Дайджест
18 Ноября 2010 года

GLASNOST DEFENSE FOUNDATION DIGEST No. 499

TOPIC OF THE WEEK

Journalist convicted

Legal proceedings against journalist Mikhail Beketov were instituted on libel charges (Article 129 of the RF Criminal Code) after he suggested that Khimki Mayor Vladimir Strelchenko may have had a hand in setting his car on fire in May 2007. In November 2008 the journalist became the target of a crippling attack that he barely survived. The court hearings opened October 12 this year, but Strelchenko did not attend them (see Digest No. 495). On October 21, he ignored the hearings again (see Digest No. 496). And it was only on November 9 that he finally appeared in court, an hour and a half later than due.

Strelchenko said he had “no personal claims” to Beketov and even proposed an amicable settlement, but refused to withdraw his complaint. “One has to be motivated to withdraw one’s complaint. I am not,” Newsru.com quoted him as saying.

 

The prosecution insisted on a RUR 3,000 penalty, the defense on full acquittal. The sentenced was passed November, with the judge turning out to be more radical than the prosecutor: he not only found Beketov guilty but also increased the fine to RUR 5,000, although the amount will not be payable in real terms because of the period of limitation. Yet the journalist’s lawyers are determined to have their client fully acquitted and go as far as it takes to achieve this goal, including to Strasbourg.

Meanwhile, the Russian Journalists’ Union has described the sentence “Khimki-style justice” and “evidence of Strelchenko’s courage and nobleness”, has announced an action to gather the penalty sum – five thousand roubles – in coins, and invited all interested parties to contribute some change…

 

EVENT OF THE WEEK

More reporters attacked

This month has been marked by a chain of attacks on media workers, the bulk of them occurring between November 5 and 9.

The group of victims includes Vyacheslav Struchkov, TV news presented from Yakutsk; Sergey Mikhailov, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Saratovsky Reporter from Saratov; Oleg Kashin, reporter for the newspaper Kommersant from Moscow; and Magomed Khanmagomedov, correspondent for the newspaper Chernovik from Dagestan. Besides, gunshots were fired in Nakhodka (the Far East) at the windows of local journalist Valentin Politayev’s apartment; and in Tyumen at those of the owner and editor of the Skotny Dvor website Biktor Yegorov.

Very logically, those attacks made many people think something must be done to put an end to this outrage. Some suggested toughening liability for crimes against journalists.

That initiative gave rise to vigorous debates over whether or not the journalists should be made a specially protected social group.

It goes without saying that all citizens must be duly protected. But life shows it is journalists who are targeted more often than others while performing their professional work. They are threatened so often that many have started regarding threats as part of their profession – together with hand grenade explosions, regular prosecution, etc.

One may argue that doctors, engineers, police officers or teachers are sometimes attacked too. And yet, only journalists get frequently prosecuted in connection with their professional activities. “Serves them right,” some would say, “they are always poking their noses in others’ affairs and perform poorly!” But, paradoxically enough, it is for doing their job excellently that journalists get beaten or threatened with violence. And only reporters’ bosses are compelled to send their subordinates as far away as possible on some business trip to save them from brutal attacks following publications with broad public repercussions.

Journalists’ harassment has turned into a kind of technology. The latest crippling attack on Oleg Kashin was in many aspects a repetition of the Beketov attack scenario. The only difference was that Kashin was rushed to hospital to receive immediate assistance.

It is hard to say whether more severe legal punishment might help change the situation. So far, the Criminal Code has tended to be spearheaded against journalists who have found themselves accused of slander, defamation, extortion, bribes, insulting government officials, or involvement in so-called “extremist” activities… Whenever reporters have been attacked, law enforcement has been reluctant to institute criminal proceedings against their assailants, and has taken pains to play down the underlying conflicts to mere household wrangles. Article 144 of the Code (“Interference with a journalist’s lawful professional activities”) has remained actually unworkable – it has been applied only a few times over the years, and not to officials or gangsters.

But the very fact of the recent chain of attacks on journalists causing such serious public resonance – with the State Duma sitting down to discuss the possibility of making punishment for crimes against reporters as severe as that for assaults on public officials – is a clearly positive sign. The higher the degree of public interest, the more difficult it would be to soft-pedal a criminal case – at least the latest attack on the Kommersant reporter in downtown Moscow.

