29 Марта 2013 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 608

25 March 2013



Duma conflict with newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets: Who threatens whom, and what with?

The past week was marked by several “have-it-outs” between State Duma deputies and the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets (MK). After MP Andrei Isayev, who represents the ruling United Russia Party, read MK’s (16 March) story about “political prostitution” in the Russian parliament, he got very upset finding the names of his three female colleagues cited in it, which caused him to post a Twitter message promising “never to forget or forgive” the story’s author for reproaching the three ladies for “cynically moving from one political party to another”. Actually, Isayev had nothing to claim insulted by, because he had behaved exactly the same way, starting his career as a member of the All-Union Revolutionary Marxist Party, then leaving it first for the Confederation of Anarcho-Syndicalists, then for the Federation of Independent Trade Unions, Russian Social-Democratic Party and Fatherland Movement, and ending up – small wonder, though – a United Russia Party member.

He went beyond his tirade denouncing “petty creatures” and “scoundrels writing for a yellowish newspaper”, to start threatening the “guilty” editor and author with “severe punishment”. In response, MK Chief Editor Pavel Gusev reported those threats to the Office of the RF Prosecutor-General, asking for legal proceedings to be started against Isayev under Article 144 of the RF Criminal Code (“Interference with journalists’ lawful professional activities”).

Isayev, in his turn, challenged the editor to a “verbal duel” live on TV while expressing regret over “no chance to punch him in the face”; urged Gusev to apologize; suggested ejecting MK from its premises and having its financial and economic performance audited “with exceptional care”; accused the newspaper of “advertising sex services”; urged the public to boycott MK, etc. Finally, the Duma adopted a statement, “On the Inadmissibility of Freedom of Expression Abuse by the Media”, which called on Gusev to apologize – to the whole of society, for some unclear reason – and then to resign as a Public Chamber member and as President of the Moscow Journalists’ Union (although it is not clear what either of the two organisations has at all to do with the ongoing scandal). But then, it’s good no one called for the MK journalists to be “arrested, prosecuted and shot like mad dogs”, which used to be a fairly common scenario in the 1930s…

At about the same time, the Duma far-sightedly signed into law (after the third reading) a bill banning the use of bad language in the media, which left the journalists with zero chance “to answer them the right way”.

True, the Journalists’ Union secretariat reminded parliament that “in modern society, issues related to professional ethics are tackled by the bodies in charge of self-regulation; such is the system adopted in all the developed countries”. In Russia, too, there is the Public Board for Complaints about the Press, which is empowered to consider all disputes and complaints stemming from critical media publications. The JU invited the conflicting parties “to immediately appeal to the Board and discuss things quietly”. Yet the “people’s representatives” elected under a system overseen by [Central Electoral Committee Chairman] Churov look too excited and too aggressive to be ready to settle the dispute amicably: in the course of debates over their proposed statement, they already suggested stripping the MK reporters of their Duma accreditation, and even shutting down Moskovsky Komsomolets altogether – along with the Ekho Moskvy radio station.

The resulting situation looks curious: without disclosing any big secret, MK accused a group of parliamentarians of political inconsistency, thereby giving them considerable, although dubious, publicity. In response, they charged the newspaper with advertising prostitution, which means the circle closed up: the deputies, against their own will, confirmed that the newspaper’s criticism was well-founded.

What really matters is a different thing: MP Isayev’s threats to journalists – which sounded none too serious, pretty hysterical and steam-out-like – did at long last stir up public anxiety, unlike the very real threats received by Chief Editor Yelena Ivanova and the staff of the Saratov-based news agency Svobodniye Novosti on 18 March (see the RUSSIA section, item 1, below); or the persecution campaign against journalist Maksim Sobeski in the wake of his criticism in the Moscow-based web newspaper Osobaya Bukva of the radical nationalist Maksim Tesak-Martsinkevich – particularly the offer of 20,000 to 30,000 roubles in reward to anyone volunteering to organise an attack on the journalist; or else the repeated threats by Cossacks to Valery Donskoy, chief editor of the Electron FM independent radio station in Krymsk, Krasnodar Region, for his publishing “distorted information about Russian Orthodox priests and Cossacks of the Kuban Army” (see Digest 607).

Judging by everything, MK and the angry parliamentarians will settle their conflict without external assistance, after all; but giving a helping hand to our much less protected colleagues in different provinces across Russia is indeed vital.

