Дайджест
6 Февраля 2017 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 782

19 December 2016

RUSSIA

Regional court in Tyumen starts reviewing blogger Alexei Kungurov's case lacking evidence of guilt

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

The regional court in Tyumen has begun hearing the case against blogger Alexei Kungurov, accused of "public justification of terrorism" under Criminal Code Article 205.2 (see Digest 765). The Regional Federal Security Service (FSB) department found elements of crime in his October 2016 LiveJournal post "Who are Putin's falcons bombing in real terms?" (www.gdf.ru)

The high-profile trial is conducted by a panel of judges from the Volga District Military Court that has arrived in Tyumen from Samara. Blogger's lawyer Alexander Zyryanov said the first decisions made at the 12 December sitting were predictable. Kungurov's custody was extended by 2.5 months until 28 February 2017. He had been denied bail three times and spent six months in a pre-trial detention centre. As civil judges before them, the military court panel said the defendant, if placed under house arrest, might escape or sway witnesses who had been questioned by investigators. Four of ten witnesses have already testified at the trial.

The panel ruled on holding the trial in camera, though no confidential information is expected to be released, and the post ascribed to the defendant is still available in social media. The ruling followed a statement by "public expert" Vladimir Lysov, an assistant professor at the Department of Journalism of the Tyumen State University, who, according to the blogger's wife Asiya Baishikhina, was the only person to respond to the FSB's call to scrutinize Alexei's text for irregularities. The FSB had forwarded such request to many state-owned and public organisations but he was the only one willing to help, Baishikhina told the GDF.

According to the lawyer, the expert examination has nothing to do with the charges against Kungurov or the texts under the assistant professor's scrutiny. Lysov dug up what he termed ("aggressively charged phrases" which is a bit of a stretch on Russian language rules) "urging violent actions against the Russian president," as well as "a tactical move to carry out destabilisation in different parts of the world"). After some of the stylistic blunders by the Department of Journalism mentor appeared on social media, this "expert" claimed he had been threatened, and so the court met his request to hold proceedings behind closed doors.

Surprisingly numerous, the blogger's supporters said the judges would have found a way to justify the trial in camera anyway.

"For some reason, they decided to meet in the smallest hall," Asya said. "Earlier, the hearings were held in large halls and I was the only one present. Perhaps, the judicial authorities were apprehensive as the case allegedly had to do with state security. Few people knew about Alexei's arrest; the report appeared on a couple of Tyumen websites, and chief editor of PARK-72, one of the outlets that reported the arrest, was summoned to the FSB office the next day to be questioned as a `witness'. Unexpectedly, at least 20 public and rights activists and journalists rallied in support of Alexei. People seem to have no fear of the authorities, which is a gratifying fact, so the judges moved to shut them out from trial".

Lawyer Alexander Zyryanov said the indictment read to his client did not present any evidence of guilt. "It's all based on experts' views and testimonials by purported witnesses. None of them knows Alexei personally, so they are actually interpreters of his text, not witnesses. On top of that they interpreted what they had not read as the first hearing showed: two of the questioned persons said the LiveJournal post expressed a positive view of the role of the Islamic State (an organisation banned in Russia) though it said nothing of the kind. Alexei's article contains only one judgement concerning the Islamic State, namely that this organisation `is not ultimately blood-thirsty or reckless,' but the danger it poses is not called into question".

The experts missed the word "ultimately". The linguistic expert examination was conducted by the crime lab of the regional FSB department, the one that had instituted criminal proceedings against Alexei. The lawyer said that the FSB linguist had not noticed that the author compared ISIS, banned in Russia, with similar groups, and actually projected her understanding to his views, thinking as she did that this osganization "does not pose any threat to people". As for the expert psychologist, she probably wasn't wearing her glasses as she misread the author's wish that Russian terrorists in Syria "self-dispose" (or self-destruct), as "self-upgrade" (i.e. improve their skills), and so her conclusion was clear fraud.

Zyryanov believes that both expert examinations have the hallmarks of crimes covered by Criminal Code Article 307 ("Deliberately false expert conclusion"). "It's up to Alexei to decide on lodging a complaint with prosecutors concerning this fact," he said.

The lawyer also believes that the investigators have no proofs of the event of crime: they allege that Kungurov posted his article in LiveJournal when he was in Tyumen on 13 October 2015, whereas he was at political writers' conference in Astrakhan at the time. The FSB clearly failed to find hard evidence: it retrieved the blogger's notebook during a search at his apartment and announced it "a tool of crime" but the notebook actually belonged to Alexei's wife and the target file was found on a flash drive, not on the hard disk. That the file was created more than one hour after last changes were introduced is a clear sign of falsified evidence.

