9 Января 2017 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 780

5 December 2016


School for investigative journalists held in Khabarovsk

By Vladimir Dymov, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

A six-day school for investigative journalists has been held at Intourist Hotel in Khabarovsk. The group of instructors included GDF President Alexei Simonov; investigative journalist Igor Korolkov, author of the popular television series "Virus" about Maritime Region-based "werewolves in shoulder straps"; Galina Sidorova, former chief editor of the weekly newspaper Sovershenno Sekretno; and journalist Boris Reznik, ex-deputy of the State Duma.

A. Simonov, who was due to open the school, felt unwell and was taken to hospital on the first day of the event. B. Reznik, until recently a resident of Khabarovsk, stepped in to hold the opening ceremony.

"Investigative journalism is in a state of crisis in today's Russia," Reznik said in his address to nearly two dozen Khabarovsk-based reporters. "One needn't even mention how widespread corruption has now become… It's a kind of Hydra".

He cited a few examples from his own experience showing how difficult it may be for investigative journalists to bring out the truth, now that law enforcement is in a position to order any kind of information it needs published in the media, often for pay.

On the second day, Alexei Simonov, already out of hospital, reminded the audience of the history of the Glasnost Defence Foundation and its most important activities, including the holding of investigative journalism schools in 40 regions of Russia. The latest schools proceeded not without difficulty: instructor Grigory Pasko, for example, was physically attacked in Barnaul, and authorities in Syktyvkar attempted to organise a blackout while the trainees were attending classes.

"We ran into some organisational problems in Khabarovsk as well," Simonov went on to say. "Initially, we received applications from nearly 30 persons, but when we asked the applicants to submit letters explaining what motivated them to enrol into our school, only five volunteers remained".

Simonov noted that defining journalism as "the fourth branch of power" is not to his liking, because journalists are supposed to shape and mirror public opinion - a task many local reporters have tried hard to avoid fulfilling. In Soviet times, political journalism could not exist by definition: any criticism of the authorities was perceived as an anti-state activity which was fraught with either imprisonment or confinement to a mental clinic. Yet political journalism did exist during the period of Russian oligarchs' active involvement in this country's political processes. "We enjoyed the greatest freedom of expression when the TV channels were owned by oligarchs and each broadcaster was allowed to express its independent opinion. Could you name a single TV channel today that would be free to express an opinion [other than the official one]?" Simonov wondered.

Defective journalism led to the emergence in Russia of a new political phenomenon - a blogging politician, combining two occupations at once: that of a politician and a blogger. Alexei Navalny was the trailblazer for such people, Simonov said.

The 3-hour speech the GDF president delivered was expressive, emotional, and filled with true facts of life and real names.

Radio Liberty columnist and Sovershenno Sekretno ex-editor (in 2002-2010) Galina Sidorova believes that a journalistic investigation is more than just a critical publication.

"As a rule, it's a multifaceted story featuring different faces, different opinions, and different colliding interests," she said. "There are investigators, and there are comptrollers who expose dishonest and unworthy persons on a case-by-case basis. An investigation presumes a broader, more comprehensive coverage of an issue".

The Khabarovsk Region's oldest journalist, Oleg Pankov, came up with this comment on the web portal Debri-DV: "Taking a look at the disorderly ranks of people calling themselves journalists on the day the School for Investigative Journalists was working in Khabarovsk, I came to understand one may as well order a requiem Mass for this profession. Anywhere across the region, you will never find a single newspaper story or an electronic media report criticizing the governor or regional administration. The poor quality of journalism is by and large a result of financial injections given by officials to media outlets now and then, and of the personal cowardice of reporters".


