Дайджест18 Марта 2017 года
Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 792
8 March 2017
Story of the week
Glasnost defence foundation
STORY OF THE WEEK
St. Petersburg journalist unlawfully detained by police and narrowly escaping psychiatric clinic unable to sue either medics or police: his legal claims are rejected
By Roman Zakharov, GDF correspondent in North-Western Federal District
Kommersant newspaper string photojournalist David Frenkel was attacked by a National Liberation Movement activist during an unsanctioned march in support of LGBT community in St Petersburg on 11 December 2016. The law enforcers present at the scene took no action to stop the attacker and the journalist called 02.
The police officers who responded to the call took the journalist to the police station where he was supposed to “give evidence”, but in actual fact, Frenkel was detained there. They assumed that the journalist was mentally ill and called the psychiatric ambulance. The medics handled him unceremoniously, thinking for some reason that Frenkel, who was a frail young man, had behaved aggressively. In actual fact however, they called his behaviour aggressive because he said he would not obey them. But would you want to obey the strong men in white coats telling you that they'll sedate you and take you away to a lunatic asylum?
Fortunately, the police department camera was functioning and the journalist managed to position himself within the viewing angle. The camera captured a body check and a chokehold on the “aggressive patient”. Surprisingly, the footage was retrieved intact; it had not been lost or deleted as often happened in such situations. It offered solid proof of wanton force used by police and medics and their subsequent false allegations of the man's insanity.
David Frenkel was lucky to get out of the mess. His father, whom he phoned while being detained, hurried to the police station and had a long talk with senior officers and the medics and in the long run the journalist was set free. Frenkel wanted to punish the people who had bullied and choked him and reported the incident to the Investigative Committee, the Interior Ministry and the Petersburg Health Care Committee. Journalists' organisations, including pro-government ones, denounced the police and medics' actions.
In late January 2017, the police said there were no grounds for prosecuting the medics. The ambulance team had been unable to judge the condition of the patient showing odd behaviour as he refused to obey them. The official reply did not say a word about the patient's being violent, so the question is why a chokehold had been used on him. The reply skipped this key point referring to unspecified regulations instead.
In a similar manner, the Investigative Committee recently refused to hold the police responsible. Its reply was much along the same lines: they acted according to regulations as they saw signs of derangement and called an ambulance. They cannot be blamed for the medics' roughing the journalist. The authorities did not bother to explain the inconsistencies between the video and the versions of the incident offered by the police and the medics. Don't believe your eyes, trust documents and regulations; it follows from them that “Crow will not pick out crow's eyes,” as the Russian saying goes.
By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District
The Federal Arbitration Court has overturned the lower courts' ruling which said the revocation of Europe Plus Tomsk license by media regulator Roskomnadzor had been unlawful.
Digest 767 (see www.gdf.ru) reported that in revoking the license, the regulator alleged that Tomsk media group founder Viktor Muchnik had been unable to offer convincing proof that he had no dual citizenship. Earlier, Roskomnadzor rejected the certificate issued by a Federal Migration Service department on Muchnik's holding a single citizenship. It recommended TV2 editor-in-chief and all Russian citizens at large one fail-safe method to prove that they held no other citizenship save Russian. Roskomnadzor referred to the Russian Foreign Ministry letter dated 15 April 2014 saying that single citizenship was best proven by fetching appropriate certificates from the representation offices and consulates of all of the world's 252 countries.
TV2 sent letters to 144 consulates and embassies and got several dozen replies some of which were inconclusive. For example, the Nigerian Consulate General said Muchnik should have placed such an inquiry in person, while the Argentinian consulate offered to contact the Russian Embassy in Buenos Ayers over completing the requested procedure. Whether Roskomnadzor will regard certificates from 144 states as sufficient proof is anyone's guess: there are 252 countries in all, and since Russia has no diplomatic relations with 46 states, obtaining answers from them appears problematic.
Two lower courts had ruled that Roskomnadzor's refusal to extend the Tomsk radio station's broadcasting license was unlawful. This did not help however: the Moscow District Arbitration Court in the person of Judge S. Krasnova overturned their ruling and sent the case to the Moscow Arbitration Court for new review.
