Дайджест
3 Апреля 2015 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 702

30 March 2015


STORY OF THE WEEK

Heightened aggression: who calls for hanging liberal journalists?

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

Many media called the International Russian Conservative Forum, hosted by St. Petersburg on March 22, a congress of hard-core nationalists and pro-fascist politicians. The journalists who made such critical remarks received death threats. Can police find out whether the threats are to be taken seriously and who they come from?

Admittedly, the International Russian Conservative Forum has become notorious far beyond St. Petersburg. Unlike pro-government media, the foreign press, together with independent domestic outlets, gave broad coverage of the event, noting however the oddity of choosing for its venue the country which rightly prides itself on its victory over Nazism. Bewildered, some authors (including professional journalists, politicians, public figures and survivors of the Leningrad siege) noted the calm – if not helpful – attitude the authorities have taken toward the forum. This might be explained by the fact that there were quite a few officials among forum organisers and guests.

Back to the coverage of the forum. Question One: Why didn’t many domestic media highlight the forum, and even if they did, why did they never wonder about its appropriateness? The event took place at a time when “Ukrainian fascism” and “the Kievan junta” had been making top stories in newspapers and on federal television channels for more than a year. This made a sharp contrast to the criticism of the opposition television channel Dozhd over its poorly-phrased question about the Leningrad siege; but do our Dozhd colleagues really deserve public condemnation amid the silence about the nationalist conference, if not its actual support?

Question Two: Why do the “Conservatives,” as they call themselves, take the liberty of threatening journalists? On 22 March 2015 Yuri Lyubomirsky, a forum organiser representing the political party Rodina, posted the following text on the VKontakte social network: “When we come to power, you liberal journalists will suffer the most severe punishment: perhaps, you’ll wind up in a concentration camp, and perhaps, we’ll hang you.” I should note that many forum supporters shared the link to that post.

In the morning of 23 March, Lyubomirsky said his webpage had been hacked, and denied threatening anybody. Incidentally, he did not condemn the “unknown” hacker. Since his threats were aimed at liberal journalists at large and specifically at Alexandra Garmazhapova, a reporter for the St. Petersburg office of the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, they must be taken seriously. Garmazhapova’s report on the forum, sharp-worded and unprejudiced, acted as a sort of catalyst to the call to deal with all of the whistle-blowers drawing attention to the nationalist threat emanating from these newly-made “Conservatives.” Anyway, Novaya Gazeta decided to ask police to look into the situation.

And finally, Question Three: Do journalists who do not wish to call themselves liberal support threats against their colleagues, or do they not take such threats seriously?


EVENT OF THE WEEK

Russian legislators not to toughen penalties for crimes against journalists

On 25 March, the State Duma lower house of the Russian parliament met for the first reading of a bill proposing tougher punishment for attacks on professional journalists.

The bill, No. 312683-6, envisioning five to ten years in prison for violence or threat of violence against journalists and their families, was submitted to the State Duma by Mikhail Serdyuk from the Fair Russia Party faction and Valery Trapeznikov from the United Russia Party.

“The bill equates journalists with law-enforcement personnel not with the view of letting them wear a sidearm or obtain more rights, but because the punishment for attacking a journalist should be commensurate: Article 29 of the Constitution spells out our right to freely look for information, but we see its flow ebbing,” said Serdyuk, who co-authored the bill. “In fact, journalists of sound mind having concerns about their health, family and children, can hardly risk digging for information now. The trend is quite negative.”

The explanatory note to the bill said, “The instances of violence against reporters have been increasing, both in public and at workplaces and at places of residence, causing people engaging in journalism to feel unsafe. GDF monitoring reveals dozens and hundreds of cases where journalists’ rights were violated. These cases never saw a proper public response and went unpunished.”

The lower house of the Russian parliament turned the bill down.


RUSSIA

Adygea environmentalist faces criminal charges over allegedly extremist article

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

The appeals panel of the Supreme Court of the Adygei Republic has turned down a complaint from chairman of the local branch of the Vserossiyskoye Obshchestvo Okhrany Prirody (VOOP) [All-Russian Nature Conservation Society] Valery Brinikh over the ruling by the Maikop city court branding as extremist his article “The Silence of the Lambs.”

Brinikh, an enthusiastic stringer for the independent newspaper Zakubanye, posted his story on the website Za Krasnodar. It addressed environmental problems at a pig farm in the republic’s Teuchezhsky district that turned into a major source of pollution as it dumped untreated manure. The author reproached residents of three nearby settlements for their passive stance and failure to stand up for a healthy environment.

