23 Мая 2013 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 615

20 May 2013



Investigative journalist accused of robbery

By Natalia Yusupova, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District, Boris Timoshenko, GDF Monitoring Service chief

Police in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria, have detained a prominent investigative journalist, Igor Tsagoyev, on suspicion of robbery.

Tsagoyev worked for many years for the weekly newspaper Severny Kavkaz, rising to the position of deputy editor-in-chief. Since his voluntary resignation and up to the present day, he has been deputy chief editor at the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets v KBR, conducting independent probes into alleged corruption schemes and reporting on religious extremism, territorial disputes and inter-ethnic conflicts.

His journalistic activity has earned him a high level of public respect. His was a nominee for the 2004 Andrei Sakharov Award “For Journalism as an Act of Conscience”; the winner of the grand prize in the 2005 All-Russia Competition “Arbitrariness in Law”; and the winner of the 2005 Golden Gong Award in the “Investigation of the Year” nomination. Also, he has won several other prestigious awards, including “For In-depth Coverage of the Dangerous and Socially Important Theme of Power Criminalization” in the 2006 “Arbitrariness in Law” competition; the national 2006 Iskra (Spark) Award in the “Journalistic Investigation” nomination; the 2007 Artyom Borovik “Honour, Courage, Mastery” Award; the Russian Journalists’ Union (RJU) 2007 Tamerlan Kazikhanov Award “For Courage and Professionalism”; the 2008 RF Government’s Media Award “For Personal Contribution to Strengthening Peace and Stability in Southern Russia”; and the 2011 RJU Award “For Professional Mastery”. Besides, Tsagoyev has been awarded a number of memorial and ministerial medals, including “For Military Valour”, “For Companionship-in-Arms”, the Marshal Zhukov Medal, “For Service in the North Caucasus”, and “For Assistance”.

“Wielding an object looking like a pistol,” a police press release said about Tsagoyev, “the suspect broke into an apartment in Kalmykov Street, where, threatening to shoot and resorting to violence endangering the life and health of the apartment owner (eight blows on the woman’s head with the iron butt of the pistol, plus a stifling attempt), he openly stole her money in the amount of 1,950 U.S. dollars.”

“In the course of an authorized search of the detainee’s home,” according to the republican police department’s spokesman, “four cylinder-shaped metal objects were found – presumably, signal mines – with four detonators thereto. Also confiscated was a metal object looking like a pistol of an unknown model. The detainee was placed under arrest, with legal proceedings started against him under Article 162 (‘Robbery’) of the RF Criminal Code.”

Evidently to enhance the negative impression produced on the public, the police additionally stated that, “As established, the detainee has stayed jobless for more than six months, and has had no permanent source of income.” Also, they posted Tsagoyev’s photo portrait with the following text next to it: “The Kabardino-Balkaria Internal Affairs Department hereby invites anyone who has suffered at the hands of this criminal to immediately report thereon by dialling 404-910 or 02, or by contacting the nearest police station.”

For some strange reason, they characterised Tsagoyev as a “formerly well-known journalist”.

Anyone reading the press release would be wrong thinking that our brave police caught this “highly dangerous criminal” on a hot scent. Actually, they are accusing Tsagoyev of a robbery he allegedly committed 13 years ago.

According to the Caucasian Knot news agency, Natalia Cherkasova, a neighbour invited to witness the search in Tsagoyev’s apartment, was very much surprised to hear what the police were saying.

“What mines are they talking about?” she exclaimed. “Who would ever think of calling them so? Those are ordinary flare pots with lighters! And the pistol is just a plastic toy – one of those you can buy in any toy shop.”

She has lived next door to the Tsagoyevs for many years, knows their family well, and has always considered Igor to be “a cultured, well-balanced and very polite man”, Cherkasova added.

According to the suspect’s mother, the “object looking like a pistol of an unknown model” is indeed a toy.