That said, the queerer the impression produced by this hullaballoo raised in Moscow.



Editor of Saratov-based news agency receives threatening message

Early on 18 March, the postman brought to the office of the Saratov-based news agency Svobodniye Novosti (SN) the usual package of correspondence, including a letter to Chief Editor Yelena Ivanova without the return address. The letter contained statements threatening Ivanova and her family.

“You’ll be scared to go out into the street,” it said. “You’ll then be scared to live in this city. Then you’ll find your life in this world really boring.”

The anonymous author also threatened to torch the cars of several news agency staffers, along with those of Alexander Glushchenko, coordinator of the Saratov Association of Electors, and Alexander Nikishin, an activist of the opposition group “Poisk”; and then to set fire to the SN office as “a hotbed of evil”. He urged Ivanova “to start preparing for that”.

The editor reported the threats to police station No.5 in Saratov, and went through police questioning together with her team members.

This is not for the first time that the independent news agency receives threats. During the latest election to the regional Duma, two provocateurs in facial masks spilled liquid ammonia inside [ex-presidential candidate] Mikhail Prokhorov’s former headquarters (which now houses the Civic Platform Party and SN offices) to disrupt political consultant Sergei Bespalov’s meeting with civil activists.

The regional branch of the Russian Journalists’ Union has expressed solidarity with their colleagues in view of this real threat to their lives, and urged law enforcement to thoroughly investigate the incident.

Karelia’s Supreme Court upholds independent newspaper’s protest but fails to save it from bankruptcy

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

The newspaper Mestnoye Vremya (MV) released in Kem, Republic of Karelia, has had to go through a protracted litigation.

It all began with a group of city residents complaining to MV about several private housing management companies’ negligent performance of their duties with the connivance of the city administration. The authors vividly described the complexity of their relations with the management companies and municipal authorities in a letter that they asked the newspaper to publish, which, though, they thought unlikely, since another local newspaper had already refused to, honestly acknowledging its status as a budget-financed media outlet.

As a private newspaper with no obligations to the municipal administration, MV published that open letter, as well as another one that was sent in later. In response, management company representatives sued it for circulating “libellous” information. In their legal claim, filed with the Kem district court, they demanded a disclaimer and 200,000 roubles in moral damages from the defendant. An amount of compensation as large as that was sure to kill MV.

The newspaper lost the case in the district court, although the judge did find some of the “controversial” phrases quite printable. As a result, the claimed compensation amount was slashed to 32,000 roubles.

Finding that too much also, MV challenged the court decision before the Civil Law Board of the Supreme Court of Karelia, insisting that the information it had published was accurate, while the sarcastic style and sharp language of its publications were not legally punishable. The newspaper’s interests were represented in court by Yelena Paltseva, a lawyer with the Journalists’ Union of Karelia, who succeeded in persuading the judges the management companies’ claims were unjustified.

One might congratulate the newspaper on winning a difficult victory in court against the municipal authorities (which were on the plaintiffs’ side). But unfortunately, MV had to shut down because of financial problems, exacerbated by the dragged-out litigation and the government’s decision to double the rate of insurance payable by individual entrepreneurs. Having operated nearly in the red for several years, the independent newspaper recently notified the readers of its closure.

Meanwhile, another newspaper, released by three local housing management companies, has been flourishing due to the generous support provided by its owners, who have come to believe in the power of the printed word. Regrettably, this newspaper, Vsyo o Zhizni Kemskogo Rayona, is unlikely, ever, to carry anything nearly as critical as the stuff Mestnoye Vremya used to publish.

Police in Omsk step up conflict with blogger

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

The Omsk Region court has ruled that the use of the word polizei in respect of police officers is unacceptable.

By doing so, it upheld a prior decision passed in the polizei case by the Kuibyshevsky district court of Omsk. As we have reported, the prominent local blogger, journalist and civil activist Viktor Korb repeatedly used that word in his postings on the Omsk Politichesky website, which the regional police department found insulting (see Digest 599).

The defendant was by far not the first person to use the term in describing the poor performance of today’s law enforcement; by typing polizei into the search box of any browser, anyone will find Google showing over 3.5 million links to it, and Yandex about 2 million links. The word is used especially frequently on chat forums and other discussion pads, of which Omsk Politichesky is one. Unlike other PC users, who seldom explain what they mean by it, Korb has always written that this term refers “not to all the police officers but only to those defying the law while acting on orders from the PRaT [Party of Rogues and Thieves – reference to the ruling United Russia Party – Translator.]”.

