Дайджест
23 Января 2012 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 554

23 January 2012

 

TOPIC OF THE WEEK

Freedom House report again places Russia among “not free” countries

On 19 January, the US-based human rights watchdog Freedom House published its annual survey of political rights and civil liberties worldwide.

FH Freedom Indexes have been released since 1072, dividing the countries into “free”, “partly free” and “not free”, based on a set of criteria such as civil society status, the human rights situation, freedom of expression, internet freedom, freedom of conscience, democratic/non-democratic governance system, free/not free elections, etc.

Freedom House analysts identified 87 countries as “free”, noting a deterioration of the political rights and civil liberties situation in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, as well as Iran, Bahrain, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Hungary.

The level of freedom is the lowest in North Korea, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Tibet, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Equatorial Guinea and Eritrea.

As regards Russia, it is again listed among the “not free” countries. Exercise of political rights and civil freedoms here is indexed 6 and 5, respectively (on a 7-point scale where 1 is the highest rating). This puts Russia on a par with such countries as Rwanda, Egypt, Oman, Qatar, Gabon, and the West Bank of the Jordan, a territory that the United Nations rates as occupied.

Asked by Radio Liberty to comment on the level of freedom in Russia, Christopher Walker, Freedom House director of studies, said development trends in Russia in the past few years have been generally characterised as “negative”, since all the parameters under study, including Russian citizens’ freedom to exercise their electoral rights, or the status of civil society, or the justice system’s independence, far from showing signs of improvement, have only degraded. The key development of 2011, he said, was civil society’s mobilisation in the wake of (deeply flawed) December parliamentary elections, seen as “a step toward greater freedom”, though merited not so much to Russian power, which claims to be welcoming and approving of this mobilisation, as to ordinary Russian citizens’ frustration by the government’s unwillingness to respond, Walker said.

 

RUSSIA

Tyumen (Siberia). Editor’s prosecution continues

Vladimir Yefimov, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Vechernyaya Tyumen, has been charged with “instigating hatred or enmity, as well as disparaging human dignity” (Article 282 of the RF Criminal Code) – an apparently ordinary “anti-extremist” charge brought against journalists of late, although some details of this particular case are worth paying special attention to.

First, the law provisions envisaging criminal liability for “the instigation of enmity” were enacted back in 2008, and a criminal case opened against V. Yefimov in 2010 on charges of “instigating hatred and enmity toward the police as a social group” was closed in 2011 in view of no elements of crime found in the defendant’s actions, as stated by Svetlana Ageyeva, senior investigator at the regional investigative department for the Central Administrative District of Tyumen. However, six months later, on 19 January, the RF Investigative Committee’s news website announced that new charges had been brought against Yefimov for the very same publications which had already been found innocent.

Second, it seems doubtful that anyone may get seriously offended today by words like “booze up”, “kick out” or “lawless outrage”, which were described as “fuelling enmity” and “disparaging human dignity” by those who made the second attempt to turn editor Yefimov into a jailbird, according to the Interfax news agency.

Evidently, someone is very interested in getting the editor kicked out, which would indeed be a real outrage.

Chelyabinsk. Legal charges against critically-minded blogger lifted

By Irina Gundareva, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

The Chelyabinsk Region Investigative Committee has terminated criminal proceedings against blogger Andrei Yermolenko, who was suspected of “instigating hatred and enmity, and disparaging the human dignity of persons forming a social group” (Article 282.1 of the RF Criminal Code). The criminal case was closed after an expert study of his texts by analysts who found no elements of extremism in Yermolenko’s publications and did not recognise prosecutors, judges, police officers, government servants or State Duma deputies as members of a distinct social group.

In the summer of 2009, Yermolenko posted in his web blog two articles that were entitled “We Declare War on You!” and “NO to Political Impotence!”, after which his home was searched by the police, his desktop and notebook PCs and other personal effects were confiscated, and criminal proceedings were started against him.

In the first series of expert studies, Dr. Alexander Taradanov, head of the sociology department at Chelyabinsk State University, did recognise prosecutors, judges, policemen, government servants and parliamentarians as belonging to a social group. His colleague Dr. Diana Tsirling, head of the psychology department at the same university, asserted that the two publications contained hate speech toward members of the said group.

That might have placed Yermolenko behind bars, but for his defence lawyers and an unbiased investigation. The lawyers presented expert conclusions overturning those made priviously, which caused the investigators in late June to order a third, comprehensive (linguistic, psychological and sociological) expert study of the blogger’s texts by specialists at South Urals State University.

The final conclusions signed by psychologist Anna Ryazanova, a highly qualified physician at Psychoneurological Clinic No.1 in Chelyabinsk, and Dr. Yekaterina Prilukova, assistant professor at the political science department of Southern Urals University, unambiguously stated that Yermolenko’s texts did not contain any statements or judgments calling for aggressive actions in respect of the authorities being criticised in his articles.

