4 Февраля 2015 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 693

26 January 2015


Court adds 18 months to Sergey Reznik’s imprisonment term

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

Journalist and blogger Sergey Reznik, who in November 2013 was sentenced by the Pervomaiskiy district court in Rostov-on-Don to 18 months in a penal colony, recently stood a second trial – in the Leninskiy district court – on charges of a priori false reporting to the police about OBEP [special police force against economic crime] Maj. Glinkin, and of insulting three public officials – the same Maj. Glinkin, as well as Maj. Ishchenko, deputy head of the regional Interior Ministry Department’s Unit E [counter-extremism task force], and Mr. Klimov, a former regional deputy prosecutor.

The Prosecution was represented by the same prosecutor, Ms. Kashubina, who during the first trial had insisted on imprisonment for Reznik in connection with his involvement in three allegedly “criminal” episodes, including his purchase for 2,000 roubles of a warrant of fitness from a car mechanic. When Judge Strokov of the Leninskiy court turned down Reznik’s plea challenging the prosecutor, not only the barristers but also all those present in the courtroom had a foreboding the whole thing might end badly. The feeling grew still more acute when the judge also rejected Reznik’s request to involve in the process one more barrister, Irina Dergunova, who had defended him during the first trial.

In his last statement at the second trial, just as at the first one, Sergey Reznik pleaded not guilty. Prior to that, he had many times said his opposition activities were the main reason for the advancement of criminal charges against him. During the hearing of arguments, the prosecutor asked the court to add another 18 months to Reznik’s previous sentence which expires in May 2015. Judge Strokov did precisely as requested, extending the accused man’s term of punishment to 3 years in a general-regime penal colony.

Since the term has been calculated starting November 2013, when Reznik was taken under arrest in the Pervomaiskiy court, he has yet to serve 24 months. As an additional punishment, the court banned Reznik from engaging in journalism for two years after coming out of prison – a rare, if not a unique, verdict for a Russian reporter. Yet thereby the court officially recognised Reznik’s status as a journalist, although the Prosecution had repeatedly called this fact into question during the trial, arguing that for several months prior to his arrest Reznik had contributed to different newspapers as a freelancer, not a staff reporter, and had posted many of his publications in his blog otto-cazz. By the way, Sergey Reznik was admitted as a full-fledged member to the Russian Journalists’ Union in Moscow a month ago.

About 40 of his colleagues and supporters came to the Leninskiy court to hear the verdict read out, so all the benches had to be carried out of the small courtroom (as usual, all the larger rooms happened to be occupied), and people stood literally rubbing shoulders with each other. The drama’s outcome became if not a sensation (few had expected the famous journalist and blogger to be acquitted) then the talk of the month in the Don Area’s capital, particularly in its blogosphere.

Most commentators have expressed indignation at so severe a sentence passed in Reznik’s case, especially in the context of numerous probationary terms to which Rostov courts have been sentencing all kinds of fraudsters and embezzlers for stealing public funds “in a big way”. It seems all the harsher penal code articles are reserved specifically for opposition journalists.


Attack on Taiga.info chief editor in Novosibirsk may be re-qualified from hooliganism to interference with journalist’s work

By Georgiy Borodyanskiy, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

As decided by the Novosibirsk Region prosecutor, the criminal case opened after the beating of Yevgeniy Mezdrikov, chief editor of the Taiga.info news website, has been transferred for handling from the regional Interior Ministry Department to the regional department of the RF Investigative Committee, the police press office told Yakov Samokhin, chairman of the Novosibirsk branch of the Russian Journalists’ Union (NRJU), a few days ago.

This can be seen as a reply – evidently, a positive one – to the NRJU appeal to law enforcement to fully investigate the recent attacks on Mezdrikov and film crews with the Precedent TV show and the GTRK Novisibirsk broadcaster, and to provide accurate legal assessments of those crimes, which in journalists’ view were wrongfully qualified by the investigators as mere breaches of public order, while clearly falling under Criminal Code Article 144 (“Interference with journalists’ lawful professional activity”), which envisages up to 6 years in jail for the perpetrators (see digest 688).

