Дайджест
27 Января 2015 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 692

19 January 2015


STORY OF THE WEEK

Journalist Sergey Vilkov attacked in Saratov

By Natalia Severskaya, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

Sergey Vilkov, a journalist with Obshchestvennoye Mneniye magazine, was beaten up in Saratov late on 13 January. Two unidentified thugs ambushed him hear his apartment house at the crossing of Komsomolskaya and Chernyshevskogo Streets.

“I was returning home when two men, stepping aside to let me pass by, suddenly attacked me simultaneously: one grabbed me by the neck from behind trying to push me off my feet, while the other was punching me in the face,” Vilkov told the GDF. “After bashing me around like that for a while, they ran away in different directions. They didn’t attempt to take anything, although I had a knapsack on my back. My face is smashed. They’d followed me for two days as a minimum, I noticed them yesterday. Naturally, I think my professional work was their only motive.”

Vilkov was taken to Saratov’s First City Hospital with a concussion and a broken nose on 15 January.

The journalist, who covers sensitive social and political topics, sees the attack as an act of intimidation. The main characters of his critical articles have included hierarchs of the Saratov eparchy of the Russian Orthodox Church, prominent businessmen, and government officials.

Police have started legal proceedings under Criminal Code Article 116.2 (“Beating motivated by hooliganism”) and even reported the confiscation of recordings made by nearby security cameras, which may help to identify the assailants soon.

However, few are hoping for a successful investigation, because both the circumstances of the attack and law enforcement’s reaction are very similar to those of another incident of six months ago, when another Obshchestvennoye Mneniye correspondent, Aleksandr Krutov, was likewise ambushed near his home and severely beaten by two unknown men. The city police promised “not to leave the attack unnoticed”, and informed the GDF two months later that it had started criminal proceedings under the same criminal code article – although again, under its “less stringent” part, number 2 (hooliganism).

Lt.-Gen. Sergey Arenin, chief of the regional police, pledged at the time to “ensure due protection of journalists” in Saratov. Yet they never found the thugs who attempted on Krutov’s life. The themes Krutov and Vilkov cover are very similar too, by the way.

Saratov has become a city dangerous for journalists to report from, as noted even outside Russia, at the Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, whose officials have already requested GDF information on the developments in that city, and have received full details about the latest incident and the previous repeated attacks on the same Aleksandr Krutov – in November 1999, March 2003, August 2007, August 2008, and August 2014… The perpetrators managed to get away with impunity in all of those cases.

But we are not losing hope: the GDF has again appealed to the prosecutor’s office and Investigative Department in the Saratov Region, urging their officials to start walking the talk at long last.


RUSSIA

Two journalists and human rights defenders ruthlessly beaten up in Omsk

By Georgiy Borodyanskiy, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

Activists from the Human Rights Committee (HRC) in Omsk took a pretty risky step last spring by establishing a new civil society group, Obshchestvenny Kontrol (Public Scrutiny), to oversee the performance of judges and prosecutors who in this country feel independent only from the citizens (and them alone), although in line with Russia’s Constitution, they are supposed to be answerable to the people, after all.

Public Scrutiny members from the village of Bolsherechye, Aleksandr Sedelnikov and Ruslan Alyokhin, who also are members of the HRC press office, have been shooting and posting on the HRC website and in YouTube video reports about local and regional events causing broad public repercussions and sometimes directly affecting the judiciary. Specifically, as a result of one of their independent investigations, Gaziz Khairullin, chairman of the Bolsherechensky district court, was “forced to voluntarily resign”, as a note on the Public Scrutiny page in the VKontakte social network said.

Evidently, the indefatigable public activists annoyed and enraged the local judicial community – as well as the bailiffs, one of whom had a nervous breakdown in June: a video camera taped him snatching off the chair from under Sedelnikov, who is certified as a person with Group 2 physical disabilities.