In Chelyabinsk, this is already the second time that criminal charges against bloggers and journalists sharply criticising the authorities are lifted. The precedent was set by the case of Valery Uskov, editor of the newspaper Pravda Zlatousta, which the same Investigative Committee closed giving the accused the right to claim full exoneration (see Digest 551).

Kostroma. Independent newspaper remains under pressure

By Natalya Severskaya, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

Albert Stepantsev, general director of the newspaper Moi Gorod-Kostroma (MGK), has complained to the Glasnost Defence Foundation about “administrative pressure that has led to a suspension of the operation of the Kostroma Region’s sole independent newspaper”.

“We have not worked in vain during the past six months,” he wrote. “We have released 22 newspaper issues, each of which was read and discussed by the entire city. We sought to highlight urgent problems that are of interest to Kostroma residents, and pursued an editorial policy boiling down to the formula ‘Don’t keep silent and don’t lie’. Our newspaper showed sustainable development.”

However, the independent newspaper’s existence was not to everybody’s liking in the city and region. “From the very outset,” Stepantsev wrote, “we have been subject to administrative pressure that grew ever stronger and more impertinent day after day, reaching its peak before the latest parliamentary elections, when the police repeatedly detained our reporters and did not admit them to various public events, and when OBEP [special police against economic crime], the antimonopoly agency, Roskomnadzor [federal service overseeing public communications] and other authorities exhausted us by a score of different inspections. We were ejected from our office. Attempts have been repeatedly made to smear our newspaper through provocative and openly slanderous discussions on the chat forums of local websites.”

On New Year’s eve, it seemed, passions had calmed down and the MGK staffers got busy preparing a regular issue of their newspaper. But right after the New Year holidays, suspicious characters identifying themselves now as OBEP servicemen, now as prosecutors, started calling and going round the offices of advertisers to tell them MGK had not paid the taxes, was facing numerous legal charges, and they should immediately cease co-operating with it unless they wanted problems with the overseeing and controlling agencies. With about a dozen facts of such phone calls and visits already proven, the newspaper’s operation in its previous format and with the previous circulation is becoming impossible, Stepantsev said. “We are looking for a solution,” he wrote, “that would enable us to continue releasing our newspaper and fulfilling our obligations to the remaining advertisers and readers. The facts of pressure on MGK and its advertisers will be reported to the competent bodies. We hereby warn everyone involved in this persecution campaign, whatever their official ranks or positions, that interference with a media outlet’s lawful operation is a criminal offence, as is abuse of one’s official position.”

Rostov Region. Court once again reinstates newspaper editor. See Digest 549

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

Irina Vassilyeva has been reinstated by a court of law as editor of the newspaper Novocherkasskiye Vedomosti (NV).

She was dismissed under a 6 December 2011 decision by the City Property Management Committee that was not coordinated with the other newspaper founders – the regional Ministry of Internal Affairs and Information Policy and NV’s own staff. But the court reinstated Vassilyeva not because of this non-observance of the formal procedure but in view of no legal ground for her dismissal whatsoever.

The Property Management Committee claimed the editor “failed to duly keep company property” – she was found to have used the company scanner to scan a page from one of the Russian newspapers to borrow its format for NV (see Diget 549).

The absurdity of that claim was evident; the actual reason behind Vassilyeva’s replacement was the city administration’s dissatisfaction with the content of NV publications that often criticised municipal services for their poor performance. Vassilyeva was already replaced for that in August 2011, so this is her second reinstatement. This time, the mayor’s office hurried to appoint not only a new director but also a new editor-in-chief, although the two positions are to be held by one and the same person in line with the company charter and manning table. The chief editor’s post went to a young lady reporter who kept it only for a week.

On 18 January, Irina Vassilyeva resumed her work as NV director/chief editor.

Republic of North Ossetia-Alania. Journalist dragged into administrative litigation

See Digest 548

By Natalya Yusupova, GDF correspondent in North Caucasia Federal District

Administrative proceedings have continued in North Ossetia against journalist and blogger Maria Pliyeva who was detained by the police on 3 December in Vladikavkaz’ Liberty Square, where supporters of South Ossetia’s former presidential candidate Alla Dzhioyeva were to hold a protest rally.

Maria herself says activists came to the square to express solidarity with people in South Ossetia, who were rallying at the time in the central square of Tskhinval. The police officers who detained Pliyeva accused her of disorderly conduct – of loudly swearing and insulting them in public.

“They kept me at the police station for 6 hours and then drove me to a justice of the peace to write a formal request for hearings of my case to be suspended until I found a defence lawyer,” Pliyeva said. “Back at the police station, they hadn’t shown me the protocol of detention and hadn’t told me what they were accusing me of. Investigator Margoyev had earlier warned me the South Ossetian Interior Ministry wanted to bring criminal charges against me, but the judge said no official charges had been brought thus far, so he let me go home.”