Yevgeniy Mezdrikov was beaten at his workplace by two unidentified men who came to the newsroom under the disguise of couriers. His colleagues are convinced the attack had been planned in advance: he would have certainly suffered still graver bodily harm if they hadn’t come to his help. Yet the police qualified it as “ordinary hooliganism” unconnected with the editor’s work, and started legal proceedings under Article 116 (“Beating”).

After studying the case files and obviously doubting the correctness of such a qualification, the prosecutor’s office re-assigned the case to the Investigative Committee Department – as an NRJU spokesman explained to the Sibkrai news portal, cases falling under Article 144 are to be handled by that agency, not by the police, which means a re-qualification is likely.

However, no such decisions were taken in respect of the other two cases mentioned in the NRJU appeal, according to the Investigative Department, but as we reported in digest 688, the prosecutors are currently checking whether the assault on the Precedent film crew, too, might be re-qualified as an instance of violent meddling in the work of journalists fulfilling an editorial assignment.

Authorities in Udmurtia seek to blacklist ResPublika magazine as “extremist” publication

By Yuliya Suntsova, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District

Izhevsk police have demanded explanations from Sergey Zabolotskikh, chief editor of the recently-established monthly magazine ResPublika, regarding two allegedly “extremist” publications featured in the August 2014 issue, the first one after the pilot release.

Officials from the counter-extremism task force (Unit E) of the Republic of Udmurtia’s Interior Ministry (MVD) Department suspected the two publications might be at odds with Criminal Code Article 282.

One was an interview with Vasiliy Kryukov, a former State Duma MP who fled to Germany direct from the investigator’s office in 2010 and was later recognised in that country as a political refugee. In his home country, he had faced official criminal charges as a nationalist movement activist, but in reality, he had found himself under prosecution for taking all the way to court several corruption cases involving high-ranking republican officials; for telling the truth about the dilapidated condition of the historical unit of the Izhmash Machine-building Works; for getting the City Duma to adopt new utility rates that deprived administration officials and utility service managers of billions of roubles in illegal revenue; for resistance to official policies in the area of urban development, and so forth. Kryukov never stood trial but has been on the federal police’s wanted list as a fugitive from justice since 2011.

“The five-page interview did not contain any extremist or nationalist calls or slogans,” Zabolotskikh told the GDF. “Kryukov was of interest to us as a man of sensible philosophic views, as an MP capable of delivering results, and simply as an interesting personality.”

In the long run, the police failed to identify any specific “extremist” lines or phrases in the text of the publication; they were evidently annoyed by the very fact of ResPublika’s featuring an interview with a ‘blacklisted’ person, Zabolotskikh said. “They only asked questions about why we had chosen ‘Kryukov the nationalist’ as an interviewee and why we hadn’t coordinated that with the MVD,” he said.

The chief editor’s second questioning by Unit E officials was in connection with another interview featured in the same issue of the magazine – one with a former multi-billionaire, politician, public activist and businessman, German Sterligov. The police was enraged by a strong-worded passage in which Sterligov expressed his sharply negative attitude to child delivery at maternity hospitals. “Normal people have always given birth to children at home, and continue to,” ResPublika cited him as saying. “At first, we, too, belonged to the ‘abnormal’. But then we put on our thinking caps and quit turning to maternity hospitals for assistance. Pseudo-physicians working at those hospitals perform abortions on women, crippling babies and [mothers’] souls in the process. The first hands my baby would feel would be the hands of a murderer.”

Prior to that, Sterligov had many times said similar things, and no less categorically, in various talk shows on many federal TV channels, and no one had ever accused him of terrorism or extremism, Zabolotskikh noted.

“Sources at the regional Health Ministry said that after Sterligov’s interview was published, police contacted the republic’s chief gynaecologist and other gynaecologists and obstetricians across Udmurtia asking them to lodge a legal claim against me in order to get me held liable for instigating hatred and enmity toward physicians and for disparaging their human dignity. They advised to mount that claim as a ‘collective opinion’ of the professional medical community,” ResPublika editor told the GDF.

