Дайджест
27 Сентября 2012 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 584

24 September 2012

 

STORY OF THE WEEK

Controversial laws in effect in Russia: why pass them at all?

The Magistrate at Precinct 366 in Moscow’s Khamovnichesky District has accepted for scrutiny two administrative cases opened against the RIA Novosti news agency and its chief editor Svetlana Mironyuk by the Khamovnichesky inter-district prosecutor’s office in response to a complaint filed by Gulnara Mustafina, a former officer of the RF Interior Ministry’s Investigative Committee turned counsel for the Presidential Administration’s State Service Department.

After The Moscow News reported on a trial over persons, among them several Interior Ministry investigators, including Mustafina, who were suspected of selling off goods confiscated from businessmen as material evidence, Mustafina, while not denying she was one of the suspects, complained to the prosecutor’s office about what she saw as “the unlawful disclosure” of her personal data – her full name, official position and place of employment.

On 5 September prosecutors asked the news agency to provide written explanations that they said they needed “as a legal ground for not starting administrative proceedings”, RIA Novosti’s general director Nikolai Biryukov said. However, two days later the prosecutor’s office submitted to court two administrative cases – one against RIA Novosti as the owner of The Moscow News website, the other against Mironyuk as one of RIA’s chief executives, the Russian Legal and Judicial Information Agency reported.

Hearings were scheduled to commence on 19 September but were delayed until 3 October because, according to RIA, its representatives supplied additional documents the study of which might take time.

If the court takes Mustafina’s side, the defendants will be in for a relatively small fine (of 500-1,000 roubles for individuals and for 5,000-10,000 roubles for legal entities). But that is not the point. More important, the question arises how the media are now supposed to report on activities of law enforcement agencies, government officials and parliamentarians without ever mentioning their names and official positions. In view of this, Mironyuk’s defence lawyer A. Makarov has expressed concerns that the pending trial may set a dangerous precedent. “(A decision in favour of the plaintiff) would be beyond the legal framework and actually put the media in no position to report important information to the public,” Gazeta.ru cited him as saying.

Another question is what the numerous other media that have covered this conflict while repeating Mustafina’s personal data might be in for – trials and fines, too?

Following the plaintiff’s logic, such phrases as “RIA Novosti Chief Editor Svetlana Mironyuk”, “RF Internal Affairs Minister Lt.-Gen. Vladimir Kolokoltsev” and even “President Vladimir Putin” are similar instances of personal data disclosure. If the Personal Data Law were observed in full, what might this lead to, one may wonder…

Why at all create and enact laws that turn the lives of judges, journalists and ordinary citizens into a nightmare and that sometimes are simply impossible to comply with? The Personal Data Law is not the only one of this category: suffice it to recall the law on children’s protection from negative information; the law on control over the Internet; or the law on “foreign agents”… Weren’t they enacted just because there are too many former athletes, actors, activists and relatives of veteran MPs, and too few professionals, such as highly educated lawyers, in Russia’s parliament?

By the way, MPs from St. Petersburg on 19 September proposed a ban on media mention of the end of the world, which, in their view, leads to a “growth of eschatological attitudes in society” and to a “worsening of the crime situation and a rise in the number of suicides and the rate of drug and alcohol abuse”. “What else could we possibly ban?” they must be thinking to themselves now…

 

EVENT OF THE WEEK

Independent journalist labelled instigator of inter-ethnic strife (Arkhangelsk, North)

Ivan Moseyev, a freelance journalist and ex-editor of the Biznes Klass Arkhangelsk newspaper turned director of the Coastal Institute of Indigenous and Smaller Peoples, is suspected of breaching Article 282 of the RF Criminal Code by allegedly instigating hatred toward the Russians.

As part of preliminary investigation, the police have twice searched the journalist’s apartment, confiscating his and his wife’s notebook PCs, his children’s desktop computers, memory cards, CDs, and archival materials and documents, and requiring him to give a written pledge not to leave town.

