9 Июня 2015 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 711

1 June 2015


UN Security Council highlights problems facing journalists in conflict zones

The United Nations Security Council on 27 May met to discuss ways of protecting journalists in armed conflict. Council members condemned the crimes against media workers, called on the belligerents to stop all acts of violence, and urged them to immediately and unconditionally release the media professionals who have been kidnapped or taken as hostages.

In an alarming rise in the number of journalist deaths in armed conflict in recent years, a total of 593 journalists were killed between 2006 and 2013, nearly half of them – 273 – in conflict zones, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said.

“We have become targets for assault. Armed groups no longer use journalists as carriers of their information; journalist abductions have been hitting news headlines instead. They see us as enemy representatives and spies, which is our everyday reality,” prominent journalist Mariane Pearl, the widow of Daniel Pearl, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal who was kidnapped and killed by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002, said noting that 98% of the journalist murders committed in 2014 remain unsolved.

Addressing the Council session, Russia’s Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Yevgeny Zagainov said that in the conflict zone in south-eastern Ukraine, many journalists, including Russian, have worked in a hazardous environment and “have faced undisguised discrimination”. He condemned the ongoing information warfare and urged the UN to give priority attention to media professionals’ security.

The UN Security Council adopted a resolution condemning “widespread impunity for violations and abuses committed against journalists, other media professionals and associated personnel in armed conflict” which, in its turn, may encourage “repetition of such acts”.

[Based on UN News Centre reports]


Yekaterinburg-based journalist detained by police, threatened with sacking

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

Overzealous attitude to their official duties may result in disciplinary punishment for several officers of the Yekaterinburg police department. For over two weeks now, a probe has continued into the lawfulness of their detaining Maksim Yedryshov, a reporter for the Ekho Moskvy-Yekaterinburg radio station, who also is chairman of the Committee to Defend Motorists’ Rights.

According to Yedryshov, late on 18 May he took photo pictures of several police patrol vehicles with about 15 policemen on duty in the city’s central square stopping cars flying Russian flags and checking “for alcohol” their drivers frustrated by the national ice hockey team’s defeat in the world championship final. “A young plain-clothes man promptly walked up to me and asked me, using foul language, why I was taking pictures there,” the journalist told the GDF. “Six police officers joined him. The plain-clothes guy wondered if I ‘wanted problems’.”

The officers, who did not identify themselves, ignored Yedryshov’s press card. Moreover, one of them, a sergeant, threatened the journalist with dismissal. They took Yedryshov to Police Station No. 5 and locked him into a cell together with a blood-spitting TB carrier. An hour later, though, he was transferred to another cell.

The police officials never made any protocol of detention. “I wrote a complaint. Mad as hell, I went home – shoe laces in one hand, the ticket confirming the receipt of my complaint in the other,” Yedryshov said recalling the night story of his detention. He was detained at 2:30, and released at 4:44 a.m.

In his comment for the Ura.ru news agency, Sverdlovsk Region police department spokesman Valery Gorelykh said the documents confirming Yedryshov’s detention by police have been submitted to his department for decision-making. “I can tell you in advance that the district police officials who took Yedryshov to the police station had no right to prevent him from taking photo pictures, which practice is allowed by Russian law,” he added.

The journalist and his colleagues at the radio station and in other media said they will not soft-pedal the issue. Speaking to the GDF on the phone on 1 June, Yedryshov said police were “treating me very politely,” now that the city police chief, Igor Trifonov, was personally overseeing the probe, due to be completed within a month’s time. The Glasnost Defence Foundation will closely follow the developments in Yekaterinburg.

City Council deputies in Karelia prohibit reporter to use voice recorder during council sitting

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

The City Council in Kondopoga, Karelia, recently held a sitting that was open to the public since no state secrets or other sensitive issues were on the agenda. The MPs were discussing current matters of city life, specifically the poor state of housing and communal services. A reporter attending the meeting, in full compliance with effective legislation, was audio-recording the proceedings, which for some reason made the council chairman feel uneasy and caused him to order that the journalist switch off his voice recorder. To make his clearly unlawful requirement sound “more legitimate”, he brought it to a vote, and the MPs eagerly supported it, thereby actually preventing the journalist from doing his professional job – from giving the public an account of what the council was busy doing.

