9 Октября 2014 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 676

29 September 2014


ECHR checks Russia’s operative search measures for compliance with human rights requirements

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

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg held a Grand Chamber hearing of the case “Roman Zakharov v. Russia” on 24 September to decide if it is legal for the Russian secret services and police to use equipment enabling them to virtually uncontrollably tap people’s telephones and read their e-mail and ordinary postal correspondence.

A legal claim filed by GDF correspondent Roman Zakharov had waited for nearly eight years to be considered by the Strasbourg court. Lodged back in 2006, it drew as strong an interest from ECHR judges that they decided to give it a Grand Chamber review. Hearings of these kinds are rather rare, since ECHR decisions are typically passed in absentia.

After the parties (Zakharov as the applicant and the Russian government as the defendant) clarified some points in the case at the court’s request, the ECHR appointed the hearing date and put five questions for the parties to answer in the course of courtroom proceedings. At 9:15 a.m. on 24 September, the presiding judge opened the hearing in the presence of a large audience that included, among others, a delegation of judges from Belarus.

The case was presented on behalf of the applicant by an international team of lawyers led by Phillip Leech from the U.K. It may as well be noted that one of the claim’s initiators, St. Petersburg-based barrister Boris Gruzd, was unable to attend the hearing, but his colleague Yelena Levchishina stepped in to act in his stead in Strasbourg.

One of the major points stressed by Zakharov’s lawyers was his right as a journalist to keep his sources confidential; as a correspondent for the Glasnost Defence Foundation, Zakharov is well justified in doubting the honesty of Russia’s law enforcement which has the technical potential to tap anyone’s phone without a court warrant. This practice is encouraged by the national Operative Search Measures (OSM) act, which Russia has insistently described as a “minor document not affecting the work of law enforcement operatives in any big way”. If this is true, then how would the authorities explain the fact that of a total of 400,000-odd surveillance authorisation requests filed in 2013, the courts granted 99%, giving the Russian intelligence and law enforcement agencies a free hand to eavesdrop on citizens’ phone conversations and to read their postal and electronic correspondence? This mind-boggling figure clearly indicates that Russian judges simply rubber-stamp those surveillance authorisations without ever bothering to assess their validity. Is it good or bad, one may ask. The answer is on the surface: In the absence of independent control, let alone of close public scrutiny, the secrecy of private communications in Russia is in jeopardy, the more so because mobile operators and Internet providers are of no help here: even if they wanted to, they wouldn’t be able to confirm or disprove the fact of a person’s being or having been under surveillance – again, because of that notorious OSM act.

The ECHR is to return its verdict not earlier than in a few months’ time. The applicant hopes it will be a breakthrough decision effectively protecting the right of journalists and others to communicate in an atmosphere of privacy.


Regional court presidium in Rostov turns down journalist Sergei Reznik’s protest against his conviction

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

Sergei Reznik and his lawyers intend to appeal to the RF Supreme Court, now that the regional court in Rostov has confirmed last November’s decision of the Pervomaisky district court sentencing the journalist and blogger to 18 months in detention (for details, see digest 638). International human rights organisations and Russia’s Memorial group, which see Reznik’s prosecution as politically motivated and unlawful, have designated the journalist as a prisoner of conscience. This notwithstanding, the regional court, and then its appellate panel (presidium), have both left the first-instance court’s decision unchanged.

“We are preparing a complaint to the Supreme Court and, if we fail to find justice in Russia, we are ready to go all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Actually, [Reznik] is being denied his right to defence and to a fair trial,” defence lawyer Yelena Dragunova told the GDF. She represented Reznik’s interests during the first trial but was barred from defending him during the second trial at the Leninsky district court of Rostov, after new criminal charges were brought against him. Dragunova believes she was summoned to the regional Investigative Committee especially to be excluded from the proceedings. Officially, she was supposed to testify as a witness in the first case, which she declined to do with reference to the Law on Advocacy and the Bar; her name was not on the list of witnesses approved by the prosecutor before the hearings started. Yet Judge Vladimir Strokov barred her from taking part in the proceedings allegedly because she might be called to testify as a witness.