The investigation started in the wake of comments to an article about a movement of indigenous Northerners, posted (presumably from Moseyev’s apartment) on a chat forum – specifically, the remark, “You are millions of lowbrow, we are just 2,000 humans”.

Moseyev acknowledged his visiting the website and reading the article and some comments, but denied posting a single comment of his own. Yet investigators insist the IP address from which the chat forum was accessed is registered at Moseyev’s home address – and this despite the web service provider (Rostelecom)’s stating officially that the IP address mentioned in the court ruling does not belong to it, since it has a dynamic, not static, IP address. It specially stressed that Rostelecom had not made Moseyev’s personal data or its IP address available to any third party, meaning that those personal data may have been obtained by hackers without any court warrant and therefore cannot at all be regarded as evidence. This notwithstanding, the criminal investigation continues.

Moreover, Moseyev says he has repeatedly received threats, including “a direct murder threat from an FSB major”. He sent the regional prosecutor, V. Bakun, a complaint saying, “The investigation of my case has from the outset been based on unlawful methods and unlawfully obtained evidence (e.g., my personal data related to the IP address were obtained by the investigators illegally, before a court warrant was issued, as confirmed by the affidavit and explanations furnished by the Internet service provider, Rostelecom. … Also, I have been repeatedly threatened.”

The prosecutors’ reaction to the journalist’s complaint remains unknown.

Significantly, the comment allegedly posted by Moseyev does not mention the Russians or people of any other nationality.

The Glasnost Defence Foundation will monitor the situation closely.

 

RUSSIA

Journalists under pressure in Moscow Region

By Natalia Severskaya, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

During a recent sitting of the Municipal Public Chamber in Sergiyev Posad near Moscow, Andrei Trofimov, editor of the newspaper Alternativnaya Gazeta, received several personal threats, Novaya Gazeta reported.

Specifically, Eduard Arushanov, leader of the local cell of Zhirinovsky’s Liberal-Democratic Party, publicly threatened to “knock the journalist out”, and Mikhail Shlyakhin, chairman of the local branch of the Russian Paratroopers’ Union, said unless Trofimov removed from his website a comment Shlyakin happened to dislike, he would be “unable to hold back” his paratroopers.

After Trofimov published a critical story about then-Mayor Nikolai Maslov a few years ago, unknown offenders burned his car, cut his apartment’s door with an axe, and beat the journalist severely.

Other reporters co-operating with Alternativnaya Gazeta have been under pressure from local authorities, too. After photographer Damir Shavalelyev published a photo report from last summer’s birthday party of the Sofrino handicraft firm’s director who belongs to circles known to be close to the Russian Orthodox Church, pro-religious activists got infuriated, giving Shavaleyev reasons to feel seriously concerned over his physical integrity. “I can’t sleep normally anymore because of the pressure put on me by the Sofrino lot,” he wrote in his blog. “Anything may happen to me any moment now.”

Court in Voronezh decides not to fine opposition newspaper editor

By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

The magistrate in the Central District of Voronezh on 17 September terminated the administrative proceedings against Aleksandr Boldyrev, chief editor of the newspaper My –Grazhdane and organiser of local opposition rallies. He was accused of illegally circulating his own newspaper (during one rally).

An administrative protocol against him was made by police officers enforcing law and order during a rally of protest against the development of nickel deposits in Voronezh Region. The officers said the newspaper issue had “nothing to do with the rally’s subject matter”. The editor might be in for a fine of 10,000 to 20,000 roubles or correctional labour for up to 40 hours.

“Anyone is entitled under the Constitution to impart information that is not prohibited by law,” his defence lawyer Olga Gnezdilova of the Ekosotsis Foundation said. “The same right is guaranteed also by the Rallies Law, which stipulates that any participant in a public event is entitled to use various symbols or other means not prohibited by law to express a collective or individual opinion. So the police officers violated Boldyrev’s rights by not allowing him to circulate information.” The lawyer stressed that Boldyrev would sue them for damages he incurred through the breach of his constitutional rights and “repeated unjustified legal claims brought against him by the authorities”.