Apart from the chief editor, police questioned the journalists who had interviewed Kryukov and Sterligov; currently police are busy “conducting the necessary check-ups”. They said they would order a psychological-linguistic study of both texts, and based on the results, they would decide whether or not to start criminal proceedings.

By acting the way they do, police are trying to put pressure on the chief editor with a view to making him revise ResPublika’s editorial policy, Zabolotskikh said.

A rare victory in fighting corruption in utility services sector scored in Stavropol

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

The Oktyabrskiy district court in Stavropol has rejected an honour-and-dignity protection claim lodged by Svetlana Fomina, head of the Stavropol Settlements Centre (SSC), against the newspaper Otkrytaya Gazeta. The documents and testimonial evidence presented in court confirmed the accuracy of Otkrytaya’s numerous publications exposing SSC fraud schemes designed to misappropriate people’s money on the pretext of collecting “debts”.

For nearly two and a half years, the newspaper kept describing in detail, from issue to issue, how the SSC was robbing local residents of their money. The fraudsters mounted a vigorous counterattack against the independent regional newspaper, using legal claims, shady “expert firms” performing suspiciously expensive “expert studies”, the media oversight agency Roskomnadzor’s backing, and finally, libellous complaints to different authorities (see digest 691). Chief editor Lyudmila Leontyeva was compelled to spend more time in court than in the newsroom. At the very same time, the legal proceedings earlier started against the SSC director were terminated.

Only Otkrytaya readers stood by, coming to court one after another to show their utility bills and payment vouchers, and to share their heart-rending stories.

As established in court, the Verkhoturovs, an elderly couple from whom the SSC claimed 90,000 roubles in “defaulted” payments for utility services, did not owe a kopeck to the claimant. Nor did retired army officer Mr. Mamin, to whom the SSC wrongfully charged a “debt” of several thousand roubles. Several other persons, supported by the newspaper, still continue defending themselves against illegal claims from the SSC. Meanwhile, an appellate board of the regional court in Stavropol has cancelled the Promyshlenny district court decision terminating the legal proceedings against Fomina.

That Otkrytaya has been cleared of all the charges while the SSC director is again under investigation is the first-ever little victory in the big fight against corruption in Russia’s utility services sector.

Media reform complete, layoffs pending in Sverdlovsk Region

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal Region

On the eve of municipal elections in the Sverdlovsk Region, the regional media again seem to be in for a new reorganisation, as indicated by the sudden resignation of two high-ranking officials of Governor Yevgeniy Kuivashev’s administration. Ex-chief of staff Ilya Ananyev and former Press and Public Communications Department head Dmitry Fedechkin used to be regarded as “outsiders”, since both came to work in the Middle Urals from the neighbouring region of Chelyabinsk a few years ago; the local media community saw this as a shocking choice, because Sverdlovsk rulers had always done well selecting staff members for the regional administration from the ranks of local managerial personnel.

At least it is clear now that the regional government’s top-priority project – a municipal press reform aimed at streamlining the market of district newspapers and turning this network into an effective instrument of regional administration interaction with residents in the municipalities, which from the outset caused heated debates – is under the threat of closure now. A number of independently-thinking editors have been compelled to resign, and the rest, judging by everything, will no longer feel happy receiving residual funding from the regional administration, the more so because access to those funds will be restricted. Evidently, this was the main reason for Ananyev and Fedechkin to leave Yekaterinburg. Many were surprised to hear Ananyev saying that the Press Department would soon be reformed into a structure within the Ministry of Construction and Communications, and a department head would be appointed to lead it – hopefully, not a building engineer at least.

Now the governor’s administration will be compelled to invite back Aleksandr Ryzhkov, who at one time did quite well organising interaction with the district and municipal press. No doubt, he will have to correct the mistakes his predecessors made. And generally, the Urals media are destined to go through hard times: just before the New Year, Regional Television and Channel Four announced major layoffs, and glossy magazines and leading print media are preparing to follow suit, given the recent imposition of restrictions on commercial advertising.

