24 Апреля 2015 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 705

20 April 2015


Voronezh-based Media Defence Centre fined 300,000 roubles

By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

A magistrate’s court in Voronezh has found the local Mass Media Defence Centre (MMDC) guilty under Administrative Code Article 19.34 of failure to duly register as a “foreign agent”. The lawsuit was initiated by the regional Justice Ministry department.

During the final hearing on 15 April, MMDC Director Galina Arapova and Yelena Pershakova, head of the Legal department at the NGO Public Verdict, made two motions. The first asked the court to recognise the Justice Ministry’s protocol summing up the Centre’s unplanned inspection as unlawful because of numerous procedural violations committed in the course of the inspection. The second suggested closing the administrative proceedings in view of no element of offence in the MMDC’s actions. The Centre’s activities are non-political in essence, since they are not intended to change government policies, Arapova pointed out again, but the judge turned both motions down.

Representatives of the regional Justice Ministry department, in their turn, claimed that “any kind of activity aimed at changing public opinion can be considered political”. Worthy of noting is the fact that the ministry department never presented in court the complaint allegedly filed by a “vigilant” citizen that had given rise to the Centre’s unplanned inspection.

Turning a blind eye to the Justice Department’s numerous law violations, the court upheld its legal claim and fined the MMDC 300,000 roubles.

The Centre’s representatives will challenge the decision at the Central district court in Voronezh and, if need be, will go all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. “They play by their rules while we play by our own,” Galina Arapova told the GDF. “Ours are established by law, while theirs are clearly different. But we will continue to act in full compliance with law.”


Two Novaya Gazeta journalists among European Press Prize winners

Copenhagen on 13 April hosted a ceremony to honour the winners of the European Press Prize, established by several charity funds in 2012.

The group of this year’s prize winners included Novaya Gazeta journalist Yelena Kostyuchenko, who won in the Best Report nomination (“Your Husband Volunteered into the Shelled Area”, Novaya Gazeta No. 65 of 18 June 2014).

The same newspaper’s special reporter Roman Anin, a participant in the international Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), received the European Press Prize for a story on large-scale money laundering by dozens of banks in Russia, Moldova and Latvia (“Laundromat”, Novaya Gazeta No. 93 of 22 August, 2014).

We may as well note that Kostyuchenko and Anin graduated in 2009 from the first School for Investigative Journalists organised by the Glasnost Defence Foundation.

We congratulate our graduates and wish them further successes in their creative endeavours.


Two independent newspapers less in Krasnodar Region

By Galina Tashmatova, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

Prognoses that print media will be the first to be impacted by the ongoing economic crisis seem to be coming true in the Krasnodar Region. Last week, two well-known newspapers, Komsomolskaya Pravda-Kuban and Moskovsky Komsomolets na Kubani (MKK), changed hands: both were purchased by STS-Yekaterinodar Ltd.

To begin with, the new owner dismissed nine of MKK’s 10 staff workers, leaving only the executive secretary. Everything was changed, including the printing service provider, the main office’s address and, judging by the latest issue, the newspaper’s editorial policy. The fresh MKK number released on 17 April with new output data showed the newspaper clearly adopted a pro-governor stance, while under the previous owner it had carefully distanced itself from the regional authorities.

As a result of this sale-purchase transaction, the Kuban Area’s media space was left without two reputedly independent newspapers at once. Since other such publications in the region can be counted on the fingers of one hand, it is easy to predict that the situation with freedom of expression and glasnost is bound to worsen drastically.

Stavropol Region authorities remain closed to the press

By Olga Vasilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

The Stavropol Region governor the other day conferred with the Council of Media Editors, stressing “the special role information policy plays nowadays”.

“Just recently, the US administration announced an increase in allocations for anti-Russian propaganda projects,” the governor’s press office said in a press release. “This may drag the North Caucasus and Stavropol Region into information warfare, because the lion’s share of the monetary injections will target our regions in particular. Therefore, our regular meetings with you have been growing increasingly important. Stavropol residents need to know the truth about what’s going on in the region, the country, and the world.”

Without asking the rhetorical question about where all these conjectures about foreign money allocations for brainwashing people in the North Caucasian Federal District of all places come from, let’s rejoice at the main message the governor tried to convey – that Stavropol population need to know the truth about their region.

Yet almost on the following day, the media editors heard a hysterical call – this time by the press office of the regional Housing and Communal Services Ministry – not to dare publish any information posted on the website of the regional branch of the Moscow-based NGO ZKK-Kontrol (Utility Sector Oversight) which rates the regional operators of the Capital Repairs Funds in terms of their openness to the public.

Of the 82 regions rated, Stavropol was placed among the worst of the worst again, as a result of serious faults in drafting and enforcing its Capital Repairs Act, and its disregard for public opinion on the issue, ZKK-Kontrol said. For example, no yearly report is available on the regional Fund’s website on how planned activities were carried out, what the official response was to residents’ letters, complaints and suggestions, or how the regional programme of capital repairs was implemented. All this makes the Fund immune to public scrutiny.

