20 Ноября 2014 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 683-684

17 November 2014)


FSB puts pressure on St. Petersburg-based Regional Press Institute and its director

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

Hearings of the legal claim lodged by prominent rights activist Anna Sharogradskaya, director of the St. Petersburg-based Regional Press Institute, against the Pulkovo Airport’s customs service, whose officials unlawfully detained her and seized the data media she was carrying, confirmed the FSB’s suspected role as the mastermind.

Customs service representatives did their best to prove the lawfulness of their actions at Pulkovo on 5 June 2014 (for details, see digests 664 and 682). First, they claimed they had not seized Sharogradskaya’s notebook PC, iPad, or eleven flash-memory cards; skilfully playing with words, Pulkovo lawyers persuaded the court they had done nothing beyond “sample drawing” – bad news for anyone crossing the Russian border: a word-juggling customs official feels free to confiscate any of your personal effects on the pretext of “drawing a sample”!

The reasons for their interpreting Russian legislation in so queer a manner are clear enough: responding to GDF’s earlier inquiries, each of the questioned customs authorities on the territory of St. Petersburg, including the North-Western Customs Department, acknowledged in writing that “personal effects may be confiscated only in extreme situations”. Meanwhile, the official reports show that the seizure of Sharogradskaya’s data media contradicted every single relevant provision of effective legislation and – which seems to be still more important in Russia – of existing departmental instructions.

Another interesting fact highlighted during the court hearings concerns the role the Federal Security Service (FSB) played in the incident. From the very outset, the agency had been suspected of involvement, but there had been no material evidence to prove that. Now a document was presented in court, in which it was written in black and white that the “orders to carry out a selective search [of Sharogradskaya’s luggage] were issued by the FSB”. Although the customs officials kept mum about it until the very last moment, the court did not find this to constitute either a state or a service “secret”. On the other hand, everyone could plainly see to whose “tune” all other authorities “dance” in Russia.

At the final hearing held on 14 November, the court turned Sharogradskaya’s claim down. Her seized data media have been officially transferred to the FSB and, according to invited experts from St. Petersburg State University, “were found to feature extremist content”.

Sharogradskaya’s lawyers intend to appeal. The Glasnost Defence Foundation will closely follow the developments, including attempts by the FSB and other authorities to put pressure on the Regional Press Institute and its director by labelling the institution “a foreign agent” in view of its attempts to facilitate journalists’ work, and by listing Anna Sharogradskaya among suspected “extremists”.


Journalist spent national holiday in prosecutor’s office, police and court in Stavropol

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

Well ahead of National Unity Day (4 November), journalist Sergei Popov, 63, with a group of other activists asked the Stavropol administration’s authorisation to hold a festive march and a public rally in the regional capital. As required by law, he supplied a list of topics to be discussed and of slogans to be carried by rally participants. His state goals were to: celebrate the national holiday; mark the Kazan icon of the Mother of God’s day; support the Russian Spring political course proclaimed by Russia’s top leadership; support Novorossiya; and pay tribute to the soldiers fallen in the fighting in the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics…

The mayor’s office refused to authorise the action with reference to a regional law forbidding the holding of mass events in front of the regional prosecutor’s office, and to “repairs in progress” in a nearby boulevard (which were barely visible, though). The organisers quietly accepted the refusal and refrained from holding the proposed action.

This notwithstanding, early on 4 November Popov, a member of the Journalists’ Union of Russia, was detained near his home by a group of police officers led by the Oktyabrsky district police chief, Mr Tolstov. He was then taken to the district prosecutor’s office and officially warned against holding an unauthorised street march or rally. The document handed to him included a passage alleging Popov’s determination to hold the banned action anyway, “with a view to discrediting state power”. As it turned out later, district prosecutors had not seen either the text of Popov’s original request or the list of slogans, and could not substantiate their conjectures about the journalist’s “real” goals and intentions.

At about 2 p.m. on the same day, Popov came to the regional Philharmonic Theatre carrying a large sheet of paper with “Glory to Novorossiya Heroes!” written on it. He came to take part in a forum of creative intellectuals that he originally had planned to attend but could not because of his early-morning detention. He stood outside the theatre holding the placard and handing federal and local newspapers with his own articles to forum participants coming out during the lunch break.

