3 Января 2017 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 779

28 November 2016


Mother in Sverdlovsk Region deprived of freedom and child for repost in social network

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

The resounding lawsuit against Yekaterinburg resident Yevgenia Chudnovets, whom the Kataisky district court in the Kurgan Region sentenced on 8 November to six months in a general-regime penal colony for a repost in the social network VKontakte, has been actively debated in the media community, and not in the Sverdlovsk Region alone.

As is known, in August 2015 Chudnovets reposted in VKontakte a video showing a naked boy being humiliated by group leaders in a summer camp in the Kataisky district, with the entire process recorded onto a cell phone. Chudnovets told the court she wanted to attract public and law enforcement's attention to that outrage. In the wake of her repost, legal proceedings were started, and the two persons guilty of humiliating the child got a 3-year and a 6-year prison sentences, respectively. The person who was first to post the video online got away unsanctioned.

Curiously, the fact of Chudnovets, 33, getting a real term of imprisonment has been discussed in the blogosphere less actively than the decision of the same "principled" court on transferring the convicted woman's 3-year-old son, Alexei, to trustees in the Orjonikidzevsky district of Yekaterinburg. The court for some reason turned a blind eye to the fact that the child has a father, an aunt, and a grandmother who can well take care of him in full compliance with the law, the host of the TV show "Man and Law" noted on 25 November. Chudnovets' ex-husband's defence lawyers intend to appeal, while social media chat-forum participants have been describing the trusteeship decision as "humiliating".

Chudnovets herself, who is a kindergarten teacher by training, is now behind bars waiting for the regional court in Kurgan to review her appeal, all the more so because the regional prosecutor's office itself has asked the court to mitigate the punishment for the convicted woman, and to release her from jail.

The Glasnost Defence Foundation is closely following the developments.

Supreme Court in Petrozavodsk delays decision-making on dismissal of chief editor of newspaper Prizyv

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

Nadezhda Gongeleva, chief editor of the newspaper Prizyv, has won in a district court a lawsuit that reinstated her in her position from which she had earlier been dismissed. Yet Lahnedpohja district leader V. Vokhmin, dissatisfied with such a decision, appealed against it, and the Karelia Supreme Court is now to review the case trying to untangle the tight knot of juridical relations among the newspaper Prizyv, the municipal enterprise of the same name, the district administration head, and the newspaper's founders.

The first sitting of the Supreme Court was delayed because the judges decided to start by carefully studying the newspaper's staff list and articles of association.

The Lahdenpohja district court declared Gongeleva's firing as unlawful because it took place during a period of elections, and the editor's electoral immunity was thus violated. Yet in Vokhmin's view, that clause was inapplicable to Gongeleva because she had been officially reprimanded by that time, meaning that she, just as any other ill-performing staffer, could be dismissed by the district leader in full compliance with the law. If the Supreme Court upholds this kind of argumentation, Gongeleva's dismissal may be recognized as lawful.

The conflict's motives, however, lie in a totally different plane. The whole story started with the chief editor's publishing an article that happened to irritate Vokhmin very seriously. That was what underlay the district head's administrative decision in real terms. But since the dismissal order was not impeccable from the legal point of view, Gongeleva decided to appeal - and she won in the first-instance court with reliance on protections guaranteed by election law.

The judicial dispute exposed a problem common to all municipally-controlled local newspapers. As it turns out, the dual status of a media outlet and its chief editor is insufficiently justified legally. On the one hand, there is the newspaper Prizyv as a media outlet whose activity is regulated by the Media Law, and hence there is - or there should be - a normative document regulating the chief editor's relations with the newspaper's founders (Prizyv has four founders in all, of which the Lahdenpohja district administration is only one). On the other hand, there is the municipal entity of the same name, where the newspaper's editor performs as director. That is, Gongeleva has dual administrative status acting as director of the municipal enterprise simultaneously with performing the chief editor's functions at the newspaper. The head managers of all municipally-controlled district newspapers co-founded by local government bodies are in an absolutely the same position.

District leader Vokhmin was firing Gongeleva as municipal enterprise director, and he was entitled to unilaterally terminate her work contract at any time without explanation. True, the law provision on the chief editor's electoral immunity played an unexpectedly positive role in the dispute. When dismissing the same lady as the newspaper's chief editor (not as municipal entity director), the district administration head thought it redundant to ask the three other newspaper founders whether or not they agreed with the decision he had taken all on his own.