“They also seized a plastic toy pistol I’d personally bought a long time before,” Caucasian Knot cited her as saying. “It was lying somewhere in a tool box. It doesn’t even have a muzzle – nowhere to fire a bullet from. And they took away four signal flares that Igor brought from a business trip to a military unit; he said soldiers had given them to him as a gift, for setting off on New Year’s night for fun. But we soon forgot all about those flares.”

It’s indeed surprising the police did not find the “stolen 1,950 dollars” during the search…

Now that official charges have been advanced against him, Tsagoyev is to spend the next two months under arrest. Colleagues are refusing outright to trust what police are saying about him. Journalists have urged the republic’s prosecutor, Oleg Zharikov, to take the investigation under personal oversight.

On learning about Tsagoyev’s arrest, GDF President Alexei Simonov commented:

“We’ve known Igor Tsagoyev for a long time as a decent man, talented journalist and good friend. Throughout his career, he has engaged in the most difficult genre of journalism, conducting independent investigations in close contact with law enforcement. Due to his devotion and high reputation, he has received information support not only from colleagues at the regional and federal level but also from officers at the Interior Ministry, FSB, Drug Control Authority, and Investigative Committee of Kabardino-Balkaria. For all the ten-odd years I stayed in contact and worked with him, his reputation was impeccable. Nor is anyone in the journalistic community questioning his professional or human qualities today.”

There is one other curious point in this story: how can a holder of so many honours for close cooperation with law enforcement have possibly turned out a villain? If he is one, then what were the police, prosecutors and investigators busy doing for thirteen years? Or, following police logic, did he artfully pretend to be an honest and decent person during all that time? Anyone who knows Tsagoyev will say that’s absolutely impossible. We, too, think so.

Knowing all too well the “work specifics” of national law enforcers, who have sometimes picked out a random person to label him “the guilty one” in a criminal case they were unwilling to investigate thoroughly, or just in an attempt to settle their scores with an “inconvenient” opponent, one may easily guess what the true reasons for Tsagoyev’s arrest might be: among other things, he probed into alleged corrupt practices within Russia’s law enforcement.



A street in Elista to be named after Larissa Yudina (Republic of Kalmykia, South)

In response to an appeal by Valery Badmayev, chief editor of the newspaper Sovremennaya Kalmykia, the Kalmyk capital’s administration has said that “a conference on toponymy (place-name study) has decided that one of the new streets in Residential Area 9 will be named after Larissa A. Yudina”.

As we have reported, participants in public hearings in Elista on 6-7 June 2008 in connection with the 10th anniversary of the killing of Larissa Yudina, chief editor of the newspaper Sovetskaya Kalmykia, decided to appeal to Elista mayor asking to name one of the city streets after Yudina. The lady journalist was killed in Elista on 7 June 1998. Her killers were tracked down and convicted, but the murder’s mastermind managed to get away with impunity (see Digest 384, Russian).

The street-naming process has been dragged out for five years. The toponymy commission’s positive decision passed in August 2008 was left without action for unclear reasons. Badmayev, editor of Sovetskaya Kalmykia’s successor, Sovremennaya Kalmykia, had to appeal again with a group of colleagues to the Elista administration in April to remind the authorities of the need to walk the talk. A reply message said that the commission’s decision had not been approved by the Elista City Assembly in due time, but that this time it would be given the go-ahead at long last.

Hopefully, the mayoral officials will fulfil their pledge.

New government division established in Karelia to interact with the media

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

The Press, Informatisation and Media Affairs Ministry established in Karelia in the early 2000s rather quickly turned into an instrument for suppressing dissent. The journalists nicknamed the authority “The Ministry of Pravda” (hinting at the newspaper Pravda (Truth), established by Lenin one century earlier as a mouthpiece of Bolshevik agitation and propaganda – Translator.) At one point, the republic’s government realised that ceaseless conflicts and litigations had become harmful to the authorities themselves, turning them in public eyes into “media oppressors”. As a result, the Press Ministry was shut down, with its functions delegated first to the Ministry of Culture and later to the Ministry of Interethnic Policy and Contacts with Public and Religious Associations and the Media. The latter organisation had a staff specialist who was in charge of contact with the media.