The first trial, held on 4 December, ended in Pliyeva’s acquittal “in view of no elements of administrative offence” in her behaviour. The surprising verdict was passed by a justice of the peace in the Iriston district of Vladikavkaz. But the district prosecutor’s office challenged that decision and lodged a legal claim against Pliyeva with the Leninsky district court.

In the three administrative cases heard by first-instance courts since early December, Maria has been acquitted of disorderly conduct but sentenced to a fine for “breaching the rules of … holding a meeting, rally, demonstration, street march, or picketing action”. The journalist, in her turn, challenged this decision before a higher-standing judicial authority.

The Iriston district prosecutor’s office, for its part, protested Pliyeva’s acquittal of disorderly conduct.

Maria is now busy preparing for a new battle in court: on 24 January, a second-instance court is due to consider both protests.

Republic of Ingushetia. Opposition website comes under hacker attack

By Vakha Chapanov, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

Magomed Khazbiyev, owner of the Ingushetiyaru.org opposition website, has reported a hacker attack on his web resource.

The site has been inaccessible for four days now. “The webmaster is now working and we’ve been lucky to save information and the website archives,” Khazbiyev said.

According to him, the attackers “intercepted part of the password and started to destroy the website structure”, but web administrators managed to stop the destruction process. “They’ve been unable so far to fully restore the site’s operation,” Khazbiyev added.

It should be noted that it is not for the first time that the opposition website comes under a hacker attack.

Sverdlovsk Region (Urals). Ruling party puts pressure on district media editors

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

After the scandal over the release of a “black” digest under its brand name, the Urals office of the weekly newspaper Argumenty i Fakty terminated its agreement with the All-Russia Popular Front (ARPF) on the release of six campaigning issues in support of the ruling party’s nominee – and all this because of their making a fake photo featuring Alexei Navalny in the company of Boriz Berezovsky.

The Sverdlovsk Region’s ARPF headquarters quickly found a new partner, the MK-Ural newspaper, whose services, though, may grow more costly in the wake of the scandal. The first digest issue is to be released one of these days.

Meanwhile, the ruling United Russia party has taken steps to persuade other Urals editors too of the need to be co-operative in the run-up to and during the presidential race. At the same time, they have not yet repaid their debts for the previous, Duma, elections, which issue was raised during municipal editors’ recent meeting with the governor’s chief of staff, Vyacheslav Lashmankin.

The same topic came up for discussion at a meeting with heads of the regional Legislative Assembly that reporters were invited to attend to see whom the people had elected last time – not without the help of campaigning ads featured in district newspapers. Speaker Lyudmila Babushkina hastened to say she had nothing at all to do with those debts, and outgoing URP secretary Yelena Chechunova found an excuse not to attend the meeting. An editor’s remark, “If I ask colleagues here to whom of them the authorities are still indebted, everyone will raise their hands, I am sure” caused a prompt reaction from Viktor Sheptiy, the next regional URP leader in many people’s view, who said, “If you raise your hands now, then you’ll turn up your toes later.” The audience was not sure whether to take this as a joke or a threat. According to an Ura.ru news agency reporter, the organisers quickly rounded the discussion out by suggesting moving to the banquet room for a bit of shirtsleeve communication.

Colleagues have said off-stage later that Sheptiy may well be expected to walk the talk, considering the 12 (sic!) disagreeable editors replaced in different districts last year. Moreover, since this year began, their number has further increased to 16, with several more local editors complaining of pressure being put on them, Alexander Chertkov, chair of the Council of Municipal Urban and District Newspaper Editors, said.

It is no one’s secret that pretty often editors themselves sign fettering agreements in exchange for municipal economic support. But in the Irbit district, for example, the authorities invented a Jesuit way to replace Valentin Zhivulin as long-time editor of the local public and political newspaper Voskhod. Alexander Chiryatyev, director of the Irbitsky Vestnic municipal company to which Voskhod belongs, approved a new manning table scrapping the chief editor’s position as of 1 March 2012. Zhivulin, who has to work just six month before retirement on pension, was offered to choose between staying as a rank-and-file reporter or becoming director of the would-be museum of the Voskhod newspaper which will mark its 90th anniversary this year…

We will return to this topic in the next edition of the GDF Digest.

 

GLASNOST DEFENCE FOUNDATION

Some statistics cited

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

 

OUR PUBLICATIONS

Learning to be a journalist

By Sergey Plotnikov, e-learning instructor

A whole five participants in one of the GDF’s educational projects were honoured as the results of the Perm Region’s largest journalistic contest were summed up this year.

