19 Января 2017 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 783

26 December 2016


New threats against independent journalist Mikhail Afanasyev

By Boris Timoshenko, GDF Information Service head

Mikhail Afanasyev, chief editor of the Novyi Fokus web magazine based in Abakan and winner of the 2004 Andrei Sakharov Award "For Journalism as an Act of Conscience", recently had a disturbing phone call from a certain Andrei Ashcheulov, who claimed to be a local "chieftain" wishing to see a report about his criminal gang's activities to be erased from the Novyi Fokus news website. He motivated his demand in a pretty exotic way, saying, "If the cops haven't been able to get me behind bars in the past five years, this means all your reports are nothing but lies".

In a stream of curse words, the man threatened to "rip off his everything", called Afanasyev a "condemned man", and promised, "I am already around the corner".

Afanasyev was not particularly impressed by that speech, since repeated attacks, criminal prosecution, and threats had long become a routine for him. The GDF repeatedly wrote about the journalist's targeting (see below):

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]

As regards threats, Afanasyev has received quite a few during this year alone. After his fact-finding trip to Kiev, Ukraine, some bandit called him on the phone promising to "condemn and bury" him as a "betrayer of the Motherland". The journalist's report to the police bore no fruit. Help came, though, from where it had never been expected: some real underworld kings stood up for Afanasyev, and "bandit the phone caller" somehow vanished into thin air (for details, see digest 756.

So the latest verbal attack did not bother Afanasyev too much. What struck him as really puzzling was another thing: the media regulator Roskomnadzor's reaction. "Roskomnadzor was the sole government agency to promptly respond to the news about threats against a journalist," Mikhail told the GDF. Hours after he posted online an audio recording of his telephone conversation, an official called Afanasyev to demand that he either remove the recording brimming with obscenities or "beep out" the curse words. The latter option, one may note, would actually render the recording incomprehensible because there was almost nothing in it but foul language.

The way officials look at it, dirty words are dangerous, while threats against a journalist are nothing out of the ordinary: Roskomnadzor actually left them unnoticed. Yet there were times when the GDF would receive letters of thanks from that organisation for our reporting about violations of media and journalists' rights which the media regulator used as very efficient instrument to reinstate illegally sacked journalists, stop censorship practices, cancel unlawfully established accreditation rules, etc. Now the agency seems to be no longer concerned with defending the press.

Meanwhile, Mikhail Afanasyev has reported the threatening call to the police and demanded the start of legal proceedings against the guilty person. Also, he filed a request with the regional Investigative Department for a criminal case to be opened under Article 144 on charges of obstructing a journalist's lawful professional work.

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontieres, RSF) on 23 December made public a statement urging Russia's law enforcement to immediately start investigating those murder threats. "The threats against Mikhail Afanasyev are grave and must be taken seriously," said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF's Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. "Given the available evidence, it would be incomprehensible if no investigation were quickly launched and carried through to the end. We will follow this case closely in order to see whether or not it is yet another example of the impunity enjoyed by only too many of those responsible for attacks against journalists in Russia".

For the full text of the statement, see [7] [8]

Similar statements have been made by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) which demanded full safety for Afanasyev, and by the Russian Union of Journalists which urged the authorities and law enforcers in Khakassia to do everything possible to ensure that the journalist's life is not threatened anymore.

Legal experts at the Mass Media Defence Centre in Voronezh are providing legal support for the Novyi Fokus editor.


Tyumen blogger Alexei Kungurov sentenced to imprisonment despite lack of evidence

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

A panel of military judges has found Tyumen-based blogger Alexei Kungurov guilty of "public justification of terrorism" and sentenced him to two years in a penal colony.

Let us remind you that it all began with the regional FSB department's coming to suspect elements of crime in his last October's LiveJournal post titled "Who Putin's Falcons Are Bombing in Reality", which criticized Russia's airspace forces' military operation in Syria (see digest 782 ).

In the view of Kungurov's defence lawyer, Alexander Zyryanov, the convictive sentence is based on a psycholinguistic expert study ordered - in violation of existing legislation - by the same agency which initiated the start of legal proceedings - though not by the Tyumen but by the Sverdlovsk regional department of the FSB. The entire controversy is over the sole evaluative judgment in Kungurov's article - that Islamic State (a group outlawed in the Russian Federation) is "not the most blood-thirsty or unmanageable" one among the terrorist organisations existing in the world; still, the author is convinced it really is dangerous. The philologist who carried out the expert study happened to overlook the words "the most", meaning that the author compared ISIS with similar organisations, and thus actually ascribed to him her own idea: that the terrorist group was "absolutely harmless to everyone".

During the trial, the philology expert acknowledged her "having made a mistake" but insisted that her "unintended misinterpretation" generally did not affect the meaning of the article under review, and hence, did not call the expert opinion as a whole into question.

Just as it had done with other motions made by the defence, the court refused to add to the case files the conclusions presented by an independent expert, a professor at Moscow State University with a doctor's degree in political sciences.

The witnesses for the prosecution questioned in court (many of them members of the People's Liberation Movement not personally acquainted with Kungurov), judging by the testimony they gave, had not read the article imputed to the accused, and their statements that it "positively assessed" ISIS were based on nothing - they could not cite a single phrase from it, the defence lawyer noted.

Most important, according to Alexander Zyryanov, is that no proof of the very event of the crime was presented either during the investigation or in court: the prosecution's basic argument that Kungurov posted the controversial article on 13 October, allegedly being in Tyumen, have been overturned by witnesses' testimony and by documentary evidence. Specifically, the air tickets found on Kungurov showed that he was in Astrakhan that day, attending a conference of writers, and in Moscow on the following day, where he met, among others, with Scientific/Political Ideas Centre Director Stepan Sulakshin, whom the court refused to question in addition to declining to add to the case files the air tickets and details about Kungurov's cell phone calls during those two days. The cell phone operator Dom.ru representative whom the court did question said his company could not prove that the post imputed to the accused had been made from his personal IP address.