 

RUSSIA

Maritime Region. Gunshots fired at journalist’s apartment

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

The previous edition of the GDF Digest reported on unidentified thugs firing shots from a fowling piece at the windows of journalist Viktor Yegorov’s apartment in Tyumen (see Digest No. 498). That incident echoed at the other end of Russia, in the Far Eastern city of Nakhodka, where a similar crime was committed.

Shots were fired at the apartment of journalist Valentin Politayev of the Center Against Corrupt Government Practices. A month earlier, gunshots had been fired at his office windows, Politayev said. “Clearly, the two incidents are interconnected and directly related to the Center’s performance. I’m sure both will be written off as ordinary hooliganism, and the perpetrators won’t be found, ever. I’ve survived several attempts on my life, so I’m not the one to be intimidated.”

In January 2002 V. Politayev was beaten with clubs by two unknown men near his house. He was taken to hospital with a concussion, a scull trauma, an arm injury and a broken finger. Shortly before the attack, a local businessman had warned the journalist he might be punished for his critical publications. The police qualified the incident as hooliganism. The Glasnost Defense Foundation has received no reports about the police ever investigating the assault at all.

 

Perm Region. Reporters’ attackers go unpunished

By Vassily Moseyev,
GDF staff correspondent in Volga Federal District

We seriously hope that the thugs who beat Kommersant reporter Oleg Kashin in Moscow will be tracked down and prosecuted, now that the authorities have taken the investigation under special control. But another victimized Kommersant reporter – Mikhail Lobanov of Perm – has had the police turn down his four (sic!) requests for the institution of criminal proceedings against unidentified attackers who left him with very serious traumas.

He was attacked early on June 24 by two men who hit him on the back of the head and proceeded to kick away at him lying on the ground. The doctors diagnosed him as having “scull cap and scull base fractures, a brain contusion of medium gravity, an epidural hematoma, subarachnoid hemorrhage, and facial and head bruises”. His closed craniocerebral injury was qualified as one of criminal origin. After Mikhail came to in the hospital, police officers questioned him about the incident, as legally required in cases of this kind.

But the subsequent behavior of the police and prosecutors looked strange. According to the Perm supplement to the Moscow daily Kommersant, the regional police reported the attack on Lobanov as a “disclosed” crime. The report (reg. No.23977 of June 24) said at 6:30 a.m. a police patrol detained two suspects, jobless Sergey Pogor and his underage friend, and only released them after each of them gave a written pledge not to leave town. Yet an eyewitness to the attack said the young men were not detained at all – after a brief conversation with the police they got into a Lada car and drove away. The same crime register contains a written statement by S. Pogor (reg. No. 23987) that he was at home at 7 a.m. on June 24. Significantly enough, Sergey Pogor is the son of Ivan Pogor, special inspector of the Licenses Unit of the regional police department. No less significantly, Mikhail Lobanov is a journalist who has for over 20 years now written on crime themes, including corruption in the police and prosecutor’s office.

His first request for the institution of legal proceedings was turned down with no one bothering to notify the author of that fact. Yet he somehow found it out and complained to the Perm Region prosecutor Alexander Belykh who canceled the police refusal signed by criminal investigation operative Anton Verkhovetsky. A copy thereof was to be sent to Lobanov the same day, but he never received it. That is why he wrote two more requests – in July and August – addressed to Motovilikhinsky District prosecutor Sergey Murai. In late August and early September he received two reply messages from the police, both dated August 11 (one date with traces of forgery) and signed by two deputy prosecutors who informed Mikhail that his requests had been turned down again. That caused the journalist to appeal again to the regional prosecutor A. Belykh, who simply forwarded his complaint to the person about whose negligence the author was complaining – to prosecutor Murai. The latter, in his turn, sent all the papers back to the police, i.e. to colleagues of Sergey Pogor’s father. The latest police refusal to open a criminal case was dated September 27.

And it was not until early November, four months after he was attacked, that the prosecutor’s office notified Mikhail of its canceling police operative Verkhovetsky’s fourth refusal to probe into the circumstances of his beating.

 

Despite his health problems as a result of the assault, Mikhail Lobanov proved strong enough to go through all this police red tape to the end. The question is will the police get busy prosecuting his assailants, after all?

 

Rostov Region. Journalist under siege

By Anna Lebedeva,
GDF staff correspondent in Southern Federal District

The newspaper Nashe Vremya based in Volgodonsk, Rostov Region, published November 12 an editorial saying that its staff correspondent Natalia Shelimova and her family live under a kind of siege. Regularly, once every two or three weeks, unknown persons fire shots at her apartment, or smear the door with paint, or plaster the keyhole with glue or cement, each time leaving insulting and threatening leaflets in and around Natalia’s house.