Also, judges and bailiffs kept trying, although to no avail, to reason with the public scrutineers “by legal means”: in the past 7 months, they have called the same Sedelnikov to administrative liability several dozen times. All of the protocols they made against him were indicative of procedural violations, HRC Chairman Valentin Kuznetsov told the GDF. This notwithstanding, justices of the peace regularly levied fines – from 500 to 2,000 roubles – on him based on those protocols, which all added up to a total of 38,000 roubles. In repayment of this sum in three months (November, December and January), about 15,000 was withheld from the disabled man’s pension, which Sedelnikov sees as an absolutely illegal measure because no deductions are allowed to be made from the pension checks of persons with childhood disabilities (and his illness is a result of a scull trauma he received as a child). He challenged the bailiffs’ actions in the district court.

The first hearing took place on 16 January and finished at 6:30 p.m. Coming up to his house, Sedelnikov noticed a man in a face mask, armed with a black club. Running up from behind, the man dealt 3 or 4 blows on the activist’s head – right where the childhood trauma was. Sedelnikov, bleeding, fell to the ground. The attacker tore off the attaché case from his hand, which contained a video camera, a notebook PC, and documents, and started running away. Aleksandr cried out for help, and one of his neighbours responded. Seeing that, the masked man hit the attaché case several times with the club, evidently intending to break the camera, then dropped the case, and disappeared. The upcoming neighbour called an ambulance that rushed Sedelnikov to the A&E. His condition is one of medium gravity, the medics said.

On the other end of the residential area at about the same, Ruslan Alyokhin, who represents Sedelnikov’s interests as the claimant against the bailiffs, was likewise attacked while returning home from court. In the light of a street lamp, he could see the figure of a masked man dashing toward him from the shadows, with some heavy object – a bat, a length of pipe, or an iron ban – wrapped into a newspaper, in hand. After a blow on the head, Alyokhin fainted. When he came to, there was no one in the street to help him, so he had to make it to hospital on his own.

Medics at the district hospital called police officers from the Bolsherechensky district police department. Investigators say they are checking two possible motives – either the public activity or the journalistic work of the victims.

Tenants hid journalist and politician in their Moscow house from police

Dmitriy Florin, editor of the Yabloko Party’s news web portal yabloko.info, arrived at 9, Sadovnicheskaya Street in Moscow on 16 January to shoot a video report about the illegal demolition of historical buildings by the Moscow authorities with help from some shady private security firms. The issue of having those buildings listed as cultural assets of federal importance is currently under discussion at the Ministry of Culture.

Apart from security guards, there were many policemen patrolling the place. To prevent journalists from entering the yard where demolition works were being started, the guards locked the iron gates and wound an iron chain around them. They blocked access for everyone: citizens, journalists, local municipal MPs, and even Moscow City Duma and State Duma deputies. In the process, the police officials present at the site, disregarding people’s warnings that they were breaking the law, actively helped the security guards.

Florin received several blows on his legs and shoulders from the guards as they were pushing him away from the locked gates. The police officers ignored his protests against their witnessing a Media Law violation taking place, and personally participating in it.

Then Florin, together with Yabloko Party leader Sergey Mitrokhin, attempted to come nearer to the buildings being demolished through a neighbouring yard. It was cordoned off, too, but a young policeman failed to detain the two men from breaking through into the yard.

Yet minutes later, Florin and Mitrokhin were literally compelled to hide themselves in a local woman’s flat as five police officers were searching the entire house and asking tenants where “those two” had vanished.

Fifteen minutes after, Florin and Mitrokhin, with the help of local residents, managed to make it to the building’s roof to videotape the illegal demolition works being carried out down below.

Businessman who deceived family with many children in Karelia claims moral damages from journalist who exposed fraud scheme

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

It all began in the city of Kostomuksha, Karelia, in 2012, when a family with five children acquired a land plot to build a house on. One construction firm, OOO Kostastroi, contracted to erect the house within six months’ time. The family paid the firm more than a million roubles in advance.

