22 Июля 2016 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 760


Unidentified villains attempt to set lady journalist's house on fire in Yessentuki

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

Unidentified persons in Yessentuki, Stavropol Region, threw a Molotov cocktail bottle onto the porch of journalist Yelena Suslova at 2 a.m. on 14 July, burning down the porch and spoiling the vinyl siding of the house walls. At the time, there were four persons inside the house - Yelena herself, her aged parents, and her son, a university student spending his summer vacations with the family.

Police arrived only after Suslova reported the arson using her personal Facebook page and complained that no assistance was forthcoming.

Suslova is deputy editor at the independent Otkrytaya Gazeta newspaper, a nominee for the Andrei Sakharov Award "For Journalism as an Act of Conscience", and a winner of the Artyom Borovik journalistic award. She links the attack either with her journalistic work (shortly before, she published the findings of an independent journalistic probe into alleged machinations with land by administration officials in the city of Mineralnyye Vody), or with her running for a seat on the Stavropol Duma (parliament) as a Rodina (Motherland) Party nominee.

The Yessentuki City Police Department has started proceedings under RF Criminal Code Article 167 ("Deliberate damage to personal property inflicted by hooligans").

The Glasnost Defence Foundation will closely follow the developments in Yessentuki.

Minister's phone call erases critical article from independent newspaper's website in North Ossetia-Alania

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

After North Ossetia's Interior Minister Mikhail Skokov frowned at the article "Guided by Shamelessness" posted on the Gradus.pro website, the editors had to remove the publication with the following note for the readers: "The report about a meeting of Prigorodny District residents has been erased from the website: Minister Skokov insisted on our changing the report's heading, a demand that we could not possibly agree with since we see that as outside meddling in our creative process. After Skokov's personal phone call to the site editor, E.Dzabiyev, we decided that the publication should be removed altogether. We apologize to you and hope for your understanding".

The article was about Mikhail Skokov's meeting with several hundred locals who had come to complain about law enforcement's inaction in the face of unsolved murders, drug dealing, thefts of cattle, and other widespread crimes. The general was appointed to lead the Interior Ministry not so long ago and started by pledging to meet with residents in person to talk "face to face" with them in order to see how things really were in the republic. The Prigorodny District, where problems had been piling up by the score, was the first one "to give him an idea" about the real situation.

Not a single media outlet in North Ossetia reacted to this attempt by a government official to censor an independent online publication. Expressions of solidarity and support came only from bloggers.

For example, one blogger posted an article titled "In and Around Ossetia: An Insider's View", in which he wrote: "I think it's inadmissible for an official to meddle in an independent media outlet's editorial policy by demanding a change to a published news report. This is a clear instance of censorship which is banned by Russia's constitution. It doesn't matter at all if it's all about the title alone or the article's content at large; the heading is an integral part of any publication… Not a single journalist in Russia could undermine the police's image as badly as police officials themselves sometimes do. I very much hope this was an exceptional case and the new minister will get down in real terms to making his subordinates do what they must, rather than summon journalists and bloggers for `prophylactic' conversations as the previous minister was in the habit of doing".

Another blogger, Zilaxar, came up with the following comment: "[The minister's] start of a new career looks alarming. We can only guess what Skokov and Dzabiyev were talking about but the very fact of a ministerial phone call leading to the removal of a news report is a reason to feel seriously concerned. Regrettably, the republican media showed practically no reaction to the incident, thus giving an ominous signal to the healthy forces across the republic. Today's situation in Ossetia is such that any [official] can quickly and easily create a `special pattern of relationships' with most local media outlets by putting pressure on them, one after another".

Tyumen-based blogger Alexei Kungurov, arrested for LiveJournal publication, identified as prisoner of conscience

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

The Memorial human rights centre has designated Tyumen-based blogger Alexei Kungurov as a political prisoner. The regional FSB department charged him under Criminal Code Article 205.2 with "public justification of terrorism". After he was detained for the first time, Kungurov was released with a written pledge not to leave town (see digest 746-747 ). Three months after, the Central district court in Tyumen ordered his arrest, and on 7 July the regional court upheld that decision, which means the blogger will stay in pre-trial detention until 19 August as a minimum.