The reporter’s references to the Media Law allowing journalists to make audio and video recordings of any public events were in vain, since council members said they acted in accordance with their charter which gave them “a free hand to decide any organisational matters independently”. In that particular case, the majority of them wanted the journalist to keep his voice recorder switched off.

He now intends to take legal action to defend his violated right to do his professional work.

Court in Perm reminds the defence that justice administration must be open

By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District

The Perm Region court, while considering on 29 May an appeal against extended arrest for Berezniki-based businessman Konstantin Belyayev, turned down his defence lawyers’ plea to get the press out of the courtroom.

Belyayev, 38, the owner and director of Refrigerating Plant One Ltd., has been accused of “conspiring with a group of evildoers to carry out a large-scale fraud scheme”. His company in 2013-2014 supplied to institutions within the authority of the regional penal department low-grade fats instead of more expensive butter, collecting over 13 million roubles in illegal revenue, as alleged by the RF Investigative Committee.

Summoned for questioning on 1 April, the businessman left for Moscow, from where he planned to fly to Israel but was detained at the Sheremetyevo Airport and transported under guard to Perm. The Sverdlovsky district court in Perm on 21 May extended his arrest until 26 June. As the regional court was reviewing the defence’s appeal against this ruling, defence lawyer Natalya Turuntseva made a plea to ask the press out of the courtroom – allegedly because unidentified “third-party advocates” had met her client at the pre-trial detention centre to threaten him, and also because of the need to “protect investigative secrets”. Another defence lawyer, Irina Filippova, as well as the accused, supported the plea.

Prosecutor Larissa Sukhareva spoke out against it, noting “no reason whatever” to close the hearings to the public. Judge Valentin Pokhozhayev reminded the defence that law requires justice to be administered openly; he also pointed out that no “third-party advocates” were present in the courtroom, whereas keeping investigative secrets was beyond the defence’s competence.

He ordered holding the proceedings openly.

Picketing action against media censorship held in Kostroma

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

Civil and political activists, regional MPs and representatives of public organisations held a picketing action against media censorship outside the regional administration headquarters in Kostroma, Central Russia, at noon on 29 May.

Nearly all of the leading newspapers and TV companies had sent their representatives to take part in the protest. Participants adopted a resolution on “observing Article 29.5 of the Russian Constitution banning media censorship”. The activists planned to hand over the document to the governor, but none of the high-ranking administration officials came out to meet with the protesters.

A participant in single-person pickets in defence of TV2 broadcaster in Tomsk cleared of administrative charges

see digest 705

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

For the very first time in a series of legal actions against participants in single-person pickets in defence of the Tomsk-based broadcaster TV2, law enforcement has shown weakness: the administrative proceedings against Yekaterina Matyskina have been terminated in view of the period of limitations.

She was charged under Administrative Code Article 17.7 of “disobeying the lawful demands of a prosecutor, investigator or public official” by refusing to testify before police in the absence of a defence lawyer – an offence punishable by a fine of 1,500 to 2,000 roubles.

The Tomsk Region police department submitted the case to court, but as some discrepancies surfaced during preliminary hearings, the review was postponed. Since the law enforcers had failed to put the indictment together before the three-month deadline established by law, Matyskina was automatically relieved of administrative liability.

As we have reported (see digest 705), two other participants in single-person pickets – Ksenya Fadeyeva and Victoria Muchnik – were earlier fined 20,000 roubles each.


Police detain freelancer Konstantin Zhukovsky for third time in past two months

Gomel-based freelance journalist Konstantin Zhukovsky and his fellow travellers were detained at the Ukrainian-Belarusian border on their way back from Chernigov late on 28 May. Belarusian border guards had kept them at the Novaya Guta checkpoint for nearly two hours without explaining the reasons why and taking away their passports for checking before telling them they were under arrest and ordering that their cell phones be switched off, the Vyasna human rights centre reported.