Journalist fined at second try in Sverdlovsk Region

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal Region

The activities of Urals journalist Yelena Klimova, the initiator of the high-resonance project Children 404, have typically drawn mixed reactions from both colleagues and civil society. Small wonder therefore that the 23 January decision passed by a court in Nizhniy Tagil, which found her guilty of propagandizing non-traditional sexual relations among minors (an offence punishable under Administrative Code Article 6.21.2) and sentenced her to a fine of 50,000 roubles, too, caused vigorous debates.

In her comments for the press, Klimova has said she will challenge this decision, because she can’t see what specific forms that “propaganda” took. In her view, if the website is shut down, not only will this result in the termination of communications among LGBT teenagers in the social networks, but it will also make the provision of legal and psychological assistance to them less likely.

The project Children 404 was launched in the spring of 2013. In January 2014, the authorities started legal proceedings against Klimova on similar charges but closed them a month later in view of no elements of crime in her actions.


Renewed threats against Khartiya’97 journalists

Staffers of the news website Khartiya’97 say they regularly receive threats posted in the “Comments” section or sent to them by e-mail. A few days ago they decided to publish one such intimidating message addressed to their chief editor, Natalya Radina. The author openly threatened her with violence, which may give rise to criminal proceedings against him/her.

“We received similar messages on the eve of the so-called ‘presidential elections’ in 2010,” Radina wrote in a commentary to the reprinted message. “Belarussian secret service agents later carried out everything they threatened us with, twice raiding our newsroom, initiating criminal proceedings against us, seizing our computers, killing our website’s founder Oleg Bebenin, sending me to a KGB prison, and placing most of our staffers under administrative arrest.

“That situation is apparently repeating itself on the eve of the 2015 ‘presidential elections’. Someone broke into a Belarussian activist’s apartment in Warsaw a few days ago and stole his computers. Information Minister Lilia Ananich said the Internet is now under state control, so the media must consider themselves ‘at the service of the motherland’. And they are accusing us of lacking Lukashenko-style patriotism. I don’t rule out some ‘patriots in shoulder straps’ may be behind those [threatening] messages.”

[Khartiya’97 report, 20 January]


Higher School of Television Director Valeriy Bakshin: “Newspaper circulations shrink while economic dependence increases in Maritime Region”

Although the Internet has more and more actively intruded into our life, the majority of Russians (73%) are still not ready to give up reading the print media, according to the national public opinion studies centre VTsIOM. Yet print media circulations have been shrinking.

Subscriptions to district and municipal newspapers in the Maritime Region for the first half of 2015 totalled 66,600, which is 12,000 less than one year ago. If broken down for the 12 cities and 22 districts of the region, that makes on average less than 2,000 subscriptions per city or district. In all, Maritime residents subscribed to 341,100 newspapers or magazines – about 0.18 copies per resident or half a copy per household, although just 20 years ago each family subscribed on average to more than 3 newspapers and magazines.

Of course, one should add to this the press distributed by street vendors, but there are no reliable statistics as to the number of copies actually sold, while the output data are clearly misleading: for example, Novaya Gazeta vo Vladivostoke (to which I am a subscriber) claims its print run is 10,100 copies – and this with only 235 subscribers. People in the Maritime Region, just as across Russia, have been reading print versions of newspapers and magazines ever less actively. This is partly explained by the boom of online media, but I still don’t believe Maritime residents really prefer the e-versions of district and municipal newspapers, of which by far not all have gone online, and Internet services are generally underdeveloped in the region. “One can say there’s no Internet at all in the Terney District,” Yuriy Shadrin, chief editor of the district newspaper Vestnik Terneya quipped sadly about that northern Maritime district during last year’s regional media summit.

As reported recently, the district newspapers in Moscow are switching from print to electronic format on a mandatory basis. In the Maritime Region, local newspapers will be saved this trouble, if only because Internet services here cost ten times as much as in Moscow, and neither media nor readers can afford them. The quality of online services is very questionable, too.