According to an informed source cited by the Ura.ru news agency, the prison conditions for Kungurov are rather tough: "He is kept in a separate unit in a cell for two, under stringent surveillance and without the right to meet his relatives - a regime that is common for inmates charged with very serious crimes". Meanwhile, the investigation has proceeded "too slowly", making Kungurov's stay in detention after August likely. "One can expect [the investigation process] to be dragged out for about a year," the agency cited the source as saying. "A person who has not yet been pronounced guilty by a court of law will have to stay behind bars under close surveillance throughout that period".

"Alexei Kungurov is a prominent opposition activist, blogger and writer who used to harshly criticise internal and external policies of the incumbent Russian authorities," a note on Memorial's website says, adding that the criminal proceedings against him "are clearly unlawful". Investigators have not even denied that Kungurov's case is politically underpinned. The indictment directly says that "A. Kungurov has repeatedly and publicly cited political views and convictions of public organisations that are in opposition to the Russian Federation's government".

The FSB discovered "criminal content" in a posting on Kungurov's page in the LiveJournal social network, titled "Who are the people on whom Putin's hawks drop their bombs?" Memorial experts and their colleagues from the Sova think tank, upon studying that article, found "no calls for terror" in it, and not even a hint at the author's justifying terrorism: "The [FSB] warrant does not indicate which particular statements in the publication presumably justify ISIS, an organisation outlawed in Russia". As regards the harsh tonality of the article, lawyers believe that "it does not give any reason for prosecuting the author: he criticises Russia's involvement in the [Syrian] civil war, seeing this as senseless from the point of view of our country's interests; statements of the kind he makes are commonly found both in the world media and in the Russian blogosphere".

The "crime" imputed to Kungurov was committed quite a long time ago: his article was published on 13 October last year, while the FSB detained the author a whole five months later, in March this year - one day after he published another article, "What should Russia do with Donbas and Crimea? Part Two", in which Kungurov the patriot appears to see eye to eye on many issues with the "liberals" whom he used to despise so much until recently. "An expansion of the `Russian World' is not a goal in itself for the patriotic forces," he wrote; moreover, he believes that "[Russia's] giving up Donbas is inevitable", that "it isn't worthwhile trying to hold on to Crimea", that "Russia should officially acknowledge its downing the Malaysian Boeing… pay compensation to the victims' families… and prosecute on Russian soil the Kursk-based anti-aircraft artillerists who committed what the RF Criminal Code qualifies as a war crime" in order to prevent the West from putting them on trial in the Hague; and that "generally, we should improve our relations with the West" because "this would be very helpful as far as restoring our might is concerned".

Alexei Kungurov is the second blogger to be designated by Memorial as a prisoner of conscience; the first one is Vadim Tyumentsev from Tomsk (see digest 738 ), who has been sentenced to 5 years in a general-regime penal colony for posting in his blog two 3-minute video clips censuring the Russian authorities' external and internal policies.

Court seems to believe in teleportation: More details about trial over journalist and blogger Konstantin Dukhonin

By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga District

"Evidently, I am capable of teleportation if I could get from Perm to somewhere near Moscow to make a phone call on 19 November 2015, and return home just a minute and a half later," prominent journalist and blogger Konstantin Dukhonin told the Sverdlovsky district court in Perm which was reviewing his appeal against a convictive sentence passed in his case earlier. His lawyers intend to further appeal to the regional court presidium and, if need be, to the RF Supreme Court.

The GDF reported details of the trial over Dukhonin in digests 754, 755 and 758 (see digest 758). The first-instance court found the blogger guilty of libel in respect of Oleg Melnichenko, President Putin's personal envoy to the Volga Federal District, and Irina Yermakova, leader of the Perm Region's Mothers of Large Families public group. The now-jobless political writer, 42, who has an underage daughter to feed, was sentenced to 120 hours of compulsory correctional labour.

As can be gathered from the court ruling passed back on 25 May by Judge Oksana Artyomova of Magistrate Court No.2 in the Sverdlovsky district of Perm, Dukhonin, presenting himself as Melnichenko, called Yermakova on the mobile phone at 7:39 p.m. on 19 November 2015, and posted a video of that telephone conversation in Facebook and Twitter on 9 December with the caption "Deputy Representative Melnichenko discusses plans of seizing the ONF [United Popular Front] headquarters with Front member Yermakova". Dukhonin denied his involvement in the unlawful action, while someone nicknamed "Ivan Ivanov" did post the video with the same "libellous" caption in YouTube as early as 8 December, as shown by appropriate screenshots that also featured the number of website visitors - 2,674 as per that date. The screenshots were added to the case files. "I received a link to the video from Perm ONF Executive Committee Head Yevgeny Simakin; I only reposted the link to my blogs without watching, although I did put three `smileys' below," Dukhonin acknowledged.