The border guards searched Zhukovsky and his car, allegedly looking to find “anti-constitutional literature and data carriers”.

It is for the third time in the past two months that Zhukovsky has faced these kinds of problems on his way home from Ukraine.

Also, he repeatedly has been tried for working as a journalist without accreditation and for opposing unlawful actions by construction companies. When serving a 10-day term of administrative arrest “for swearing in public”, Zhukovsky went on a hunger strike.

On 25 August 2014, servicemen of a special-task police unit detained him near his own apartment block. Zhukovsky had called the police because trucks from a nearby construction site had blocked his driveway into the yard, the drivers ignoring his requests to move aside. As a result, Zhukovsky himself was tried for disobeying police and sentenced to five days under arrest.

[Khartiya’97 report, 29 May]


“Immortal Regiment” movement coordinators in Tomsk send open letter to President Putin

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

Coordinators of the “Immortal Regiment” movement initiated by the Tomsk-based broadcaster TV2 have sent President Vladimir Putin “as a soldier’s son and the head of state” an open letter urging him to protect “this newly-established popular tradition” from getting “misappropriated” by members of the presidential bureaucracy.

That this might happen became clear in April, after the All-Russia People’s Front (ONF) and the RF Public Chamber declared their support for the new initiative and started persuading volunteers who had steered the “Immortal Regiment” movement in different regions for several years by that time, to “continue working on a paid basis, with official entries made into their work record cards, under those structures’ control,” the letter said.

The authors are convinced this would “no longer be a civil initiative but a state-financed formal organisation; this would cause a voluntary popular movement to degenerate into an official annual campaign accompanied by a vigorous ‘hunt for bright statistics’ to be reported to higher-standing authorities”.

People’s memory of national history cannot be preserved through money payments or instructions from above. Political parties have tried to “privatise” it in the past, too. Specifically, attempts have been made in many cities (such as Omsk, Bryansk, Yelabuga, Orel, Yekaterinburg, St. Petersburg and Moscow) to attach to the “Immortal Regiment” movement the symbols of the ruling United Russia party which is incapable on its own to advance an idea that could unite millions.

It is those encroachments by near-government groups upon the personal memory of our compatriots and foreign-based expats (“Immortal Regiment” activists who visit the Tomsk-based website Moypolk.ru live in many countries, including Ukraine, the Baltic states, Britain, Germany, France, the United States and others) that caused Regiment enthusiasts to fix their legal status by officially registering themselves as “The Inter-regional Historical and Patriotic Movement ‘Immortal Regiment’”.

“We don’t care about the much-talked-about ‘authorship’. For us, it is important to preserve the movement’s Charter, which has brought us all together and helped to wipe out what is momentary in the face of Memory before which we, today’s people – rich or poor, living in Moscow or Uryupinsk, New York City or Providence Bay – are all equal,” the open letter said.

“We all are descendants of the generation which dreamed during the battles of Rzhev and Kursk, in besieged Leningrad and in a far-off evacuation hospital, behind the barbed wire of a concentration camp and behind a military plant’s machine tool about one and the same – about our children and grandchildren living in peace, including among themselves. It is we who are their children, their living memory, their flesh and blood. And there’s neither a ‘first’ or a ‘last’ one among us. Hence our harsh reaction to anything that might split up the Regiment, to any attempts by certain groups of individuals organised based on political or other principles to put themselves above the nation, or put their banner or logo above the names of our soldiers.”

More than 240 movement coordinators from 20 countries signed the open letter to Putin.