Now it has turned out the chief editor's position is not on the newspaper Prizyv's staff list - though she got fired from that particular position. Moreover, the employer represented by the district administration has failed to provide a work description for the chief editor (while such a description for the municipal enterprise director does exist). It was only natural for Supreme Court judges to wish to look into the normative base regulating the relationships among all parties involved. In the process, they will discover many interesting things, one may predict.

Since mechanisms of regulating relations between the district administration and the media are actually non-existent, such a story may repeat itself anywhere else across Karelia. The Supreme Court's probe (study of documents) will certainly benefit all municipal newspapers and their editors.

But then, Gongeleva may not retain her editor's/director's position long enough to see that happen. The district prosecutor, who openly sides with the district administration, has already demanded disciplinary sanctions for Gongeleva. Her colleagues, in contrast, have boldly and publicly (on the newspapers of their newspaper) been analysing the essence of claims lodged against the editor. Yet they are unlikely to sustain the combined pressure put on them by the authorities. Much, therefore, will depend on the legal assessment to be given by the Supreme Court which is to meet in session on 16 December.

One can say without exaggeration that its decision will be really vital for all of Karelia's municipal newspapers finding themselves hostages in the hands of district administrations.

MP Valery Gartung case in Chelyabinsk: "reminiscences" vs. "libel"

By Irina Gundareva, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

The staff of the newspaper Za Vozrozhdeniye Urala (ZVU) released in the Chelyabinsk Region has requested help from colleagues and human rights organisations in connection with State Duma Deputy Valery Gartung's recently starting legal proceedings under Criminal Code Article 128.1.2 ("Libel") against one of the newspaper's authors.

A press release disseminated among the media and posted on the website of the Fair Russia Party which nominated Gartung for a seat on the Duma, read: "ZVU was a major trump card in the pre-election game of Fair Russia's political opponents, who put together different dirty rumours and lies to make them public in a huge number of newspaper copies issued right before the elections. The most appalling story was printed on the front page, actually labelling MP Valery Gartung as a U.S. spy and a helper of Chechen terrorists in organising a criminal community and committing acts of extremism".

After the regional Investigative Department in Chelyabinsk refused on 31 October 2016 to start criminal proceedings against ZVU and its staffers, the parliamentarian kept insisting, and a criminal case was opened, after all.

"The investigators are currently busy reading our author's story `Betrayal of Russia's Interests: Valery Gartung and the War in Chechnya' published in the rubric `Uninvented stories from Chelyabinsk governor's spokesman'," the journalists wrote in their message to the Glasnost Defence Foundation. The story was about a closed conference of South Urals top-ranking law enforcement officials who came together in the late Governor Pyotr Sumin's residence in 1997. The article's author Pavel Bolshakov, the then press-secretary to Sumin, attended that meeting. In the story he published, he cited excerpts from an FSB general's report on progress in investigating the alleged sale (with Gartung's presumable participation) of a convoy of KamAZ military trucks to Chechen extremists.

According to Bolshakov, Sumin at the time ordered the arrest of all suspected shadow dealers, but Gartung had shortly before received a State Duma deputy's ID along with parliamentary immunity. "And one other suspect, rumoured to have agreed to cooperate with the investigation, was found dead under very strange circumstances, so the case never went all the way to court," Bolshakov wrote in his article.

ZVU staffers insist they were fully justified in publishing the ex-spokesman's testimony which they thought was true; they are determined to continue defending this position to the end. "We are convinced that the case against Pavel Bolshakov will sooner or later turn into a case against Valery Gartung," they wrote.

A day or two after the ZVU team published its appeal to colleagues for support, posts appeared in social networks with South Ural residents' reminiscences about their participation in the second war in Chechnya, and about Gartung's "food and medical assistance to Russian soldiers". Some commentators alleged, though, that the MP might have "fought on two fronts" selling KamAZ trucks to Chechens while providing relief for Russians - one line of his business might have not excluded the other.

The Mikhail Beketov All-Russia Foundation for Assistance to Journalists, which operates with reliance on presidential grants, has already offered its help to ZVU.