Meanwhile, newspapers have been growing increasingly expensive: for example, press delivery charges have increased 50% in the Maritime Region this year compared to last year’s rate.

Thus it turns out that newspaper circulations have been shrinking largely for economic reasons. Virtually all district and municipal newspapers, as well as most regional ones, exist due to local and regional authorities’ support, which naturally tells upon their content: only loyal pro-government media have access to subsidies.

As a result, critical assessments of local realities have actually vanished from the Maritime press. The chief editor of the municipal newspaper Nakhodkinskiy Rabochiy was “forced to voluntarily resign” a few years ago, after the mayor of Nakhodka threatened to cut off his newspaper from financial support because of its critical reporting on the work of local utilities.

Here is another example. For several years now, elections in the Maritime Region have proceeded with nearly all of the local media held at arm’s length – such are the terms and conditions of their subsidising. Even the pro-opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta in its local version has refrained from criticising Maritime authorities to be eligible to receive grants from the regional administration. The Maritime Region’s budget for 2014-2016 envisages the annual allocation of 475.4 million roubles for the media coverage of the governor and his administration’s activities. That amounts to roughly 1.3 million roubles a day. Naturally, grants are available only to the media outlets which are loyal toward the authorities.

Those trying to exist independently are handled differently. A vivid example is the decision taken by the Maritime Region Electoral Committee in respect of the Vash Reportazh news show on Radio Vladivostok-FM, which allowed listeners to speak out live on the air about the local government’s performance. They highlighted various burning problems facing Maritime cities and villages. Naturally, their assessments were by far not always positive, the more so because the social and economic situation in the region gives few reasons for optimism. Feeling annoyed by this kind of media-government-society dialogue, the regional electoral committee on 14 September 2014 passed a decision saying that Vash Reportazh “…reports on events in a consistently and predominantly negative tonality”, “…deliberately spreads information that is not true to life”, “indirectly accuses [the authorities] of misappropriating budgetary funds”, and so on.

Of course, law enforcement was quick to respond: a justice of the peace sentenced ZAO PARI, the owner of Vladivostok-FM, to a fine of 30,000 roubles, and the prosecutor’s office started criminal proceedings.

What next? In the current economic situation, only those media will be able to survive which will continue receiving financial support from the local and regional authorities. Newspapers are unlikely to disappear altogether, but they will be read by ever fewer people.


Galina Arapova on journalistic ethics: Why journalists need self-regulation

In an interview for Roman Zholud, assistant professor at the Voronezh State University’s school of journalism, Galina Arapova, director of the Voronezh-based Media Rights Defence Centre, explains her vision of the practical importance of journalistic ethics; why being tried by colleagues is better than by a panel of district court judges; and other points:

R.Z..: Ethics, reputation… Notions like these aren’t too popular in the journalistic circles. While everybody agrees that “a code of ethics is a nice thing,” I’ve never heard people in the newsroom discussing any ethical aspects of their colleagues’ behaviour. Moreover, many think of ethics as something unnecessary, redundant: life is entirely different, they say. Why is that so?

G.A.: If you study ethics by a textbook, you may indeed find it boring. But in the practical plane, it gives you a clue how to get out of a difficult situation that is not regulated either by law or by corporate rules. That’s what is called “moral choice”.

I think ethical rules are not so popular because Russian journalists no longer attach much importance to reputation. A journalist is either not thinking about it at all or is working in a situation where reputation doesn’t matter much. He doesn’t need ethics in this case. He isn’t making choices whether or not, say, to publish the name of a child who has suffered at the hands of a criminal. He’s been told to publish – and publish he does.

R.Z.: Maybe it’s just that our journalist can’t make any choices in practical terms? His freedom is restricted by his editorial assignment and the media owner’s policy.

G.A.: Yet he has the opportunity to make choices still. For example, he has been assigned to write a crime report. But whether he should disclose the suspect’s nationality or private life details, and if yes, which points to emphasise – all that is up to him, and him alone, to decide. That will be his moral choice.

For the full text, see 36on.ru

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.


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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