"The court has turned down our requests to provide these data at the hearing, as well as a printout of Alexei's mobile phone calls on the day when the text was posted on his blog, but we'll continue to offer them with insistence," Zyryanov said, adding that the investigators have no chance to secure a guilty verdict by legitimate means.

The Memorial Human Rights Centre has designated the blogger as a political prisoner.

Banker in Stavropol offers to take on censor's functions

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

This is how Otkrytaya Gazeta interpreted a letter from VTB-24 Stavropol branch manager Yelena Vinokurova, who demanded that the editorial office disavow an article (where "facts are grossly distorted") and urged it "to henceforth request explanations and comments from the Bank's press office prior to subsequent publications".

Earlier, the newspaper published a family head's letter concerning his mortgage loan problems. The family could only afford partial payments and the bank unilaterally cancelled the contract, having refused debt rescheduling. The bank also eyed the family's property and sent its evaluators to their home. The borrower challenged the bank's property value estimates but lost the case at the court of original jurisdiction. The family lodged an appeal…

The newspaper published the story as was narrated in the letter. What "gross distortion of facts" did the bank manager see? As the plaintiff has the right to publicly disagree with the court's ruling so does the editorial office which provided him with this opportunity. Freedom of expression is upheld by Article 10 of the European Convention ratified by Russia. "Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers," quoted the newspaper as a reminder to the readers and bankers.

As for submitting newspaper articles for approval by VTB speechwriters, whose professional skills the manager puts above those of journalists' the editorial office recommended the Bank's press service and the manager to look up Article 29 of the Russian constitution and Article 3 of the federal Mass Media Law reading, "No provision shall be made for censoring mass information, that is, for demanding by officials, state organs, organisations, institutions, or public associations that a media outlet's editorial office get in advance their agreement on a message or material (except for the cases when the official is an auditor or interviewee), or for suppressing the dissemination of messages and materials or separate parts thereof".

Karelia Supreme Court says editor of municipal newspaper Prizyv was fired lawfully

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

After the Lakhdenpokhja district administration head dismissed municipal newspaper Prizyv editor/director Nadezhda Gongeleva (see digest 764), she challenged her dismissal and won the case at the district court. The official, V. Vokhmin, protested the ruling with Karelia's Supreme Court which granted his appeal. Vokhmin's order relieving Gongeleva of her duties as editor-in-chief is to regain legal force later this week.

The court missed the key point in the arguments concerning problem relationships between a newspaper founder (district administration) and the hired chief editor somehow. Vokhmin had the right to cancel the contract with the newspaper Prizyv director, but firing its editor-in-chief was only possible by consolidated decision of all four founders of the municipal newspaper (including the newspaper staff). None of the founders, except the district administration, had agreed to dismiss the editor-in-chief. This fact alone should have made the court recognize Vokhmin's decision as illegitimate and overturn it. When Karelia's Supreme Court requested the district administration to provide the newspaper's staff list and the record of the founders' consent to hire Gongeleva as chief editor, there emerged hope that the judges would clarify the matter concerning the director/editor-in-chief's double status. This did not happen.

Eventually, the dismissal of newspaper Prizyv municipal enterprise director Gongeleva was recognized as legitimate (an indisputable fact), but her simultaneous dismissal as editor-in-chief was ignored, which became possible due to Vokhmin's exceeding his powers. Supreme Court judges did not explore this inconsistency apparently taking a formal approach. One of the documents presented to the court stipulates that chief editor is appointed by joint decision; hence her dismissal also requires general consent, which was not the case in the above story.

Though Nadezhda Gongeleva plans to appeal against the ruling by Karelia's Supreme Court, she will certainly lose her job. Reviewing her appeal might take up to six months, with no guarantee of positive outcome. Meanwhile, the local authorities have already found a new editor-in-chief to replace Gongeleva.

Student of journalism opposed to chapel construction near her university in Chelyabinsk threatened with potential liability on three criminal charges

By Irina Gundareva, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

Department of Journalism student at South Urals State University Yekaterina Omelchenko has been warned against "illegal actions" covered by Administrative Code Article 5.26 ("Violation of freedom of conscience legislation"), Criminal Code Article 148 ("Violation of right to freedom of conscience and faith") and Criminal Code Article 280 ("Public calls for extremist activity").

