Дайджест
3 Декабря 2009 года

GLASNOST DEFENSE FOUNDATION DIGEST No. 455



RUSSIA
1. Perm Territory. Scandal in Berezniki
2. Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Court passes precedent-making decision
3. Yekaterinburg. Key witnesses recant testimony
4. Vladivostok. PrimSotsBank claims insulted by newspaper heading
5. Republic of Karelia. Printing house director suspects head of Karelia Publishers’ of office abuse

BELARUS

Reporters denied accreditation

GLASNOST DEFENSE FOUNDATION
GDF president appeals to prosecutor of Astrakhan over attack on journalists

OUR PUBLICATIONS
More about languages

DIGEST MAIL
Feedback from Ulyanovsk. Continued from Digest 454




RUSSIA

1. Perm Territory. Scandal in Berezniki

By Vassily Moseyev,
GDF staff correspondent in Volga Federal District

An appalling incident occurred in Berezniki, Perm Territory, a few days ago. Managers and security guards of the chemical plant OAO Azot clamped down with insults and threats on a group of journalists and visiting expert Dr. Lev Fedorov, Ph.D. (Chemistry), president of the All-Russia Union “For Chemical Security”. The victims were in the street, outside the plant premises, and behaving as law-abiding citizens do.

According to eyewitness Roman Yushkov, a reporter for the Perm-based newspaper Za Cheloveka, the journalists and their Moscow guest had already been to the chemical plants OOO Soda-Chlorate and OAO Berezniki Soda Works to meet with head managers, hear their assessments of the environmental situation in the city and discuss measures to ensure local residents’ chemical security.

Dr. Fedorov was out in the street surveying OAO Azot’s fuming chimney stacks when security guards turned up. They pushed R. Yushkov and punched him in the chest, promised to break the reporters’ TV and photo cameras and even attempted to do so.

This encroachment on the journalists’ and Moscow scientist’s civil and professional rights has been reported to the local law enforcement authorities and RosSvyazKomNadzor [federal agency in charge of public communications] department.


2. Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Court passes precedent-making decision

By Olga Vassilyeva,
GDF staff correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

The three-year-long litigation between the newspaper Sovetsky Sakhalin (SS) and the Far Eastern Law Institute of the RF Interior Ministry is finally over. A college of judges of the regional court canceled the prior decision of the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk city court that had satisfied the institute’s claim partially, and passed a new decision turning the claim down in full.

The conflict flared up when SS published an article “It Is Easier to Crush a Person than a System” describing the education system and morale in the Sakhalin branch of the policemen-training institute where a commanding officer’s cruel actions had seriously undermined a cadet’s health. The management saw that as a “libelous” publication damaging the institute’s reputation. The primary jurisdiction court satisfied most of the plaintiff’s demands and required SS to publish a refutation. The newspaper appealed against the decision to a higher-standing judicial authority.

In the courtroom, in the presence of top-ranking institute administrators, most cadets and their parents whose complaints had given rise to the underlying publication recanted their evidence (in view of pending graduation), leaving only the crippled cadet and his family on the defense side. Mass-scale perjury did not help. The regional college of judges chaired by O. Vishnyakov decided that the publication did not contain any insulting statements, and that the main passage which had made the police commanders so angry was only an evaluative statement that could neither be confirmed nor refuted. The judges justified their ruling by reference to the Declaration on Freedom of Political Debate in the Media (Articles 3 and 4) adopted by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers at its 872nd meeting on February 12, 2004.

This is the first time a Sakhalin court passes such a decision on this kind of judicial cases.


3. Yekaterinburg. Key witnesses recant testimony

By Vladimir Golubev,
GDF staff correspondent in Ural Federal District

Yuri Dyomin, chief of the Sverdlovsk Region traffic police department, has been tried on charges of attacking journalist Yuri Basok.

In Yekaterinburg on January 8 this year, during a rally of protest against soaring customs duties on the import of foreign-made cars, Basok took some photo pictures of a traffic police Audi car parked amidst a pedestrian crossing.

“A colonel walked up to me and told me I was not allowed to take pictures there. I asked him to identify himself and explain why I could not do that. When I attempted to photograph him, the colonel punched me in the face, breaking my camera,” Yuri said. A few days later he reported the attack to the prosecutor’s office and the police department’s internal security division. On January 27 Basok was placed in a detention center, his house was searched, and the traffic police chief returned to his service duties on January 30. In late June, Dyomin was accused of exceeding his official range of authority and unduly resorting to force (Article 286.3), and of deliberate damage to another’s property (Article 167.1 of the RF Criminal Code).

