Дайджест
20 Февраля 2014 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 648

17 February 2014

STORY OF THE WEEK

RSF 2014 World Press Freedom Index released

The international press freedom watchdog Reporters sans frontières (RSF, Reporters without Borders) on 13 February released its annual World Press Freedom Index assessing the press freedom situation in 180 countries of the world.

The Top Ten, just as one year ago, includes Finland (ranked first for the fourth year running), the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Denmark, Iceland, New Zealand and Sweden.

The “Worst of the “Worst” category shows little change, too: at the very bottom of the list are Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea – “three countries where there is no freedom of information at all”; next to them are Syria, Somalia, China, Vietnam, Iran, Sudan and Laos.

Russia ranks 148, just as in 2013, between Malaysia (147th) and the Philippines (149th). Against the background of “a trial of strength between an increasingly determined civil society and an increasingly repressive state”, the media’s position remains fairly complicated, RSF noted in its report. “Media self-censorship is far from disappearing. The federal TV stations continue to be controlled and… continuing impunity creates an atmosphere of insecurity,” the report said, also pointing to the re-criminalization of defamation, the blacklisting of websites, the criminalization of “insulting the feelings of believers”, and a number of other “freedom-stifling” laws passed by Russian parliament in the past few years.

RSF stressed that journalists have often been detained in connection with their work. In Sochi, freelance reporter Nikolai Yarst has been placed under house arrest; in Rostov-on-Don, journalists Sergei Reznik and Aleksandr Tolmachev are being held on questionable charges; and photographer Denis Sinyakov and British videographer Kieron Bryan spent two months under arrest for covering a Greenpeace action in the Arctic. “At least 33 journalists have been murdered in connection with their work in Russia since 2000,” RSF said.

As regards ex-Soviet countries, the press freedom situation is the best in Estonia (ranked 11th); the other countries were ranked as follows: Lithuania 32nd, Latvia 37th, Moldova 56th, Armenia 78th, Georgia 84th, Kyrgyzstan 97th, Tajikistan 115th, Ukraine 127th, Belarus 157th, Azerbaijan 160th, Kazakhstan 161st, Uzbekistan 166th, and Turkmenistan 178th.

France dropped to the 39th place from last year’s 37th; Britain to the 33rd from 29th, and the United States to the 46th from 32nd in 2013.

Full text of the Index

 

RUSSIA

Rostov-based journalist accused of burning Russian flag

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

RosBalt news agency correspondent Dmitry Remizov has been accused of desecrating the state flag of the Russian Federation.

In starting legal proceedings against him under Criminal Code Article 329, the Azov district police department’s investigative division stated that in August 2012, Remizov arrived at the Molotov youth group’s summer camp bringing “a tricolour cloth, namely the RF state flag”, and ordered his two aides to burn it.

According to the investigator who prepared the indictment, Remizov as the youth group’s leader had placed ads in print media and social networks inviting like-minded persons to take part in Molotov field exercises, the programme of which included firing practices, military games and “theoretical training”. On that day in the summer of 2012, he also allegedly asked one of the trainees to make a video of the flag-burning action and to post it on YouTube. In acknowledgment of his confession, that amateur videographer, identified as “S.”, was relieved of criminal liability, the investigators said.

“I’ve never been a member of any such organisation,” Remizov told the GDF, “and have attended various public events only as a reporter. I’ve never taken part in any field exercises and never burned the Russian flag. The indictment is based on a video clip featuring some people in face masks burning a tricolour cloth. I think the criminal charges have been trumped up against me in connection with my work.”

“In the course of interrogations, police investigators asked me about my political views, my attitude toward Russia’s state system and toward the president and premier in person, and if I’d ever spoken negatively about them in public,” Remizov went on to say. “The investigators asked if I had any connections with the opposition in Rostov; they are seeking to portray me as an active oppositionist.”

