26 Февраля 2015 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 696-697

16-23 February 2015


New press freedom index by Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres)

Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), an international press freedom organisation, has released its 2015 World Press Freedom Index. The RSF study highlights considerable deterioration in freedom of information worldwide in 2014. Among the causes behind media’s retreat are the fighting in eastern Ukraine and the related information war.

Two-thirds of the 180 listed countries showed worse ratings. Top of the list is Finland, which has been in first place for five years in succession, followed by Norway and Denmark. Next come the Netherlands, Sweden, New Zealand, Austria, Canada and Jamaica. At the bottom of the list are Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea. France ranks 38th, USA 49th, Japan 61st, Brazil 99th and Russia 152nd (down four places from the previous year).

The survey noted pressure on independent media in our country, the approval of another string of draconian laws, massive blocking of websites and propaganda on television.

Estonia, ranked 10th, leads other former Soviet republics in terms of press freedom, followed by Latvia in 28th place, Lithuania (31st), Georgia (69th), Moldova (72nd), Armenia (78th), Kyrgyzstan (88th), Tajikistan (116th), Ukraine (129th), Belarus (157th), Kazakhstan (160th), Azerbaijan (162nd), Uzbekistan (166th) and Turkmenistan (178th).

The report marks the year 2014 as “the worst period in Ukraine’s history since 1991.” The authors believe that the suppression of protests which led to the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovich and the ensuing fighting in the Donbas region caused a surge in violence and other abuses against journalists. The survey also noted that the establishment of the Ministry of Information Policy showed that the government wished to use control over the mass media.

Reporters Sans Frontieres composes the World Press Freedom Index by means of questionnaires sent to partner organisations, activists and RSF personnel. A questionnaire includes such criteria as pluralism, media independence, censorship, legislation, transparency and infrastructure. In all, it lists more than 80 questions. A place in ratings is also affected by the number of deaths of journalists and bloggers, and arrests and attacks on media workers in a given country.


Anti-Maidan activists vs mass media in Stavropol

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

Organisers of the Stavropol rally “supporting Putin’s fight against the fifth column” plan to file a claim with the prosecutor’s office of the Stavropol Region over patently false and slanderous media allegations regarding the purpose of the action.

The rally, coordinated with the city administration, took place on Fortress Hill in Stavropol on 21 February. Some 150 people attended. Activists were giving St. George’s ribbons to townsfolk while holding banners with slogans in support of the Russian president. No incidents during the rally were reported.

On 22 February, however, the rally organisers said in a post on Facebook that they would complain to the regional prosecutor’s office over deliberately false and slanderous information in publications by a number of media outlets. The organisers accused Bloknot-Stavropol and Bloknot of distorting the purpose and status of the public event in their articles, titled, respectively, “Demands voiced in Stavropol for cancelling free speech and reanimating ideology” and “Demands in Stavropol for cancelling freedom of speech.”

But journalists of the above publications referred to the booklets circulated in the course of the rally by its organisers. The anonymous authors of the booklets urged “five amendments to the effective Constitution: nationalizing the Central Bank and natural resources, cancelling freedom of speech and reanimating ideology, and securing priority of Russia’s legislation over international law.”

Police laying a net in Tomsk against supporters of shut-down broadcaster

See digest 694 (rus)

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

Tomsk police are looking into a series of one-person pickets that have continued, on and off, since January 4 when the TV 2 television company was shut down. The latest protest occurred on 12 February when the city was visited by Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller. Surprisingly, the single picket in front of the regional administration building was Viktor Lavrentyev, a police Lieutenant-Colonel-turned-activist, who held a poster reading “Gazprom! We swap Zhvachkin for TV 2!” (Sergei Zhvachkin is governor of the Tomsk Region).

A day before, regional police summoned six participants in these actions, including Director of the Krupnym Planom (“Close-Up”) studio Victoria Muchnik, wife of TV 2 editor-in-chief Viktor Muchnik. “I know that police formally invited four people,” Victoria Muchnik told the V Tomske news portal, “and two more got such requests over the phone – my husband and daughter were asked to come together with me.”

Victoria added that police officers showed her a list of 50 persons with the dates when each of them participated in a picket. “I asked them if they would summon everybody and they said they just might,” she said.

Police questioned her family for two hours. Victoria said she had a feeling that the officers had been tasked with digging evidence that the people holding “I’m for TV 2” posters had not been acting of their own free will, but had been directed by a mastermind. If law enforcers are able to prove it, the February pickets will qualify as “unauthorised public action,” an Administrative Code offence punishable by fines of 10,000 to 20,000 roubles.

According to Victoria Muchnik, police have dramatically stepped up vigilance since 12 January, when the pickets came out to the regional administration headquarters. Earlier, police officers approached them one at a time without challenging. Later, police teamed into a group of seven and began to confront and question them in earnest: “Why are you here? Who gave you this poster?”, etc.