The harassment campaign against Shelimova began soon after she published a post-election story saying that members of a local crime ring, Olymp, are making their way into the ruling elite. The authorities took pains to prevent that newspaper issue from reaching the reader. They detained street vendors, took them to the police station to confiscate their newspaper copies, and followed postmen around the neighborhood to draw the newspapers from subscribers’ mailboxes.

Complaints to law enforcement did not help. Nor are they helping now, when the Nashe Vremya reporter finds herself pressured as hard as she is. Her repeated appeals to the city police chief, Col. Yuri Sereda, have been left unanswered …

Alarmed by this criminal outrage, editor Vera Yuzhanskaya filed an official inquiry about the measures taken by the police in respect of the hooligans. A month later, she received Col. Sereda’s reply saying no measures had been taken at all, since the police found no elements of a crime in the unknown persons’ actions that Shelimova complained of.

Evidently, the police chief considers the shots fired at the windows of Natalia’s apartment, the paint-smeared door, the license plates torn off her car, etc., to be “the norm”. The editor has been compelled to urge the higher-standing regional police department to take a closer look at what is going on in Volgodonsk. The Glasnost Defense Foundation will follow the developments attentively.

 

Republic of North Ossetia-Alania. Queer coincidences

The REN-TV network and the Ekho Moskvy radio station have been inoperative in the republic for more than a month, with Ekho’s FM 102.8 range taken over by the radio station Zvezda. The silence of REN-TV (whose satellite signals are relayed by the local TV network Vis-à-vis) is ascribed to “technical difficulties”.

Gone from the air – after only two months of operation – is the local TV show Pozitsiya (Civil Stand), the sole one that invited NGO representatives to speak out. Besides, the independent newspaper Osetiya: Svobodny Vzglyad, reporting on themes that other print media prefer to skirt, remained idle for a whole week.

According to its editor, the office computers were attacked by hackers who also stole the databases. As a result, the newspaper could be released only once, not thrice, a week for some time.

[Based on Civitas.ru reports]

Altai Republic. Independent newspaper’s founder faces multiple criminal charges

Continued from Digest 478

O. Chetvernin, deputy prosecutor of the Altai Republic, has affirmed the indictment against Sergey Mikhailov, the founder and editor of the newspaper Listok, who is charged with insulting the republic’s head Alexander Berdnikov and with fanning interethnic hostility (see Digest No. 478). Mikhailov himself refutes all the charges and sees it as an attempt by the authorities to revenge themselves on him for a series of critical publications, particularly a story highlighting the crash of a helicopter with high-ranking poachers on board that occurred in the Kosh-Agach District January 9, 2009.

 Lawyers from the AGORA Association are helping Mikhailov defend in court. AGORA president Pavel Chikov (Ph.D, Law) met with journalists November 9.

 “The charges advanced against the journalist – even if they were absolutely justified – should not entail criminal liability for the accused,” he said. “If an official feels insulted, let him go file a civil claim instead of bringing the entire law enforcement machine down on reporters’ heads! Any citizen is free to criticize the authorities; for a journalist, it’s ‘a must’ professionally. The linguists and psychologists from whom we requested expert conclusions did not find any insulting statements or elements of interethnic hostility in Mikhailov’s writings.”

 

GLASNOST DEFENSE FOUNDATION

Some statistics cited

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

 

OUR PUBLICATIONS

Trans-Baikal media need government support, journalists say

By Marina Meteleva,
GDF staff correspondent in Siberian Federal District

Members of the regional branch of the Russian Journalists’ Union (RJU) and district newspaper representatives have urged Trans-Baikal Governor Ravil Geniatulin and Legislative Assembly Chairman Stepan Zhuryakov to take note of the miserable position of local media outlets, many of which are on the verge of closure.

The dire financial straits in which district and municipal newspapers, TV networks and radio stations are finding themselves throughout the region were discussed at a general meeting of the regional branch of the RJU. Follow-up debates took place as part of the Press Days program in the Legislative Assembly, with district newspaper editors attending.