In its hysterical (with numerous exclamation marks) press release, the regional ministry called on Stavropol media “not to trust ZKK-Kontrol” which “has been known to publish a priori false information”, and warned the journalists of “the possibility of provocations”. “We are not among the worst of the worst, but somewhere in the middle, and some other regions, like Rostov and Volgograd, actually see us as an example to follow,” the press release said.

Well, really, a peculiar way to “let people know the truth”!

More pickets in Tomsk express support for penalized civil activists

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

Twenty Tomsk activists on 17 April came to the city centre, placards and banners in hand, to support Russia’s Constitution and express solidarity with the people penalized for daring to exercise their right to stage actions of protest which the country’s main law guarantees.

As we reported (see digests 699 and 704), trials have continued in Tomsk for more than a month now over participants in one-person pickets in support of the TV2 broadcaster (shut down earlier this year at the initiative of two federal agencies – Roskomnadzor [media watchdog] and the Russian TV/Radio Network) and to express solidarity with the imprisoned Bolotnaya Square activists in Moscow. The regional court on 13 April upheld the decision passed by the Sovetsky district court fining Victoria Muchnik 20,000 roubles as an “organiser of an unauthorised action”, as it had done a week earlier in the case of Ksenya Fadeyeva, fined the same amount by the district court on the same charges – for standing in a picket with a small placard reading “I’m for TV2”.

In the view of defence lawyers, as well as witnesses and Police Lt.-Col. (ret.) Viktor Lavrentyev, who performed as an observer of the court proceedings, police failed to present in court any proofs of Muchnik and Fadeyeva’s having organised the one-person pickets in January, or of their having staged a “single, organised protest action”. The pickets stood at least 30 metres apart, as prescribed by regional law. Neither the protocols nor police officers’ reports made during and immediately after the picketing action mentioned any more or less significant breaches of order by protesters.

On 15 April, law enforcers detained and forcibly brought to court Anatoly Vtorushin, 70, co-chairman of the Tomsk branch of the human rights group Memorial (who had worked as a schoolteacher before retirement), accusing him, too, of “organising unauthorised actions”. He felt unwell in the courtroom, and an ambulance took him to hospital, where he spent a whole day under the oversight of medics as well as police officials. He is yet to stand three trials (a separate case was opened for each picketing action), starting 27 April.

The 17 April pickets in defence of human rights activists reminded the authorities of the provision of Article 31 of the Russian Constitution stipulating that our citizens are entitled “to hold rallies, demonstrations, marches and picketing actions”, and that this provision should not be turned into a “pay service” costing each protester 20,000 roubles, as was rightfully noted on the placard held by one of the picketers. Action participants and passers-by signed an open letter to Tomsk Governor S. Zhvachkin and regional police chief I. Mitrofanov, drawing their attention to the fact that peaceful picketers were being subjected to excessively severe punishment. What this may lead to in the case of elderly activists is well known: fresh on people’s memories is the tragedy of an old woman who had survived the Leningrad siege but died at a police station where she was brought for shoplifting three packs of butter.

Tomsk blogger prosecuted for criticising authorities

Tomsk-based blogger Vadim Tyumentsev has informed the Glasnost Defence Foundation that the FSB and Investigative Committee have started legal proceedings against him under Criminal Code Articles 280 (“Public calls for a forcible change of the Russian Federation’s state order”) and 282 (“Instigation of inter-ethnic, racial or religious hatred”). “I am … under prosecution for urging Tomsk Mayor Ivan Klein and Tomsk Region Governor Sergey Zhvachkin to duly protect the lawful interests of Tomsk residents,” Tyumentsev told the GDF.

“Curiously enough, the law enforcers asked no questions about Klein’s or Zhvachkin’s corrupt behaviour – evidently, FSB officials and prosecutors were ‘too busy’ to look into that,” Tyumentsev said. “I think [by working the way they do,] not only do they undermine what remains of public trust in the authorities, but they directly contribute to the growth of social tensions in the region by tabooing criticism of public officials and by obstructing efforts to deal with social problems causing people’s dissatisfaction.”

We do not know how chief editor of the youth newspaper Abratnaya Svyaz Vadim Tyumentsev became a blogger. But we have information in our database showing that in February 2008 he was detained by “plain-clothes men” who turned out to be security agents. They held him at the police station for more than three hours, during which time his newspaper’s office was searched, with 30 issues of Abratnaya Svyaz and a memory card with the editor’s personal information seized. They told him that the articles, personal notes, documents and correspondence stored on the memory card would be scanned by experts for potential extremist content, Tyumentsev said (see digest 418).

This reminds us of what happened to Rostov-based critical journalist Sergey Reznik, who was not accused of extremism but faced other criminal charges – insulting a public official, false reporting to the police, and commercial bribery. He was forced to quit journalism and take up blogging, while continuing to harshly criticise the authorities. As a result, he was tried and sentenced to three years in a general-regime penal colony (see digest 693).