Publisher of newspaper and news website that exposed corruption in Science Town (Akademgorodok) dies in pre-trial detention in Novosibirsk

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

Pavel Podyachev's funeral took place on 30 November. One day earlier Natalya Pinus, executive director of the Akademgorodok Public Foundation and the sole independent deputy of the Novosibirsk City Council, wrote in her blog on the web portal Sibkrai: "Let us all come to the funeral. I would very much like to see many more people than ten or twenty attending. Our presence will signal that we can see things clearly, that we are in the know of what's going on, and that we are not just indifferent onlookers or passers-by".

Over a hundred people came to say "Rest in peace" to Podyachev, Pinus told the GDF later. Maybe today, when many refrain from pondering over questions that are dangerous to seek answers to, it is a fairly large number of attendees. One may even think some civil society does exist in Russia.

Posted on the same portal and in the web publication Taiga.info was also "Appeal by Novosibirsk Public Activists and Entrepreneurs to the Media", reporting that Pavel Podyachev died of a stroke on 21 November 2016 in Pre-trial Prison No.10, having spent 21 months there on suspicion of extortion. The circumstances of his detention looking very strange, his family, friends and colleagues have alleged he may have fallen victim to a pre-planned provocation. As noted in the text of the appeal, Podyachev tirelessly fought against corruption, published the results of his journalistic investigations signing them with his real name, and repeatedly sent reports about alleged law violations to law enforcement. Separately, one needs to answer the question of why he was kept behind bars for all those months waiting for the trial, with all documents pointing to a worsening of his physical condition disregarded.

For the full text of the appeal (in Russian), see tayga.info

Among its 118 signatories, there are people from different walks of life - scientists, teachers, businessmen, journalists, physicians, designers, computer programmers, environmentalists, geologists, an architect, an actor, a playwright, ordinary pensioners, a housewife, and a mother of two… Three of the signatories are Yabloko Party activists, one is a Communist Party member, and one is a representative of the ruling United Russia Party.

The latter also has as its member Legislative Assembly Deputy Nikolai Pokhilenko, from whom Podyachev attempted to extort money, according to the investigators. Here are the true circumstances of the incident, as described to the GDF by Alexander Galichanin, a public defence lawyer of the deceased, with whom he worked together on the project "Safe Residential Area":

"It all began in 2014, when Pavel [Podyachev] was looking for funds to purchase a video security system. He had this idea of installing security cams in all schools and kindergartens in Science Town, for all residents to know their children were safe and sound - and then spreading it to the whole of the Sovetsky District, and maybe even wider. That's when Vladimir Tolstykh, an assistant MP, came offering his help. They were old friends with Pavel, so Podyachev never expected his friend to set him up the way he did. This much can be heard on an audio recording added to the "evidence" against the journalist - the two men are talking to each other like buddies. As originally agreed, Pokhilenko was to transfer 2 million roubles to the `Safe Residential Area' bank account, and potentially get re-elected, as a bonus, for the second term in the pending elections to the regional parliament. [Podyachev's] NGO might publicly acknowledge his contribution to a good project - why not? - on which basis he might build his election campaign because the project was indeed of great significance to the public".

That's how Podyachev, in general, intended to act, Galichanin said. Yet during one of the many meetings with the prospective sponsor that followed, Tolstykh refused to provide the money and demanded guarantees that Pavel wouldn't "dump any compromising material" on him on the eve of the voting day.

Podyachev did have much compromising stuff against corrupt officials, including the leadership of the regional department of the Russian Academy of Sciences (where Pokhilenko was a member of the presidium as deputy head of the Science Division). The journalist had investigated, among other things, some machinations with housing that often would be sold not to "rank-and-file" scientists or even to more prominent bearers of science degrees, but to some VIPs who could thus purchase housing in Science Town at just a fifth or a fourth of its market value. Naturally, law enforcement officials would charge a commission for covering those illegal schemes, which by Podyachev's estimates cost nearly half a billion roubles, in all. The results of his investigations were published in the newspaper Otkrytyi Gorodok and on the SOS NSO (Novosibirsk Region) news website, Galichanin said.