Yet by the end of 2013 the construction of a two-storey house had barely begun. Moreover, the company announced plans to start bankruptcy proceedings shortly. In a bid to rescue their money, the family with five children sued the contractor and won the case. A court of law charged to Kostastroi the difference between the advance payment and the actual worth of the work done, levied a penalty on the firm for its failure to fulfil its contractual obligations, awarded the claimant a modest amount (50,000 roubles) in moral damages, and fined the construction company for its management’s refusal to return the money to the customer voluntarily – the reason why the family had to go to court. In all, Kostastroi was required to pay the defrauded customer 1.7 million roubles.

The Kostomuksha-based web publication 64 Parallel described the entire story in a report first posted on its website and then reprinted by the newspaper of the same name (both publications are part of the advertising newspaper Vajnola). Kostastroi President Maksim Muzychenko sued the journalists, claiming hurt by the word “con” used in the article – a word that hardly seems too strong if applied to a construction company that has deceived a family with five children. Although being rather harsh and offensive, the term accurately conveys what happened in reality: the construction firm did “con” more than a million roubles out of the customer, i.e. it defrauded the family of its would-be house, which fact by that time had already been confirmed by a court decision in full legal force.

By the way, Muzychenko was only mentioned in the article as the head of the dishonest construction company. Yet he insisted that since “con man” is a synonym to “fraudster” or “swindler”, the newspaper should apologize to him for spreading false information, should disclaim it, and pay him half a million roubles in moral damages.

Vajnola representatives proved in court that the information they had circulated was true to life, and that the author’s evaluative assessment of Kostastroi’s honesty in the heading of the article was nothing more than his own and his colleagues’ personal judgment which they were not obliged to substantiate. Both the Russian constitution and international law assert anyone’s right to freely express one’s opinion.

As a result, the newspaper won the case in court, but the family with five children still live in a house that is more like a dilapidated barn, and look through its windows at the carcass of their would-be new house which they are now building all on their own.

Editor of Perm-based newspaper Kazak Prikamya prosecuted on charges of extortion and fraud

By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District

The Leninsky district court in Perm on 16 January completed the questioning of victims and witnesses in the criminal case of Alexei Maltsev, 57, chief editor of the newspaper Kazak Prikamya, charged with four instances of extortion and two fraud schemes that allegedly brought him a total of 2.8 million roubles in illegal revenue.

The seven volumes of the case files include all the 32 issues of the public and political newspaper which Maltsev released between January 2010 and July 2014. The accused, too, attends the court sittings with a thick newspaper file in hand, without thinking of any new releases for the time being.

According to the Perm police, the editor abused his official position in committing grave and particularly grave criminal offences. Kazak Prikamya featured articles exposing violations of environmental protection law that occurred during the placement and processing of oily waste. Being also a co-founder and director of the charity foundation “Cossack Perm: Orthodoxy, Law Observance, Environmental Safety”, he asked the heads of the companies Priroda-Perm (Perm’s Nature), OOO Merkuriy (Mercury) and OOO Voyennaya Ekologiya (Military Ecology) to transfer money to his foundation’s bank account in exchange for his not publishing information compromising them.

Thus, during a meeting with Mercury General Director Aleksandr Sergeyev in the village of Kuyeda, Maltsev showed him publications exposing ecological violations by Perm’s Nature and Military Ecology, and suggested Sergeyev should pay him 300,000 roubles a month for his refraining from publishing Mercury-defaming stuff. Sergeyev offered 100,000 roubles a month. Between February 2012 and May 2013, his company transferred money to Maltsev’s foundation and paid for a Volga car for him in the total amount of 1.05 million roubles.

Sergeyev and other victims confirmed this during the court hearings which opened in December 2014. During the 16 January sitting, witness Sergey Borisov, head of a landscape design company from the city of Chernushka, gave a detailed account of how Sergeyev had purchased via his firm the Volga car for Maltsev for 150,000 roubles.

In view of Judge Irina Zhitnikova’s going on vacation, the hearings were adjourned until 20 March, when Maltsev is to be questioned in connection with the Mercury case, which alone may send him to jail for up to 15 years.