Victoria admitted that she was shaken by the great number of uniformed and plainclothes police monitoring the TV 2 situation. “They showed me undercover videos: it appears they were taking record of all the pickets from the second floor of the Tysyacha Melochei hardware store,” she said. “They also have a large pile of screenshots from social networks, and keep tabs on all VKontakte and Facebook posts.”

This law-enforcement taskforce would be strong enough to expose a large drug-trafficking ring. Drug crimes are easier to investigate because the perpetrators’ motivation is quite clear. However, authorities apparently have difficulties in understanding the people who selflessly come out for pickets and rallies (there have been three such actions in Tomsk since December gathering more than 10,000) at braving temperatures below freezing in defence of something ethereal, such as the broadcasting signal called TV 2.

On February 13, police summoned three more single pickets. None of them is on TV 2 staff, according to the company’s news service. “We reported to the police together with my lawyer; he will start delving into the case next week,” said Ksenia Fadeyeva as she was recounting her talk with police. “As far as we understand, they are trying to find evidence pointing out at masterminds behind the pickets, as they assume ‘people did not come out on their own; they were led.’”

Ura.ru news agency saved in Yekaterinburg

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

The silence that hung over Russia’s most popular regional news website – Yekaterinburg-based Ura.ru – notched up the tension in the mass media. The website was flooded with letters asking to identify the guilty party. Mikhail Vyugin, a co-founder of the website, was dispensing comments as 56 personnel were on tenterhooks awaiting the owners’ decision.

The Ura.ru news agency, set up in 2005 by Aksana Panova, quickly became one of the most successful Urals media outlets. In 2012, after a conflict with the regional authorities, several criminal cases were opened against Panova. She had to withdraw from the project while many employees landed jobs in a new publication, Znak.com.

Mikhail Vyugin, who can by right consider Ura.ru his brainchild, too, hired new staff. Ura.ru was still the best with the largest traffic. Not so with the funding, as its liabilities ran into 40 million roubles. Vyugin denied the speculation that the agency’s shareholders – Alexei Bobrov and Artyom Bikov – refused to finance the project, but confirmed that news publication would be suspended until the company came up with a new platform.

The conflict became a reality. The Austrian owners, to whom Panova had sold her stake, announced that Vyugin and company were “not patriotic enough”, a claim denied by both readers and journalists.

Boris Lozovsky, dean of the Department of Journalism at Urals State University, commented on the situation to the GDF as follows: “Raymond Williams, a British culture expert, used to say, ‘Anything can be said provided that you can afford to say it and that you can say it profitably...’”

The most important thing is that the website was back online in the morning of February 16.

Regional court in Krasnodar upholds verdict for Rostov journalist Alexander Tolmachev

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

Krasnodar regional court on February 20 upheld the verdict for journalist Alexander Tolmachev, sentenced by the Kushchevsky district court to nine years in a tight-security colony. The court dismissed Tolmachev’s appeal after a review (see digest 682).

Tolmachev, editor of the newspaper Upolnomochen Zayavit (“I’m Authorised to State”), can only hope for European justice now. Ironically, at about the same time in February, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg forwarded questions to the Russian Federation regarding Tolmachev’s complaint lodged back in June 2011. The questions concerned the publication of a series of Tolmachev’s articles about Rostov judges. In his numerous stories, Tolmachev directly accused a Leninsky district court judge of bribe-taking and the chairman of the Rostov regional court of covering up for her (both judges are now dead). The statement of claim alleging slander in an article by Tolmachev was filed by the deceased judge’s underage son, and his lawyers won the case. Under the court’s ruling, Tolmachev was ordered to pay large sums to the plaintiffs. Tolmachev challenged the ruling, but the courts of appeal dismissed his complaints, causing him to appeal to the Strasbourg court. Nearly four years later, his appeal is next in line for review.

Undoubtedly, Tolmachev will also challenge the last verdict passed by the Kushchevsky court before the European Court of Human Rights.


A GDF letter to Justice Minister of the Russian Federation regarding the Mass Media Defence Centre

Justice Minister of the Russian Federation
Mr Aleksandr Konovalov


We ask Mr. Minister to disqualify and dismiss the personnel of the Voronezh department of the Justice Ministry, who drew up a paper demanding that the Voronezh-based Mass Media Defence Centre and its head Galina Arapova be registered as “foreign agent.”

The paper we have read shows the authors’ aggressive incompetence in the issues of interpreting laws, and their legal helplessness as regards effective media legislation.

For two decades, we have seen Galina Arapova give legal support to media and journalists who found themselves in difficult situations. In the past decade, she has probably been the most active and competent Russian lawyer in this field which is constantly renewed by legislators. Together with personnel of the Mass Media Defence Centre, she provides practical assistance to journalists and media outlets in more than 20 Russian regions. Their help is high-quality and free, which gained them great and well-deserved prestige in the professional communities of journalists and lawyers.

