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28 Октября 2016 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 774

24 October 2016

RUSSIA

Omsk-based MP denies fact of journalist's beating - despite existing video evidence

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

Khabulda Shushubayev, a United Russia Party (URP) representative at the Omsk Legislative Assembly (re-elected for yet another term on September 18), has caused many to recall the Town Governor, a character of Nikolai Gogol's 19th-century comedy "The Government Inspector", who claimed that a late sergeant's widow with traces of corporal punishment "is to blame for whipping herself, because I never even touched her".

In his interview for the weekly publication Delovoy Omsk, Shushubayev likewise attempted to deny what many had seen with their own eyes: his aide Alexander Ovcharenko used physical force against Municipal Channel One correspondent Vakhit Niyazov. As we reported in digest 768, the incident occurred in the village of Tsaritsyno just before the start of a meeting with electors. The reporter walked after the deputy trying to ask him a question, but Ovcharenko, an assistant to Shushubayev and himself an elected member of the Kalachinsk City Council representing the same ruling party, stopped Niyazov at the conference-room door and hit him several times, including in the face, after which the reporter felt dizzy as a result of hitting his head badly on the wall. Ovcharenko snatched the journalist's microphone and threw it onto the concrete floor.

Shushubayev's comment was this: "First, no one hit anyone, that's for sure. The journalist did not display any facial bruises because there weren't any. The black eye which appeared later must have been drawn on his face with iodine so that some impressive video sequences could be shot…"

If the denial of guilt by Gogol's Town Governor might at least have some logical explanation behind it (the whipped widow did not have any direct evidence that it was he who had given her the lashes - no forensic examination protocol, no video, etc.), then it is absolutely unclear why Shushubayev should lie as brazenly as he did about "no one hurt". Any of the several thousand viewers of the video posted in social media and on local news websites will say it was a clear instance of beating, if they were to trust their eyes. Forensic medics have confirmed this too, and their conclusions have been added to the case files of a lawsuit brought against Alexander Ovcharenko by the regional Investigative Department under Criminal Code Article 144 ("Interference with a journalist's lawful professional work").

Last week saw the start of a trial over Khabulda Shushubayev himself, who is facing three criminal charges: "large-scale theft of others' property", "unlawful receipt of a loan leading to major [budgetary] damage", and "large-scale fraud based on abuse of office". The investigators believe his actions have harmed more than 300 Omsk residents who lost money making advance payments for apartments that Shushubayev's construction company has never built in the last eight years. The accused, to be sure, will cite many "justifying" arguments when defending in court; after his queer interview in which he resolutely denied the self-evident, one can expect him to continue behaving unpredictably.

Prominent journalists, lawyers, and human rights defenders all barred from new body of Public Oversight Commission in Chelyabinsk Region

By Irina Gundareva, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

Prominent journalists, lawyers, and human rights activists, among them Dina Latypova, Valeria Prikhodkina, Tatyana Shchur, Nikolai Shchur, and Oksana Trufanova, have not been included in the new body of the Public Oversight Commission (ONK) in the Chelyabinsk Region.

None of them was reappointed to the new ONK body even though none had worked for the full three terms allowed by law. They all were barred from the commission because of a conflict with the regional Penal Department, caused by their attempts to defend protesting inmates of Penal Colony No. 6 in Kopeisk (near Chelyabinsk) a few years ago.

The Penal Department laid on the regional human rights ombudswoman's desk a list of 15 nominees for the new body of the ONK and asked her to give negative references to the five above-named individuals, Prikhodkina told the GDF. Since ONK members are nominated by public associations, candidates with negative references from the ombudswoman have a very slim chance to be re-appointed, she said.

Clearly, the Penal Department does not want any renewed probes into its work or any new scandals in the media. Memories of the riot in Penal Colony No. 6, which flared up in 2012 over horrific evidence of corrupt practices and torture of inmates by prison personnel, are still too fresh on people's minds.

The ONK ex-members have always known about the department's negative attitude toward them but they never expected this aversion to get to a point at which all of them would be ousted.

Who has come to replace them? For the most part, law enforcement veterans knowing the penal system inside out.