After the incumbent governor, A. Hudilainen, took over the helm in Karelia, someone suggested revitalising the Press Ministry, but a closer look at the situation showed the general public did not favour the idea much; so it was decided that an appropriate division would be established within the existing ministry, involving four specialists with a deputy minister at the head. After a contest that ended a few days ago, the post went to Aleksandr Rybakov, former deputy chief of the governor’s staff, who used to oversee the media before, too, while seldom venturing beyond the depths of the gubernatorial apparatus. Observers decided, therefore, that the contest had been a pure formality and that its outcome had been predetermined.

Rybakov, a veteran party activist and a long-time member of the United Russia Party (URP) Executive Committee in the Altai Region, was later transferred to the URP apparatus in Moscow, where he happened to catch the eye of Hudilainen, who invited him to join the governor’s team in Karelia. It should be noted that Hudilainen, ex-head of the Gatchina District in the Leningrad Region and, for a brief period, speaker of the regional Legislative Assembly, has many invited specialists on the payroll, whom he has appointed to almost all the key posts in his administration. To be more specific, all of them come from three constituent parts of the Russian Federation – St. Petersburg, the Leningrad Region and, for some strange reason, the Altai Region (the governor’s secretary, for example, is one of the latter).

Commenting on his appointment, the new deputy minister said his task is to “make the budget-financed media as efficient as possible”.

Stavropol judges find “no insulting content” in an article rudely accusing a journalist of libel

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

It’s common knowledge that journalists seldom file legal claims in defence of their honour and dignity, the less so sue one another for libel. If something of the kind occurs, it is a good reason for the Stavropol Journalists’ Union leadership to analyse and evaluate the situation within the journalistic community in terms of potential problems.

Yelena Suslova, a Mineralniye Vody correspondent for the independent regional newspaper Otkrytaya Gazeta, has filed an honour-and-dignity protection claim against her colleague Tatyana Malysheva from the Cossack newspaper Lik Kavkaza. After Suslova wrote an article criticizing the allegedly improper privatisation of land in the famous spa region of Stavropol, and hinted at potential Cossack pressure on the regional prosecutor, Malysheva responded by a publication entitled “Detailed Instructions on How to Write Smearing Stuff”, which heading showed the author’s disagreement, to put it mildly, with her colleague’s assessments.

Suslova also filed a similar legal claim against a local Cossack leader, Ataman Valery Pomatov, who wrote a commentary to the “Instructions” story in the same issue of Lik Kavkaza.

The first-instance courts in Pyatigorsk (chaired by Judge Felix Begiashvili) and Zheleznovodsk (chaired by Judge Anna Suprunova) turned Sulsova’s claims down. Begiashvili did not justify his decision by any reference to effective legislation at all; he must have been guided by “personal convictions” in passing his judgment. Suprunova cited the findings of an expert linguistic study made by speech therapist (sic!) Yulia Yemelyanova of the North Caucasian Forensic Examination Centre, who found “no insulting content” in the “Instructions”, which conclusion resulted for Suslova in having to pay 95,000 roubles for the 39-page expert study (a nice round sum, considering her salary of only 15,000 roubles per month).