Commenting on the twist in the license story, Viktor Muchnik wrote on TV2 website: “I wouldn't say I'm much surprised. I'd rather say the lower courts' rulings were a pleasant surprise; they were lawful showing that the judges had common sense and that they were willing to abide by law, not officials' order. However, I suspect that until today's hearing, the order has not been articulated clearly enough in this particular case. We have no substantive part of the appeal court's ruling. So far, I can only say that we'll challenge it at the Supreme Court”.
By Anatoly Tsygankov, GDF correspondent in North-Western Federal District
A tragic incident occurred in Segezha District Hospital when a patient died because of a dentist's error. Local prosecutors informed the mass media about the incident and news portals recounted the story citing the official press release and naming Doctor A. Manov as the person who had made the fatal mistake.
Six weeks later, the Karelia department of the Roskomnadzor media supervisor notified the editorial offices that they had to stop disseminating personal data of dentist Manov, a guilty party. The demand was complied with as nobody wanted to mess with Roskomnadzor though it was the general opinion that the supervisor's actions were excessive and unjustified. Firstly, the media only referred to the Segezha prosecutor's office statement. Secondly, it concerned the death of a person because of the dentist's unprofessionalism, so it was unlawful to withhold significant and authentic information from the public (the court found the doctor guilty of manslaughter caused by unprofessionalism).
With this body of evidence and the understanding that such prohibitions might become routine practice for the Karelia department of Roskomnadzor, Gubernia Daily news portal editor-in-chief Ksenya Sorokina filed a statement of claim insisting that Roskomnadzor's demand for stopping the dissemination of Manov personal data was unlawful. The statement pointed out that the court had designated Manov as the culprit causing the patient's death. Dental care provided by Segezha District Hospital is a public legal service regulated by the Russian consumer protection law, hence the consumers have the right to complete information about service providers and their skills.
Roskomnadzor disagreed with the editor's views insisting that the media should have published the prosecutor's statement naming the doctor by last name only and withholding his age and place of work.
The information detailing the incident came to the editorial office from the Segezha Prosecutor's Office, and Roskomnadzor asked the regional Prosecutor's Office to evaluate the actions by the district prosecutors who had prepared the press release. Having looked into the matter, the supervisor said that there were no reasons to punish Segezha prosecutors. The point is that the patient's death, caused by the doctor's unprofessionalism, is of public interest as it has to do with the legitimate rights to health protection and skilled medical aid. That is, the prosecutors took the same position as Gubernia Daily.
After reviewing the case, the judge ruled that the editorial office had not violated Manov's data privacy right. The ruling has not come into force yet and can be appealed.
By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District
Zhukovsky district administration resorts to criminal persecution to fight critics
Zhukovka District Court reviewed a criminal case against local blogger Vladimir Chesalin on 1 March. A month before, the local administration sued him over YouTube videos and posts on websites criticizing its policy. The officials claimed he had slandered them.
Zhukovka has problems with the suspension bridge across the Desna, garbage disposal and streets which are in a sorry state. The House of Culture shut down the library and several hobby groups after it was put on Town Hall books. Blogger Chesalin highlighted it in his writings on Bryansk websites and short videos taken with his mobile phone and posted on YouTube. The blogger's judgement is that the district administration, though overstaffed, is unable to cope. In early 2017, he polled the Odnokslassniki social media community on whether they believed that there were too many officials in Zhukovka and the majority said `yes.'
The district administration called the blogger's coverage false and damaging its staff's reputation and asked the court to open a libel suit against him. Under effective legislation however, a legal entity cannot file such statements of claim. Only natural persons can do that because it is their honour and dignity that is impaired by slander, not an organisation's. Not only did it unlawfully demand criminal prosecution, it also found an obliging magistrate who filed the case, though he should have dismissed the officials' claim if he had acted by the book. The blogger's lawyers used the fact to petition for dropping the criminal proceedings. The judge met the petition citing lack of elements of crime in the defendant's actions. Zhukovka officials' representatives did not attend the hearing.