In the new trial, Reznik’s interests are represented by a young but very knowledgeable defence lawyer Zhanna Pavlova, with Dragunova attending as an observer. It should be noted that the degree of attention to the second trial on the part of human rights activists, the media community and the general public is much lower than to the first one. If the hearings at the Pervomaisky court, and then at the regional court, attracted a powerful support group, those at the Leninsky district court have been attended by a few persons at the most.

As we have reported, Reznik this time is facing charges of insulting (in his LiveJournal blog publications) three officials – Roman Klimov, a former regional deputy prosecutor; Dmitry Ishchenko, an official with the regional Interior Ministry’s counter-extremism unit; and Andrei Glinkin, an officer of the Rostov Region police department. All the three men are posing as victims. The latest hearing included the questioning of witnesses – the editors of newspapers and web publications to which Reznik contributed reports. They testified that Sergei Reznik’s page in the blog otto-cazz.livejournal.com had repeatedly been hacked, with an unidentified person posting provocative statements on it. The defence will likely try to prove that the insulting postings were written not by Reznik but by someone else.

Meanwhile, an article on Sergei Reznik has appeared in Wikipedia.

Independent newspaper distributor threatened in Khakassia, Siberia

By Erik Chernyshev, newspaper Karatosh

Yevgenia Gille, a distributor of the newspaper Karatosh, has reported a government official’s attempts to obstruct her work as she was distributing a newspaper issue featuring Svetlana Lukashevskaya’s article about the 14 September municipal elections in the Beisky district of Khakassia, and an inquiry by Oleg Ivanov, deputy of the republic’s Supreme Council, about personal violations of law by the Beisky district leader Yuri Kurlayev. The two publications added to the passions of election campaigning: Kurlayev, a nominee of the ruling United Russia party, had been losing the race to a self-nominated rival, Valery Zaitsev, until the very last moment, when the voting in remote villages changed the returns drastically in Kurlayev’s favour.

At about 4 p.m. on 27 September, Gille had a phone call from Oleg Safronov, council head in Sabinsky village, Beisky district, who asked the young woman, a mother of two: “So you’re rich enough to pay for a defence lawyer’s services? As a distributor of this newspaper, you’ll be tried, convicted and exiled to the north, to Magadan, leaving your kids behind with no one to look after them. Who’ll feed and raise them? I won’t tell Kurlayev it was you who delivered Karatosh around, and you’ll have to reward me for my kindness, but there will surely be people who’ll report this to the district administration and you’ll find yourself in real trouble. You got it?”

The young woman spent the rest of the day crying, but the entire print run of Karatosh was nevertheless delivered.

Police indifferently watch reporter being attacked in Moscow

The Yabloko party on 15 September held an action outside the Moscow mayor’s office, near the monument to Prince Yuri Dolgorukiy in Tverskaya Street, to protest the vote-rigging during the elections to the Moscow City Duma one day earlier.

About a dozen reporters covering the action, among them GDF correspondent Dmitry Florin, were taking photo pictures and shooting video sequences. When photographing a protester who stood with a poster in hand near a police vehicle, Florin felt someone striking at his hand from behind. Turning around, he saw a plain-clothed man who attempted to make a few more strikes, targeting the camera. Asked by the reporter why he was behaving so aggressively, the man exploded with a torrent of curse words, and then told Florin that “no cameras” were allowed there.

The journalist walked aside, turned the camera to the video mode and started toward the attacker again, saying aloud, “And now tell me why you are violating the media law!” The man tried to hide his face first, but seeing that Florin would not leave him alone, ran away.

Several police officers stood nearby all the while, watching the proceedings indifferently. Florin ran up to them, asking them to detain the attacker. They did not move an inch, telling him he had better turn with whatever questions he had to the Tverskaya police station nearby.

Dmitry Florin intends to complain to the prosecutor’s office about police inaction during an attack on a journalist doing his professional work.