During the trial which opened in the Verkh-Isetsky District Court of Yekaterinburg on November 26, the victim’s colleagues – a journalist and a Channel Four cameraman, the key witnesses for the prosecution – recanted the testimony they had given in the course of pre-trial investigation. Leaving everybody in a state of shock, they did not explain their move.

According to some sources, the regional police command sent the court a letter characterizing Y. Dyomin very negatively.

The next hearing is scheduled for December 7.

[Based on Ura.ru news agency reports]

4. Vladivostok. PrimSotsBank claims insulted by newspaper heading

By Anna Seleznyova,
GDF staff correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

OAO PrimSotsBank has lodged a legal claim against the VostokMedia news agency demanding RUR 100,000 in moral damage compensation for a publication titled “Large Family Takes Mortgage Credit, Finds Itself Nearly Out in the Street”.

The managers believe the “libelous” publication damaged their bank’s business reputation. The underlying story is as follows. A year ago the Larins, a family with three children, took a 5-million-ruble mortgage loan from PrimSotsBank to be repaid over the next 20 years at the annual interest rate of 14.5 percent – RUR 60,000 per month, which is burdensome but tolerable with the overall family income of RUR 90,000. When the financial crisis broke out, the Larins were told they would now have to pay RUR 120,000 per month since the interest rate had been raised to 28 percent. Instead of explaining the reasons why, bank clerks kept calling the Larins on the phone demanding payment. The family decided to sue the bank and won the case in court.

PrimSotsBank appealed to the Maritime Territory Arbitration Court claiming that VostokMedia’s report about the conflict had been published under “an aggressive heading bearing clearly negative connotations and absolutely failing to reflect the true circumstances of the underlying civil case”. Besides the monetary compensation, the bank wanted the agency to publish an official refutation.

According to defense lawyer Andrei Belovodsky, VostokMedia’s arguments look more convincing because the publication did not contain any false statements that might be deemed to insult the plaintiff or damage the bank’s reputation. And GDF lawyer Anton Lopukhov maintains that “the information cited in the article under consideration had been obtained by the journalist in full compliance with the law and was absolutely true to life as per the moment of its publishing. The author wrote his story in line with the Media Law which gives him the right to express his personal opinion and make evaluative statements”.


5. Republic of Karelia. Printing house director suspects head of Karelia Publishers’ of office abuse

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

The director of the Lahdenpohya District printing house which prints the municipal newspaper Prizyv, concerned over a report that its current service order may be alternatively placed with the Anokhin Printing Company of Petrozavodsk, has appealed to local authorities and public organizations not to harm the performance of her printing house which has successfully printed Prizyv since 1945. The message is clear: the lady director is afraid to be left without budgetary support that is always welcome in addition to pay for the printing of two other newspapers.

Competition between the two printing enterprises has been complicated by the fact that Karelia Publishers’ head A. Makarov is also director of the Petrozavodsk printing company, and his publishing house is a co-founder of the municipal newspaper Prizyv, as well as all the other district newspapers with municipal authorities’ participation, and the distributor of budgetary allocations for the district media. It is this kind of close links between the editors and directors of district newspapers and Karelia Publishers’ that leads the director of the Lahdenpohya printing house to suspect that Prizyv may be simply ordered to request alternative printing services from the republican printing company. Moreover, Karelia Publishers’ makes no secret of the fact that it has advised all district newspapers to conclude service contracts with the Petrozavodsk printing company.

In a conversation with the GDF correspondent, A. Makarov confirmed that fact stressing the point that he had not circulated any written instructions; he had only advised district newspaper editors and directors to consider the economic aspects of the proposed shift to Petrozavodsk. He believes economic leverage (the prospect of receiving better services for lower prices), not administrative orders, should work here. So, having sent the editors his technical and financial proposals he has waited for them to make their choice independently. And he sees the Lahdenpohya printing house director’s appeal as a form of pressure on district administrators and the public.

The relationships between district authorities and the local printing house are to be discussed at a session of the Lahdenpohya District Council one of these days.



BELARUS

Reporters denied accreditation

No Associated Press, France Presse or Reuters photo correspondents will come from Russia or Kazakhstan to Minsk to cover a session of the Interstate Council of the Eurasian Economic Community at head of state level. Accreditation has also been denied to reporters for the Belarussian newspaper Nasha Niva.

The journalists say they were notified that in the National Library building in Minsk, where the session is to be held, there will be no vacant seats. According to the Belarussian organizers, since “too many” media reporters from Russia and Kazakhstan will be covering the summit a decision has been taken to limit the number of accredited journalists.

Those barred from the session feel frustrated, stressing the point that at prior meetings – with even 12, not 3 CIS presidents participating – not a word was said about any shortage of seats.