Yet the two courts concluded the blogger’s texts refer to all the regional police officers collectively. Does this mean every policeman is a lawbreaker?

Since July 2012, the Omsk police department has pressured Korb really hard, opening a whole four judicial cases against him. We reported on the latest one in digest 604-605: Korb’s essay “Contract vs. Norm” was put on the list of materials banned for publishing – along with articles by Yuri Afanasyev, Vladislav Inozemtsev and other writers, whose works have been carried – without the authors’ consent – by the newspaper Radikalnaya Politika, which has been officially labelled “extremist” (see Digest 604-605).

Hardly had the polizei trial drawn to a close when Korb was summoned to the police department “for questioning and the making of an administrative protocol in connection with the production and circulation of extremist materials”. The way the blogger looks at it, police are deliberately dragging him into an “exhausting confrontation” to prevent him from engaging in his scientific and artistic projects (Korb is a mathematician and artist by training, with degrees from Novosibirsk State University’s Mechanics and Mathematics Department and an art school). He has to earn a living, after all; he is not paid anything for his civic activities by either the US State Department or the Kremlin – unlike our law enforcers, who see it as their “public service” duty to zealously “defend” the people against journalists and human rights activists.

MP in Vladivostok returns misappropriated money after Novaya Gazeta criticism

By Anna Seleznyova, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

Aleksandra Nabokova’s recent publication “Swine Ethics”, carried by the local supplement to Novaya Gazeta, caused an immediate – diverse – reaction in Vladivostok.

After regional MP Yuri Korneyev, the general director and founder of a newly established farming company, Knyazhevskoye, decided to breed pigs in 2011, the district administration, with local deputies’ approval, offered him 800,000 roubles in budgetary support under the Dalnerechensky District Agricultural Development Programme. However, an inspection carried out earlier this year showed that there was no farm, no pigs on it, and no money paid back by Korneyev, despite a relevant court ruling in full legal force. After the critical story was published, though, the regional MP instantly repaid his debt with interest.

There was a “backstage” reaction, too: at about the same time, several sturdy guys in a jeep pulled over to the author’s house to “insistently advise her” not to write on the subject anymore.

Krasnodar-based newspaper Novaya Gazeta Kubani investigates threats against its author

By Georgy Tashmatov, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

As a chance witness to a car crash, Novaya Gazeta Kubani (NGK) reporter Tatyana Guselnikova tried to find out what had happened on a Krasnodar road. The lady driver of a Porsche who had violated the traffic rules, Anna Minosyan, refused outright to comment; moreover, in the presence of a traffic policeman, she cracked down on the journalist, swearing badly and threatening to “plant a packet of drugs” into Guselnikova’s car and “get her jailed” with the help of her VIP relatives.

Guselnikova and the NGK management reported the insult and Minosyan’s attempt to prevent a reporter from doing her job to the police, while starting, in parallel, an independent probe into the road accident. Minosyan turned out a repeated traffic violator who had not been in a hurry to pay the numerous fines levied on her for reckless driving. Until the investigation is over, the journalists are unwilling to disclose any information beyond the fact that Minosyan does have some influential relatives.

In the course of the ongoing administrative investigation, the regional prosecutor’s office has established that the traffic police officer who witnessed the driver’s squabble with the journalist did not take any active steps to settle the conflict. Moreover, the traffic police generally has failed to take due measures to have Minosyan pay the 18 (sic!) fines levied on her recently, or to get her held liable for non-payment.

In view of the prosecutor’s office’s warning, the regional traffic police commander, Vladimir Vinevsky, has ordered an internal inspection to confirm or disprove his department’s negligence in exacting penalties from repeated traffic violators. On 19 March, he called a news conference to discuss the Minosyan-Guselnikova conflict at length. However, not a single NGK reporter was invited to attend the conference…

Staff of radio station in Khabarovsk to stay employed until April

By Vladimir Dymov, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

As we have reported in our digest, a group of persons on 1 March attempted to seize the Vostok Rossii radio station in Khabarovsk. The visitors did not show any court warrant but said they were acting on orders from Khabarovsk Region Governor Vyacheslav Shport. The radio station’s general director and chief editor, Yevgeny Burlutsky, sent the governor a letter asking for a personal meeting to help him understand what was going on (see Digest 604-605).