"Tolstykh suggested let's scare him by showing him copies of the documents you have, and he will pay, cash on the nail, for keeping silent," he continued. "I am absolutely sure it was a provocation that Pavel had never foreseen - he was just an honest man, a romanticist, one of those who can be counted on the fingers of one hand nowadays. He didn't even have a house of his own, and he lived wherever possible - often stayed for the night in his office. He was an altruist - he lived for others to feel good, he literally wore himself out at work, he wanted Akademgorodok (Science Town) to be the best place on earth to live in, or at least in this country, in which he was born and graduated from Novosibirsk University with a geophysicist's diploma… He told Tolstykh, `No, I want to be paid the legal way.' This is what we can hear on the audio recordings presented in court by those referred to as the `victims' - the MP and his aide. They didn't present all the recordings, having selected only those which in their view might `compromise' Pavel, but even from that stuff we can deduce no extortion was ever attempted at all. We plan to make public those recordings in the near future," Galichanin said.

The indictment, according to him, is based on unverified testimony given by Tolstykh, Pokhilenko, and a police lieutenant-colonel who was told by some anonymous Akademgorodok residents that Podyachev was "chief of a local organised crime ring". And the court trusted them without getting any material proof, while disregarding dozens of pleas and assurances of his innocence filed by renowned Novosibirsk residents who asked to mitigate Pavel's sanctions from pre-trial detention to house arrest in view of his rapidly-worsening physical condition.

Nor did the court trust any medical conclusions. Judge Anzhelika Nosova repeatedly rejected family appeals to see Podyachev, who was very seriously ill and whose guilt was still unproven, or to pass on to him any medicines, Natalya Pinus told the GDF. The last time Nosova turned down an appeal to mitigate his punishment was 9 hours before he died, after a stroke and being in a comatose condition, because, in the judge's view, he "might escape trial or put pressure on the witnesses", whose questioning had long been over by that time.

A well-familiar story, wasn't it?

Public activists intend to investigate this case to the end. Pavel Podyachev's son, Anatoly, has asked the Investigative Committee to check whether his father was murdered deliberately.

Unidentified persons fire Omsk-based journalist for criticizing governor online

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

Very unfortunately, Alexander Nabatov, newsroom head at the newspaper Delovoy Omsk, has happened to criticize the regional governor by stating that Viktor Nazarov has been "helpless" as the region's leader and that his "joke about Trump was helplessly feeble" (at a regional government sitting on the day of Trump's election as U.S. president, Nazarov said in jest in his remark to Senator Yelena Mizulina, "What info do you have, Yelena Borisovna, about Clinton? Has she acknowledged her defeat? I think we should applaud the United Russia Party's winning in America, too!"

According to Omsk media reports, Nabatov was fired "almost instantly" after his post in the VKontakte social network - on that very or on the following day. He cited his chief editor, Stanislav Zhoglik, as telling him that his dismissal had been ordered "by the media outlet's founder". As is commonly known locally, the SMI 55 publishing holding embracing the Novyi Omsk news agency and Delovoy Omsk is owned by State Duma Deputy and businessman Andrei Golushko, whose press secretary Olga Borovskaya, when asked by the news agency Regnum about the reasons for Nabatov's firing, caused a sensation by saying, "Mr Golushko is not the owner of SMI 55", and consequently, he "has nothing to do with what has happened".

Who is the real owner then, one may wonder. This seems to be a "state secret". But then, one would find it hard to imagine that Golushko, until recently a senator and a current friend of Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky, film director Nikita Mikhalkov, TV anchor Leonid Yakubovich and other celebrities, has closely monitored all social network comments by journalists under his control, or has instantly reacted to those. Easy to predict, such promptness might be really scandalous for him; meanwhile, Alexander Nabatov has gained a reputation for giving critical comments regarding the governor on the federal pad called "National Expert", with predictions of Nazarov's early "logical step-down" that have allowed him, nevertheless, to retain his position at Delovoy Omsk.