"Vassily Katane is a really odious figure on the list of new members," Prikhodkina noted. "He is an Afghan war veteran […], a member of the Penal Department's Public Council, and an ex- member of the ONK of the second convocation. After the 2012 riot in Penal Colony No. 6 in Kopeisk, where he hushed up information about torture of prisoners, he is now on the ONK again. According to info on the regional electoral committee's website, he is a man with previous convictions, although ONK membership is banned for such persons".

Human rights defenders have warned that penal institutions in Russia are falling back under the rule of lawlessness.

KAZAKHSTAN

Authorities put pressure on Khabar TV channel correspondent

The Khabar TV channel in Kazakhstan has reported about the authorities' putting pressure on its Akmola Region correspondent Saula Kusainova. A statement on the channel's website says the journalist started receiving threatening phone calls after a series of reports about problems with central heating systems in schools and hospitals.

District- and regional-level officials have been calling her on the phone to reproach her for not letting them know in advance about her visits, Kusainova said. They are more concerned about their personal public image in news reports than about problems the regional residents are facing, Khabar noted.

"Regional officials have gone as far as instructing their subordinates at apparatus conferences not to let through our film crew at all," Kusainova said. "Yesterday, they kept calling all day long trying to persuade me to take a ready TV report off the air. But there is a real citizen's complaint behind each such report. Instead of getting busy dealing with problems, officials have been hinting at various `negative consequences' [for reporters]. Personally, I've been told I will have problems finding an alternative job after I retire on pension".

Khabar promised to closely follow the developments.

[Lenizdat report, 19 October]

OUR CONTRIBUTORS

Investigative secrets: Why officials in Rostov leave media inquiries unanswered

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

A series of trials is about to finish in Rostov-on-Don over organised crime leaders and directors of 60 utility service companies throughout the region that have merged into the so-called "Moscow holding". This crime ring has stolen, by different estimates, from 100 million to 200 million roubles of apartment house owners' payments for heat and water supply. Yet the main villains have so far been sentenced only to suspended terms of imprisonment and continue robbing people as they did before. For example, Alexander Repalo, director of Garmoniya and eight other utility companies, keeps sending bills to the tenants of apartment buildings he has not serviced for a whole year now, and demanding that they repay some imaginary debts - from 7,000 to 83,000 roubles per apartment.

Alarmed residents have been writing complaints to the Housing Inspectorate and, by an old habit, to newspapers. Several media have published news reports on the topic, and the newspaper Bolshoi Rostov 9 months ago officially urged the then regional Housing and Communal Services Minister, Vladimir Vaghin, to look at the situation at close quarters. The ministry notified the newspaper that its inquiry had been forwarded for checking to the prosecutor's office - and that was that. Up until now, the ministry and the prosecutors have kept silent, while residents of the above-mentioned apartment houses recently received Garmoniya bills again that urged them to "repay the debts immediately".

Nor has the regional Ministry of Economic Development thought it necessary to react to media inquiries. Maxim Papushenko, the ministry head, has left unanswered Bolshoi Rostov's questions about problems facing small businesses - and this despite repeated reminders from journalists and their appeals to his press office.

The situation with getting information from law enforcement is even worse. Since investigations are not yet over, officials have been brushing journalists' questions aside, citing "investigative secrets" - even if the time allowed by law for the completion of an investigation expired three years ago (sic!). In 2013, Moscow-based Novyye Izvestia and two newspapers issued in Rostov carried articles about a major fraud scheme with illegal alcohol: FSB agents at the time exposed a channel for bringing into the region big volumes of liquor with forged documentary stamps. Lamos, a well-known holding company not licensed to either produce or sell alcohol, started stuffing its warehouses with large consignments of liquor from North Caucasian republics. For three years after those publications, nothing at all was heard about this high-resonance case, and it was only after a third journalistic inquiry that the Rostov police department gave it to be understood that the investigation was still not over and was now being conducted by the department's investigative unit. "Therefore," the police's reply said, "this information is classified as an investigative secret. With a preliminary probe into this criminal case still continuing, any disclosure of the requested information may harm state and society interests as well as human rights and liberties".