It is case file materials that prompted the convicted blogger to start thinking about teleportation, i.e. a hypothetic instant change of his geographic coordinates. Investigators have established that the mobile phone from which Yermakova the victim received the "evil call" is registered with the MTS operator in the Moscow Region. According to case file documents, the last time Dukhonin was travelling through Moscow and the adjacent region was on 8 August 2015 - three months before that telephone conversation. To check the geography of the outgoing call, police turned to MTS, but the operator refused to provide any details in the absence of an appropriate court ruling. "If they had confirmed that the call was made from the Moscow Region, the charges against me would have been lifted, because I was in Perm on 19 November," Dukhonin stressed.

What prevented the investigators from learning the exact location of the mobile phone is unclear.

Neither of the two "victims" has filed a request for criminal proceedings to be started against Dukhonin on private charges, to which category of cases libel belongs. Melnichenko limited himself to sending an appeal to Vadim Antipov, the regional prosecutor, typewritten on the official letterhead of the presidential representative's office and asking to check the online-posted video. In line with article 20.4 of the RF Code of Criminal Procedure, in the absence of victims' written requests for the start of legal proceedings, an investigator has the right to open a criminal case only with authorisation from the prosecutor's office. During the hearing of arguments in the magistrate court on 24 May, defence lawyer Irina Fadeyeva pointed to the fact that the legal case had been started in the absence of such prosecutorial authorisation, which meant that the investigator, Natalya Khisamova, had carried out the probe illegally and all of the "evidence" she had dug up should be disregarded as impermissible.

One day later, just before Dukhonin was to make his last plea, state prosecutor Igor Sobolev asked for the judicial enquiry to be resumed in view of an assistant prosecutor of Perm "suddenly discovering" in the files a copy of the warrant to start the proceedings; the document bore the signature of one of the city's deputy prosecutors. The original warrant had been missing from the files all the while; nor is it available now. Defence lawyer Fadeyeva noted that having only a copy on hand, she had had no opportunity to order an expert study of the original warrant to make sure when the prosecutorial go-ahead was actually given - in December 2015 or in March 2016. Neither would she be able, ever, to raise the issue of potential forgery of documents pertaining to the case. "The court found it possible to authorise the investigation process and the passing of a sentence based on the warrant copy alone," she wrote in the appeal she filed.

No one ever recorded, as required by law, Dukhonin's voice or speech for study by certified experts whose functions police officials chose to take upon themselves. While testifying in court, expert Y. Zamarayev acknowledged that as "a trainee" in the relevant category of expert studies at the time of the check-up, he had had no right to sign any official conclusions. That sound experts studied a phone conversation record lasting 1 minute and 18 seconds, while the phone call's length was a minute and a half, and that of the video clip 1 minute and 31 seconds, made it impossible to verify Yermakova's allegations that the video might have been arranged. The three experts involved could not categorically say whether or not the recorded voice and speech were Dukhonin's. As expert Y. Porina acknowledged in court, "The voice and speech samples were acceptable for studies using methods of linguistic analysis only in a limited way". The sound record studies, although carried out illegally, "were accepted [by the court] as the main evidence," the defence stated.

Judge Alexander Gulin, who was reviewing the appeal, did not ask the sides a single essential question about the criminal case under review, preferring to uphold the first-instant court's ruling to please the head of the Perm Region presidential representative's office.

Case of newspaper Sovershenno Sekretno to be heard behind closed doors in Karachai-Cherkess Republic

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

Hearings of the case of the newspaper Sovershenno Sekretno will be held closed to the public and press because the court is to review "a strictly confidential document", a panel of judges of the Supreme Court of the Karachai-Cherkess Republic has decided.

The city court in Cherkessk, upholding a legal claim filed by the prosecutor's office, earlier qualified the article "Internationalism, Karachai Style" published by that newspaper as "extremist". The editors disagreed and appealed to the republic's Supreme Court.

