3 Сентября 2017 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 812

August 28, 2017


Investigative journalist threatened in St. Petersburg

By Roman Zakharov, GDF correspondent in North-Western Federal District

Fontanka online newspaper correspondent Denis Korotkov was threatened after the publication of his new stories about Russian private military company personnel fighting in Syria.

Fontanka believes that the threats against the reporter should be taken seriously. The ill-wishers promised in a LiveJournal blog comment to deal with the journalist. The threats were issued after the publication of “Wagner's List,” “Whom Russia Lost in Syria,” “Private Army under Defence Ministry's Wing,” “`Vagabond,' `Grey,' `Wagner' and `Ratibor' Surround the President” and “They Fought for Money” on 21 and 23 August. Korotkov investigated the Wagner private military company (which officially does not exist) currently fighting in Syria and taking heavy casualties which are not reported by the Defence Ministry.

That the threats were not to be taken lightly became obvious after Korotkov's residence and registration addresses were posted on the Internet. The editorial office found out that the sensitive data had been leaked through a Syria-based mobile operator.

Fontanka editor-in-chief Alexander Gorshkov told GDF that the newspaper had asked law enforcement to help and that it had been taking other measures towards ensuring the journalist's safety. It is not that easy taking into account the fact that the Wagner PMC is linked to business tycoon Yevgeny Prigozhin. Fontanka reported that back in the summer of 2013, the billionaire's security service was probing for Denis Korotkov's plans and even tried to hire several journalists to spy on him and compose a detailed file on Korotkov including his service record (Korotkov earlier worked at law-enforcement bodies), the educational institutions his children attended, his residence address, places he frequented for meetings with his sources, and his habits.


Memoirs interpreted as “libel” in Chelyabinsk

By Irina Gundareva, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

Vozrozhdeniye Urala (“Urals Revival”) newspaper correspondent Pavel Bolshakov, former press secretary of Chelyabinsk Region governor Pyotr Sumin, has been charged with libel. The regional investigative committee assured that the probe was nearing completion and that the case would soon be referred to court.

Proceedings were opened on the strength of a report filed by State Duma deputy Valery Gartung on 11 November 2016. Vozrozhdeniye Urala, with a print run of 100,000, carried the articles titled “Betrayal of Russia's Interests. Valery Gartung and Chechen War” and “How a Lawmaker Cheated Miners” in the run-up to the election in the Korkinsky district which was Gartung's constituency.

The stories were published in the 3 September 2016 issue in the section “Non-fictional stories by Chelyabinsk governor's press secretary”. Bolshakov, in his first-hand account of late 1990s events, recounted a closed meeting involving southern Urals law-enforcement chiefs at Governor Pyotr Sumin's residence in 1997. He cited an FSB general's report on a probe into the sale of a batch of Kamaz trucks to Chechen extremists in which Gartung had been involved.

The trucks were retrofitted with armour and Chechen gunmen used them to fight Russia's federal troops. According to Pavel Bolshakov, Pyotr Sumin ordered to arrest those complicit in the scheme. However, Valery Gartung had won a State Duma lawmaker's mandate by then and enjoyed immunity from prosecution. A Kamaz case suspect who had agreed to cooperate with the investigators was found dead under strange circumstances. The case never went on trial.

Vozrozhdeniye Urala journalists believe that they had the right to publish the testimony of former regional administration official Bolshakov. It is a political story of the Chelyabinsk Region which does not contain a word of libel.

Selective admission of journalists to meeting with minister in Rostov-on-Don

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

Journalists were denied access to the Rostov Region government building and Legislative Assembly in the middle of workweek on 23 August. The reporters who had received accreditation in accordance with the regulations of the “White House”, as Rostov residents call the building, were not allowed entry either. On that day, Russian Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov visited Rostov. After inspecting the site of fire in the centre of the city, Puchkov had to meet with governor Vasily Golubev. A media scrum had been planned, but only with the reporters listed by the Emergency Situations Ministry press service.

The correspondents were told, “You're not on the list,” as they were ushered out of the building, even those who had come to the Administration and Legislative Assembly on other assignments. It is unclear what principles were used to select the journalists. All print and online media invited to attend a meeting with the minister and ask him questions reported that he had praised the firefighters' actions in the emergency.

The plain truth of what happened can be learnt from eye-witness accounts of the tragedy posted in social media. One can marvel at the quick work by the Emergency Situations Ministry's press service which managed to pick out the most loyal media on short notice.

