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3 Сентября 2015 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 720

31 August 2015


EVENT OF THE WEEK

Moscow Helsinki Group presents report “Human Rights in the Russian Federation”

By Boris Timoshenko, GDF Monitoring Service head

The Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG) on 25 August held a conference on human rights monitoring in Russia in 2014-2015. The delegates heard a report titled “Human Rights in the Russian Federation”, discussed legislative trends posing potential threats from the angle of human rights, and drafted plans of further co-operation in rights monitoring.

The conference brought together experts, lawyers and human rights activists who all pointed to a notable deterioration of the human rights situation in Russia compared to the previous period.

The MHG report consists of 12 chapters, including “Journalist and media rights violations”, “Freedom of opinion, conscience and religion”, “The status of prisoners”, “The right to freedom of association”, “Human rights and law enforcement”, “Human rights and migration policy”, “Xenophobia, radical nationalism, and how to oppose them”, and others.

The chapter “Journalist and media rights violations” was compiled by GDF specialists based on rights monitoring conducted by our Foundation. It says, specifically, that the position of Russian journalists and media remains complicated, with new threats emerging in addition to existing ones: at the initiative of a group of MPs, new laws have been passed that worsen the journalists’ working conditions. For example, defamation and lese-majesty have been re-criminalized and consistently used against the press, and so-called anti-extremism legislation has been toughened. “Roskomnadzor, an agency supposed to oversee compliance with law in the media area, has actually turned into a body monitoring omissions made by the press. Imbued with broader powers, Roskomnadzor today has the right to block access to online media on a mere suspicion of violations, without awaiting a court decision,” the report says.

Also, it notes that the position of the Russian media, difficult as it is, has been further aggravated by events in Ukraine: the print and online media’s reports [during the period under review] largely boiled down to the neighbouring country’s accusations of evil plots and actions, rather than reporting about what was actually going on, while both Russian and Ukrainian authorities charged the other country’s press with telling lies. Many media representatives had forgotten that journalism and propaganda are incompatible. At the same time, media outlets and journalists unwilling to engage in propaganda or simply reporting information that differed from the official statements faced serious problems, including attacks, censorship, detentions, and sackings.

The authors of other chapters of the report came up with equally pessimistic assessments of the human rights situation, and pointed to the growing number of rights violations. MHG Chairwoman Lyudmila Alekseyeva stated that the main trend identified in the report is that the rights situation in Russia has markedly worsened compared to the previous years. “[It has worsened] across the board, as convincingly proved by analysis of the situation in any of the numerous areas covered in the report, be it the media, the increasingly tough judiciary, or no rule of law, and so on,” the MHG leader said.


RUSSIA

Camera-seizing attack on reporters at work in Yekaterinburg

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

Reporters covering the 29 August funeral of Yekaterinburg City Duma ex-deputy Eduard Romanovsky, whose activities many experts linked to the notorious Uralmash crime ring, were treated selectively: some were allowed to take pictures of the proceedings unhindered, while two correspondents for the Ura.ru news agency were actually attacked by a group of unidentified individuals.

First, several men escorted photographer Vassily Grishin out of the Church of the Nativity of Jesus Christ, where the funeral ceremony was taking place, and then one of them snatched the camera out of his hands and, threatening the cameraman with violence, seized the memory card. “Who invited you over here? Do you know at all who you’re taking pictures of?” he asked aggressively, refusing outright to return the piece of equipment.

It may be noted that the funeral attracted many people, including the mayor of Yekaterinburg, regional and municipal MPs, and prominent politicians and government officials. Reporting about the death of a businessman who at one time was a member of the City Duma, Ura.ru expressed its condolences to Romanovsky’s family and friends, while adding a note that read: “Please consider this news report as a report to law enforcement about two criminal offences committed [against our staffers] – interference with journalists’ professional work, and theft of our office equipment.”