This is not the first time the authorities attempt to levy a large fine on the opposition activist. Earlier this month, he was acquitted in court of organising a street march in which protesters were carrying white balloons.

Official’s legal claim against newspaper turned down in Voronezh

By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

The Leninsky district court in Voronezh in April commenced hearings of a legal claim in defence of honour, dignity and business reputation, filed against the regional newspaper Voronezhsky Kuryer (with a company called OKO Ltd. posing as a co-defendant) by Yuri Bavykin, deputy head of the Verkhne-Donskoye department of Rostekhnadzor [federal service overseeing ecology, technology and nuclear power engineering]. The plaintiff wanted a disclaimer of a story about corrupt practices within his agency, and 1 million roubles in moral damages.

The claim was lodged in the wake of a story by VK’s Andrei Tsvetkov describing Rostekhnadzor’s dispute with OKO Ltd., which accused Bavykin and his reports of requiring providers of expert conclusions concerning various technological projects to “share” their profits with his agency by paying for official certification of their findings. Otherwise, they said, they would not confirm the results of analysts’ technological appraisals (see Digest 567).

In the course of the hearings, the defendants managed to prove that one of two disputed passages from the publication did not directly relate to Bavykin; the truthfulness of the second passage was confirmed by witnesses – a former Rostekhnadzor official and an OKO manager.

Finally, on 17 September, the court ruled to reject Bavykin’s claim in full. The plaintiff, however, intends to challenge this ruling before a higher-standing judicial authority.

Karelian MP complains to prosecutor’s office about his own allegedly unlawful behaviour

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

Karelia Legislative Assembly deputy Aleksandr Stepanov, who is also a secretary of the republican Communist Party (CPRF) committee, claimed hurt by an interview featured in the Petrozavodsk-based newspaper Sovet Drevlyanki. The interview was with V. Kaplin, also a Communist and member of the City Council of Petrozavodsk, who gave his colleague a negative characteristic and hinted that Stepanov may have taken rewards for putting certain individuals on the CPRF list of candidates for elected positions. He did not make any straightforward assertions, only saying that Stepanov was likely to have behaved that way.

Stepanov filed a legal claim with the Petrozavodsk court, demanding a disclaimer and a total of 300,000 roubles from Kaplin and Sovet Drevlyanki in moral damages. Neither of the two defendants ever once appeared in court; Kaplin sent a defence lawyer to represent his interests. After several sittings, the court decided that all the disputed phrases were not statements of facts but were Kaplin’s evaluative judgments about Stepanov. In view of this, the plaintiff’s claim was turned down.

Worthy of noting is the way the operative part of the court resolution was formulated. Judge O. Frangulova wrote, specifically, that “the publication contained no a priori false information about the plaintiff, since the disputed phrases did not even express the author’s personal opinion but only retold rumours circulating among the public at large; therefore, they cannot be regarded as information meant to damage the plaintiff’s honour and dignity”. In other words, by retelling rumours in the media, the journalists cannot be deemed to circulate smearing information.

Stepanov challenged this ruling before a higher-standing court, while simultaneously – and quite unexpectedly – filing with the republican prosecutor’s office a legal claim against himself. In it, he informed the prosecutors that Sovet Drevlyanki had featured a story testifying to his allegedly corrupt behaviour during the latest elections. “If this newspaper story is to be trusted,” he wrote, “that means I have breached a number of federal laws and deserve to be punished – of course, in the event those charges are proven in court.” Stepanov urged the prosecutors to check his reported wrongdoings as thoroughly as possible.

Karelia’s chief prosecutor had never received appeals of this kind before. While complaints about MPs’ unlawful actions are rather common, a deputy’s request to have his own performance checked in terms of its legality is the first ever. The appeal was accepted for scrutiny, but no specific action on it has been taken so far.