Just before the convictive sentence was passed, Kungurov's LiveJournal account was hacked, his wife Asiya Baishikhina told the GDF. On the following day, two unknown young men approached her on the street and, in a very rude form, warned her that unless she kept silent and refrained from protesting, they might harm her and Alexei's two underage kids.

A complaint to law enforcement was being prepared in connection with those threats, defence lawyer Zyryanov said adding that the sentence passed in Kungurov's case would be challenged before the law-established 10-day deadline.

Staff reduction as New Year's "present" for journalists in Karelia

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

On New Year's Eve, staffers of the video division of the Respublika Karelia news agency based in Petrozavodsk, Karelia, are finding themselves kicked out onto the street.

The autonomous news agency was established at the initiative of Karelia's government, with one of the ministries posing as its founder. The agency united the news website Respublika, the newspaper Karelia, the Sampo television channel, and a supplement to local newspapers. A reduction in the budgetary funding of media outlets with government participation has caused the conflict in the republican news agency.

Shortly before New Year's Day, four members of the agency's video division received layoff notices from the management. To learn the reasons why, they went to talk with General Director L. Stryapicheva, who told them, making no bones about it, that it was "up to her" to decide personnel-related matters, and that a three days' notice was "legally enough" to fire any employee working on contractual basis. Indeed, such a form of work agreement is a poor protection for the agency workers.

Finding themselves jobless and without a real chance to get alternative employment in the near future was a gloomy New Year present for the four Respublika Karelia film directors and cameramen; so they decided to make this internal conflict known to the public by posting online an open letter that described their employer's behaviour as "inadmissible".

"Evidently, Ms Stryapicheva tends to mix up the notions of `a government agency head' and `a slaver'," they wrote. "Otherwise, one would find it difficult to justify the way she treated people who came to talk to her about their future". They were actually kicked out without any chance to continue feeding their families, they noted.

While not being legally in a position to insist on keeping their jobs, the TV specialists demanded that the management should at least treat them with respect and not stoop to boorishness. The hopeless employment situation they had run into should not become habitual, and a sensible degree of protection should be guaranteed to all employees, the authors of the open letter stressed.

They have not got any reply message from the agency management so far.

Court in Kurgan "mitigates" punishment for blogger Yevgenia Chudnovets from 6 to 5 months in jail

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

After a large-scale public discussion, the high-resonance case of Yekaterinburg resident Yevgeniya Chudnovets, sentenced by the Kataisky district court in the Kurgan Region to six months in a general-regime penal colony for a repost in the social network VKontakte, was reviewed by the higher-standing regional court of appeals on 22 December.

As we have reported, in August 2015 Chudnovets reposted online a video of a naked boy being humiliated by group leaders in a summer camp in the Kataisky district, who were filming the process with a cell phone camera. When questioned in court, the woman said she wanted to draw public and law enforcement's attention to that outrage. After a criminal investigation, the two persons guilty of humiliating the child received a 3-year and a 6-year imprisonment sentences, respectively, with the man who was first to post the video online getting away unsanctioned (see digest 779 ).

Curiously enough, the six-month imprisonment term meted out to Chudnovets struck the Kurgan Region prosecutor's office as too severe a punishment, causing it to request that the convicted woman should not be placed behind bars, the more so because she had a minor son to attend to. Chudnovets, a kindergarten teacher by training, participated in the trial by means of video conferencing. The regional court mitigated her punishment by reducing the 6-month to a 5-month term of imprisonment (sic!). The woman's defence lawyers intend to challenge the ruling before the European Court of Human Rights.

The GDF will closely follow the developments in Kurgan.


Season's greetings

Dear all - our friends, readers, colleagues, correspondents, and partners:

Our heartiest season's greetings to you! A very happy New Year! We'll stay in touch with all of you throughout the coming year - that's for sure!

Very sincerely yours,

GDF Team


Media Defence Centre holds legal safety seminar for journalists in Tambov

By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

Handling content borrowed from the Internet has been and remains one of the major stumbling blocks in journalists' work.

A seminar highlighting "legal safety" techniques for local media reporters has been held in Tambov, conducted by the Voronezh-based Mass Media Defence Centre director and senior legal expert, Galina Arapova. For Tambov journalists, it was the second such meeting in the past year: the first one took place in July, dedicated to problems related to media freedom abuses (Article 4 of the RF Media Law).

This time, the focus was on legal risks potentially stemming from characters described in critical publications: how to not intrude upon a person's privacy, and what differences between discussing details of the private life of public figures and ordinary citizens there are. The trainees studied certain specifics of how to use someone's photo or video images, and how to protect minors' rights when publishing news reports about them.

Arapova devoted special attention to "false stereotypes" in the way journalists' dissemination of information is regulated under the law. In her view, the most widespread myth is reporters' conviction that they may freely repost any content they may find online.

"Whenever a journalist comes across an online publication, he or she thinks they may use it the way they want," Arapova said. "There's the rub: an author posting something online produces a false impression that this `something' may be freely re-published. In reality, though, all we can do with others' publications - even if these are in the public domain - is just read or watch them".

No less problematic are publications about minors in distress - teenagers from problem families, convicts in penal colonies, etc. Fairly often, state agencies like Social Protection Departments, Penal Departments, and so on, themselves invite reporters to cover events they organise. Journalists tend to see these "official" visits as a license to freely publish photos or videos with teenagers involved. "In such cases, reporters place themselves in the `risk zone' because the law requires getting each minor's prior consent [to their images' publication] - and necessarily in writing," Galina Arapova warned.

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.


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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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