His sacking looked much like a special operation: so fast a reaction can only be expected from people who closely monitor each Russian citizen's step while having enough power to sack anyone at any time, and enough resources to get the news "of state importance" - as a rule, generated by themselves - instantly disseminated online at the speed of light or sound.

Reporter fined for using drone to film oil spill in Komi Republic

By Alexander Borisov, GDF correspondent in North-Western Federal District

As we reported earlier (see digest 772 ), police on October 1 detained a reporter for the web magazine 7x7 after he filmed with the help of a video drone a major oil spill from a LUKoil-Komi pipeline 112 km away from the city of Usinsk in the Komi Republic. At first, the police officials wanted to seize the flying apparatus but then they changed their mind.

On November 29, the regional airspace-controlling authority Gosaviadadzor fined journalist Vladimir Prokushev 4,500 roubles for using his drone without an appropriate license. An expert concluded that Prokushev had violated the rules of using airspace by not notifying the Usink Air Traffic Planning Centre of his intention to launch the drone. A specially-established commission appointed to investigate the incident noted in the fine-levying decision that [unauthorised] flights at an altitude of 150 metres are "dangerous from the viewpoint of air-traffic safety".

"This law violation cannot be qualified as a minor offence because the aircraft, which is a source of increased danger, might be a hazard to the public at large, while the rules of operating such aircraft are aimed to rule out any kind of threat to the life and health of citizens," the decision said.

The management of 7x7 disagrees with such an approach and intends to challenge the ruling.

Cultural institution in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk refuses to provide information, cites alleged "state secrets"

By Vladimir Dymov, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

As the news web portal Sakh.com has learned, a deputy director of the Entertaining Cinema Association is a woman with several previous convictions. The association is tasked with running all state-owned cinemas throughout the Sakhalin Region, organising Ends of the Earth film festivals, and holding various other mass events, including those with children's participation. "Is a person with a criminal record, even if expunged, entitled to work in a cultural institution?" journalists asked in an inquiry they sent to the association's director, Vladimir Kichayev. As you see, the question did not concern any state or commercial secrets.

Yet in his reply message, the director did refer to the "secrecy" of the requested information. Also, he grossly violated the provisions of Media Law Article 40.1 requiring him to "explain the reasons" why such information "cannot be separated from data constituting a secret specially protected under the law".

Sakh.com has filed an inquiry also with the association's founder, the Sakhalin Region Ministry of Culture. Evidently, ministerial officials did not know anything about the deputy director's criminal record, so they are now busy checking things up.

MP to stand trial for beating TV reporter in Omsk

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

The case against a parliamentarian who beat Vakhit Niyazov, a reporter for the First municipal TV channel in Omsk, has finally been submitted to court. As we reported in digest 768 (see digest 768 ), the incident occurred in the village of Tsaritsyno, where electors had come to the local House of Culture to meet with Khabuldy Shushubayev, a Legislative Assembly deputy representing the ruling United Russia Party (URP). His assistant (who himself is a Kalachinsk City Council deputy nominated by the same party), Alexander Ovcharenko, stopped Niyazov at the conference-room door to not let him through, and gave him several blows, including in the face. The knocked-down journalist felt dizzy because of hitting his head badly against the wall; Ovcharenko snatched the microphone from his hand and smashed it on the concrete floor, thereby inflicting considerable material damage on the TV channel, because the broken mike was quite expensive.

All this is clearly visible in a video the journalists have posted online for thousands of people to watch. Medics diagnosed Niyazov as having several facial bruises and a scull trauma after the attack. Nevertheless, the accused has never acknowledged his guilt; nor has his boss, MP Shushubayev, who is resolutely denying the very fact of such an incident having ever taken place - and this despite the video evidence accessible to the Internet users, whose mental health Shushubayev seems to be doubting while also actually accusing Omsk physicians of incompetence.