At the pending meeting of the Eurasian Economic Community Interstate Council the presidents of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan are to sign documents needed to launch a trilateral customs union.

[Polit.ru news agency report]
_____________

GLASNOST DEFENSE FOUNDATION

1. GDF president appeals to prosecutor of Astrakhan over attack on journalists


More than a month has passed since journalists Vyacheslav Yashchenko and Oleg Teplishchev were attacked while covering mayoral elections in Astrakhan. On October 11 the head of a local electoral commission ousted them from the school building where the ballots were cast. In the street, the journalists were approached by five sturdy men who demanded that they erase their photo pictures and video recordings; hearing “no” in reply, the aggressive young men used force to make the reporters obey (for details, see http://www.gdf.ru/digest/item/1/656#rus6 ). As it turned out shortly afterwards, the group of attackers had been led by parliamentarian Rifkat Shabanov.

We have found no information at all about the consequences of that incident, which means neither the attackers nor their leader have had any problems ever since. Yet another crime against journalists has been left unpunished.

GDF President Alexei Simonov has sent Astrakhan Prosecutor Oleg Dupak a message reading, in part, as follows:

“I believe a month is a sufficient period of time for the above-described events and participants’ actions to be assessed in legal terms. In this connection, I as a member of the RF President’s Council for Assistance to Civil Society and Human Rights Development would be very much interested in receiving answers to a number of questions: (1) Did the prosecutor’s office order a checkup of the above-described facts? (2) Were the victims, eyewitnesses and Regional Duma deputy Rifkat Shabanov questioned in connection with the incident? (3) Have the actions – or, rather, the inaction – of the police officers who were present at the polling station been given an evaluation in legal terms? (4) Has their performance been inspected by Internal Security? (5) Have the electoral commission head’s actions been assessed in legal terms? I would appreciate your sending me, within the time limits established under the law, perspicuous answers to all those and other questions, including the outlook for this case to be duly and fully investigated. Being well aware of how difficult it may be to investigate cases involving incumbent mayors and ruling party leaders, I hereby remind you of the words President Dmitry Medvedev said in his address to the 11th Congress of the United Russia Party: ‘Elections, which are expected to be an instrument of free expression of popular will, sometimes give rise to situations where democratic processes are mixed up with administrative pressure…’ I sincerely hope that you will not start arguing with the president and your city will not set any examples of such disrespect for law as President Medvedev has more than once called to put an end to.”

The Glasnost Defense Foundation will follow the developments closely.

2. Some statistics cited

Last week, the Glasnost Defense Foundation was referred to at least 10 times in the Internet, including at:

http://www.ifex.org/russia/2009/11/27/security_guards_attack/
http://www.inosmi.ru/russia/20091124/156666713.html
http://spravda.ru/news/6385.html
http://www.civitas.ru/news.php?code=8156
http://www.opengaz.ru/issues/47-386/goggle.html
http://www.svobodanews.ru/content/article/1888451.html
http://www.ura.ru/content/yamal/26-11-2009/articles/1036254460.html
http://www.newizv.ru/news/2009-11-27/118027/
http://www.sb.by/post/94171/




OUR PUBLICATIONS

More about languages

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

A seminar titled “Ethnic Minorities in Russia: Developing Languages, Culture, Media and Civil Society” was held near Moscow last week. The co-organizers tried to persuade the participants – reporters for so-called “ethnic” and other media interested in ethnic-related problems – to go over to their side. Experts of the Council of Europe pointed to the need for Russia to ratify the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages; whereas Russian experts – representatives of the Public Chamber and the Regional Development Ministry – claimed that the interests of different ethnic groups living in Russia are well protected even without the Charter.

The Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, adopted by the Council of Europe in 1992, was signed by Russia in line with the President’s Decree of February 22, 2001 but has never been ratified, which means it is not legally binding on this country. Concerned with this country’s reluctance to ratify the document, Europeans initiated this year the joint Ethnic Minorities Program aimed at bringing the ratification issue to the focus of public attention and modeling the Charter’s effects on several pilot regions. On the Russian side, the main participant in the program is the Ministry of Regional Development which is in charge of ethnic policy in the Russian Federation.