Journalist Andrei Varkentin has confirmed to the GDF that he and Grishin have already visited the police and are planning a visit to the Investigative Committee shortly.

Assault on film crew in Stavropol entails criminal proceedings against, and threats from, illegal gravel miners

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

A film crew with the Stavropolye State TV/Radio Company that was shooting a video report about the illegal extraction of gravel from a local quarry was attacked last week by unidentified men, who pelletted the reporters’ car with stones and seized their keys and a recorded video cassette (see digest 719). The journalists described the assault in a live news show and showed a video confirming the fact of the attack (the recording was saved on the camera’s hard disc).

The incident drew close public attention. After a check-up of the facts, the police started legal proceedings under Criminal Code Article 144 (“Interference with journalists’ lawful professional work”) and are now conducting an investigation and collecting evidence against the assailants.

Meanwhile, Stavropolye has received an anonymous threatening message which Ilya Kanavin, the company director, posted on his web page in a social network. The anonymous authors, who signed as “quarry workers”, demanded that the journalists “cut short this news reporting stuff”, and should they mention the quarry again on TV, they would “get it hot”, since their “names, addresses and phone numbers are known”.

In the wake of this message, Stavropol Region Chief Investigator Sergey Dubrovin issued orders on having the fact of threats against Stavropolye journalists promptly verified; if need be, providing the victims and witnesses with due state protection; and having the attackers’ actions assessed in terms of criminal law. Also, he demanded a thorough inspection of the quarry-development routine in the Kochubeyevsky district in the light of the newly-opened criminal case, with a subsequent procedural decision taken.

Critical blogger’s custody term extended for third consecutive time in Tomsk

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

Investigators handling the case of Tomsk-based blogger Vadim Tyumentsev have spent seven-odd months probing into an alleged criminal offence he committed; yet over all this time the regional departments of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and Investigative Committee have failed to find a legal definition of this “crime” that would accurately fit into the Criminal Code.

Back in February, the two agencies brought legal charges against the blogger in the wake of two video addresses he posted in Youtube that allegedly “publicly called for acts of extremism” and “instigated hatred or enmity” (see digest 716). Examining the two 3-minute videos took them more than the three months allowed for the purpose under the law, which led to Tyumentsev’s placement in a pre-trial prison on 28 April. In May and June he was locked into an isolation ward for 25 days because of a conflict with the prison administration. A few days ago, the court extended the preliminary investigation term, and hence his term of staying in custody, for yet another – third – consecutive month, until 28 September, “in view of a need for having the indictment re-formulated,” Tyumentsev’s defence lawyer Anton Ivanov wrote in his VKontakte blog, adding that the court sitting, just like the previous ones, was held behind closed doors.

Chat forum commentators in Tomsk have contrasted Tyumentsev’s case with those of malefactors of a much higher social status, such as Yevgeniya Vassilyeva and others, some of whom have managed to shirk criminal liability even for killing people “by inadvertence”. Most commentators agree that the “gravest crime” in this country is to have and defend one’s opinion.

Press office conceals information about toppling at Kovdor ore-dressing/processing plant in Murmansk Region

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

In late August, rock toppled down at the Kovdor ore-dressing and processing plant, burying a geological prospecting party’s equipment but causing no casualties because the workers had left minutes before the accident. When Tatyana Britskaya, newsroom head at the newspaper Murmanskiy Vestnik, requested details about the emergency from the plant’s press service, she heard “No comment – at least not to you in person!” in reply. This notwithstanding, the journalist released a news report and filed a complaint with the regional prosecutor’s office about the plant management’s refusal to provide information in violation of effective federal legislation.

“This most likely is a matter of personal likes and dislikes,” Britskaya told the GDF referring to the conflict with the Kovdor plant’s press office.