The confidential document mentioned by the prosecutors is a memo dated 9 December 1980 and titled "On negative processes in the Karachai-Cherkess Autonomous Region". Its author was Yuri Andropov, the then head of the Soviet Union's KGB. It cited facts of mass-scale crimes committed against Russians by Karachai residents, presumably in revenge for their fellow citizens' deportations under Stalin and because of the grievances they nursed against the Soviets. Apart from citing excerpts from that memo, the newspaper drew the sad conclusion: that innocent people continued suffering from the aftermath of the Stalin regime's crimes for decades after they were committed and that Soviet ethnic policies had fully collapsed by the time Andropov's memo was circulated. "It was all about not only an erosion and even the fall of the pillars of the [Soviet] state; the head of the USSR's omnipotent State Security Committee, KGB, was posing as a mere recorder of events and an onlooker incapable of proposing at least some remedy," Sovershenno Sekretno wrote.

A dispute flared up among trial participants over whether or not the KGB memo was still a classified document. At first, newspaper representatives asserted that the period of limitations for Andropov's memo was 30 years and expired in 2010. Yet RGANI, the Russian State Archives of Recent History, responding to an official inquiry filed by the founders of OOO Sovershenno Sekretno - NewPress, explained that an interagency commission for the protection of state secrets planned for RGANI to de-classify that memo later this year.

Court hearings have attracted elders from across the republic; they do not believe such document ever existed and insist that Karachai people's relations with Russians have never been as bad as described in the memo.

Journalists and local MPs barred from attending Sysert administration conferences in Sverdlovsk Region

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

The district centre of Sysert this year has become the Sverdlovsk Region's second city to infringe the journalists' right to cover important municipal events. Deputies of the City Duma in Asbest earlier cancelled live TV coverage of their own sessions (see digest 748 ). Sysert Mayor Alexander Karamyshev is now following in their footsteps by barring reporters and local MPs from his administration's apparatus conferences.

Irina Letemina, editor of the newspaper Mayak, has alleged that the ban may be linked with a recent sitting of the City Duma that discussed a mayoral report on the work done: "Although the report was on the whole approved, five MPs including myself censured it as `unsatisfactory'. And now, for the first since 2013, the press and my colleagues in the Duma have been denied the right to timely communicate important information to city residents".

In an interview for Oblasntaya Gazeta, Karamyshev himself has explained his decision by a "need for closed information to be kept closed": "During apparatus conferences, we review different situations, and I think not all of that information should constantly be reported by the media. I invited journalists to cooperate post factum - on the phone or in person, or by calling news conferences, even on a weekly basis, if needed".

Time will show if the press finds itself satisfied with this kind of "comments from above" or whether the news people move to defend their right to independently form public opinion.

Golos Islama website unblocked in Moscow only due to initiating legal proceedings

By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

Only in court have representatives of the General Prosecutor's Office and the media regulator Roskomnadzor finally explained why they blocked access to a media resource.

The Tagansky district court in Moscow has continued hearings of a legal claim lodged by the owner of the GolosIslama.ru (www.golosislama.com) news website against the two oversight agencies. As we reported earlier, website owner Dmitry Chernomorchenko turned for legal assistance to the Mass Media Defence Centre after access to his website throughout Russia was blocked on the prosecutor's office's demand in February. Notably, neither he nor the host service provider had ever received any Roskomnadzor notices about their being in breach of existing legislation. The oversight officials did not provide any explanations during preliminary investigation, either, as to what specific "illegal" statements had caused them to block the news site. The sole thing that Chernomorchenko was able to find out was that those statements were of an "extremist" nature.

In court, at long last, the prosecutors and Roskomnadzor presented documents specifying the publications qualified as extremist. The owner simply removed them, and his website was unblocked.

The judicial proceedings, though, are not yet over.

Judges uphold existing rules of visitors' behaviour inside Petrozavodsk City Court, Karelia

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

Journalists in Karelia have once again failed to prove in court that existing rules of visitors' behaviour inside the city court in Petrozavodsk are against the law. The republic's Supreme Court has upheld the Pryazhinsky district court decision imposing a fine on Sergei Yudin, a photojournalist with the news portal Stolitsa na Onego.

The photo correspondent, having an editorial assignment to fulfil, took several pictures in a corridor of the city court, after which officials made a protocol charging him with an administrative offence - failure to get authorisation for photography inside the court building (in the lobby and corridors) from the court chairman or another authorised official.