Officials in Perm Region mark newspaper's 86th anniversary with lawsuits against it

By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District

Local authorities gave a present to the 4,490-strong readership of the district newspaper Kuyedinsky Vestnik on the occasion of its 86th anniversary. The district head and the local Assembly chairman whose names are not as significant as the name of the much-liked local newspaper lost both of their legal actions against it.

The Kuedinsky district located in southern part of the Perm Region borders on Bashkortostan. According to official statistics, it has a population of 24,984. Kuyedinsky Vestnik's readership would include every third resident if we count in the subscribers' relatives and friends. Local officials are most attentive subscribers. Having read the article titled “District Assembly Decision Fraud Is What Local Administration Sank To” dated 7 April 2017, they filed two legal actions on 17 and 28 April. The first action was initiated by the local administration, the second by District Assembly chairman Florid Badrtdinov.

The plaintiffs demanded that the newspaper disavow the title of the story. Badrtdinov also saw defamation in this line about him: “He secretly made out a bonus payment for himself (without the District Assembly's approval)”. In his statement of claim, F.Badrtdinov demanded 70,000 roubles in moral damages and a 50,000-rouble compensation for legal expenses from journalist and MP Nina Korionova.

Judge Natalia Timoshenko of the Kuyedinsky district court refused to grant either of the claims. The District Assembly chairman did not challenge the 29 May ruling and it came into force a month later. District administration head Alexander Gorgunov signed the local authorities' appeal against the June 6 ruling.

He did not appear at the 21 August hearing at the Omsk Regional Court, though. Gorbunov was represented by his agent, head of the administration's legal department Alyona Kotova. Kuyedinsky Vestnik's interests were defended by its director and editor Tatyana Kolomeitseva.

“I showed a protocol of the District Assembly meeting. On the audio recording, the chairman is clearly heard saying that `we'll revote on the issue.' It is my opinion that we sank to counterfeit,” the author of the challenged article, Nina Korionova, said at the higher court hearing. Tatyana Kolomeitseva noted that “The title cannot be considered separately from the text; the district administration had no objections to the content of the story”.

The appellate court said the plaintiffs' allegations of procedural violations in reviewing the civil suit were unsubstantiated and the 6 June ruling came into force as well. The court's ruling referenced the testimony of District Assembly deputy Yekaterina Balabanova, who said that “On 6 March 2017, the Assembly voted against supporting community-oriented non-profit organisations, while the Protocol said it was a `yes' vote. The district administration head attends each session, he can use insulting language, allows undue familiarity and puts pressure on deputies to make them vote for his interests”.

In an attempt to sue the district newspaper, Kuyedinsky officials achieved the opposite effect proving that the published story was true. After the two rulings are published on the official “Justice” website which keeps track of all civil cases, everybody will be able to read also about “one fact of Badrtidinov's making out a bonus payment for himself”.

Kuyedinsky Vestnik director and editor Tatyana Kolomeitseva told GDF that inspectors and prosecutors had begun to check the newspaper. Prior to that, it had been checked by Roskomnadzor, the Russian media watchdog. Meanwhile, the district administration increased the rent for the newspaper office space.

Low-cost air carrier, Pobeda (Victory), wins strange victory in court in St. Petersburg

By Roman Zakharov, GDF correspondent in North-Western Federal District

An arbitration court partially granted two claims by the Pobeda low-cost airline against the Travel.Ru portal. The court ordered the editorial office which had stayed away from the hearings to take out two critical articles about the airline but turned down the latter's demand for reputational damage compensation.

Russia's only low-cost carrier, Pobeda, has been making efforts to attract potential passengers. To this end, it would employ all methods, such as provoking a scandal because negative publicity is still publicity. Airline staff would pick on passengers alleging that they exceeded hand baggage allowance limits and have to pay extra or sometimes split up families on flights if they have not paid for seat selection. Social and mass media are full of resounding stories about such incidents.

Pobeda, an affiliate of Aeroflot flag carrier, carefully monitors the criticism of its policies by public activists. The company has filed no legal actions against private individuals so far, but seems to be permanently displeased with mass media. Travel.Ru portal whose editorial office monitors the company's activity and reports them in its articles and news has recently lost two legal actions to Pobeda.