Minutes later the independent journalist was again detained by patrolmen (who were seen behaving rather rudely) and taken to the Oktyabrsky district police headquarters, where they made a protocol of his alleged participation in an unauthorised “public action” – and this despite the fact that in line with Russian law a one-man picketing action does not require authorisation, and that Popov was not protesting but actually singing the authorities’ praises well in the spirit of government propaganda.

After two hours at the police station, Popov was brought to the Oktyabrsky district court in Stavropol without the opportunity to call his lawyer. After a brief review of his case (the court was open on a red-letter day!), a judge satisfied Popov’s request to adjourn the hearings until 14 November.

The journalist himself explains this unprecedented pressure from law enforcement by his criticism of a regional deputy prosecutor and of Stavropol’s city manager. He became known as a critic of authorities after a series of articles carried by the newspapers Vremya SK, Stavropolsky Reporter and Slovo, as well as due to his online postings in defence of the Tamansky Forest.

Popov considers himself not only an independent journalist but also a real defender of the Russian state. Indeed, he holds the title of a counsellor of state, 2nd class, and has worked for 10 years as chairman of the Ethnic Relations Committee at the Stavropol Region administration; and for 9 years as an official with the Office of the Presidential Envoy to the Southern Federal District. Also, he has an impressive record of reporting from “hot spots”. He mediated the talks with [terrorist Shamil] Basayev during the hostage crisis at a hospital in Budennovsk, and was deputy leader of a federal working group on freeing hostages in Chechnya. For seven years he was a speechwriter on the prevention of extremism for five different presidential envoys to the Southern Federal District, and in 2003 he was honoured with President Putin’s letter of thanks for helping to organise a referendum in the Chechen Republic.

Yet none of your merits will be taken into account if you’ve been seen in the ranks of those who think it is not accidental that the Stavropol Region is often labelled a “money laundry”. One little “wrong” move may be enough for “pluses” to turn into “minuses” and for a long-time fighter against extremism to be himself dubbed an “extremist”.

Popular TV channel shut down in Rostov Region

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

Channel 37, a TV/radio company that beamed to Novocherkassk, Shakhty, Novoshakhtinsk, Krasny Sulin, Aksai, Semikarakorsk, and part of Rostov-on-Don, as well as the Oktyabrsky, Rodionovo-Nesvetaisky, Semikarakorsky, Veselovsky, Bagayevsky and Aksaisky rural districts of the Rostov Region, was shut down on 7 November. Since its establishment in 1998, the channel used to work with the federal TV channel TNT-Teleset’ and was one of the 20 largest transmitters of TNT programmes in Russia. Yet the broadcasting license belonged to Russia’s single largest telecommunications company, OAO RosTelecom, with which Channel 37 worked on a contractual basis.

The license expired three years ago, and the management of the Rostov branch of RosTelecom pretended for a long time that it would extend the license, so the TV channel kept working as if on credit – until the media oversight agency, Roskomnadzor, lost all patience. Strange as it may be, both RosTelecom’s head office in Moscow and its macro-regional headquarters in Krasnodar are willing to extend the broadcasting license – unlike its Rostov-based subsidiary’s director, Mr Alkhasov, who won’t listen to reason or yield to requests coming from the regional authorities and the Journalists’ Union of Russia. Moreover, he even doesn’t want to obtain a new license for free, as he has been offered, or to have his advertisements aired on the radio and TV, or to sell his media business at a profit – why bother if RosTelecom’s profits amount to a hundred billion roubles as it is?

“We used to pay RosTelecom two to three million roubles a year from our advertising proceeds,” – Channel 37 Director Tatyana Cheburakova told the GDF. “Last year we paid less because of the general economic recession, but we’ve never operated in the red. Now we’re planning to launch cable TV in Novocherkassk, but viewers in rural areas won’t be able to receive our programmes until we obtain a license to broadcast in a frequency range of our own. Unfortunately, that may take a very long time.”

Channel 37 is not only a popular news, public, political, cultural and educational television channel but also a socially responsible media outlet and winner of the Grand Prize of the “Time to Act” All-Russia Festival of Regional TV Companies in Moscow for social actions in support of the Red Cross, sick children, and police efforts to enforce law and order at community level.