A St. Petersburg legislator proposes ban on media’s mention of end of the world

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

Andrei Gorshechnikov, a deputy of the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg, has demanded that the media be prohibited to mention the end of the world according to the Maya Indians’ calendar, and to discuss apocalyptic prognoses generally. Curiously enough, the MP addressed his demand to Governor Georgy Poltavchenko, who is reputed to be a conservative follower of the Russian Orthodox Church. Can the city leader be expected to agree that the end of the world must not be mentioned even in the light of the teachings of Christ?

An ex-activist of the Young Communists’ League turned St. Petersburg MP, Gorshechnikov claims to be defending the city residents’ interests by proposing to ban any mention of the end of the world, which in accordance with the Maya calendar falls on 21 December this year. In his view, apocalyptic discussions sow panic in society, cause people to seek consolation in alcohol and drugs, and contribute to a numerical growth in crime and suicide. Also, people may fall victim to fraud if they start buying various “magical remedies” in hopes of salvation.

The deputy did not explain how the city authorities can possibly gag the media; he only asked the Smolny [seat of the St. Petersburg government] to “take steps to control the tide of media-fuelled public hysteria”. The city administration’s Press Committee, which Gorshechnikov identified as one of the authorities expected to react to his appeal, could not say either what specifically it might do in response to the new initiative.

The Maya calendar predictions representing only one particular case, Gorshechnikov proposed “a legislative ban on any talk of the end of the world generally”. What the governor as a committed Orthodox believer will do in response to the MP’s appeal remains to be seen.

Supreme Court of Arbitration wants judicial proceedings to be open and transparent

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

The Presidium of the RF Supreme Arbitration Court (SAC) held a sitting on 20 September to discuss a draft plenary resolution expected to make judicial process more open and transparent. Members of the Guild of Forensic Reporters were invited to attend the sitting as guests and participants.

The discussion revealed the country’s highest arbitration court’s interest in making judicial proceedings in Russia as transparent as possible. One proposed measure is to have the validity of each request for a trial to be held behind closed doors to be carefully checked; another is to ensure the most stringent observance of the legislative requirements that certain categories of information, such as articles of association, accounting reports, the number of a company’s personnel, etc., must not be classified. Other categories of law-protected secrets need to be handled in a similarly scrupulous manner: any court decision passed at a sitting unduly closed to the public should be seen as a breach of the rules of procedure and a reason for cancelling such a decision.

As regards trial coverage by reporters, the Supreme Arbitration Court reaffirmed that the use of photo and video cameras is subject to authorisation by the judge. However, judges should not prevent cameramen and photo correspondents from doing their work on such pretexts as “the parties do not want publicity or are unwilling to pose for the cameras”, or else “the courtroom is packed”. “Actually, reporters should not ask permission at all,” SAC Chairman Anton Ivanov said. “What objections can there possibly be? That someone looks pretty bad today or that one’s hair is not dressed well enough? There can hardly be any reason for banning the use of video cameras.”

As is known, any person in the courtroom, including the journalists, is entitled – without the judge’s permission – to make audio recordings, take notes and report on what is being said during a court hearing via any media, including social networks.

The SAC Presidium also discussed the personal data disclosure issue in the light of legal claims recently filed by some individuals and organisations against media reporters for making court decisions known to the public. Chairman Ivanov reaffirmed that it is impossible to edit out this kind of information from publicly available materials. As an additional guarantee of this, arbitration courts are shortly to be expected to post audio recordings of their sittings along with their decisions and letters addressed to them (which documents are already available now).

 

BELARUS

Police detains reporters covering picketing action in Minsk

A picketing action “Tell the Truth!” was dispersed outside the Frunzensky supermarket in Minsk on 18 September, with several reporters covering the action detained by the police.

The group of detainees included Associated Press photo correspondent Sergei Grits, Reuters photo correspondent Vassily Fedosenko, freelance TV journalist Aleksandr Borozenko, BelaPAN news agency correspondents Tatyana Zenkovich and Pavel Podobed, and a film crew of the ZDF television channel (Germany), the press service of the Belarussian Association of Journalists (BAJ) said.