The “non-insulting” phrases under expert study included the following:

  • “It’s no one’s secret journalists can be easily sold and bought; it’s not accidental that theirs is called ‘the world’s second oldest’ profession”;
  • “The way I look at it, the author’s goal was not to investigate but to dig a cesspool, fill it with slops and plunge our newspaper, the entire Cossack community and many others, including the prosecutor, into it”;
  • “The list of those who dislike Cossacks … is fairly long; if need be, one may find in it a person or even a group of persons who would eagerly (pay to) encourage a journalist’s prostitution urge”;
  • “The story’s conclusion does no merit at all to my fellow scribblers”;
  • “The reporter’s paranoid imagination…”;
  • “… this crazy paranoiac…”: and
  • “…those venal journalists, Judas’ offspring…”

Judge Felix Begiashvili, for his part, found “nothing humiliating” in the revelations of Ataman Pomatov, who described Suslova’s article as “a sample of falsehood, boorishness and dirt”, and the author herself as “a scribbler for a worthless newspaper”, “an ill-fated woman hating the whole world and everyone around”; “a half-crazy broad, evidently bearing a grudge against the male part of humanity for their indifference to … her questionable female appeal”, and “one who is ready, on hearing ‘Get’em!’, to attack anyone to whom a finger is pointed”.

The regional court a few days ago upheld Judge Begiashvili’s decision, putting it into full legal force, which means the appellate authority, too, found all of the above-cited statements non-insulting!

Yelena Suslova is determined to defend her rights to the end. She will appeal to the regional court presidium against Begiashvili’s ruling, and to the regional court against the decision passed by Judge Suprunova.

Several media in St. Petersburg cyber-attacked “for the sake of language purity”

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

This year’s Victory Day was darkened by mass-scale DDoS attacks on a number of news websites in Moscow and St. Petersburg. A movement calling itself “Web Hamsters” claimed responsible for what happened, describing its actions as “a fight for the purity of information and language in Russia”. The afflicted media intend, with GDF assistance, to urge law enforcement to punish the wrongdoers.

Since the early morning of 9 May, twelve media websites in Russia’s two largest cities stood idle as a result of a massive cyber-attack. The group of victims included several web news agencies (among them Fontanka.ru, Lenizdat.ru and ZAKS.ru), as well as the TV channel Dozhd, Forbes magazine, the newspapers Novaya Gazeta and Moskovsky Komsomolets, and the radio station Ekho Moskvy, whose websites (registered as Internet-based media) were not accessible, either.

In a video address to Internet users, the hitherto unknown Web Hamsters group’s leader (who was later identified as a student of the St. Petersburg State University of Telecommunications), said:

“On this day, we more than ever want the memory of people who gave their lives for our motherland not to be smeared by anyone of those who venture to publish various conjectures or resort to fact-juggling. This is why the websites of a number of online media are not working today.”

Movement activists later attempted to explain their action once again by circulating “Answers to Questions about the 9 May Action”. They claimed to represent a mass and open movement (“We are absolutely open… We don’t try to hide or do anything secretly, covering our faces or running into the shadows…”), allegedly acting in full compliance with the law (“We’ve operated absolutely legally… We haven’t formed any criminal gangs or meant to harm anyone…”). They described the cyber-attacked media as “providers of distorted news coverage” and “writers of dirty stuff about this country”.

Asked about their potential links with the authorities, the cyber-attackers gave a vaguely-formulated reply reading as follows:

“We are linked with the authorities inasmuch as we are asking them, ‘Why did you allow Russian journalism to sink as low as it is today?’ We want the government to understand that people are finding the situation (in the media sphere) intolerable, and to take appropriate measures.” […]

All the afflicted media are currently preparing a collective appeal to law enforcement to punish the masterminds and executors of the cyber-attack, an action falling under the effects of Article 144 of the RF Criminal Code (“Interference with journalists’ lawful professional activity”). The Glasnost Defence Foundation and the Media Rights Centre in Voronezh are actively helping the victims and will closely follow the developments around Web Hamsters.



Journalists urge Internal Affairs Minister to resign

Ukrainian Internal Affairs Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko either must make his reports do their job properly or he must resign, said a joint statement released by the Independent Media Union (NMPU) and National Journalists’ Union after the recent beating of Channel 25 reporter Olga Snitsarchuk and Kommersant journalist Vlad Sodel, the NMPU press service has reported.

The journalists were beaten by “specifically-looking unknown persons” near St. Sophia’s Square in Kiev on 18 May.