Prosecutors said her actions were dangerous after the student, speaking in an interview to an online media outlet, voiced her objection to the construction of a chapel in front of her university, "troubling the society that led to the writing of comments insulting the believers and inciting ethnic strife".

Feeling humiliated, some of the believers reported it to prosecutors in an emotional statement.

The online media outlet, under pressure from the supervisory body, deleted the comments, but (even if the comments did take an insulting form) the commentators' viewpoints did not change. Everybody stuck to their own opinions, including those who had reported the comments to the authorities. The public divide is clearly seen in the votes in support of the petition against chapel construction in proximity to the university, with 5,000 Chelyabinsk residents saying "no to construction" versus 500 "yes" votes cast by those who have been provided with transportation and possibly offered other incentives for attending the public hearings.

The petition was authored by Omelchenko. "The public hearings (in support of chapel construction) are invalid, because they were not covered by the media and the only persons who attended them were supporters of the project and Russian Orthodox clerics. We believe that the decision on what should be built in front of the university rests with students of neighbouring colleges (South Urals State University and Agro-Engineering Academy), and tenants of area houses and dormitories. We believe that chapel construction is quite inappropriate in this place, because the square is a place for students' leisure activities which a religious facility would inhibit," Yekaterina told the 74.ru web news portal echoing her opinion stated in the petition.

Copyright-related dispute as pretext for shutting down media outlet in Yekaterinburg

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

A precedent for shutting down a media outlet has been created in Yekaterinburg. The Aktualno news agency suspended its operation due to a legal action over unauthorised use of a photo. All the staff are on mandatory leave.

The news portal lost an 80,000-rouble suit to the Urals Copyright Society. The latter demanded compensation for the use of a Summit Business Centre photo. The editorial office said they learned about the litigation when a writ of execution was delivered to them. The court did not indicate when or where the photo was published. The news portal is set to challenge the ruling.

Experts said that the sum of compensation was not too high, but the news portal administration's response was unexpected. "The executives are furious. The media outlet has been in the red as it is and is now facing the damages claim. All personnel are on mandatory leave from 16 December to 15 January. Apparently they are not coming back," an Aktualno employee told the URA.ru news agency.

The media outlet was set up in early 2012 as a project of Viktor Minenko, chief federal inspector for the Sverdlovsk Region. But the official quit his post soon thereafter, and some leading journalists followed suit anticipating cuts in funding. In the beginning of 2015, chief editor Ilya Zenov announced that the outlet had changed hands and would be reconfigured.

It should be noted for justice's sake that Aktualno has never gained prominence in the media space. The owner apparently found a pretext to shut it down without too much effort and dismiss the journalists under a small pretence.

GDF will monitor further developments closely.

OUR CONTRIBUTORS

Main Information Policy Department in Omsk dismisses five local newspaper editors for "incompetence"

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

Nasha Irtyshskaya Pravda, a district newspaper in the Omsk Region, sensationally disagreed with local and regional authorities criticizing their information policy in a letter to the president and the regional governor.

The policy changed dramatically with the appointment of Stanislav Sumarokov as new chief of the Regional Department for Information Policy. Understandably, he was not behind policy changes, it is not his turf, yet he proved to be the best person for introducing these changes into practice (before his appointment, Omsk journalists knew nothing about him, except that he had been press secretary at the regional branch of Rostelecom telecommunications services provider and the regional branch of Rosselkhozbank for the past decade).

The first move taken by the new regional media supervisor was to fire five district newspaper editors. If the matter is viewed formally, the editors were not dismissed; simply their contracts were not extended, according to Sumarokov. "The human resources decisions relied on whether personnel's skills were adequate to their new functions, and on their capability to attain the objectives I currently set," Sumarokov told the BK 55 news website.

In his view, Bolsherechensky district newspaper editor-in-chief Yevgenia Ostraya has no such capability. "Over four years of her running the newspaper Nasha Irtyshskaya Pravda, its retail sales jumped by four times," her colleagues wrote in the above-mentioned letter. "The newspaper staff wins awards at the regional contest of journalistic skills every year, while Yevgenia is a federal journalistic contest laureate. Last year, the newspaper was awarded a diploma at Russia's Ten Best Newspapers contest".