The subsequent developments were as follows. Someone tried hard to disguise the raid as a perfectly lawful action: the station management received a copy of the “protocol of a meeting of the company founders”, who had allegedly “elected” a new director/editor on the eve of the seizure attempt. The incumbent director, unwilling to step down, instantly informed all the founders of the procedural violations committed by the raiders, and circulated among the media copies of the radio station’s articles of association and of existing protocols of founders’ meetings to highlight the fact of document forgery by the masterminds of the station seizure.

The governor left Burlutsky’s request for a meeting unanswered. Officials of the regional administration hastened to distance themselves from the unlawful raid. Moreover, as it turned out, the raider group included some well-known personalities who happened to be unemployed at the time of their visit to the station: P. Sarychev, former head of the regional Information Policy Department, who resigned in February and was still jobless as of 1 March; I. Perekhozheva, an ex-employee of the same department, replaced on 1 March; I. Litvak, who quit working for Vostok Rossii back in December but has never collected her work record card since then; and E. Razlataya, the person who later handed the forged protocol to the station management – she has stayed unemployed since September 2012, when she resigned as a faculty member at the Far Eastern International Relations Institute. Satisfied the authorities “had nothing to do with the seizure,” the radio station managers thanked the media for support in settling the conflict and even apologized for describing the action as a “raid”.

The whole story looks fishy: who will ever trust claims that some impudent people from the street, backed by no one, came to the radio station on 1 March to drive away the director, demand the company documentation and present an alternative head manager? Or that a former chief of the regional Information Policy Department was among them by a pure coincidence – that he just happened to be passing by?

It seems the station managers simply don’t want to “trouble trouble”: they are happy the danger is over. They have even suggested calling a meeting of the founders in April, in full compliance with existing procedural requirements, to discuss a new director’s candidacy.

That meeting may shed light on what actually happened on 1 March – whether that was a prank by some outsiders or a failed attempt to rehearse the station director’s replacement. Also, it may show whether or not the management was justified in making an apology for nothing.



Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights Development appeals to Russia’s Prosecutor-General

TO: Russian Federation Prosecutor-General Yuri Chaika

22 March 2013

Dear Mr Chaika:

The heads of NGOs in the Krasnodar, Perm, Maritime, Orenburg, Penza and Rostov Regions, the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg and other parts of Russia have been sending in by the score their complaints about mass-scale – unmotivated – prosecutor inspections they have been subjected to recently. Some of the inspectors have cited orders by the Office of the RF Prosecutor-General to check how NGOs comply with the federal law against extremism. Yet this motivation seems strange and unreasonable in cases where a check-up also involves fire, labour, tax and other inspectors. In some cases, prosecutors have failed to provide copies of the warrants to carry out such inspections, or have not bothered to justify their visits in any way at all.

In line with the federal law “On the Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation”, an inspection may be held in the wake of reports about an organisation’s committing some law violations requiring prosecutors’ response. We hereby ask you to confirm whether the prosecutors’ offices have indeed – all at once – received dozens if not hundreds of reports about the alleged involvement of NGOs in extremist activities. Or are there alternative explanations and reasons behind these mass-scale inspections of non-for-profit associations? It seems inspectors have been told to find any, even if minor, fault, like an expired fire extinguisher, a business trip report in the wrong file, etc. – with a view to gathering, over time, sufficient evidence for “exposing and punishing the violators”.

We, members of the Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights Development, are convinced that fighting extremism in real terms and putting pressure on law-abiding NGOs are very different things. We are convinced it is unacceptable to measure the efficiency of controlling bodies by the number of inspections they carry out to register minor omissions, rather than by the meaningful results they deliver.

In view of this, we suggest holding an ad hoc Council sitting, which the heads of the Prosecutor-General’s Office would be invited to attend, to discuss the methods and findings of the ongoing mass-scale NGO inspections. This would be a meaningful answer to President Putin’s 2012 Address to the Nation, which pointed to the need “to introduce a system for the controlling and oversight agencies to publicly report on the findings of the inspections they have carried out and the financial and human resources they put into those, so that anyone could see at once whether an inspection was carried out properly and if it was needed at all.”


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.

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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