Police raid on newspaper office in Irkutsk Region

By Vladimir Dymov, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

Police in Angarsk, Irkutsk Region, have raided the offices of the newspaper Gazeta Olgi Zhakovoi. "Police officials stormed into the newsroom while the newspaper's owner, my husband, was away," Olga Zhakova said in an interview for Novaya Gazeta. "Workers of a nex-door company called us on the phone to say our door had been broken, and a crowd of law enforcers was inside. When we arrived there, we found policemen seizing our computers and copying office documents".

Asked about the reasons, a police officer showed her an undated search warrant reading, "In view of a lack of evidence pertaining to a criminal case under investigation, [you are required to] carry out [additional] investigative actions". The address mentioned in the warrant was not my company's, and the firm Trust Oil was designated as the subject of the search, Zhakova said adding that such a firm was still non-existent and that she and her husband were only planning to establish one under that name.

In Zhakova's view, the real reason behind the raid had to do with her activities as an Open Russia Party member.

"The regional Interior Ministry Department in Irkutsk has kept me under surveillance for several months now," she said. "I've contacted the regional FSB department and prosecutor's office over that matter, but they said the police actions were fully legal. Since I am a law-abiding citizen and they can't find anything that might compromise me, they've decided to try and dig up something against my husband".

Businessman in Lipetsk loses lawsuit against local news website

By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

The Sovetsky district court in Lipetsk has turned down a legal claim lodged by local entrepreneur Alexei Goncharov against the news website LipetskMedia.ru over two publications that struck him as "defaming".

The two underlying stories - "Culture Under a Strong Roof" carried by the newspaper Novyi Lipetskiy Reporter, and "What's Behind Colourfests in Nizhny Park?" posted on LipetskMedia.ru and citing the first one actually word for word - were about the "Colourfest" action staged in Lipetsk in the summer of 2015 with Goncharov performing as the main sponsor. The author criticized the poor level of fire safety and the crammed conditions during the event, and pointed to the fact that action participants had smoked in places where smoking was prohibited. Also, he alleged that representatives of the LGBT community might have used the festival as a pad for mass meetings and photo sessions.

The claimant described the publications as "untrue and smearing", and complained about a violation of his copyright by the journalists' publishing his photo images without his consent. The photos showed Goncharov wearing a rainbow-coloured cap that he claimed he had "never worn" in his life.

The judges questioned a female witness, Goncharov's helper in organising festivals, who had attended all of those in person. She, too, called the disputed articles libellous and said she had seen nothing of what was said in them about the festival. She specially stressed she had not seen Goncharov wearing a multicoloured cap. A defence lawyer, in her turn, observed that "A festival is a mass-scale event attended by hundreds of people, and one is physically unable to see what a particular person is doing at a particular moment".

It should be noted that "Colourfest"-related posts in the VKontakte social network featured very many photos, some with zooms-in on Goncharov in a rainbow cap. It was those close-ups that were quickly removed from the network, leaving the defence no time to save the images. Yet some photos with Goncharov in a multicoloured cap in the background are still available online, which the court found to be a sufficient reason for rejecting his claim on the grounds that he had worn such a cap, after all.


Journalists' access to municipal self-government bodies to be severely restricted in Omsk

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

Originally, the term "local self-government" used to mean "people's empowerment at the grass roots". This system, by the way, has existed in Russia for 25 years, just as the RF Media Law has. Both anniversaries, though, passed actually unnoticed this year, which is quite understandable: over the years, this country has developed in a way that almost nothing having to do with real democracy has been left in it: all of "people's representatives" - even at local levels - are notable higher than their electors in terms of both wages and other privileges and bonuses associated with their social statuses.

True, there were no insurmountable barriers between local self-governments and ordinary people until recently. For example, any media representative could easily attend any government conference to cover it for his readers or viewers to know. If mayoral officials or local parliamentarians were dissatisfied with the way their activities were covered, they could sue.

That was the general pattern of government-media relations at local level for the past 25 years. Yet it is bound to change drastically in the near future, with municipal governments coming to get "real power" in their hand and a kind of invisible "pedestal" under their feet. To facilitate this process and follow the lead of systems that have long been in place in regional-level governments, mayors' offices in some larger cities such as Omsk, Novosibirsk, Abakan, and Saratov are to introduce "new rules of accreditation" for journalists, as Petrozavodsk has already done and more municipalities are likely to do.