Alexei Maltsev has told the GDF he is not guilty. He sees his criminal prosecution as oil producers’ revenge. The Perm Region Human Rights Centre has stood up for the journalist, describing the criminal case as biased.


GLASNOST DEFENCE FOUNDATION

Some statistics cited

Last week, the Glasnost Defence Foundation was referred to at least 10 times in the internet, including at:


NEWS FROM PARTNERS

New project launched in Karelia to defend journalist and human rights

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

The Petrozavodsk-based Journalist and Human Rights Defence Centre is launching a new project to help journalists and media outlets deal with problems requiring legal assistance. This sometimes may involve legal consulting, and sometimes, support in handling judicial cases. We do have experience in those fields, but the project developers have not positioned themselves so far as a public rights-defending organisation.

For details about what we plan to do and how we can be of help to journalists, see the Media & Law web resource at: smi-pravo.ru

We will pursue a twofold objective – to create as favourable as possible conditions for the work of journalists and media outlets (this will be the main line of our work), and to promote everyone’s right to be informed. To accomplish the first task, we will provide legal trainings (seminars) for journalists; monitor violations of journalists’ right to engage in professional work; prepare expert conclusions for government bodies and judicial authorities; represent media outlets in court; and defend individuals whose constitutional right to be informed has been violated. We will work not only with journalists in Karelia; we have already started forming expert networks in the regions of Arkhangelsk and Murmansk. We are convinced such professional co-operation will be useful.

The Centre’s activities will be covered on its website; please visit our site, take part in our project, and contribute your reports. We did our best to create an information resource that should be of maximum benefit to the journalists, and a pad for discussing problems facing the media. Should you have any questions, please type them into the relevant box in the Questions to Lawyer section, to get consulting from our media lawyer Yelena Paltseva. Or you may do that on our page in the VKontakte social network.

Creating the smi-pravo.ru website is an absolutely new form of our Centre’s activity. The web resource should help us to promptly react to all developments. Please read our statement on the website’s main page in the Authors section at the very bottom. Maybe you will come up with suggestions.

You are welcome to join our project – it is our common cause.


Letters

The Glasnost Defence Foundation has received the following message from the Khakassiya news agency based in Abakan:

“Our web publication has run into attempts by the head of administration of the Republic of Khakassia to subject the media to censorship, and after we made this known to the general public, Irina Yemelyanova, head of the republican administration’s Information Policy Department, gave oral orders to close the doors of all conference rooms in the republic’s government to three correspondents of our news agency. One of the three reporters’ accreditation was officially cancelled post factum.

“Also without any explanation, a police officer guarding the entrance of the Khakassian government building on 24 December did not let through a fourth Khakassiya journalist to attend a conference of the republic’s Commission on Emergency Situations. The list of accredited regional media approved by Yemelyanova does not feature our web news agency at all.

“This bureaucratic outrage, we believe, is committed to make an example of an ‘offender’ for other media that feel free, just as we do, to express their own opinion on the most burning regional problems. We appeal to the GDF not only for defence of our violated constitutional rights. We believe such an attitude to the media is indicative of how things are in general in Khakassia with the observance of people’s constitutional rights and media freedoms.

“After cancelling our reporter’s accreditation, the authorities ejected our news agency from its leased premises without any explanation. Individual entrepreneur S. V. Kachan, who offered us those premises for lease on 16 February 2012, informed Khakassiya’s general director V. I. Ustyakhina on 30 December 2014 that he was cancelling the lease contract unilaterally. He was under pressure to do that, he confessed later.

“As another step along the road of stifling glasnost, the authorities have conducted ‘explanatory work’ with all of our media partners, inflicting further losses on us. They have actually imposed a full-scale economic blockade.

“We ask you to pay due attention to the bureaucratic outrage taking place in Khakassia, while we are still hoping that we live in a democratic country where the Federal Law ‘On the Media’ remains in effect. We rely on you for drawing conclusions as to the way people’s constitutional rights and media freedoms are currently observed in our republic.”

A GDF lawyer is currently preparing a legal claim to be lodged in connection with the above appeal.


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.

Contacts:

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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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