Dmitry Remizov, 34, is a historian by training; after getting his university degree, he worked for a brief period as a schoolteacher of history in a rural area in the Rostov Region; then switched over to reporting for a local radio station. For many years now, he has worked as a RosBalt news agency correspondent. He is the author of numerous critical publications, including those about ill-performing regional administration officials.

The very possibility of establishing the identity of persons wearing face masks is “very doubtful from the viewpoint of its potential acceptance as evidence in court,” Remizov’s defence lawyer Andrei Chutskov told the GDF.

In line with Article 329, a person found guilty of desecrating the RF state flag or coat of arms may be in for up to one year of custodial restraint or hard labour, or for three to six months under arrest, or for up to one year in jail.

Judge in Omsk passes decision contradicting her personal opinion

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

The Kuibyshevsky district court in Omsk has partially satisfied a legal claim lodged by regional Culture Minister Viktor Lapukhin against the weekly newspaper Biznes-Kurs (BK) and its author Yevgeny Shestakov, a Merited Artist of Russia who posted an open letter on the newspaper’s website.

In his open letter addressed to Governor Viktor Nazarov, Shestakov, ex-art director and senior conductor of the Omsk Academic Symphony Orchestra, listed the culture minister among “the dregs of [ex-Governor] Polezhayev’s regime”, i.e. the group of local officials who retained their posts, or even went still higher up the career ladder, after the previous regional leader’s replacement.

The very fact of Lapukhin’s lodging such a claim, and the reputational damages he demanded (1 million roubles), testify to his status as “Polezhayev’s man” in the current administration, rather than a member of the team of the incumbent governor, who has repeatedly called for promoting a free dialogue between the authorities and society, and not only in such independent media as BK but also in government-controlled media. Nazarov’s newly-appointed deputies, meanwhile, have more than once stressed the importance of criticism and the inadmissibility of “rationing” it. Multimillion legal claims, on the other hand, used to be a “form of dialogue” that regional administrators used to maintain with journalists under the previous regional head.

In his open letter, Shestakov assessed the regional culture minister’s performance very critically, which the author is entitled to do not only as a brilliant professional with a high degree of respect in the international classical music community but also as a citizen having the right – guaranteed to him by the Constitution and other Russian laws – to share his thoughts with the authorities and to turn to them with any kind of complaints, including in the form of open letters.

Lapukhin, for his part, has the right to publish a reply, and the newspaper would have been glad to provide him that opportunity at any convenient time, unless he preferred to settle the dispute in court, BK owner Sergei Suslikov told the GDF, adding that “it’s common knowledge that in the law field, ‘crops are harvested’ by those having more influence, rather than by those who are right”.

The court, though, slashed the claimed amount of compensation to only 35,000 roubles and required BK to disclaim one of the open letter’s phrases.

Talking to him after the end of the hearing, the judge suddenly confessed she had passed a decision that was at odds with her personal opinion, Suslikov said. Biznes-Kurs intends to challenge the ruling before a higher-standing judicial authority.

University rector in Chelyabinsk Region claims 200,000 roubles in moral damages on basis of his personal conclusions

By Irina Gundareva, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

Valery Kolokoltsev, rector of the State Technical University (MGTU) in Magnitogorsk, Chelyabinsk Region, has been trying hard to protect his “damaged” honour and dignity with the help of his subordinates, who have been filing with the prosecutor’s office, FSB, police and the mayor’s office scores of complaints about journalists who have “belied” their boss…

What caused the rector to frown at the press was a report by the news website Verstov.info about a chain of secessions and mergers of colleges under the auspices of his university. The process was marked by curious “coincidences”, the author noted. “Three colleges in Magnitogorsk were adjoined to MGTU in 2010,” the report said. “Prior to that (in 2007, 2008 and 2009), criminal charges were brought against all the three college directors… resulting in their replacement. Worthy of noting is the fact that it was after Kolokoltsev’s taking over as MGTU rector in 2007 that those directors – and some of their first deputies, too – found themselves under prosecution, one after another.”