Government official in Stavropol claims half a million roubles from newspaper in pay for mental treatment

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

Svetlana Fomina, head of the Stavropol Settlements Centre (SSC) and a target for numerous critical publications in the regional newspaper Otkrytaya Gazeta, has lodged a new legal claim against that newspaper, demanding half a million roubles to cover the costs of her medical treatment for mental disorders she allegedly acquired as a result of those publications.

For two years running, Otkrytaya wrote about fraudulent schemes through which the SSC, acting as an intermediary firm, robbed city residents of their money. For two years, though, it all was like a voice in the wilderness: too strong an army of government officials and businessmen of different rank vigorously protected the goose that laid the golden eggs for them (see digest 663). At long last, the prosecutor’s office and the Investigative Committee got concerned about the SSC’s shadow dealings and started legal proceedings against Fomina. The latter, smelling trouble, submitted to court two curious documents supposed to show how much suffering she had had to endure. One was expert conclusions issued by psychologists from a private firm called the “Rostov Forensic Studies Centre”, the other – the results of a forensic psychological study carried out by the Stavropol-based D. R. Lunts Medical Assistance Centre. Both studies were ordered by Fomina and both diagnosed her as suffering from “social de-adaptation” caused by a stress inflicted through “a lack of support from people of a high standing”.

Shocked by such a rare diagnosis, Otkrytaya carried out a journalistic investigation in a bid to find out where those documents came from.

It turned out that the private firm in Rostov which issued the first document nearly copied its name from that of the respectable federal institution called “The South-Russian Forensic Studies Centre” whose authority and scientific potential it attempted to ascribe to itself, while having none of its own. Anyway, that firm’s website displays no official licenses to engage in forensic expert studies. The study itself, for some strange reason, was carried out by the so-called Phonoscopic & Linguistic Studies Division, while Yelena Golikova, who signed it, has no official documents confirming her competence as a psychologist, and the federal database of court decisions makes not a single reference to her conclusions. Nor could it make, ever, because in doing this strange study, Golikova made a few blunders testifying to her unthinkable legal incompetence: she herself gathered the materials to be studied, asking the customer (Fomina) to provide the newspaper articles for her to answer some incompetently formulated questions.

The second document was issued by the infamous centre named after Prof. Daniil Lunts, a psychiatrist and a colonel of the KGB. The expert conclusions were signed personally by the centre’s director, Konstantin Nebytov, also a psychologist (not a physician) and a member of the Chamber of Forensic Experts, as he usually introduces himself. However hard it tried, Otkrytaya could not find his name on the list of that chamber’s members. Nor could it find any single court decision referring to his “expert conclusions”.

“Evidently, expert Konstantin Nebytov, stringently following KGB Col. Lunts’s recommendations, has learned well how to make himself invisible in a crowd,” Otkrytaya wrote. Meanwhile, one other important fact has surfaced: Nebytov as a state expert, who personally has acknowledged his status as a member of the Russian Federal Centre for Forensic Studies, has no right at all to act as a non-governmental expert. He must have forgotten all about the law when offered a reward of 100,000 roubles – just for transforming the findings of the Rostov-made study of Fomina’s individual psychological peculiarities into a medical diagnosis. Also, he prescribed the patient to undergo a rehabilitation course worth 400,000 roubles.

“Fomina, who is under investigation now, may as well refrain from paying for her psychological rehabilitation,” the newspaper wrote. “If the criminal case started against her goes all the way to court, she will be assigned to undergo such a course at a government clinic at the government’s expense. As regards the mental disorder diagnosed by expert Nebytov, it gives rise to serious concerns: Can a lady with such a diagnosis head an institution inflicting mass-scale losses on city residents?”

A management company in Voronezh wants news agency to disclaim its report

By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

The Voronezh-based housing management company Perspektiva, which owns an industrial park of the same name, has lodged a legal claim in defence of business reputation against Business News Agency (Abireg.ru) in the wake of a November 2013 publication that alleged, “Some facilities in Perspektiva Park stand on pliant ground and may therefore collapse someday.” The plaintiff says this information is both “reputation-ruining” and “untrue”.