The Arkady Gaidar Journalistic Mastery Competition has selected and merited the Kama River Area’s best newspaper publications and radio/TV shows for 45 years already. This year the jury considered works submitted by 40-odd authors, among them those who had gone through a pilot e-learning course for investigative journalists.

This project, co-sponsored by the International Centre for Journalism (ICFJ) and Glasnost Defence Foundation, was launched in 2009. Three-month free courses for bloggers and investigative journalists were held in Moscow, Yekaterinburg, Vladivostok and Saratov, attracting quite a few city and district newspaper reporters. However, full-time studies proved available only to regional centre residents, while provincial reporters – the most numerous section of the media community needing professional skill improvement more than the rest – were actually left outside the project framework. It was specially for them, at the Russian side’s initiative, that e-learning courses were organised in the Middle and South Urals, Tyumen Region and Kama River Area in addition to the initial programme.

The Perm Region team of pilot project participants showed good organisation and impressive results. To finish the course successfully, each trainee was required to perform a journalistic investigation into a problem of major social importance and publish the findings. Students selected themes independently and with the help of teachers and colleagues well-versed in local realities, so the resulting publications, as pointed out in the graduation certificates, “met the international standards of high-quality journalism”.

Not surprisingly therefore, the group of finalists included even persons who had not been able for various reasons to complete the e-learning course. For example, Inessa Suvorova, the holder of a Gaidar Competition diploma in the Regional Newspapers nomination, failed to complete the course because of getting a job as a federal newspaper correspondent. For Irina Ketova (Litvina), e-learning came as a kind of post-graduate training: having got an honours degree from the School of Journalism at Urals State University in Yekaterinburg, she returned to her home town, Lysva, to work as a reporter for the city newspaper Iskra. Irina chose a difficult theme: a drama theatre director got in real trouble as charges of a grave crime were brought against him based on the visions of an extrasensory individual. Today, he is fully acquitted, and the charlatan has been exposed as a liar. Her Gaidar Competition diploma in the Budding Journalist nomination in addition to her honours degree seems a very good career beginning for Irina.

Natalya Maltseva, a Bereznikovsky Rabochiy correspondent, probed into what can be described as a “conflict under one roof” between the directors of two housing owners’ partnerships seeking to manage one and the same apartment block. The conflicting parties have so far been unable to settle their differences, although the house is in Mir (Peace) Street. Maltseva gave an insight into this – on the one hand, an apparently ordinary story about a household conflict, but almost a parable on the other.

Or take the subject matter of Tatyana Bazuyeva’s journalistic investigation. “What can be simpler than rissoles served in a school canteen?” one may wonder. The more complex a theme, the more weighted and unbiased should be a journalist’s reporting on it – in theory at least. But what if the author is a lady journalist, a mother of three, and a member of a Parent-Teacher Association checking the quantity and quality of meals for school pupils in the township of Gainy? What if she knows for sure what and how much food is stolen from the plates of her three kids? This is how things are in practice. The school principal lodged a legal claim against Tatyana after her critical story was published. Several eyewitnesses declined to confirm their own words out of fear this might result in potential reprisals and bad marks for their own children. Bazuyeva’s publication did not earn her a diploma – but it was noted by the regional human rights ombudsman.

Vadim Aksarin, deputy editor of the newspaper Zarya, deserves special words of recognition. In the first place, he was given a special diploma for a series of publications about “black woodcutters” engaged in predatory, uncontrolled felling of forests that is injurious to the Kama River Area’s nature. Second, having begun investigating this theme as part of his e-learning training, he did not close it after getting his honours certificate. At one of the four seminars organised last autumn by the Perm branch of the Russian Journalists’ Union as a follow-up on the e-learning project, Vadim said he was continuing the investigation, and two more publications followed shortly. And there will be more, since the problem is still high on the agenda – despite the “black woodcutters” habit of putting a “black mark” – hanging a cemetery wreath – onto the fence of anyone daring to expose their evil practices.

There is a third reason as well: the special diploma is named in honour of Vassily Moseyev, long-time head of the regional branch of the RJU. Having resigned from this post because of his advanced age and health problems, he worked for some time as a GDF correspondent. He lived long enough to mark the GDF’s 20th anniversary, and to go rafting down the Kama and its tributaries. He died in the middle of his journey, giving his last breath, as his last tribute, to the home region he loved so much.

One clever person called the newspapers “the second hand of the history clock”. Not everyone will be quick and masterful enough to squeeze the most essential into the cramped format of a press or online news report, and to see the general behind a particular, see the forest behind a tree. One has to learn to be able to do this. The more trust to those who have gone through the learning process successfully.

 

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

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, Svetlana Zemskova  – lawyer, Vsevolod Shelkhovskoy  – translator.

 

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

Contacts: Glasnost Defence 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