Accreditation regulations in the above-named cities are generally the same: some are harsher, others are more lenient, but they all mean reporters' access to "democratic power" will be notably restricted.

As we wrote in digest 768 (see digest 768 ), only a few chosen journalists will be admitted to government-sponsored events soon. Specifically, to get a permanent pass into the mayor's office, one will have - in addition to a whole heap of formal papers (copies of a media outlet's articles of association, registration certificate, editorial charter, etc.) - to present what is described as "the latest issue of the media outlet's print product", evidently to determine the degree of the publisher's loyalty to those at the helm. Accreditation may be denied or cancelled, among other reasons, because of "the editorial board's refusal to disclaim a publication that is deemed untrue", or "a journalist's improper behaviour during a session or a conference". Thus, any "awkward" question put to an administration official or a parliamentarian may be considered "improper".

Accredited journalists, in line with the new regulations, must be "neatly dressed in a businesslike style", "observe the fire safety rules", and "refrain from making noise" when visiting a self-government body. Dress codes will be introduced in other municipalities as well, to make sure journalists do not look much different from officials.

It is not clear who or how will determine "acceptable" dress styles, and based on what criteria, Dmitry Kozenko, chief editor of Saratov-based Gazeta Nedeli noted. The term "objective coverage" is even more puzzling, he said: "I think if I write - quite objectively - that the mayor is not coping with running the city, they will strip me of my accreditation card".

Igor Biryukov, chairman of the Media Workers' Trade Union in Saratov, sees the introduction of accreditation as a gross violation of the Media Law "which clearly stipulates that the search for, and gathering and dissemination of, information shall be unrestricted".

Surprisingly, his view is shared by Novosibirsk Region Governor Vladimir Gorodetsky, who has critically assessed the new rules of accreditation recently proposed by City Council Speaker Dmitry Asantsev in a draft document to be reviewed by MPs on 2 December. "Any restrictions are bad," the Sibkrai news website cited the governor as saying. "I never divide reporters into groups in the sense that some of them are welcome while others are not because they ask me `awkward' questions".

This means accreditation-related "innovations" are not initiated by the regional authorities. From that, one can easily deduce who the real initiators are.

Court in Perm shelves broadcaster's appeal, ignores document forgery

By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Region

The 17th Arbitration Court of Appeals on 23 November shelved an appeal filed by the Perm-based broadcaster (PTRK) Ural-Inform TV because it had failed to duly pay the state duty in the amount of 22,957 roubles while challenging the regional arbitration court's decision awarding the mobile phone operator PAO Rostelekom 997,847.94 roubles from PTRK in service-payment arrears and penalties. On 14 November, a general court granted the phone operator 333,751.20 more roubles under a similar claim against the same debtor, with two more claims pending - for 261,996.14 and 713,894.67 roubles, respectively. PTRK is part of a media holding controlled by Dmitry Skrivanov, who was elected to the RF State Duma as a United Russia Party nominee on 18 September.

His media companies are highly visible on the arbitration court's list of debtors; their aggregate arrears are estimated at nearly 6.5 million roubles, which for Skrivanov, who is a dollar millionaire, is not all that much, though. According to media reports, he ranks ninth in terms of wealth among the 450 State Duma members. His declared income for 2015 was 270.4 million roubles.

Against this background, the interim victory won by Skrivanov-controlled OOO AktivMedia on 16 November against me as a GDF correspondent looked particularly "important". The regional court in Perm upheld a district court's decision awarding the media holding 10,509.60 roubles in a lawsuit over my publication "Forgery within Reasonable Limits" (see digest 772 ).

Seeking to reduce the costs of hiring two lawyers to represent it in the Sverdlovsky district court in Perm during hearings of its partly-lost compensation claim, AktivMedia presented two forged contracts (with fake dates) for the provision of legal services, and two acceptance certificates containing untrue information. Specifically, those papers acknowledged the two lawyers' participation in a court sitting that had never been appointed or held in reality. Instead of the legally-required disbursement vouchers or other primary accounting documents, the claimant presented two handwritten - unconfirmed - cash receipts in which lawyers Svetlana Dolishnyaya and Dmitry Berezin acknowledged the fact of each of them receiving 20,000 roubles - without any details as to who paid them or for what kind of services.