Vladimir Chesalin's interests at the hearing were represented by lawyer Tumas Misakyan and Mass Media Defence Centre leading lawyer Galina Arapova.
Criminal case against kindergarten teacher Yevgenia Chudnovets closed but full justice still being awaited
By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District
The resounding criminal case against kindergarten teacher Yevgenia Chudnovets from Yekaterinburg, found guilty of VKontakte child nudity repost, has been dropped due to a lack of corpus delicti. On 6 March, Kurgan Regional Court overturned the verdict by Kataisk District Court.
On 8 November 2016, Chudnovets, charged with child porn dissemination, was sentenced to six months for posting a three-second video showing a naked boy being tortured by youth leaders. Chudnovets had said she wanted to draw public attention to the problem.
In December, Kurgan Regional Court commuted her sentence to five months. The prosecutors had asked for non-custodial penalty as Chudnovets had a small child to support. Many rights activists focused on the problem after a wave of public indignation on social media. Law-enforcement bodies also threw their weight behind Chudnovets. On 23 February, deputy prosecutor Leonid Korzhinek filed a cassational appeal with the Supreme Court demanding that the verdict be quashed and the case dropped due to a lack of elements of crime in the teacher's actions. The Supreme Court later sent the Chudnovets case to Kurgan Regional Court for retrial.
The court met the Russian deputy prosecutor general's cassational appeal at a behind-closed-doors session. Lawyer Alexei Bushmakov said the documents would be forwarded to the penitentiary shortly.
Chudnovets' partner Andrei Myasnikov said, “Yevgenia has been in prison for four months; we expect the apology to be followed by compensation and exoneration. I cannot be more precise. We'll claim damages”. Chudnovets' lawyers reportedly had lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights.
The GDF is monitoring the situation.
GLASNOST DEFENCE FOUNDATION
Attacks on journalists and bloggers - 4 (Alexander Molochko, anchorman, Magazzino show, attacked in Orel; Alexei Ivanov, chief editor, Regnum news agency's Far Eastern Office, Maritime Region; Sergei Pichugin, reporter, First Municipal Channel, Kirov; Maksim Kalennik, cameraman, Vladivostok State TV/Radio Company, Vladivostok)
Instances of censorship - 1 (Anatoly Yemelyanov, Ystav.com news website correspondent, Yekaterinburg)
Criminal charges against journalists, bloggers and media - 2 (Yulia Litvinenko, journalist, Ura.ru news agency, Sverdlovsk Region; Alexander Gozenko, blogger, Saratov)
Illegal sacking of editor, journalist - 1 (Marina Vostrova, editor, newspaper Znamya Truda, Penza Region)
Detention by police, FSB, etc. - 4 (Alexander Zimbovsky, freelancer, Moscow Region; Olga Sapronova, journalist, Gradus TV project, Moscow; Alyona Lunkova, journalist, and her film crew, Ukrainian channel STB; Irina Romaliyskaya, journalist, Hromadske Radio, all detained in Simferopol)
Threats against journalists, bloggers, and media - 4 (Ilya Davydov, blogger, Moscow; Alla Chernysheva, editor, web publication Ekooborona, Moscow Region; Anatoly Yemelyanov, correspondent, Ustav.com news website, Yekaterinburg; Eduard Shmonin, chief editor, OTV-Yugra, Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Region)
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.) - 9
Closure of media - 2 (Rus2Web media pad, Moscow; Kommersant-Lifestyle web project, Moscow)
Interference with internet publications - 2 (Bryanskaya Ulitsa news website, Bryansk; RosKomSvoboda site, Moscow)
Seizure of, or damage to, photo, video or audio apparatus and computers - 4 (telephone of Dozhd correspondent Vassily Polonsky, Moscow; telephone and computer of columnist Zoya Svetova, The New Times, Moscow; computer of blogger Alexander Gozenko, Saratov)
Other forms of pressure and infringement of journalists' rights - 37
By Galina Tashmatova, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District
The journalists attending a Krasnodar Territory Court hearing last October made serious problems for federal judge Yulia Buglak. Chairwoman of the Court's Qualification Panel Elena Shportko informed Rossiiksaya Gazeta journalist Tatyana Pavlovskaya that Buglak had been disciplined.