Journalists feature prominently among the five social groups targeted by the program: at least half of the multi-million budget will be spent on grants for the media. It is not clear whether this kind of spending will turn out efficient, particularly considering the cardinal differences between the co-organizers as regards the need for the Charter’s ratification. But then, with three years of close cooperation ahead, a compromise policy may well be developed. Already today, experts on both sides agree that Russia may as well ratify the document any time now since requirements to the member states (i.e., those that have signed and ratified the Charter) will entirely depend on the will of each member nation itself. A transparent hint at the declarative nature of the Charter was made at the seminar’s opening by Russian participants – representatives of the Regional Development Ministry, Public Chamber and Russian Academy of Sciences. Europeans were more diplomatic (or less informed?), never once stressing that the proudly proclaimed constitutional protections and absolute equality of the languages of all ethnic groups living in Russia have actually resulted in Russification processes that have been the most painful for minority languages. On the other hand, seminar participants cited – both publicly and in private conversations – many examples of this wrongful attitude to the languages of ethnic minorities, as well as to Russian in regions (such as some North Caucasus republics) where it performs as the official language only on paper.

After the seminar, participants will hardly ever believe anymore in those bogeyman stories about the Charter never starting to work in Russia in real terms because it is unviable and incapable of protecting the 200-odd languages (with dialects) existing in the country. The question of how those languages are treated here today, without the Charter in full legal force, remained unanswered. Council of Europe expert Robert Dunbar, a professor of law and philology from Scotland, explained that the member states are free to independently select the languages for maximum support under the Charter, as well as the mechanisms of such support from those listed in the document. But then again, there is a set of standard requirements protecting all the regional languages without exception, which, however, is purely declarative and actually allows member states to do nothing to protect and support those languages unless there is sufficient political will to do so. This very complex background – with blurred general requirements and with member countries being pushed towards independently defining the sets of their respective obligations – has its positive and negative sides. A more responsible attitude to obligations taken on actually voluntarily is definitely a “plus”. A country’s natural tendency to minimize the number of best-protected languages and define its set of obligations exclusively in its own interests, not the interests of the ethnic groups concerned, is clearly a “minus”.

One other outstanding issue is terminology. As one of the Russian experts noted very appropriately, the notion of “regional language” is not in use in Russia, and that of “ethnic minority” does not invariably bear neutral connotations. Besides, many of the languages which must be defined as minority languages in line with the Charter will actually be predominantly spoken ones in some constituent regions of the Russian Federation. The Charter is clearly unable to accommodate all of Russia’s intricate ethnic and geographical diversities.

But, sensitive political and legal matters aside, journalists are aware, generally, of the difficulties attending the settlement of Charter-related issues, and not in Russia alone. This was confirmed both by the seminar itself as well as by an opinion poll taken by the Glasnost Defense Foundation jointly with the Regional Press Institute of St. Petersburg. The majority of respondents said they favored the Charter’s ratification but were not sure it would work in Russia, and that support for ethnic media (i.e. those in languages other than Russian) might scale down the level of real competition among the media. The results of the poll and a number of interviews with experts were summed up at the closing session by the GDF correspondent Roman Zakharov.




DIGEST MAIL

Feedback from Ulyanovsk. Continued from Digest 454


In the previous edition of Digest we published an appeal by the Ulyanovsk regional public movement “For a Worthy Life” in support of the newspaper Simbirsky Courier against which Alexander Korolev, CFO of the Volga Heat Power Engineering Company, had filed an honor-and-dignity protection claim (see http://www.gdf.ru/digest/item/1/671#mail ).

Shortly afterwards, we received this message from Simbirsky Courier:

“Dear colleagues,

“We are happy to inform you our newspaper won defending in court against Mr. Korolev yesterday – due, in part, to our colleagues’ reference to the Glasnost Defense Foundation in their open letter in support of Simbirsky Courier. This is yet another proof of the high level of respect for your Foundation not only among the journalists but also among the lawyers and judges. Thanks a lot for your support!

“Sincerely,
Lilya Grebenskova,
Deputy Editor-in-Chief, newspaper Simbirsky Courier.”




This Digest has been prepared by the Glasnost Defense Foundation (GDF), http://www.gdf.ru.

We appreciate the support of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Digest released once a week, on Mondays, since August 11, 2000.
Distributed by e-mail to 1,600 subscribers in and outside Russia.

Editor-in-chief: Alexei Simonov

Editorial board: Boris Timoshenko – Monitoring Service chief, Pyotr Polonitsky – head of GDF regional network, Svetlana Zemskova – lawyer, Vsevolod Shelkhovskoy – translator, Alexander Efremov – web administrator in charge of Digest distribution.


We would appreciate reference to our organization in the event of any Digest-sourced information or other materials being used.

Contacts: Glasnost Defense Foundation, 4, Zubovsky Boulevard, Office 432, 119992 Moscow, Russia.
Telephone/fax: (495) 637-4947, 637-4420, e-mail: boris@gdf.ru, fond@gdf.ru
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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