The airline sued Travel.Ru at the Arbitration Court of St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region over the articles titled “Pobeda Turns In to Police a Family with Infant for Changing Seat on Flight,” and “Pobeda Violates Law Again by Doubling Seat Selection Charge”. The plaintiff demanded that the portal delete and disavow the stories which he claimed were not true and pay compensations for damaging the company's business reputation. The court turned down the 2-million-rube compensation claim, but ruled (in June and July) on deleting the texts and publishing refutations. One of the rulings meeting Pobeda's claim was handed down by St. Petersburg's 13th Arbitration Appellate Court.

In one of the cases, Pobeda demanded removal of the challenged publication from the website until the court ruled on the case. The Arbitration Court rightly turned down the proposed measure as excessive.

The most surprising thing was the absence of the defendant at the hearings in the two cases. An editorial office representative told the GDF: “We did not take part in those legal actions as we had not received any notice from the court or letter of claim from Pobeda which should precede legal proceedings. We know nothing about these legal actions and have no idea about the arguments cited by Pobeda which never replied to our enquiry concerning the essence of its claims or our proposal to use the right to answer as envisioned by the mass media law”.


Court in Minsk fines Belsat TV journalists

A Minsk court fined independent journalists Yekaterina Andreyeva and Sergei Kovalev 1,150 Belarussian rubles each, finding them guilty of illegal newsmaking as they had worked for the Belsat channel without accreditation.

The court is set to review similar cases against their colleagues Oles Silich and Maria Artsybasheva. The journalists said they would not attend the hearings. They began to work without accreditation after Belarussian authorities had not allowed Belsat TV to open its office in Minsk. The Belarussian Association of Journalists insists that it is unlawful to hold journalists and cameramen responsible under such charges.

Reporters Without Borders came out in support of the journalists. It said that Ivashkevich, Silich, Artsibasheva, Andreyeva and Kovalev had to flee to Poland. Rights activists said that at least 26 cases have been opened against Belsat TV reporters this year with the sum of fines imposed on them totalling over 10,000 euros.

[RFE/RL report, 25 August]


Governor's dream: To turn Chelyabinsk into another [heavily-polluted] Karabash

By Irina Gundareva, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

The Chelyabinsk governor's press service edits its boss's speeches. Boris Dubrovsky's “landmark” statement on turning Chelyabinsk into a new Karabash was missing in the press release that followed his latest news conference.

This is how it happened. The journalists told the regional leader that people objected to the Russian Copper Company's building a mining/processing plant in close proximity to Chelyabinsk, cutting down forests and developing copper deposits. Even the government-controlled all-Russia Public Opinion Research Centre said that 79 percent of Chelyabinsk residents did not want to have this dangerous construction site near a city of one million inhabitants. “What can you say to that?”

The governor replied: “Karabash is a Russian Copper Company town, too... It's much money... but if we work together understanding each other, we can build Karabash (town in the vicinity of Chelyabinsk - Author.) in the good sense of the word, if not Pittsburg”.

This very quote is missing from the transcript. He did say it: journalist Tatyana Stefaniv made a video recording of Dubrovsky's howler and posted it on YouTube.

The statement on building a second Karabash in Chelyabinsk increased the public's hatred towards the South Urals governor. Many comments on the governor's speech openly wished him and his children to live in mining/processing factory shops, resign office, meet his forefathers, etc. Not only did he openly support the Russian Copper Company after two years of equivocal, demagogic and evasive statements, he also wished to turn Chelyabinsk into a second Karabash.

There is no end to South Urals residents' displeasure. This is a consequence of a top official's taking office as a result of appointment, not election, and his total detachment from the population's needs and hopes. It is a hot topic of online discussion; it is no accident that it was the governor's residence that South Urals residents have picketed for several years demanding a ban on Tominsky mining/processing plant construction.

Dubrovsky's statement also shows that he is not aware of the current situation in Karabash. “There are no trees growing on slag heaps,” said social media users in response to the governor's upbeat remarks; the landscape still has that eerie Mars-like look of wasteland, with red rivulets running along deep scars of the earth. Apparently Dubrovsky has not set his foot on that soil for a long time.

His landmark phrase on establishing a second Karabash in Chelyabinsk where the ecological situation has been poor because of obsolete factories' emissions brings city residents on the cusp of protests. The Chelyabinsk Region used to be in the top ten of Russian explosive provinces; now it is in the top five. Does he want orange rivers to be followed by orange revolutions? Why do we need that governor? Apparently his press service took on “editing” his speeches in order to prevent the emergence of such questions.

The thing is that they began to work on it too late.

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:
Полезная деятельность Фонда защиты гласности за 25 лет его жизни