“They’ve had a grudge against me since 2012, when ore-dressing workers went on strike and the management did their best to prevent information from leaking beyond Kovdor,” she said. “Our newspaper was the only one to cover that strike in a detailed and systematic manner. I think we released three full pages of news reports about it. The plant managers were very angry and did not hide their emotions; they actually yelled at me publicly and in the presence of my colleagues! We did try to provide balanced coverage: we regularly asked the management about ongoing developments and accurately cited their comments in our news reports, but they wanted us to not write anything [about the strike] at all.”

Yet another moral damages claim against newspaper Arsenyevskiye Vesti under review in Maritime Region

By Anna Seleznyova, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

In an April 2014 article by its correspondent Marina Zavadskaya, the newspaper Arsenyevskiye Vesti described events that had given rise to a protracted litigation in the Maritime Region Arbitration Court between two private firms, OOO Kutum and OOO Andezit, and the Shkotovsky district administration, over whose license to develop a sandpit near the village of Rechitsa was “more valid”. The author agreed with the assessment that the license had been issued not to the party which was the first to request it but to the one which was on friendly terms with the head of district administration.

Shkotovsky district head V. Mikhailov was the first to sue Arsenyevskiye Vesti for what struck him as a “defaming and libellous” publication, illustrated with a photo of him sitting in a café. He demanded 1.1 million roubles in moral damages, but Judge Natalya Yelagina of the Frunzensky district court of Vladivostok turned his claim down, finding the article’s content non-insulting. Moreover, she stated: “The court believes that the boundaries of acceptable criticism in respect of a government official performing his public duties may be broader than in respect of a private individual, since the former inevitably and deliberately opens himself to close scrutiny… from journalists and society at large; therefore, he must show greater tolerance” (see digest 709).

At the end of August, the Frunzensky district court in Vladivostok sat down to hear a legal claim in defence of honour, dignity and business reputation filed by the second person mentioned in Arsenyevskiye Vesti’s article – Atash Muzaffar oglu Ismailov, to whom his portrayal by Zavadskaya amounted to one of “an extortionist acting in collusion with the district head, V. Mikhailov”, and a kind of “raider” and “chieftain of a criminal gang”. The claimant asked the court to defend his violated copyright to a photo portrait’s publication and require the defendants to publish a disclaimer and pay him 500,000 and 100,000 roubles, respectively, in moral damages. The Glasnost Defence Foundation will closely follow the judicial proceedings in Vladivostok.

Rostov-based football club spokesman targeted by Russian “patriots” granted political asylum in Britain

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

Sergey Tomashevsky, 34, spokesman for the Rostov-based FC SKA, has received refugee status in Britain with assistance from friends, as he told the DonNews.ru news web portal. He left Russia back in March.

He flew to Kiev on 18 March to watch local Dynamo’s match with England’s Everton. On the same day, the Ukrainian sports portal Tribuna.com published an interview in which Tomashevsky said he considered Russia’s policy in Ukraine “wrong”, while the Russians were “either strongly zombied or simply indifferent”. He immediately started receiving phone calls from people he did not know, along with threats in social networks, like “You’d better not pop up in Rostov again,” “Look out when walking the streets,” etc. Tomashevsky nevertheless returned to Rostov, only to see web attacks on him turning into a massive propaganda campaign in which SKA and Rostov football club fans played the lead.

“Sitting at home or going out to constantly be on the alert is not a life,” he decided. He had a valid British visa, and a friend from Peterborough invited him to stay at his place for a while. Once in England, Tomashevsky told an airport customs official he would request asylum, and was escorted to a special room where he spent the following 26 hours waiting in line with others like him who wanted to stay in Britain. The Russian journalist was one of the few people who were allowed to stay – at first, temporarily and later with the official refugee status.

He moved to Manchester where he now rents a room for 300 pounds a month and works as a freelance reporter. Also, he is writing a book – diaries of a Russian refugee.