St. Petersburg hosts conference on media’s legal regulation

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

The 5th international conference “Law and Information: Theory and Practice”, held at the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library in St. Petersburg on 17 April, focused on some legal aspects of media activity.

At a sitting of lawyers and journalists held as part of the conference programme, the tone of the discussion was set by Prof. Maksim Kim, head of the Philology and Journalism Department of the North-Western Management Institute at the Russian Academy of the National Economy and Government Service under the auspices of the Russian Federation President. Kim highlighted the latest changes in the media landscape and described how the gradual shift to convergent journalism and the spread of innovative multimedia technologies impact the legal framework in which the Russian media operate. Considerable attention was given to the legal regulation of online media – specifically, the protection of copyright to photo and video images.

Another topic for discussion was the collision between effective media legislation and other legal norms. Suffice it to recall the adoption in the past ten years of the notion of “public interest” which is not entirely identical with that of “societal interest” mentioned in the Media Law. Or take this legal nuance: while claiming to more effectively protect people’s personal data, lawmakers and law enforcers, followed by other government authorities and the judiciary, have notably restricted citizens’, including journalists’, freedom to gather and disseminate information. As noted by Pavel Netupsky of the Guild of Court Reporters, if one were to stringently abide by the effective legal norms, one might run into absurdities like a ban on any mention in the media of the name of Russia’s first president, Boris Yeltsin. Conferees unanimously acknowledged the need for a balance to be maintained between the private interests of an individual and the above-mentioned societal interests.

Heated debates flared up also over the close watch of media performance by Roskomnadzor, the federal service for oversight over telecommunications, the mass media, and public communications, whose representative took part in the conference, too. As noted by GDF correspondent Roman Zakharov, it is inadmissible for Roskomnadzor to carry out extrajudicial blockings of online media; order politically-underpinned restrictive measures; issue official warnings en masse, or, as an alternative, recommend the removal of certain content from websites or actually censor media publications, which practice many media outlets have encountered lately. At the same time, Roskomnadzor could do a better job defending media industry interests more effectively instead of performing only as a “punitive” agency, conferees said.

Roskomnadzor and Antimonopoly Service require Udmurt-language newspaper in Izhevsk to carry ads in Russian

By Yulia Suntsova, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

The Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) department in Izhevsk has required the popular Udmurt-language newspaper Udmurt Dunne (The Udmurt World) to translate advertisements into Russian, which measure triggered a wave of protests by Udmurt activists who see this decision as a threat to the Udmurt people’s language and ethnic self-identification.

According to FAS, any advertisement featured in Udmurt Dunne must have its Russian translation posted next to it in a textually and technically identical form. This creates a precedent for the non-Russian media throughout this country to be required to likewise translate all commercial and other ads, as well as image-making and PR stuff, into Russian.

It all began with Udmurt Dunne’s announcing a reading to be given by Udmurt poetess and prose writer Galina Romanova. FAS started administrative proceedings against the newspaper at the initiative of Roskomnadzor, whose regional branch alleged that featuring advertisements in Udmurt only was at odds with the Advertising Law. Officials of both oversight agencies insisted that ads of these kinds must be published in both Udmurt and Russian.

Citing Russia’s Constitution and Official Language Law, FAS argued that Russian as the official language of the Russian Federation must be used in all public presentations of works of literature, art and folk art through theatrical performances, cultural and educational events, and entertainment shows. The same refers to advertising, the agency said, adding that whenever an ad is published anywhere in Russia in the ethnic language of a constituent republic in addition to its text in Russian, the two texts must be identical in content and form.

Udmurt Dunne Chief Editor Zinaida Ryabinina cited Roman Prokhorov, deputy chairman of the FAS commission reviewing the case, as saying during a commission sitting that publishing the announcement of Romanova’s reading in Udmurt only constituted a breach of the Advertising Law and Official Language Law and an infringement of the rights of Russian-speaking residents of the republic, who, not knowing Udmurt, could not read the ad and, consequently, could not attend the reading given by the renowned author.

The one-language ad publication has been identified as an instance of “improper advertising”. The documents are now being prepared for review to decide whether or not to start administrative proceedings against Udmurt Dunne and its executive responsible for the publication.

Ryabinina refutes the “offence” imputed to her newspaper and intends to challenge the decision passed by FAS. “I think this decision marks an actual instance of discrimination against the Udmurt people in terms of their ethnic language,” she told the GDF. “Creating such a precedent means sowing seeds of inter-ethnic discord.”

Not only did the FAS commission members demonstrate their disrespect for Udmurt as the full-fledged official language of the Udmurt Republic, but they also breached, themselves, several provisions of the Russian and Udmurt Constitutions that proclaim the parity of the two languages on the territory of a constituent republic of the Russian Federation, Ryabinina said. Moreover, putting on an appearance of “hard-working” oversight agencies, both FAS and Roskomnadzor misinterpreted effective legislation by applying legal norms that are inapplicable to Udmurt Dunne as a media outlet established specifically to publish information in the official language of the Udmurt Republic, the chief editor added.

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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