The prosecutors saw signs of “extremism” in the article and filed a legal claim demanding that the publication be recognized as extremist. The regional branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the department for combating extremism of the Adygea police opened a criminal case under Article 282.1 of Russia’s Criminal Code (“Actions aimed at inciting hatred or strife and disparaging the dignity of an individual or a group of persons by gender, race, ethnicity, language, origin, religion or belonging to a social group”). Police searched Valery Brinikh’s apartment seizing all computers and mobile phones from him and members of his family.

The Adygea public is aware that the law enforcers’ punitive measures are meant to defend the Kiyevo-Zhuraki pig farm which belongs to Vyacheslav Derev, a senator from Karachai-Cherkessia. Things straightened out somewhat thanks to quick interference in the situation by the presidential Human Rights Council and its chairman Mikhail Fedotov, who personally came to Maikop to ease the crackdown on Brinikh.

However, the Supreme Court’s ruling shows that the authorities decided to go ahead with the trial of the republic’s VOOP chairman. The ruling is based on a certificate of linguistic study of the article “The Silence of the Lambs,” prepared by Lt.-Col. Sergei Fedyayev from the forensic centre of the regional police department. But according to a Constitutional Court statement dated 4 February 1999, a court cannot use the results of police operations and search as evidence. They can only be accepted as such after undergoing a proper legal procedure. Therefore, Judge Meister postponed the review of the complaint by ten days, in order to question Sergei Fedyayev in court.

However, as the court convened on 20 March, Brinikh’s complaint was considered by a new panel of judges led by Olga Kulinchenko, deputy chairwoman of the Supreme Court of the Adygei Republic and chairwoman of the republic’s Council of Judges. Judge Kulinchenko committed several serious procedural violations. The forensic expert had been staying in the courtroom before the questioning, contrary to the regulations, and the court did not collect from him a written acknowledgement that false testimony was a criminal offence. During the questioning, chief expert of the forensic centre of the Krasnodar Region police Fedyayev was unable to explain why the assignment to research the article had been given to him by the deputy head of the Adygei Republic FSB department rather than by Fedyayev’s immediate superior, head of the forensic bureau, as required by the law on the state judicial and expert activities in the Russian Federation.

“The court turned down my petition for an independent, not intra-ministerial, linguistic expert examination,” Valery Brinikh told the GDF. “The reason is obvious: an independent expert would inevitably arrive at the unwelcome conclusion that my article does not incite ethnic strife.”

All concerned citizens would have seen it for themselves if the article “The Silence of the Lambs” had not been deleted from all websites per court’s order. I read it before the court ruling was passed, and I can assure that ecologist Brinikh’s calls to Russia and its people “to rise from their slumbers” are far less insistent than those by poets Pushkin and Nekrasov (not mentioning radical writer Herzen), both in terms of the fever pitch in the statements and their form. But then, tsarist Russia had no law on extremism.

Cameraman threatened over footage of icicle hazard in Kirov

By Alexander Borisov, GDF correspondent in North-Western Federal District

Photojournalist of the online magazine 7x7 Yevgeny Shevnin on 23 March was taking video of icicle hazard in Kirov’s Lenin Street. His footage featured the house near which a man had been severely injured by falling ice and snow a few days before. As Shevnin was making a video recording, two unidentified persons approached him. One, a woman, said she was an official of the administration of Kirov’s Pervomaisky district and showed her ID, while the man, raising his voice and skipping the introduction, demanded that the journalist produce his ID.

“I explained to them that I had the right to shoot because I was in a public place,” Shevnin told 7x7. “The man said, ‘Show me your papers.’ I said they had no reason to make such demands because they were not the police and that I had the right not to show them my ID. They began to threaten me with police. ‘Certainly, call the police,’ I told them. Then the man threatened me with ‘boxing my ears’. I retreated into the yard, and he came running and wanted to hit me. But I promptly turned on my camera, and he got into his car and drove away.”

Head of the public works department at the Pervomaisky district administration Nikolai Bolshakov has already seen the video of the conflict. Bolshakov recognized the woman as an administration officer who, however, was not directly subordinate to him. Shevnin plans to report the threats to the police.

Omsk officials censor repots by district newspapers on regional leader’s work

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

Things do tend to resume their natural course. Omsk region residents can see Governor Viktor Nazarov, appointed to this post about three years ago, becoming a worthy successor of Leonid Polezhayev who had managed the region for more than two decades prior to that.

Initially, the new regional leader raised great hopes for change. Back then, we published his outstanding remarks such as “We must bridge the gap between the authorities and the population”; “People should understand that they are governors, not the governed”; “We are just hired managers for regional residents”; “It is only through independent media that the authorities can arrange a constructive dialogue with the public”; “The media should report even the bitter truth. Distortions and articles tailored to political orders are inadmissible,” etc.

In the information policy concept published two years ago in Omsky Vestnik, the main principles were “equal respect for the interests of all information users regardless of their social position,” and “free access to information about government performance for all federal and foreign-based media” (see digest 619).