The picketing action outside the Frunzensky supermarket, which involved serving free soup to the poor, was dispersed by a group of plain-clothed unidentified men – presumably police officers – who arrived shortly after the beginning in a minibus with tinted windshields, to start beating and arresting anyone they could get hold of, the BAJ said.

In the rush, they broke S. Grits’ glasses, then started cramming the detainees into the minibus, it said.

[BelaPAN news agency, Belorussky Partizan reports, 18 September]

 

KAZAKHSTAN

Adil Soz Foundation releases report on freedom-of-expression situation in Kazakhstan in August 2012

The report, entitled “Media Freedom in Kazakhstan”, says specifically that three attacks on media workers were registered in August (Golos Respubliki reporter Andrei Tsukanov was attacked in Almaty; national archives manager Ularbek Baitailak in a suburb of Astana; and Hockey Kazakhstan magazine reporter Maksim Kartashov in Astana).

The Kostanai city court decided that Kairat Omarov, head of the RGU UK 161/1 pre-trial detention centre, acted unlawfully by interfering with the professional work of Vrema newspaper reporter Stas Kiselyov.

Libel and defamation charges brought against journalists – 2

Legal claims filed against media and journalists – 11

Criminal charges against media and journalists since January 2012, total – 13; legal claims – 59, worth a total of 4,182,590,000 KZT (100 KZT ~ 20, 5 roubles or USD 0.8).

In January-August 2012, a total of 170 instances were registered of authorities’ denying or restricting media access to socially significant information.

For details, see www.adilsoz.kz

 

OUR CONTRIBUTORS

“Innocence of Muslims” controversy: bans on access to Internet in Omsk produce opposite effect

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

An attempt at blocking public access to “Innocence of Muslims” in Omsk has turned into something like a PR campaign to promote the scandalous film.

Local netizens believe their city became a kind of a “proving ground” for taking the web content under censors’ control in the future.

Visitors of Omsk chat forums and LiveJournal blogs have been discussing Acting Regional Prosecutor Aleksandr Lorents’ ardent attempts to persuade five Internet service providers (Megafon, Rostelecom, MTS, Vympelcom and ZapSibTranstelecom) – without awaiting a Moscow court decision on the General Prosecutor’s claim to have “Innocence of Muslims” banned as an extremist film – to seal off access to this video, which he says “may contribute to a spread of extremist ideology in the region”. Of the five companies, only Rostelecom promptly reacted to the prosecutor’s warning by blocking the YouTube portal, where the film is posted, from 5 p.m. on 18 September till 1 a.m. on 19 September.

It could hardly ever invented a better way of attracting public attention to the film not only in the Omsk Region but also nationwide, bloggers agreed. Here are a few typical comments:

ABCOMSK: “The prosecutor’s office itself has been fanning inter-religious strife. Most PC users never knew anything about this film before and never intended to watch it; now they think this is ‘a must’.”

LeXXX_Omich: “To switch off YouTube for several hours is a perfect way to advertise the film: any uninformed person will now click on the link to it just to see what this fuss is all about, and why YouTube was inaccessible…”

The General Prosecutor’s Office’s desire to ban “Innocence of Muslims” has warmed up public attention to the feature considerably; its doing so before due time has pushed up the film’s popularity rating sky-high. Before the Tverskoy court returns its verdict (which may happen not earlier than 22 September), all those wishing to will have enough time to watch it. “As a result, the film is in the Top 10, and the Omsk prosecutors and Rostelecom are seen as suckers,” a blogger commented.

Indeed, Rostelecom, a company providing Internet services for 13% of the city’s PC users, seems to have lost much of its image recently. Hence the question: Couldn’t such serious people as the leaders of the regional prosecutor’s office and Rostelecom foresee the natural likely consequences of their actions?