“The beating of journalists performing their professional duty proceeded in the presence of police officers who did not attempt to stop it,” the joint statement said. “It seemed the policemen deliberately allowed the attackers to beat the journalists, which impression is confirmed by police indifference to the photo pictures of the assailants that the victims had the time to take.”

Appalling malpractices of this kind have become routine in Ukraine, the two journalistic unions pointed out, noting that law enforcers have stubbornly refused to prosecute reporters’ attackers; where criminal proceedings have been started after all, police have done everything to close the relevant cases on various thought-up pretexts.

[Delo newspaper report, 19 May]



Cultural workers’ statement of solidarity with Russian NGOs

It is not up to writers, actors, film directors or musicians to teach legislators what laws to pass, or to tell judges how to interpret these laws, or to urge prosecutors to ensure these laws are duly enforced. But the pattern of relations between the state and the non-governmental organisations, as it looks today, is too dangerous and fraught with too sad consequences for us to ignore it altogether.

NGOs throughout this country have been plagued by incessant prosecutorial inspections, conducted in violation of the law and at a pace that seems unthinkable. It all looks like a large-scale campaign aiming to present the activities of foreign-funded NGOs as politically-underpinned work.

Any insider knows all too well what the Russian NGOs are busy doing: they work to preserve our environment, to protect our cultural assets, to prevent our children from dying of incurable diseases, to ensure that the victims of Stalin’s repressions are not forgotten by the nation, to help the disabled live a normal life and feel themselves full-fledged members of society, to ensure that national legislation is enforced in full, and simply to see that husbands do not beat their wives and parents do not abandon their children. Most of those engaged in this work are selfless enthusiasts, and to label them “foreign agents” (implying that they work under foreign sponsors’ control and in the interests of the latter) is an unfair and dishonest thing to do.

Any civic activist in Russia knows equally well why many Russian NGOs are compelled to look to international charity organisations for funding: the national government provides almost no support for meaningful social initiatives; nor is government-dependent business willing to take risks financing NGO activities for fear of falling into disfavour with the ruling elite.

Bearing the foreign agent’s brand is not only humiliating to the NGO members; also, it is misleading to people around, who may think help comes to them from foreigners, not from compatriots. Moreover, the very term “foreign agent” is associated in public conscience with the Stalinist trials, during which hundreds of thousands of our countrymen were tortured into confessing to most absurd charges – only to be executed later with the tags of “foreign agents” by the state machine. The majority of non-governmental organisations will not accept this brand of shame, preferring to shut down. That will throw our civil society several decades back and will freeze its development.

To prevent that from happening, we need to press for the abrogation of this law or, as a minimum, for having its language changed – for the term “foreign agent” to be replaced with a more neutral definition, e.g. “organisation financed from foreign sources”. Besides, the notion of “political activity” needs to be defined more accurately to regain its commonly-recognised meaning.

[Statement signed by:

Boris Akunin, writer; Mikhail Aldashin, cartoon director and artist; Liya Akhedzhakova, theatre and movie actress; Andrei Bilzho, artist and caricaturist; Andrei Bitov, writer; Vera Vassilyeva, theatre and movie actress; Vladimir Vyatkin, photographer; Sergei Gandlevsky, poet and prose writer; Boris Grebenshchikov, musician and poet; Oleg Dorman, film director; Zoya Yeroshok, journalist; Yelena Kamburova, singer and actress; Pavel Kaplevich, artist and theatre/movie producer; Yuliy Kim, poet, composer and playwright; Polina Osetinskaya, pianist; Lev Rubinstein, poet and literary critic; Dmitry Sokolov-Mitrich, journalist; Svetlana Sorokina, journalist; Dmitry Spirin, rock musician; Marietta Chudakova, philologist, literary critic and writer]

[Social Information Agency (ASI) report, 17 May]

Round table on analytical journalism held in Voronezh

By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

A round table at Voronezh State University (VSU)’s school of journalism, held as part of the annual scientific/practical conference “Mass Communication Problems”, has discussed a range of issues striking regional analytical journalists as urgent.