The arrest of First Vice-Governor Yuri Gamburg, a close associate of Nazarov (whom he had known since college days), nine months ago ushered in a new period in the Omsk region. Independent experts said fair elections in a number of rural areas where the ruling United Russia Party failed miserably were Gamburg’s fatal error at the post of chief ideologist. He has been at a pre-trial detention centre for more than nine months now, but charges under the penal code article on exceeding authority have not been delivered yet. As his lawyer noted at a recent hearing, “The investigator has violated the defendant’s right to know what he is accused of.” He is on trial for “performing his duties” on the evidence of what happened five to seven years ago, the lawyer said.

Replacement for Gamburg came from a key agency as Vladimir Kompaneishchikov, a former FSB officer, took over regional ideology, while head of the FSB regional department Gen. Igor Bondarev took the post of deputy governor. Information policy has made a U-turn since. A new team of spin doctors came from Novokuznetsk controlled by Aman Tuleyev, a kindred spirit to Polezhayev, which fact both officials repeatedly acknowledged. When Polezhayev marked his 75th birthday, Nazarov’s decree granted him the title of honorary citizen of the region.

A scanned copy of a directive letter from head of the information policy department Tatyana Trenina to the editors of district newspapers was posted on social networks by Biznes-kurs blogger Pavel Akimov. The document said that the main task of district media outlets was to “inform the population about the governor’s activity and form a positive image of the region.” To accomplish this objective, the editors-in-chief should have the print-ready versions of their newspapers sent to the Department by 12:00 on Fridays. The instruction foremost applied to the stories about the governor and the regional government’s work. “The articles covering the governor’s activity should be announced on the front page with a follow-up appearing no further than the second or third page,” it said.

The text of the letter practically coincides with the letters we repeatedly cited in our reports on the dismissal of editors during the rule of Nazarov’s predecessor Polezhayev.

A short thaw in the Omsk region is over. A cold spell is expected to set in for the next few years, and nobody can predict how long it may last.

Reader’s letter gives Karelian editor heart attack

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

The district newspaper Novaya Kondopoga has preserved the practice of publishing readers’ letters. Local residents are enthusiastic users of the opportunity to make their problems known to the public.

An issue of the newspaper carried a letter by a worker of the Kondopoga paper mill, saying that the company administration had informed the workers about plans to change the form of rent of company housing. She [the author] feared that people might lose their homes because few could afford to buy out apartments at market prices. A scandal broke out after the publication of the article. Yelena Zelenskaya, Novaya Kondopoga’s editor-in-chief, had a hard talk with Dmitry Turkevich, executive director of the Kondopoga paper mill, and the newspaper disavowed the letter. However, Novaya Kondopoga journalists immediately responded with a letter of their own, which addressed the newspaper founders and found its way to regional media to state that the disavowal was not valid.

The journalists’ letter to the Karelia leader and two founders of the weekly (there are three founders in all: the Kondopoga district administration, the Respublika Karelia news agency which actually means the regional government, and the newspaper staff) reported that the paper mill director had demanded from the newspaper that it publish a disavowal of the reader’s letter and punish the employee who allowed it to go to print. He also threatened the editor-in-chief with dismissal if she did not comply.

The regional government had to look into the conflict as it gained notoriety in Karelia following the publication of the open letter by the key media.

Turkevich, the Kondopoga paper mill director, upon realizing that the situation was getting out of hand, arranged a news conference to which he forgot to invite Novaya Kondopoga journalists but they came uninvited anyway. He alleged that he had never threatened the editorial office, and that the open letter had slandered him. As for the reader’s letter, he said it was essentially correct, yet the employee’s incomplete knowledge caused a “faulty interpretation”. Turkevich said that nobody planned to evict the paper mill’s workers from their apartments; however he called for efforts toward looking for a new form of rent for company housing. Thinking that the editorial office defamed him, the director announced plans to bring a legal action. He also denied ever threatening the chief editor with dismissal or interfering in editorial policy in any way. It is impossible for Yelena Zelenskaya to prove to the contrary because the only witness to their unrecorded conversation was the company’s press secretary, and it is obvious where her loyalties lie.

The conflict is not settled yet; the editorial office expects a lawsuit, while chief editor Yelena Zelenskaya suffered a heart attack and was taken to hospital. Even if it does not come to trial (the regional government is trying to persuade Turkevich to drop the action), it is a big question if Zelenskaya will be able to continue to lead the popular and reputable newspaper.

Court in Sverdlovsk Region orders retrial of case against journalist accused of gay propaganda

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

The Dzerzhinsky district court in Nizhny Tagil on 25 March overturned the ruling by a magistrate court in the gay propaganda case against journalist Yelena Klimova. In January, the magistrate court granted the legal action of the Roskomnadzor media watchdog against Klimova, the administrator of the group Children 404 on the social network VKontakte, and fined her 50,000 roubles finding her guilty of gay propaganda under Article 6.21 of Russia’s Administrative Code.