One question remained unanswered, though: Is it good from the viewpoint of state and society interests when "investigative secrets" are turned into "investigators' secrets"? The law allows two months for a preliminary investigation to be fully completed (or three months in especially difficult cases, or a longer term only with authorisation from the chief prosecutor of the relevant constituent entity of the Russian Federation). How investigators and their bosses manage to skirt those restrictions is also a mystery - a mystery protected under the law? It's kind of a little secret carefully kept away by the big Ministry of the Interior from journalists in the first place and, in a broader sense, from the whole of society.

If investigators protect their secrets as vigilantly as they do, does this actually mean those secrets are really so important?

NEWS FROM PARTNERS

2016 Andrei Sakharov competition "Journalism as an Act of Conscience" draws to a close

The 2016 Andrei Sakharov Competition "Journalism as an Act of Conscience" is drawing to a close, with the works submitted for this year's contest accepted until November 1.

The Andrei Sakharov Award "For Journalism as an Act of Conscience" is conferred on journalists for publications reflecting the authors' active life stands consistently translated into their highly professional work, and for defending the values Dr Andrei D. Sakharov used to defend during his lifetime.

The materials submitted for the competition should have been published between 15 October 2015 and 15 October 2016 in Russian print or online media. Candidates for the award may be nominated by editorial boards and individual Russian citizens.

All materials must be submitted in print or electronic format (on diskettes or CDs, or as e-mail messages sent to fond@gdf.ru or boris@gdf.ru). Print versions shall be mailed to: Glasnost Defence Foundation, 4, Zubovsky Boulevard (gate of Journalists' Union of Russia), Office 438, 119992, Moscow, Russia, with a note: "Andrei Sakharov Competition `Journalism as an Act of Conscience'".

For further details, see www.gdf.ru or call: (+7 495) 637 4947.

FEEDBACK FROM READERS

Novaya Gazeta's Alexandra Garmazhapova comments on GDF report about her conflict with vice-speaker of St. Petersburg parliament

In the previous digest, we reported about boorish behaviour of Anatoly Drozdov, vice-speaker of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, toward Novaya Gazeta journalist Alexandra Garmazhapova (see digest 773 ).

We have contacted Alexandra and received the following comment from her:

"Hi everybody. In the atmosphere of total lawlessness in which Russia lives today, it's absolutely useless, I think, to turn to law enforcement for help. I've known this from the very outset, and when people have asked me why I reacted to Drozdov's fit of boorishness the way I did, and not otherwise, I've told them I'd never have been able to prove that the guy did insult me in real terms. Many insist I should have heard him out, kept silent, and admired his self-satisfied face - only to sue him later. Yet I cherish no illusions regarding our justice system, and during the six years of my work as a parliamentary reporter I've too often heard how masterfully our MPs and government officials can lie.

"Our sole weapon is making things known to the public, and this is exactly what we've done. Regardless of my own `non-ideal' behaviour - my overemotional reaction - we have been able to show the entire country what Drozdov actually is. I think this is an extremely important and valuable result - to show what happens when absolutely non-professional characters, whom no one elected, grab the helm.

"And then, instead of apologizing, individuals [like Drozdov] usually toughen the rules of journalists' accreditation (which is what happened this time, too: now a simple phone call to the Assembly press office is not enough; you have to file an application signed by your chief editor, and you may get a one-time pass only once, after which you will have to apply for permanent accreditation). Colleagues have told me that [security guards] on October 12 checked the passes carefully reading the names of all permanently accredited reporters. Were they on the alert for my name?

"I may as well note that some MPs who are only formally independent from Mr Makarov the speaker have hesitated to sign out a pass for me using their own names, which is very telling. This happens in countries where there are no [real] elections.

"I'm quite satisfied with the way colleagues and the public have reacted in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Ulan-Ude, Kyzyl, Pskov, Petrozavodsk, and other cities. Their reaction has been fairly healthy, which means our society has a future.

"Thanks everybody,

"Alexandra Garmazhapova, Novaya Gazeta correspondent in St. Petersburg".

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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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