Evidently, they were simply unwilling to merge with the “Magnitogorsk Cambridge”, the report said. Subsequently, some of them were acquitted, others were fined, and still others were convicted, receiving suspended imprisonment sentences. Finding themselves “beheaded” through their directors’ prosecution, all the three colleges became part of MGTU in 2010 – “strictly voluntarily”, to be sure. “The directors of other local colleges and technical schools that happened to be beyond the sphere of Kolokoltsev’s interests were left with clear conscience and unaffected by the litigations,” the author stressed, causing the MGTU rector to fly into a rage.

“We only cited self-evident facts,” Pavel Verstov, the news website’s chief editor, told the GDF. “Is it true that Kolokoltsev became MGTU rector in 2007? – Yes, it is. Further, were criminal proceedings started against each of the college directors in the subsequent three years? – Yes, they were. It’s also true that the three colleges whose directors had found themselves under prosecution were later adjoined to MGTU. And that now, ahead of MGTU’s merger with Magnitogorsk State University, criminal charges have been brought against the latter’s rector, Mr Semyonov, is true, too.”

While not refuting any of the above arguments, Kolokoltsev is insisting that, “It can be deduced from that publication that it was I who compromised the college directors, giving rise to the criminal proceedings against them.” This is why he has demanded a disclaimer and 200,000 roubles in moral damages from the journalists.

With two court hearings already behind, the judges are still wondering which particular passage in the text of the Verstov.info report Kolokoltsev wants to be disclaimed…

Khabarovsk Region court confirms Moskovsky Komsomolets’ status as one and indivisible newspaper

By Vladimir Dymov, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

The administrative proceedings started nearly six months ago by the Far Eastern department of Roskomnadzor [federal service overseeing public communications] against the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets v Khabarovske (MKK) have now been terminated. Stubbornly unwilling to recognise MKK as a public and political newspaper, Roskomnadzor accused the publisher of failure to include in the imprint a mark restricting the readers’ age, and the Central district court in Khabarovsk upheld that motion.

As we have reported, the Far Eastern department of Roskomnadzor stated last October that “MKK does not feature enough public and political information to be classified as a public and political newspaper,” meaning it was required to carry the age-restricting mark.

An MKK representative insisted in court that a newspaper featuring federal news along with regional news inserts was an indivisible whole and that its content could not possibly be split into “Moscow stuff” and “Khabarovsk stuff”. Yet Roskomnadzor specialists did that easily, and the district court supported them (see digest 644).

Now Igor Kharlamov, a judge of the regional court, has identified the entire edition of MKK as a single information product released under a single name and having the same print run. There are no reasons to divide the newspaper into two separate publications, he said, declaring the Roskomnadzor-calculated share of public and political information in the newspaper’s content to be wrong. As a result, the court pronounced MKK a public and political newspaper that is entitled not to carry any age-restricting mark in the imprint.

Stavropol-based newspaper looks forward to trial

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

An independent Stavropol-based newspaper, Otkrytaya Dlya Vsekh I Kazhdogo, has regularly reported about unseemly dealings carried out by regional utility companies with reliance on bank offices, service providers and arbitration courts as their accomplices. Investigative journalists, assisted by condominium chairs, attorneys and human rights activists, have consistently taught local residents – in a very educated manner, with reference to the Constitution, the Housing and Civil Codes, and government regulations – to detect corrupt schemes attempted by utilities.

Commenting on a legal claim lodged by Alexei Pismenny, director of the utility company StavropolKommunElektro, in defence of its business reputation against Otkrytaya and the authors of numerous stories shedding light on the dirty side of his company’s performance, the newspaper wrote in an editorial:

“Let’s be straightforward: Otkrytaya’s authors, who have spent much time and energy investigating corrupt schemes in the utility sector, as well as victims of fraudulent resource organisations, are looking forward to the start of court hearings, in the course of which they will get a chance to make public the facts, ask questions and, at long last, hear answers from those responsible…Hopefully, the long-awaited, open judicial process will mark the first step toward restoring law and order within the region’s utility service sector.”