Compared with other newspapers, Nasha Irtyshskaya Pravada is 70 percent self-sufficient. Tarskoye Priirtyshye is the only rival newspaper with a higher self-sufficiency indicator, but its editor Irina Mezenina, according to the new Omsk media chief, is not "competent" either. He did not provide any details. However, it followed from his comments on the dismissals that loyalty was key. "A state media outlet should provide adequate coverage of the situation. You cannot paint everything in black, other colours should be used too. People need some positive benchmarks". (These words show that Sumarokov apparently has not seen the Bolsherechensky district newspaper which brings together all kinds of viewpoints.)

When regional governor Viktor Nazarov was taking office four years ago, he set a different objective for the media: "to bridge the gap between the authorities and population," saying that "Only independent media can help the authorities launch a productive dialogue with society," and that "The media should tell the truth, even if it hurts; distortions or customized materials are inadmissible". In 2013, Omskiy Vestnik published an information policy concept highlighting the key principles: "equal interests of all information users regardless of their social status," "ensuring rights and freedoms of citizens to express their opinions about socio-economic and public and political processes in the region and executive authorities' policy moves," etc.

Journalists in Omsk trusted the governor's words and the regional power he epitomized. "Yevgenia Ostraya was put on the list of incompetents for standing up for citizens' rights time and again," their Bolsherechye colleagues argued. "She had released a series of articles on district schools and kindergartens, converted to `pilot' heating with damp wood, telling that they had ended the heat period as early as March 2015".

Tarskoye Priirtyshye (issued in Tara, Omsk Region) department head Andrei Kurnikov posts "news from the frontline" in the social network VKontakte. He writes that "The rumours about possible editor-in-chief replacement spread immediately after the district administration reshuffle which started late last year. Over the past year, district leadership has been particularly displeased with the following materials: front page of the 26 November 2015 issue, devoted to dog fanciers who decided to set up a dog-training ground, Tara's first ever, while the article on new district head's taking office appeared on page 3 of the same issue. The title Dogs Get Space must have been taken personally by officials. This is not a joke. Officials were also irked by the lead article in the 11 February 2016 issue. The situation is clear in this case: Tara residents rallied against utility services price hikes, and the red flags there were holding showed that the protest had been organized by the Communist Party".

The Information Policy Department refused to prolong the contract with Irina Mezenina for similar reasons, Tara journalists said. According to their information, Natalia Shatova will be appointed the new newspaper director. Earlier, she was deputy director for research at the local Teachers' Training University branch. She holds a degree in mathematics, but never engaged in journalism. She has been a successful leader of the Tara branch of the ruling United Russia Party, i.e., "she [evidently] has the required competence," Kurnikov writes.

The managers of newspapers issued in three other districts - Kalachinsky, Okoneshnikovsky and Kormilovsky - are being dismissed on the same grounds.

"When our newspaper responded to somebody's trouble," Yevgenia Ostraya wrote on Our Irtyshskaya Pravda website, "people knew that it was the governor who had given us this authority and that it was on his behalf that we were fighting for justice for `small people'. Now these people learn that the governor bears no responsibility for his words: Viktor Nazarov behaves as if he's another person, or it has been made clear to him that he was wrong, and those in the wrong, governors included, have often been sent for correction recently".

Bolshrechensky district newspaper journalists warned that "In case of contract termination with the editor-in-chief, all the staff would walk out on the same day". The Information Policy Department will scramble to seek more competent people as replacements, they said.

NEWS FROM PARTNERS

Reporters Without Borders publishes its 2016 report on journalist safety

Reporters Without Borders, a media rights watchdog, released its 2016 annual report highlighting a significant increase in the number of journalists who were persecuted, detained, held hostage, or missing.

A total of 348 journalists are currently in detention worldwide - 6% more than were detained at this time last year. The number of detained professional journalists in Turkey has risen 22% after quadrupling in the wake of the failed coup d'état in July. More than 100 journalists and media contributors are now in Turkish jails.

Aside from Turkey, the three other worst jailers of journalists are China, Iran and Egypt. They alone account for more than two thirds of the world's detained journalists.

Meanwhile, a total of 52 journalists are currently held hostage. This year, all of them are in conflict zones in the Middle East. Unsurprisingly, Syria and Iraq are among the most dangerous countries, with Islamic State (banned in Russia) alone holding 21 of these hostages

In response to the ever-growing dangers for news and information providers, RSF is calling for the creation of the position of "Special Representative for Journalist Safety" directly attached to the office of the United Nations Secretary-General, according to the report.

[RIA Novosti report, 13 December]

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
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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