The conference, which brought together journalists and editors of Voronezh-based media, VSU faculty members and guest speakers, was opened by Vladimir Tulupov, dean of the school of journalism and a resident member of the Voronezh Guild of Analytical Journalists. He focused on matters pertaining to journalist training and drew attention to what he called “rivalry in the media space among professional journalists and bloggers”.

The conferees discussed professional requirements to modern analytical journalism, the media audience’s expectations, and self-regulation issues. Vivid debates flared up over assessments of the efficiency of journalistic activities and media’s constructive interaction with the regional authorities. Most speakers agreed the journalistic community should act as a team in its search for effective instruments of persuading the government to actively tackle the region’s “burning” problems.



Dear colleagues:

The media in Zarechny, Sverdlovsk Region, have found themselves under heavy pressure. The future of the city television network looks very vague. The conflict boiled up to a point at which all the journalists from the city’s sole television channel, Zarechny TV, resigned to start a private TV company, which the local authorities have been seeking to shut down at any cost.

The local municipal TV channel has worked for 20 years under full or partial control by the local administration. Nevertheless, in the past two and a half years, the TV people have managed to pursue a free and independent editorial policy that was based on honest news reporting and freedom of expression. They sought to provide all-round coverage of city events by airing different assessments of problems, including viewpoints that the local administration might find “inconvenient”. Oddly enough, the authorities did not put any obstacles in the journalists’ path. As a result, the daily media audience nearly doubled over a short time to over 60% of the city’s population.

It went like that until the March 2012 mayoral election, which was won by Vassily Lanskikh. The new city head at once started meddling in the municipal channel’s editorial policy and attempting to restrict freedom of expression. He repeatedly summoned the chief editor/director to the mayor’s office, insistently “recommending” him to change the channel’s reporting style and refrain from airing “embarrassing stuff”. But the journalists tried hard to resist this pressure and continued playing the game honestly – until Director Aleksandr Vorobyov was coerced by the mayor into resigning on 29 April 2013. On the next day, Lanskikh introduced to the staff two new leaders – Aleksandr Zhuravlyov (a journalist from Yekaterinburg) as the new director, and Mikhail Baturin (former PR manager for the head of the city of Zarechny) as his deputy. The mayor stressed the need for the TV channel to change so as to meet the needs of the municipal administration in the first place. He presented Baturin to the staff as the man who would “be responsible for the news programme content”. The new deputy director promised to hold planning meetings with staffers every morning to tell them what to report on, and how, and what to edit out. Also, he said the number of political and “problem” themes to be covered would be reduced. On the very same day, all the creative staff members, unwilling to work under censorship, tendered their resignations.

They established a new media outlet and agreed with a local cable TV operator on having their broadcasts shown to the city audience. The first show was to go on the air on 13 May. But the city authorities put pressure on the cable TV operator to prevent that from happening; otherwise, they said, the operator would have “big problems” running his business in Zarechny. Unwilling to take risks, the operator refused to show the new company’s programmes. Moreover, to please the authorities, he proposed to show the municipal channel’s news features via his cable network. However, the channel’s new managers failed to gather an alternative team of local journalists to provide news coverage. They had to hire a group of reporters from Yekaterinburg to do the job, but the hired hands proved unable to prepare a news roundup by that Monday’s evening.

The independent journalists intend to stage an action of protest one of these days, marching through the city streets with strips of scotch tape on their mouths to symbolise the absence of freedom of expression in Zarechny.

We hereby ask the GDF to help us make this conflict situation known to the Russian public.

[Letter signed by: Aleksandr Vorobyov, Violetta Vorobyova, Sergei Zhiltsov, Danil Kildyushevsky, Anton Koryakov, Aleksandr Kuznetsov, Maria Morozova, Pavel Panov, Kristina Sazhayeva].


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 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.


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