A magistrate fined Yudin 300 roubles last year for breaching the court rules; the photographer challenged both that ruling and the city court's internal regulations. He thus found himself involved in a protracted litigation (see digest 751 ) in which all decisions so far have been passed in favour of the judicial community. Hearings have several times been adjourned, evidently with a view to dragging out the judicial process indefinitely. Yet journalists were active enough to have the case finally heard in April this year. The Pryazhinsky district court took the side of colleagues from the city court, and so did the Supreme Court which later rejected Yudin's appeal.

During the appellate panel's sitting in the Supreme Court, Svetlana Novosyolova, a division head at the Karelia Judicial Department, went as far as suggesting that the rules of visitors' stay inside the Petrozavodsk city court should be further toughened, and authorisation for the use of cameras in the court's corridors should be made more difficult to obtain.

Now Yudin and his lawyer are preparing to challenge the Karelia Supreme Court's ruling, and it may well be that the case will go all the way up to the Supreme Court of Russia.


Attempt made in Stavropol to form a regional propaganda ministry

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

A regular sitting of the Media Editors' Council operating under the auspices of the regional governor has discussed such urgent issues as security and measures to counter the spread of extremist ideas; support for subscriptions to regional publications; and the need for training professionals to work in the sphere of public communications.

In what he called an "impromptu" report to the Council, Yuri Skvortsov, deputy head of the regional administration, cited statistics supplied by the FSB: the majority of Russian citizens going to the wars in Syria and Iraq come from the North Caucasus. This means, in his view, that Council members should invigorate their anti-extremism propaganda while coordinating it with law enforcement commanders and the regional administration to stop the media from "disseminating information that can negatively affect the population".

Skvortsov suggested setting up a regional propaganda ministry tasked with "putting together all pieces of the jig-saw puzzle, including history, sports, and the scout movement". His suggestion, though, did not meet with support on the part of either the Council members or the governor, Vladimir Vladimirov, who unambiguously stated that "no additional ministries" were needed. One may study history and teach patriotism to youth without inflating the bureaucratic apparatus - a measure that is bound to cause regional people's irritation, he said, adding that "it isn't clear how to conduct propaganda in a country where there is no unified vision of national history".

Alexei Chaplygin, deputy head of the Regional Committee on Inter-ethnic and Cossack Affairs, went even farther in his dreams, suggesting that in addition to the ministry proposed by the previous speaker, a single region-wide "network of patriotically-minded bloggers" be formed to counter the spread of extremist ideology in the social media. In his opinion, students of the school of journalism at North Caucasian Federal University should make the core of such a blogger community and "produce an effect of their constant presence online". Fortunately, that idea caused no enthusiasm, either.

In contrast, the speech of Andrei Volodchenko, first deputy general director of Stavropolskaya Pravda Publishers', was heard with sympathy and understanding. Volodchenko complained about high subscription rates and newspaper delivery disruptions by the monopoly-holding press distributor Pochta Rossii. According to him, the situation grew still worse after state subsidies were cancelled in 2014 that had partially reimbursed Pochta's delivery service costs. As a result, subscription rates had soared, and newspaper circulations had shrunk. Meanwhile, demand for print media highlighting local issues has remained high, especially in rural areas - the more so because, as Volodchenko noted, nearly 60% of Russia's population still has no access to the Internet.

Yet the regional administration proposed no measures to remedy the situation, and did not explain the reasons why so many press stalls at public transport stops had been pulled down. Evidently, opening a new ministry is easier…

Regional media have come up with pretty angry comments on the government conference that resulted in nothing. "Gentlemen, have you ever read the Russian constitution?" the newspaper Stavropolskiy Reporter asked straightforwardly from its pages. "Before proposing things of these kinds to the region's leader, the more so voicing your proposals in the presence of reporters, shouldn't some of you - officials with a particularly poor memory - try to pass an exam confirming that you know the constitution well? Why not brush up your knowledge of the provisions declaring ideological diversity, a multi-party system, and the absence of a state ideology deemed to be `the only correct one'? Each person understands patriotism individually: to some, it is embodied by Stalin and Gulag, to others by [Admiral] Kolchak and [General] Denikin, and to still others by [Chechen leader] Ramzan Kadyrov the Hero of Russia and the biker nicknamed `Surgeon'".

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.


Glasnost Defence Foundation, Room 438, 4 Zubovsky Boulevard,
119992 Moscow, Russia.

Telephone/fax: +7 (495) 637-4947 and +7 (495) 637-4420
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