One version says it was not Lorents’ own initiative but one recommended from the top power echelons: Moscow simply used Omsk as a “test site” to see how the public might react to the potential imposition of censorship on the web – specifically, to the possible closure of YouTube, Russia’s number one pad for expressing independent opinion about the power vertical’s corrupt and arbitrary practices. Here is one more comment:

Texx: “This blocking (of YouTube) is a preventive measure. They just wanted to see how things might work out if the need arose for blocking some ‘disloyal’ website.”

Omsk-based rights activists, for their part, see this not as a “Kremlin conspiracy” but as an expression of local administrators’ eternal desire to please their federal bosses. “Lorents wanted the word ‘Active’ in his job description to be dropped as early as possible; that’s why he rushed to curry favour with his bosses in hopes that his zeal would be duly rewarded,” Sergei Selivanov, leader of the For Our Rights movement, told the GDF correspondent.

 

Letters

Dear Mr Simonov:

On 8 September, which was International Journalists’ Solidarity Day, during the Moscow Conservatoire Grand Hall concert in memory of the murdered journalists, the onstage organ was wholly covered by a banner with photos featuring the beautiful faces of our late colleagues against the background of a large shooting target with bullet holes and a question mark in the centre.

It seemed they were looking from heaven with piercing eyes at us – at those who are still alive.

We heard the New Russia Orchestra playing Mozart, Shostakovich and Bach, and poet Dmitry Bykov reciting his own verse.

Those who have gone to a better world see and hear us, while we living journalists sometimes forget them or fail to pay them due tribute – especially here in Moscow, under the “patronage” of well-paid and cowardly presidential appointees running tame and dependent, liberally independent, state-controlled or non-governmental newspapers and TV or radio stations.

Honest journalists continue to be killed and crippled, while many of us here in the heart of Russia are debased and pressured into saying hypocritical lies. Our colleagues in the regions are treated even worse.

Sitting in the Grand Hall yesterday, I suddenly realised that we all, the whole of Russia’s journalistic community, need to pool efforts in support of a collective, very simple, idea – to have the Moscow metro station “Lubyanka” renamed “Politkovskaya” metro station, and to have a FREE PRESS stele put up instead of the torn-down monument to Dzerzhinsky in the centre of Lubyanka Square. We need to unite not merely to survive. We must unite in order to live, perpetuating the memory of the best of us who are no longer with us.

Translating this idea into a reality would be easier and take less time if journalists throughout Russia came to realise this indeed is a matter of concern for ALL and EACH of us, and boldly announced our resolve to act – to finally cleanse Lubyanka Square of its eternal gloom and dark and contribute to Russia’s becoming a genuinely free and honest country.

If you come to think of it, who might say no? Putin? Medvedev? Sobyanin? Zorkin? Kadyrov? The State Duma? Matviyenko? – you name any other of those who are personally or collectively interested in staying in power. They are unlikely to object, and will never do. None of them individually or as a group can ever be weighed in terms of the nobleness or high morality of their actions against what any of those killed, beaten or crippled journalists have done.

I am absolutely convinced this idea is viable and implementable, and I pin great hopes on it. Moreover, it would be a test for each and every one of us as regards showing genuine journalistic solidarity to the whole of our nation.

If we journalists and others don’t do this, who will?

I hope all the journalists nationwide – the Moscow journalists for sure – will support this plan, which is capable of unifying colleagues with a range of different views with human rights defenders, both newcomers and veterans of the Memorial Association. This is my city, your city and our city. This is our country – the whole of it.

Many thanks to you, Mr Simonov, and to [Russian Journalists’ Union head] Vsevolod Bogdanov for your understanding and support of my efforts to contribute to the series of special programmes held at the Hall of Columns and the Grand Hall of Moscow’s Conservatoire in memory of the murdered journalists.

Sincerely,
Georgy Karetnikov, former prisoner (Karaganda labour camp administration, GULAG),
member of the Journalists’ Unions of Moscow and Russia

 

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.

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 Monitoring 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 432, 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