The fact of penalty however is not as interesting as its background involving the trial of Anapa Cossack ataman Nikolai Nesterenko. He had gained publicity by arranging rallies against the performances in Anapa by singer Boris Moiseyev and attacking personnel of the Anti-Corruption Foundation and Alexei Navalny at the local airport in May 2016. In latest developments, Nesterenko was the defendant in a grand fraud case. He had seized a land plot in a resort village of Sukko near Anapa and demanded that Town Hall sell him that land at cadastral value of 64,000 roubles (the market value of the land exceeded 1.5 million roubles). The journalists' interest in the “prominent” figure annoyed the judge. During the hearings, she repeatedly threatened to expel the journalists from the hall, but things did not come to that.
A recording of her talk with the prosecutor which she had just before the hearing later appeared in the Internet, coming as a big surprise to both Buglak and the reporters. The judge freely used invectives with reference to journalists as she told what she thought about the coverage of the Cossack ataman trial. The Krasnodar Regional Court panel did not look into who had made the recording or placed it in the Internet, and took Buglak to task for such conduct. Regional journalists appreciated the Krasnodar judges' principled position.
By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District
State Duma lawmakers representing the All-Russia Popular Front (ONF) have proposed an amendment to the mass media law to support regional outlets. “With the view to providing subsidies or other budget-funded support to the mass media, a regional mass media outlet is defined as registered media whose content is intended for consumers in one, two or three Russian regions. Depending on the type of media outlet, conformity requirements are set by the federal executive body responsible for government policy and regulation of mass media, including online media,” according to the ONF-proposed amendment.
The explanatory note attached to the proposed legislation said it had been drawn pursuant to presidential instruction dated 27 February 2016, following the ONF forum in Stavropol a month before. A regional journalist complained to Putin at the forum that local media had to compete with federal media for Telecom and Mass Communications Ministry's subsidies and grants. If the amendment is approved, the Ministry will release requirements for the media seeking subsidies. Ministry specialists might find the technicalities quite simple as each media registration certificate has the “distribution territory” entry.
The effective state subsidy allocation procedure for print media is available on the website of the Federal Agency for the Press and Mass Communications. Priority is given to regional or municipal publishing media and children, youth, fiction, cultural and popular science media. These rules have applied for years.
In actual fact however, regional media get both federal and municipal subsidies. The question is which regional outlets qualify for financial assistance. With rare exceptions, these are newspapers and television and radio companies founded by authorities at all levels. The Rostov Region government's website lists the media entitled to regional budget subsidies that cover printing and delivery costs. They are two regional newspapers which have 90 percent of these expenses compensated and ten municipal and 43 district newspaper compensating 50 to 70 percent of printing expenses. In this situation, independent media find it hard keeping afloat, not mentioning competing with municipal counterparts. For example, the media holding incorporating the newspaper Molot gets 57 million roubles of regional funding a year through so-called tenders. The Rostov Region has just about ten independent socio-political newspapers with a decent print run and circulation and not a single independent regional-level newspaper.
Tender 2017 is ongoing as the local government holds so-called tenders for the right to highlight its bustling activity across the media space. The lots placed on the Goszakupki.ru state procurements website are impressive. For example, 21 million roubles will be allocated to the television company for preparing and running 11 hours' worth of socially significant materials. The winner is already known, it is Don-TR, the Rostov branch of the federal broadcaster VGRTK. This money is enough to sustain 20 independent newspapers for a year. Their editors cannot even dream of budget funding. The so-called regional government grants for the media not controlled by the authorities amount to 120,000 to 200,000 roubles for the publication of socio-significant materials.
Can we expect the ONF to come up with dedicated legislation on supporting independent media in the future?
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.
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