The attempt to put a yellow star of “foreign agent” on Galiana Arapova means that the incumbent authorities are trying to deprive journalists of effective aid and protection. The demand obviously aims to make any recourse to Galina Arapova’s Centre look illegitimate or improper, i.e. it tries to destroy the prestige of the Centre and its leader.

If the authors of the document in question regard Galina Arapova’s leadership of the Public Council under the regional police department or her membership in the Voronezh Public Chamber as political activity, it is beyond understanding.

You can hardly imagine the wave of protest that can be caused by this example of bureaucratic stupidity.

GDF President Alexei Simonov


Resounding, socially significant trials are held behind closed doors in Stavropol

By Olga Vasilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

It is known that the Code of Criminal Procedure lists few reasons for holding trials in camera: these can be state or law-protected secrets, juvenile crimes, offences against sexual inviolability, or considerations of safety of trial participants and their relatives.

Yet in Stavropol, trials behind closed doors are commonplace, although the cases under review caused a public outcry and could become a powerful preventive measure influencing legal consciousness if held openly. In its latest issue, the independent newspaper Otkrytaya Gazeta analyzed the trials that were closed to the public in violation of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

These are trials of Popov’s gang, notorious for dozens of contract hits and attempted murders in the Caucasian city of Mineralnyye Vody. They killed politicians, businesspeople and criminal bosses. Every high-profile murder shook the regional community causing its indignation. But the authorities announced that the cases would go under review in camera. No state secrets were disclosed at such hearings though. No rapes were reviewed. There were no underage defendants on trial. And despite the fact that criminals were caught and punished with life sentences, while their leader got two life terms, many Stavropol residents still have an impression that some gangsters are still at large and that the masterminds have not been named.

Trials in camera generate rumors, a suspicion of judges’ possible dishonesty or bias in reviewing the case.

Here’s another criminal case. In 2011, Anatoly Zheleznyakov, son of the chairman of the Predgorny district court, fired a non-lethal pistol at three visitors at a café and fled the scene. One of the victims lost an eye as a result. However, a regional forensic expert examination concluded that the loss of eye was caused not by a shot, but a blow by a blunt object and that the shooter himself got a scull trauma and had to go to hospital (this, however, did not prevent the suspected attacker from driving his car to Stavropol and writing a statement of resignation of his own accord).

Otkrytaya Gazeta journalist Yelena Suslova visited the shooter in hospital and even took a picture of him in bed, following allegations that he “had been severely beaten.” But when she saw the shooter – the court chairman’s son – at the trial, she was amazed to see that he was not the person she had seen in hospital by the name of Zheleznyakov. At the request of the injured parties’ lawyers, the journalist decided to testify as a witness of fraud in order to put everything right. However, she was expelled from the courtroom under the pretext that she had not personally witnessed the shooting at the café.

The indictment was handed down against the visitors injured at the café, including the one blinded in one eye, following a 12-month trial. Already at the first hearing, the judge announced that the trial would be held behind closed doors, allegedly on the strength of forensic experts’ conclusion about Anatoly Zheleznyakov’s health. But the public is convinced that the hearings were closed in order to shield judge Zheleznyakov Sr. from publicity as he had to undergo the reappointment procedure as chairman of the Predgorny district court. His unworthy offspring, after being identified by a journalist (or, rather, after she failed to identify him), never turned up for subsequent hearings, and the court kept postponing them…

Another resounding case was the murder of Masha Gubareva, a resident of the village of Yessentukskaya, in 2011. A murder probe was opened thanks to her parents who had challenged the results of the official forensic expert examination (alleging death from hypothermia) and then insisted on exhumation that confirmed their daughter’s violent death. The indictment in the Masha Gubareva murder case was passed against her former boyfriend, a relative of an influential local family. Though he had been on the international wanted list, nobody had been looking for him. The trial only began in late 2014, four years after the murder.

During the trial, the defendant’s relatives shouted insults in reference to the murdered girl, while judge of the Predgorny district court Dmitry Polivanov took no notice. He never called bailiffs to calm down the scoundrels, nor did he have them expelled from the courtroom. Encouraged by their impunity, the defendants’ relatives attacked the murdered girl’s mother after the hearing. The next hearing was held in camera at the prosecutor’s request alleging concerns for the safety of witnesses. The journalists barred from the trial are confident that it was closed so that there were no people in the empty courtroom to wonder at the judge’s failure to identify the fabricated results of forensic expert examinations in the case materials, pass special judgment on them and initiate criminal proceedings against the “experts.”

The hearings where high-placed officials or rich and well-connected people are involved or where their names might be disclosed are announced closed to the public, which is recurring practice arousing general suspicion.

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