistic Competition it sponsored. Over the year since the previous contest, word has gone round media offices’ smoking rooms about each of the 300 laureates having been awarded 300,000 roubles. No wonder the second competition attracted twice as many participants, with everyone (especially those who lost) wishing to read the winners’ works to see who is eligible for such a large monetary award, for what in particular, and whether it would be worth trying one’s luck again. Unfortunately, to find not even a winner’s writings but the winner in person, one has to carry out a kind of online journalistic investigation. Last year, the list of laureates at least named the media they worked for while this year’s list only mentions their names and the regions they come from.

In the group of colleagues from my home region of Rostov, I succeeded in instantly identifying only one. Thanks to the Internet, I eventually found out who was who in the regional Top Five from Rostov. But to watch the TV reports for which two local women correspondents for Channel One (Don-TR) and TNT won awards twice, in both contests, and their colleague from RBK only in last year’s competition, turned out an unreal thing to do. Curiously enough, the jury in 2015 accepted 100 works by 46 Rostov-based journalists, among them by renowned professionals, while only five of them became laureates. Yet there were regions, such as Kaliningrad, Tver, Moscow, Crimea, etc., where every other contestant emerged as a winner. Of the Top Five from the Rostov Region, only one represented an independent media outlet.

The Altai Region is number one on the list of the regions represented during this year’s competition. After some browsing through social networks, one can find out that Barnaul will send three laureates – two bloggers (one of them a two-time winner and both are ONF activists) and a local woman correspondent for the news agency REGNUM – to attend the Truth and Justice Independent Regional and Local Media Forum in St. Petersburg in April. Who the other 14 delegates from Altai are, and if their works were indeed worse than those of the first three is difficult to say – that’s a matter for their regional colleagues to judge. According to official statistics, among all contest applicants 4% were bloggers, 50% regional print media journalists, 27% online media correspondents, 18% TV journalists, and 1% radio journalists.

Of course, young talent needs to be encouraged. Here is what a two-time laureate, Tomsk-based blogger Viktor Nesteruk, wrote in Facebook about the way he felt: “Becoming a winner for the second year running is a real treat – it’s like parachute-jumping for the second time: during the first jump, you didn’t know what you were in for.”

By our estimates, the impressively large awards went for the second time to 46 contestants, including four bloggers, although federal and regional news agency correspondents – eleven in all – were the indisputable leaders. The group of two-time winners also included journalists from Moskovskiy Komsomolets, Argumenty i Fakty, republican, regional and municipal newspapers, independent media outlets such as Novaya Gazeta Rayona and Narodnaya Gazeta Severskogo Rayona, as well as Sergei Lisovsky, chief editor of the St. Petersburg-based publication Obshchestvo i Ekologiya (Society and Ecology), and Dmitry Polyakov, director of the info bulletin Gvozd.68 distributed in Tambov free of charge.

Speaking about the most vivid impressions of my non-personal acquaintance with both one-time and two-time laureates, I could hardly name a potential match for Chelyabinsk-based blogger Maxim Rymyantsev writing under the nickname “Russian Patriot”. One should best visit his LiveJournal blog in the morning, rather than toward the night, not to get drowned in a torrent of dirty and insulting words he pours on his political opponents, especially on Chelyabinskiy Rabochiy correspondent Aivar Valeyev, a laureate of last year’s Truth and Justice journalistic contest, and on environmentalists. As local journalists have explained, Rumyantsev is an active proponent of construction of a new ore-dressing plant on the city outskirts, while green activists are strongly opposed to the project. Actually, what he writes about them may well fall under Criminal Code Article 130 (“Insult”). Though Chelyabinsk is not too large a city, chat forum discussions have revealed that there isn’t anyone at all knowing Rumyantsev personally, and some have alleged he may write under an assumed name. Yet if he already received a 300,000-rouble award in 2015 and is to get another one during the ONF Media Forum in April, this means he must be a really existing person.

Notably, the Truth and Justice competition has no jury as such; an ad on the ONF website says contest results are summed up by “members of a public council” involving nine editors and directors of newspapers, TV stations and news agencies, with ONF Executive Committee first deputy head Dmitry Minenko acting as chairman. It would be difficult to imagine those busy individuals reading all the 3,300 works submitted for the contest. Website materials, though, mention some “expert commission” presumably tasked to select the best works at the first stage of the competition. Then who are its members, and are those “experts” able to act instead of a professional jury and objectively assess the quality of journalistic works? This question has so far been left unanswered, since journalists are invited to contact the Truth and Justice Fund by e-mail via the ONF press office. We e-mailed a message to Minenko last week but it remains unknown if or when to expect a reply.

The announcement of the contest results one year ago was accompanied by a scandal. The Independent Regional and Local Media Support Fund, at its own initiative, had added to the winners’ list 21 names of political news reporters from federal media such as Kommersant, Vedomosti, RBK, Izvestia, Lenta.ru, etc. Those individuals had not themselves applied for participation. As a result, Vedomosti journalist Syuzanna Farizova refused to receive the award, since that was against her newspaper’s code of ethics. Yekaterina Vinokurova, a special reporter with the Yekaterinburg-based news website Znak.com, said she would donate the unearned award money for charity purposes. Summing up the results of this year’s event, the Fund’s public council has announced that as part of the second contest, federal media journalists (beyond the group of the 300 laureates who are to collectively receive a total of 90 million roubles) will additionally be honoured with personal awards “For Contributing to the Strengthening of Trust in the Media”.

Hopefully, Dmitry Minenko will finally answer our question about how many laureates represented actually independent media in a competition with the catchy title: “Independent and Regional Media Support Fund”.


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