Perspektiva urged the news agency last spring to disclaim its report, but since the journalists refused to, the management company appealed to the Voronezh Region Court of Arbitration.


Sverdlovsk regional journalists’ union board meeting: “Knowing legislation well helps defend our rights”

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

The latest plenary meeting of the Sverdlovsk Region Journalists’ Union (SRJU) board discussed, among other issues, what has been done in real terms in the region this year to protect journalists’ and media rights. Yelena Ovchinnikova, deputy general director of the newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta-Ural, shared her experience of struggling with the bureaucracy during her tenure as a media holding head in Nizhny Tagil – an experience that caused her to obtain a degree in law in addition to one in journalism, and to start helping media outlets to settle conflicts with government authorities.

Regrettably, journalists often compile their media charters or conclude agreements with media owners incompetently, exposing themselves to potential pressure that is difficult to protect them from afterwards, Ovchinnikova said, also pointing to the need for a special section, “Legal Safety”, to be run on the regional union’s website, which is about to be launched, and for dedicating special attention to the same topic in a series of seminars scheduled to be held at the regional House of Journalists, due to open in February.

Worthy of noting is the fact that the positions of human rights defenders are fairly strong within the Sverdlovsk Region media community. One example is Tatyana Merzlyakova, a long-time regional human rights ombudswoman, who previously worked as editor of the district newspaper Rezhevskiye Vesti. Another is Boris Lozovsky, dean of the school of journalism at Urals State University, who has written a series of academic papers on human rights while sharing his experience in the relevant field with students and trainees at the seminars he runs.

A supplementary report at the board meeting was read by renowned GDF expert and investigative journalist Sergei Plotnikov, who described the work of the SRJU Guild of Court Reporters, the establishment of which was announced on 13 December 2013 as the results were being summed up of a scientific and practical conference that yielded a co-operation agreement between the Sverdlovsk regional court and the SRJU.

The Guild held a round table on 28 January, bringing together media head-managers and editors to discuss “The Ethical and Legal Aspects of Court Reporting”, and on 16 May, it convened an enlarged meeting of the SRJU board focusing on ways of making the justice administration process more open and transparent. Also, Guild members have performed as instructors for judges and other court officials from across the region who stay in touch with the media. Three training sessions have been held, each attracting 20 to 25 trainees, which means that these educational events and questionnaires have covered the majority of such specialists working at the region’s 59 municipal and district courts. Plans for the future include meetings with prosecutors and defence lawyers. Sergei Plotnikov is running the “Courtroom” rubric with Oblastnaya Gazeta; and an action has been started jointly with the regional court’s press service to publicise the court’s video blog “120, Moskovskaya St.” through teaching journalists the basic knowledge of laws.

Sergei Salygin, head of the regional Guild of Periodical Press Publishers, agreed with the need to improve journalists’ legal awareness; he volunteered to contribute to organising the would-be series of SRJU seminars.


2014 Andrei Sakharov Competition “Journalism as an Act of Conscience” continues

The jury of the 2014 Andrei Sakharov Competition “Journalism as an Act of Conscience” continues accepting works submitted for this year’s contest. The deadline is November 1.

The Andrei Sakharov Award “For Journalism as an Act of Conscience” is conferred on journalists for publications reflecting the authors’ active life stands consistently translated into their highly professional work, and for defending the values Dr. Andrei D. Sakharov used to defend during his lifetime.

The materials submitted for the competition should have been published between October 15, 2013 and October 15, 2014 in Russian print or online media. Candidates for the award may be nominated by editorial boards and individual Russian citizens.

All materials must be submitted in print or electronic format (on diskettes or CDs, or as e-mail messages sent to fond@gdf.ru or boris@gdf.ru). Print versions shall be mailed to: Glasnost Defence Foundation, 4, Zubovsky Boulevard, Office 438, 119992, Moscow, Russia, with a note: “Andrei Sakharov Competition ‘Journalism as an Act of Conscience’.”

For further details about the Andrei Sakharov Competition “Journalism as an Act of Conscience”, click on www.gdf.ru.

Contact phone: (+7 495) 637-4947.

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.


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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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