 

OUR CONTRIBUTORS

“Spiteful” newspaper’s jubilee

By Vladimir Dymov, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

The first issue of the newspaper Paramushir-Vesti (PV), released 10 years ago, opened with the publisher’s address to the readers that read as follows:

“Dear residents of Paramushir Peninsula:

“You are holding the first issue of an amateur newspaper released by an ordinary townsman in accordance with his personal taste and at his own expense. One reason why this new publication has appeared is the authorities’ failure to carry out the Severo-Kurilsk District Assembly’s decision of 16 August 2001, ‘On the newspaper Kurilsky Rybak’, which listed that paper’s deficiencies that have remained unaddressed up until now: it fails to reflect the realities of local life; fails to highlight urgent social and economic problems plaguing the district; fails to criticise the administration and, on the contrary, shows how painfully the administration reacts to outside criticism.

“The newspaper’s owner – the district administration – has many times been urged to remedy those deficiencies by taking a range of proposed measures; yet it preferred to turn a deaf ear to the opinion of elected public representatives. One can hardly pin the blame for that on the editor alone: in the event of adopting a principled stand, the editor would risk losing both his job and the administration’s financial support. He is absolutely unprotected against bureaucratic arbitrariness.

“The establishment of an alternative newspaper, not dependent on the administration either financially or morally, should deprive the formerly sole print media outlet of its monopolistic right to circulate local information and to take a one-sided view of problems.

“In line with Article 12 of the RF Media Law, I will not register this newspaper because of its modest print run – only 100 copies. Therefore, I would ask ‘well-wishers’ who may doubt the legality of this publication, to sit back and stop worrying.”

Paramushir-Vesti has ever since remained the only independent newspaper on the Kurile Islands. Its founder, publisher and editor, Aleksandr Chernega, has been eager to cooperate with anyone who might wish to speak out on burning issues, “unless the form and content of your statements would be at odds with the Media Law provisions”.

Over the past decade, PV has doubled its circulation and has officially registered with the Sakhalin Region department of Roskomnadzor. From the professional point of view, it is far from perfect – both stylistically and graphically. After all, its editor is an engineer by training, a deputy of the City Assembly, and a citizen activist printing a much-needed local newspaper on an ordinary printer.

PV remains as topical as ever today, since problems with glasnost, far from getting addressed, have only worsened, the editor says. The official district newspaper, Kurilsky Rybak, has ceased criticising the incumbent administration altogether; instead, it praises the authorities for their imaginary “successes and achievements”.

From the very beginning, PV has stayed in close contact with its readers. In the past, many issues of local importance used to lay neglected for years. Now that they’ve got a mouthpiece of their own, townspeople pay more attention to poorly-performing officials, utilities and other service providers. The newspaper is thankful to its readers for their constant moral and financial support, which helps “offset at least the costs of expendable materials”, and to shop assistants distributing PV among their customers.

Aleksandr Chernega does not mention in the “jubilee” issue of PV how much he has had to live through over the last decade. He has been refused access to information; dragged into litigations; had his car torched; and become the target of assaults… The independent editor has received support from the Sakhalin Journalists’ Union and the Glasnost Defence Foundation, and courts of law have increasingly often decided judicial cases in his favour.

In its jubilee number, the “spiteful” newspaper (as its founder himself calls it) reports, as usual, on electoral law violations occurring in the run-up to the early mayoral election in Severo-Kurilsk; continues to monitor the whereabouts of senior administration officials (who have a way of shirking work on the pretext of “extremely urgent” business trips); and carries news stories covering local, regional and federal developments.

 

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.

Contacts:

Glasnost Defence Foundation, Room 438, 4 Zubovsky Boulevard,
119992 Moscow, Russia.

Telephone/fax: +7 (495) 637-4947 and +7 (495) 637-4420
e-mail: boris@gdf.ru , or 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