Economic dependence on municipal authorities has resulted in ever more restrictions imposed on local media’s freedom of expression. “Local authorities increasingly often regard the newspapers, TV and radio as instruments of self-promotion and feel free to meddle in editorial performance in a manner that is in many ways tantamount to censorship which is prohibited under the law,” the journalists’ appeal says. “Blunders in municipal personnel, technological, financial and economic policies have resulted in the staffs of district newspapers reduced by two-thirds over the past three years. Over this year alone, seven district newspaper editors have been replaced. The material and technical base of newspapers is extremely poor, and the printing equipment purchased at one time with the governor’s support is badly worn. Reporters and technical staffers have not been paid for their work for months. All this leaves local residents without unbiased information and with zero chances to discuss the region’s life – and this despite the local media’s leading role in the ongoing democratization, civil society development, and efforts to bring up a generation with a more active life stand.”

The journalists urged the governor, administration and Legislative Assembly to step in, jointly with the local self-governments, to improve the situation. That would require, in the first place, the development and adoption of a targeted regional program of local media support involving financial assistance, technical modernization, and a system of professional training and retraining. Secondly, the governor’s administration might join the group of municipal media co-founders to raise their status and help them deal with problems. Thirdly, a working group would have to be set up, uniting gubernatorial press spokesmen, officials in charge of interaction with the parliamentary media, and district newspaper editors, to assess the financial and economic position of local media outlets and improve their organizational and legal structure.

 

Karelia’s head takes on responsibility for media management reshuffle

By Anatoly Tsygankov,
President, Karelia Journalists’ Union

Karelia’s leader A. Nelidov has met with members of the republican Journalists’ Union board at their initiative to discuss a letter spelling out journalists’ claims and questions concerning the operation of government co-owned media and the replacement of a group of media editors that many believe was unjustified.

Participants in the meeting were eager to know, in the first place, what the pattern of media and journalists’ relations with the republic’s leadership would be like, and secondly, if settling the ongoing media-government conflicts might be possible. Answering the first question, A. Nelidov announced plans to slash his administration’s media-related spending by one half – down to USD 1.5 m from this year’s level of USD 3 m.

All government-financed media would merge into a new independent structure, the Republic of Karelia News Agency, which would include Karelia Publishers’ (a co-founder of the government and parliamentary newspaper Karelia and all the district newspapers across the republic), the Sampo TV/Radio Company, and an official website.

Commenting on the recent media management reshuffle, Nelidov said he takes the responsibility for it upon himself. He reminded the journalists that it was because of their critical assessment of his initial plans that he had dropped the idea of setting up a state committee on civil society development and relations with political parties and the media. No media-overseeing agency would be created at all, and the PR function would be delegated to the Committee on Ethnic Policy and Relations with Religious Organizations, with an appropriate change to its name, he said.

The discussion with the republic’s head was very emotional, but it is too early to assess its potential effect on the journalistic community. One thing that became definitely clear to A. Nelidov is that the Journalists’ Union will actively defend its members and affirm the journalists’ right to professional independence.

 

OUR PARTNERS

IFJ appalled by conviction of M. Beketov

The International Federation of Journalists was today appalled by the issuing of a 5,000 rouble fine (175 euros) against the journalist Mikhail Beketov for alleged slander. Beketov, who emerged from a coma following a savage attack on him two years ago, was prosecuted for slandering the mayor of Khimki of whom Beketov had been a long time critic.

“This penalty, though apparently trivial in size, is nevertheless a sickening indictment of the status of justice in parts of Russia,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “Instead of tracking down those who beat Beketov to within an inch of his life, the authorities have chosen to add further insult to his very severe injuries from which he is still to recover.”

Beketov, chief editor of the Khimki Pravda newspaper, was a well known critic of the town’s Mayor, Colonel Vladimir Strelchenko (reserves). Prior to his beating in November 2008 Mikhail Beketov received numerous threats including the torching of his car. He was convinced the threats were a response to his journalism but the police consistently refused to track down 
the criminals. Following the arson attack he made public his fear that the Mayor of Khimki could be behind this campaign of intimidation. It was then that he was beaten.

The IFJ gives its full backing to its affiliate, the Russian Union of Journalists which has launched a campaign on behalf of Beketov.

In 2009 the IFJ published its report ‘Partial Justice’ and made available its online database on the status of impunity in Russia and the failure of the judicial system to bring the killers of journalists to justice. Since then, the IFJ has expanded its research to cover the yet more frequent targeted attacks on journalists that do not kill but may cripple. IFJ research shows there have been over one hundred assaults of this kind since 2005.