“We are convinced,” they wrote, “that it is within your powers, in order to have the Immortal Regiment’s status finally established,” to make sure its principles and its code of ethics are preserved. If these are stringently abided by, “not only will we, but our grandchildren and great grandchildren as well, remember their soldiers.” Human and family values are eternal, while governments come and go. If the Regiment’s Charter is preserved and not allowed to be built into a bureaucratic vertical, then “every year on 9 May, people will join its ranks without coercion or instruction – just by the call of their heart. Thus will this family tradition, the nation’s tradition, will be preserved – forever.”

District newspaper in Rostov Region slated for “merger” – actually, for closure

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

As more than once reported in GDF digests, in the Rostov Region’s Proletarsky District, unlike in most other districts, there are two local newspapers whose co-existence, however, can hardly be described as peaceful (see digest 297). To be more precise, there were until the latest government reshuffle, after which new district leader Sergei Gonchar decided to merge the two media outlets into one. Actually, this means closure for the newspaper Velikoknyazheskiy Kuryer, established only 12 years ago unlike its rival Vestnik Primanychya, which was founded during the first years of Soviet rule.

Vestnik used to be the district authorities’ official mouthpiece under all regimes – the Reds, the Whites, the communists and the democrats – until the newly-elected district leader, Mr Bukhtiyarov, decided in 2006 to establish his own newspaper and to shut down the old one, which had failed to support him during the election race. Put more accurately, the media outlet was bound to close of its own accord after losing its official municipal newspaper status along with the budgetary financing, which all went to Velikoknyazheskiy Kuryer established by the Bukhtiyarov family. But a miracle happened: the old district newspaper went over to the opposition side and somehow managed to survive without money “injections” from the budget. Its readers – 2,500 subscribers – offered it their support, and Vestnik even had to set up its own, alternative delivery service – to hire three couriers on bikes to deliver the newspapers in and around Proletarsk.

Yet in the following act of that provincial drama, after Bukhtiyarov’s resignation, Vestnik regained its status of the main district newspaper, while Kuryer became an independent media outlet that managed, too, to stay afloat on its own. These kinds of publications enjoy a major advantage – the readers’ interest in what is going on in the neighbouring village or street, let alone in the offices of local bosses.

And yet, Kuryer again asked to be taken under the “cosy wing” of municipal power – evidently, Tatyana Bondareva, its editor, decided it would be safer that way. By the time the latest government reshuffle took place in the district, the current owner of Velikoknyazheskiy Kuryer, the News Centre Region, had acquired the status of an autonomous municipal institution. Yet the newspaper does not receive any support from anywhere and has to earn a living independently – and this with a circulation of only 2,000, distributed by subscription and by street vendors. The 16-page paper is released once a week, selling mainly at food shops and in kiosks. If the number of returned unsold copies goes up, the print run goes down. To prevent this from happening, the 5-member team of staff journalists closely monitors the latest news, trying not to miss a single noteworthy event.

Competition encourages its staffers to work hard to make a better newspaper, but the local authorities evidently don’t need this at all. To begin with, they ordered a “very thorough” check-up of Kuryer’s financial and economic performance, carried out with local prosecutors’ participation. The prosecutor’s office even officially asked the local Antimonopoly Service department to check the validity of gas purchases for the sole car delivering the newspapers around the sales outlets. No violations were revealed, although the local authorities are still busy probing the “gas case” alleging 2,000 roubles either underpaid into, or else saved for, the district budget.

In the long run, Bondareva the editor had a nervous breakdown. “I filed a resignation application, as my husband had insisted seeing the state I was in,” she told the GDF. “Of course, I thereby played into the hands of those who are unhappy to see two newspapers existing in the district.” None of the elderly ladies from the Kuryer staff (there are no male workers at all) will ever seek a job with the post-merger newspaper, she guessed, which is “well understandable”: after ten years of “information war” with Vestnik, they have pretty tense relations with its chief editor.

Most likely, only one newspaper – Vestnik Primanychya – will be left in the town of Proletarsk, the centre of the same-name district, just as in all the other districts of the Rostov Region – unless, of course, Velikoknyazheskiy Kuryer again declares itself an independent media outlet.

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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