If the URP-nominated parliamentarians continue brazenly lying during the trial too, their own mental soundness may be called into question. The investigators are convinced they are absolutely healthy mentally, and so are the prosecutors who have officially endorsed the indictment - obstructing a journalist's lawful professional work (an offence punishable under Criminal Code Article 144 that may get Ovcharenko behind bars for up to six years if he is officially pronounced a mentally adequate person).

Dagestan press minister loses lawsuit against newspaper Chernovik

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

The Kirovsky district court in Makhachkala has rejected a legal claim lodged by Dagestan Press and Information Minister Burliyat Tokbolatova against the newspaper Chernovik, and has required her to pay 25,000 roubles to the journalists in reimbursement of their judicial costs.

Chernovik issue No.29 of 29 July 2016 carried a news report reading, "In Derbent, Press and Information Minister Tokbolatova has summoned a local journalist and demanded that he withdraw from the election race. The man refused to, thus showing a principled position, and tendered his resignation as a newspaper correspondent instead". The minister labelled the report libellous and claimed 1 million roubles in moral damages from the journalists.

The above quotation, however, is not authored by a particular reporter or the editorial board of Chernovik; it is an excerpt from a statement made during a news conference by an official representative of the Rodina (Motherland) Party, the journalists explained, backing this point by appropriate photo and audio evidence.

During the previous hearing on 16 November, the minister's lawyer asked the court to delay decision-making on the case, because Tokbolatova wanted to personally attend the trial but failed because of a government conference being held at the very same time. Yet neither the minister nor her lawyer appeared in the courtroom at the following hearing either, without notifying the court of the reasons why. In view of this, the judge ruled to turn the claim down and charged to the plaintiff the judicial costs in the amount of 25,000 roubles incurred by Chernovik.


Media-related conflicts registered by GDF Monitoring Service on RF territory in November 2016

Deaths of journalists - 1 (Pavel Podyachev, publisher, newspaper Otrkytyi Gorodok and news website SOS NSO, Novosibirsk)

Attacks on journalists and bloggers - 3 (Mark Bezymenny, Life TV channel director, and Vladimir Serenko, Life TV channel assistant director, attacked in Moscow; Darya Yermakova, REN TV correspondent, Moscow; Sergei Mokhov, publisher, Arkheologiya Russkoi Smerti magazine, Moscow)

Instances of censorship - 3 (newspaper Moskovskiy Komsomolets, Moscow; news web portal Stavropolskiye Vedomosti, Stavropol; Forbes Russia magazine, Moscow)

Criminal charges against journalists, media and bloggers - 6 (newspaper Vozrozhdeniye Urala, Chelyabinsk; Vyacheslav Kuteinikov, blogger, Rostov-on-Don; Pavel Bolshakov, freelance contributor to newspaper Vozrozhdeniye Urala, Chelyabinsk; Irina Grebneva, editor, and Nadezhda Alisimchik, reporter, newspaper Arsenyevskiye Vesti, Vladivostok; Yelena Gura, former chief editor/director, Slovo TV/Radio Studios, Stavropol Region; Pavel Podyachev, publisher, newspaper Otrkytyi Gorodok and news website SOS NSO, Novosibirsk)

Illegal sacking of journalist or editor - 3 (Artemy Galitsyn, chief editor, newspaper Munitsipalnyi Vestnik Shushary, Leningrad Region; Larissa Ogorodnikova, chief editor, newspaper Vperyod, Perm Region; Alexander Nabatov, reporter, newspaper Delovoy Omsk, Omsk)