Court in Voronezh awards construction company 40,000 roubles in reputational damages, payable by publishing firm

By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

The Voronezh Region court of arbitration has completed hearings of a business reputation protection claim lodged by a construction company, OOO SMU-36, against the Vestnik media holding in the wake of a May publication in one of the holding’s newspapers, Semiluksky Vestnik. The story under consideration critically assessed SMU’s performance in the town of Semiluki – specifically, the way it repaired the local House of Culture. The author went as far as calling the company’s overall ability to operate into question. “Until recently, [SMU-36] rented an office of hardly 15 sq. m in area… It looks like we are dealing with one of so-called ‘façade’ firms,” he wrote.

The plaintiff also challenged the photo picture illustrating the article, which featured the House of Culture with a cracked front. The caption said that was how the building looked after “repairs” for which SMU charged 25 million roubles.

Yet the court found the defendant-presented evidence insufficient to substantiate some of the “arguable” points made in the publication; found the relevant passages “untrue” and “smearing”; and awarded the plaintiff 40,000 roubles in reputational damages, payable by Vestnik.

Oversight agency in Krasnodar Region issues warning to newspaper for disclosing teenager’s personal data

By Galina Tashmatova, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

After the newspaper Labinskiye Vesti published an editorial entitled “What If Teenager Shows Teacher His Naked Behind?” mentioning the main character’s full name, the teenager’s mother complained to the Krasnodar Region department of Rosokhrankultura [federal service overseeing law observance in the sphere of public communications and protecting Russia’s cultural heritage] about what she saw as a violation of her son’s rights, since she did not give her consent to the newspaper’s disclosing his personal information.

Rosokhrankultura officials identified this as a violation of federal legislation regulating the processing of personal data, and sent the case to the Labinsk inter-district prosecutor’s office for checking and decision-making. A prosecutor started proceedings against the newspaper’s chief editor under Administrative Code Article 13.11, and a justice of the peace found the editor guilty of an administrative offence punishable by an official warning.

Following official and prosecutorial logic, any critical publication mentioning the criticised person’s full name may give rise to legal proceedings under the said article. By the way, this is already the third warning issued to Labinskiye Vesti by the local prosecutor’s office in the past two years in line with one and the same administrative code article.


Russian PEN Centre protests against poet’s accusation of extremism

Statement by Russian PEN Centre on A. Byvshev Case

The district court in the township of Kromy, Orel Region, on 3 October declared the poem “To Ukrainian Patriots” posted online by local schoolteacher Aleksandr Byvshev, to be an “extremist” publication.

The court passed this decision in spite of the fact that the poem had earlier been studied at its request by members of the authoritative Guild of Linguistic Experts on Documentation- and Information-related Disputes (GLEDID) in Moscow, who had not found any extremist content in it.

The local authorities’ stubborn desire to bring criminal charges against the author of a poem the message of which evidently is at odds with their own views causes one to think that the Byvshev case may be politically underpinned.

Such an approach to poetry directly contradicts the provisions of Article 29 of the RF Constitution and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Leaving aside any moral or literary assessments of Byvshev’s verse, we members of the Russian PEN Centre cannot but express our concern over this dangerous precedent-setting revitalisation of practices subjecting authors to prosecution for their writings.

We reserve the right to closely follow the judicial proceedings in Kromy.

Signed by:Lyudmila Ulitskaya, Lev Timofeyev, Viktor Yerofeyev, Igor Irtenyev, Mikhail Aizenberg, Marina Boroditskaya, Leonid Bakhnov, Mikhail Berg, Alina Vitukhnovskaya, Marina Vishnevetskaya, Vladimir Voinovich, Aleksandr Gelman, Denis Gutsko, Viktor Yesipov, Georgy Yefremov, Olga Ilnitskaya, Grigory Kruzhkov, Natalya Mavlevich, Andrei Makarevich, Grigory Pasko, Boris Sokolov, Vladimir Sotnikov, Tatyana Sotnikova (Anna Berseneva), Lyubov Summ, Sergei Yakovlev

4 November 2014

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
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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