District court Judge Tatyana Rakutina, in her decision of 7 October, did not say a word about AktivMedia's failure to prove that it had indeed incurred judicial costs. Also, she ignored the defendant's request for the transaction to be declared unlawful, with all the ensuing consequences. The media holding did not object to a private complaint filed with the regional court; nor did it send anyone to represent AktivMedia at the 16 November sitting of the court of appeals. Without asking the GDF correspondent a single question, the civil law panel involving judges Tatyana Opalyova, Venera Khasanova and Olga Buzmakova left the district court decision unchanged. Reading their decision dated 22 November one comes to understand why the courts in today's Russia are often compared to undertakers' offices: they as routinely and quietly bury any hope for justice or fair trial one may ever cherish.

The appellate panel ignored the numerous discrepancies in the dates and content of AktivMedia's papers, as well as their being clearly at odds with the case-file materials. On the contrary, it stressed that the judges "did not have any reason to doubt the authenticity of the documents presented".

A law enforcement official knowing the case well has recommended turning for help to his colleagues, now that the district and regional judges have left totally unnoticed all of the defence's claims about AktivMedia's potentially practising forgery. The media holding's actions, he said speaking on anonymity terms, may fall under Criminal Code Article 303.1 ("Falsification of evidence pertaining to a civil lawsuit"), which offence may be further aggravated by the claimant's attempt to receive a writ of execution for handing over to the bailiffs.

We are now preparing a complaint to the regional court presidium that cites the RF Supreme Court's 21 January 2016 decision explaining how to apply law when handling judicial cost compensation claims. The appellate panel ignored Item 10 of the said document which requires claimants to prove the fact of their having incurred real judicial costs. For the media holding controlled by MP Skrivanov, such a requirement still seems to be a mere trifle.


M. Beketov Foundation for Assistance to Journalists to hold master classes "Learning to write legally safe texts" in six regions of Russia

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

A master class in the series "Learning to write legally safe texts" has been held at the House of Journalists in Rostov-on-Don as part of a presidential grant received by the Mikhail Beketov Foundation for Assistance to Journalists. The class was conducted by Margarita Ledovskikh, head of the Mediayurist Consulting Group and manager of the online project Law in the Internet, who received many questions from editors of municipal and local newspapers as well as online publications, who are sued more often than others by persons described in their critical reports. Most participants were interested to learn more about the preannounced "special algorithm for everyone to independently check one's own article prior to publishing".

For the past 16 years, Ledovskikh has defended media interests in courts at all levels, from local ones to the European Court of Human Rights. She has won four lawsuits in Strasbourg, which job used to take her four to five years in the past, whereas now, as she acknowledged bitterly, some statements of claim "have lain shelved for eight years without communication" (that is, without anything known about when they will be reviewed, or whether at all).

As a veteran media lawyer, she profoundly knows not only the laws which are most often applied in attempts to hold journalists liable for their reporting, but also the specifics of Russian judges' psychology and mentality: what arguments cited by the defence they tend to pay heed to, and what statements by lawyers or self-defending journalists may make them angry (with all the ensuing consequences). For example, Ledovskikh does not recommend over-relying on the results of linguistic expert studies: the other side may obtain one or more expert opinions with directly opposite conclusions. The best thing, in her view, is to count on common sense and rely on generally-accepted notions of justice when trying to persuade a judge that you are right. Strange as it may seem, this tactic works in most cases.

As regards the algorithm of checking a text "for safety" against potential legal claims from persons or legal entities one reports about, the proposed recipe is simple enough: one has to carefully read the text several times with special focus on potentially "unsafe" phrases, let alone passages containing "strong" expressions. It would be wise either to edit them, or still better, to edit them out. And, of course, one should not rush to release a fresh newspaper issue or post a new portion of news reports on a website. In haste, you may illustrate an article with a photo of someone who has not expressed consent to the use of his photo images, or with a picture made by an unknown photographer who may just be on the alert for anyone who is able to pay him a nice round sum for a "violation" of his copyright.

Apart from Rostov, the Beketov Foundation has already held master classes in media law in Volgograd, and plans to hold them in Chelyabinsk, Arkhangelsk, the Maritime Region, and Novosibirsk in 2017.

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
e-mail: boris@gdf.ru , or fond@gdf.ru

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