Detention by police, FSB, etc. - 7 (David Frenkel, photojournalist, online publication Yod, detained in Karelia; Andrei Grigoryev, reporter, Idel.Realii news website, Kazan; Dmitry Rebrov, Novaya Gazeta correspondent, and Dozhd TV channel film crew, detained in Moscow Region; Maxim Yarygin, correspondent, Radio Ekho Moskvy v Peterburge, and Sofya Mokhova, Rosbalt news agency correspondent, both detained in Leningrad Region; Dmitry Remizov, Rosbalt correspondent, detained in Rostov-on-Don; Pavel Podyachev, publisher, newspaper Otrkytyi Gorodok and news website SOS NSO, Novosibirsk)

Denial of access to information (including bans on audio/video recording and photography; denials of accreditation; restrictions on visits to or presence at events held in government agencies, at industrial enterprises, in state institutions, etc.) - 33

Threats against journalists, bloggers and media - 2 (Grigory Pasko, head of Commonwealth of Investigative Journalists, threatened in Syktyvkar; Vladimir Tyulin, REN TV general director, Moscow)

Ejection of media from leased premises - 1 (Gubdaily news website, Petrozavodsk)

Seizure of, or damage to photo, audio and video apparatus and computers - 3 (photo camera of Go31.ru news portal, Belgorod; office computers of newspaper Gazeta Olgi Zhakovoi, Irkutsk Region; video camera of newspaper Ulyanovskaya Pravda, Ulyanovsk)

Other forms of pressure/infringement of journalists' rights - 26


Karelia: Municipal self-government or arbitrary rule?

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

A sitting of the Medvezhyegorsky District Council in Karelia has begun with an attempt to oust Chernika news website correspondent Alexei Vladimirov from the conference room: in the chairman's view, since the journalist had no accreditation card to show, he could not be present at the meeting. Not all of the deputies agreed with that point, though, and a debate flared up, resulting in the issue put to a special vote as the majority of MPs insisted. Actually, the outcome may have been different, and the scandalous issues slated for discussion that day may have been left unnoticed by the public.

The items on the agenda were more than "burning" for the district. One, the deputies were to discuss the deplorable state of treatment facilities in Medvezhyegorsk, where 150 locals, including children, had got poisoned with tap water. Rospotrebnadzor, the agency tasked to defend consumer interests, started by trying to hush the scandal up, but when the poisoning turned out to be a mass-scale emergency, the Investigative Committee started criminal proceedings, qualifying the case as the provision of unsafe services and a violation of sanitary and epidemiological regulations. The water supply system in Medvezhyegorsk has long failed to meet sanitary requirements, with waste water dumped right into Lake Onega from where the city then pumps out drinking water. The district leadership evidently was unwilling to discuss so serious a matter in the presence of a reporter.

Two, there was another sensitive item on the agenda - one directly concerning the district administration head, Mr Karpenko, whose son had been handling municipal assets unlawfully and to the detriment of the local budget. In a word, there indeed were things to conceal from public scrutiny.

Yet most deputies decided that the Chernika correspondent had the right to see and hear everything in person. But let me repeat, the outcome may have been different. Increasingly often, district and municipal parliaments in Karelia have required media to have their correspondents accredited for covering government conferences, commission sittings, etc., although all these are deemed to be municipal events that are open to society in general and to media reporters in particular. Local governments have been passing regulations making journalists' accreditation mandatory: either show your accreditation card or go away. Or else, as in Medvezhyegorsk, they have held special votes to decide whether or not to admit the press into the conference room.

Since such rules of accreditation have become a real disaster for journalists - similar conflicts have occurred in the Olonetsky and Kondopozhsky districts, and in the capital Petrozavodsk too - Karelia's Union of Journalists has appealed to the republican prosecutor's office asking to assess those developments in legal terms, and still more important, to check to what extent the municipal regulations are consistent with Article 29 of the Russian constitution and the federal law on access to information about the performance of state and local government bodies.

It may as well be noted that the Karelia Prosecutor's Office has already protested to the Kondopozhsky and Olonetsky district administrations over their meddling in editorial policies. No one seems to have learned any lessons since. Municipal self-government has looked more and more like arbitrary rule.

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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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:
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