The conviction handed down by the court in Khimki comes less than a week after the brutal beating of investigative journalist Oleg Kashin, who was left with a broken jaw and fractures to both legs.

“This incident may have set new standards in judicial perversity, but it must not be allowed distract the authorities from the primary tasks of identifying and pursuing all responsible for the attacks on Beketov and Kashin,” added White.

 

DIGEST MAIL

“This is to inform you that I as a journalist probing reported corrupt practices within government agencies have found myself during the past few months the target of a deliberate harassment campaign in the Internet. I have received threatening e-mail messages, telephone calls by unknown persons at night, etc. All this looks very much like an organized underworld group preparing yet another attempt on the life of a disfavored media reporter.

“Insulting and slanderous statements and calls to ‘have it out’ with me and my family have been poured on me like a torrent. I have been portrayed as a criminal, ‘a potential jailbird’, a dirty reporter, a traitor of Russia, a mentally unsound person, etc. Unidentified characters have intruded in my private life, publicizing my address on two private websites – BlogSochi.ru and PrivetSochi.ru, known to be supported by the authorities.

“I have officially complained to the prosecutor’s office about attempts to interfere with my lawful journalistic activities and to fan public hostility toward me as a reporter fulfilling my professional duty.

“I have also read on different websites about a grudge held against me by the Molodaya Gvardiya (Young Guards) movement. With the prosecutors showing zero reaction to my appeals for protection, I hereby warn the independent media, human rights defenders, and public and political parties and organizations that I feel I am being targeted.

“Sincerely,
Svetlana Kravchenko, Sochi.”

 

***

“Dear Mr. Simonov:

“The RF Supreme Court Decision ‘On Applying the RF Media Law in Judicial Practices’ gave us some hope that the Russian courts would now refrain from passing decisions that may significantly undermine the financial position of media outlets. But it turns out that there are alternative ways of stifling the press.

“On March 22, the Sovetsky District court in Krasnoyarsk partially satisfied a legal claim by Y.V.Turov, chairman of the Board of the production/construction company Soyuz against the newspaper Krasnoyarsky Rabochiy and its investigative journalist G. G. Belotserkovskaya in connection with her publication ‘Property Rights Denied’. The plaintiff wanted his honor, dignity and good name to be protected; he only claimed an official refutation but no monetary compensation. We lost the case in court only because the main characters of our publication, whose interests our newspaper had attempted to defend, said they were afraid to testify as eyewitnesses. We complied with the court decision and duly published a refutation.

“After the sentence was passed, Y. V. Turov filed with the same court a claim for the defendants to reimburse him the RUR 137,931.10 he had allegedly paid to E. V. Osetrova, a professor at Siberian Federal University, for the linguistic study of the text she had made at his request – although that study was not actually needed. The said amount was paid to her by the Soyuz company, not the plaintiff in person. It was not until September that Turov’s lawyer presented to the court a payment order ticket showing Turov had presumably paid that sum into the company budget as early as November 6, 2009.

“The way we see it, the linguistic study could not possibly cost more than RUR 30,000. Our newspaper filed an official inquiry with University rector Y. A. Vaganov as to whether or not the services of experts at the School of Philology and Linguistic Communication under his university are indeed as expensive as that. However, the court may turn down our request for the hearings to be put off till a later date.

“I feel this anti-media practice may become widespread. A wealthy plaintiff can afford ordering any kind of expert opinion for a million or several million roubles, prepare forged papers and submit them to court claiming judicial cost compensation.

“So far, we are not certain that the linguistic study did cost RUR 138,000. Nor are we sure that Y.V.Turov did pay that sum personally. The Soyuz company, of which he is the actual owner, is engaged in large-scale and diverse economic activities in the Krasnoyarsk Region, but it is registered as a legal entity in the Novosibirsk Region, making it very difficult to check the validity of that payment order. It may well turn out to be just a sheet of paper to be presented in court – and we are now supposed to pay the plaintiff real money.

“The Glasnost Defense Foundation has more than once helped Krasnoyarsky Rabochiy, and we appreciate your assistance very much. Hopefully, you will offer us legal help once again now. We are ready to present all the documents we have. And yet, the main purpose of this message is to highlight the potential threat posed to the media by this kind of practices.

“Respectfully,
V. E. Pavlovsky,
Editor-in-chief,
Newspaper Krasnoyarsky Rabochiy”

 

 

This Digest has been prepared by the Glasnost Defense Foundation (GDF)

 

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 Yefremov – 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