In its Digest 693, the GDF reported on the Klimova case which caused a mixed reaction in the media community. The outcome is still unclear: the case was returned to the court of original jurisdiction for review by another magistrate. According to Klimova, the review had been ordered for procedural reasons.

Meanwhile, the Russian General Prosecutor’s Office, on the strength of the magistrate court ruling, agreed with the demand by the United Russia Party’s youth wing Molodaya Gvardiya [Young Guard] to block Children 404 for the propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors. The hearing over blocking of Group 404 is due on 6 April.


OUR PARTNERS

Barents Press International notes worsening media situation in Russia

Media situation was one of the key topics addressed by the forum of the Barents Press International association of journalists held in Oulu, Finland, on 19-22 March. It found a big difference in the problems facing Russian journalists and their colleagues in Scandinavian countries and in Finland.

In fact, nobody cherishes illusions: journalists should take a sober view of the challenges of our time and the threats regardless of who they emanate from. The level of problems experienced by Russian journalists seems to be higher though: aside from the general trend toward digitalisation and convergence (the minus side of the new technologies!) and the difficulties at work (such as job cuts and emphasis on entertainment content rather than provision of information to the population), the country has encountered such dangerous phenomena as substitution of journalism with propaganda, dishing out “goodies” for loyalty to the authorities, and, lastly, public indifference with a lack of strong demand for quality journalism. It was not the first time the Barents Press International forum discussed such issues.

The situation has become truly dramatic over the past couple of years, according to a report by GDF representative Roman Zakharov. He noted the increased sums of damages claims to Russian media and a nearly complete banishment of foreign capital from domestic outlets (where foreign owners are much less inclined to put pressure on editorial policy of the publications and television and radio companies belonging to them). Lastly, he told about a lack of solidarity among journalists manifesting itself in the poor protection of labour rights (the rhetorical question would be “Where’s the trade union?”) and journalism in general. “They actually equated us with extremists, and this policy occasionally finds legal underpinning,” Zakharov complained in his speech, “and who will stand up for extremists?”

After hearing Zakharov’s report, his colleagues from other countries noted that they had not expected Russian problems to be so disastrous. However, Russian participants largely agreed with the GDF representative’s pessimistic outlook, while rapporteurs from elsewhere with a working experience in Russia acknowledged that it was difficult to consider only economic problems in such conditions.

Nevertheless, the very fact of close interaction between journalists having different views of the socio-political situation is not bad in itself. Colleagues are set to continue their cooperation within the Barents Press International project toward defending their rights and principles of professional ethics. Now that Russia has taken over from Finland the rotating presidency of the international association for the next two years, let us hope that our journalists will be able to achieve at least a slight improvement in the media situation in this country.

Judicial community of Karelia and Arkhangelsk: interaction with the press

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

At a seminar addressing journalists’ rights to information on courts and trials, the Petrozavodsk-based Media and Journalist Rights Defence Centre presented the results of a survey in which questionnaires were sent to 44 journalists (17 from Karelia and 27 from the Arkhangelsk Region). The investigative journalists were offered to evaluate their relationship with judges and the usefulness of the courts’ press services.

According to the answers, journalists still encounter cases (which number about 7 percent) where judges do not allow them to take audio recordings of court hearings, although this should never happen in principle. Approximately one-third of the respondents mentioned bans on video recordings at trials. However, they said trials in Russia “are 100 percent open”, and none of those polled reported problems with attending the hearings open to the public. Also, judges never complained to the editorial offices after the publication of reports on trials.

But journalists expressed dissatisfaction with the operation of court press services and the content of their websites, saying it was often “impossible to use the information” they provided. In addition to incompetent reports (containing little useful information), the press services “hardly help journalists in the search for the information” they need. The overall picture is quite pessimistic: just 39 percent of journalists use press releases disseminated by the courts’ press services, and of those, one-third are displeased with the quality of disseminated information.

The journalists involved in the survey believe that the courts in their regions can be called open to the media, so in evaluating openness on a scale of five, 64 percent of respondents graded it 4 to 5. Sixteen percent of Arkhangelsk journalists estimated the courts’ openness as excellent, while their colleagues from Karelia appeared to be more reserved in their praise.

Karelia’s Supreme Court Judge Dmitry Yevtushenko, in comments on the survey results and replies to questions at the seminar, said he would pass on that information to the republic’s Council of Judges. He suggested discussing confidence in courts at the next seminar and involving the chairpersons of all town and district courts of Karelia in the discussion. The participants in the seminar promptly decided to upgrade the questionnaire for a new survey to be carried out next autumn.


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:

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119992 Moscow, Russia.

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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