Yekaterinburg traffic police chief spokesman demoted to inspector for telling reporters the truth

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

After the Е1.ru news agency reported about cars (which were parked in full compliance with existing rules) towed away during the All-Russia Innoprom Exhibition in downtown Yekaterinburg, regional MP Dmitry Ionin filed an inquiry with the prosecutor’s office asking for explanations. Taking a month to check up the facts, Acting Regional Prosecutor Vladimir Malenkikh came up with a bewildering reply: “No law violations [on the part of traffic police] have been found”, while Maksim Danilov, chief spokesman for the Yekaterinburg traffic police, “has been demoted to inspector for making a fallacious comment” for the press.

“Cars will be towed not to the pound but simply to neighbouring streets,” Danilov honestly told journalists at the time. “Moreover, this will only concern cars that block the passage of official delegations’ motorcades. You just need to park so that you don’t hinder the traffic.”

Is it for this “fallacious” comment that a high-ranking traffic police official was demoted to ordinary inspector and sent to patrol the streets? Naturally, journalists were appalled by this development, as well as by the prosecutor’s office and traffic police’s denial of the obvious: the towing of cars did take place and was clearly unlawful. Citizens complained about it in social networks, and Danilov the spokesman frankly told the press who was towing the cars away and why… An audio recording of his interview made at the news agency is available, and the traffic police department knows about it; otherwise, as it so often happens after interviews with officials, the blame for “reporting unchecked information” might have been pinned on the media.

“It’s a pity this guy was lowered in rank actually for telling the truth,” public activist Dmitry Trynov commented on the prosecutorial decision in his Facebook blog. “It turns out the right tactic is to keep silent. Yet, towing cars away is a shameful thing to do. There are parking rules that are the same for all, regardless of what kind of bigwig is driving by, or where.”

[Based on Е1.RU reports]


OUR CONTRIBUTORS

Stavropol courts manipulate facts and documents in favour of rich claimant

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

Journalists Lyudmila Leontyeva and Oleg Parfyonov have reported on the pages of their Stavropol-based independent newspaper Otkrytaya Gazeta about how they witnessed a put-up job being done right in the courtroom in the interests of a well-to-do claimant.

A legal claim was under review at the time, lodged by Mr Savenko, the owner of Housing and Communal Services Company No.16 (UK-16), against Otkrytaya in the wake of its publication “Boorishness-in-Law”, in which he happened to dislike a single phrase – one that that described his company as “a team of loafers providing appallingly low-grade services or none at all, while rolling in unearned money”.

By that time, not only Otkrytaya but also Vecherniy Stavropol, as well as local television, had told many a sad story about that management business off which Savenko’s entire family – wife, daughter, son and numerous other relatives – lived. Arbitration courts had already reviewed Savenko’s previous claims against these media outlets, and rejected each of them in full.

Brushing the arbitration courts aside as unhelpful, the family succeeded in beating a path into some regular district courts, whose judges, eager to please the owners of UK-16 (who were trying hard to withhold as many as possible “runaway” apartment blocks seeking to back away from the inefficient manager), started passing such unintelligible decisions that the defendants had to waste lots of time running about the courts in a bid to figure out what those decisions were all about.

During one such district court sitting, Judge Kravchenko, asked by the defence to order a linguistic expert study, withdrew into the retiring room to “consult with herself” for a few minutes. Coming back, she started reading out some incomprehensible text that seemed to have nothing whatever to do with the newspaper article mentioned in the statement of claim. Still worse, the text contained many insulting and libellous statements regarding a person uninvolved in the case but attending the court sitting as a listener – neighbourhood activist Mr Dikovich, a retired army colonel, a successful defender of tenants’ rights and interests in court, and hence a big nuisance to UK-16 lawyer Mr Gevorkyan, who had more than once been heard threatening Dikovich and swearing badly at him right in the courtroom (sic!). Bewildered and shocked to hear the same kinds of insults and curse words from the judge this time, journalists cut her short and demanded that she tell them what exactly she was reading out, since she was obviously seeing the text for the first time ever.

“Here and now, I decide to order a linguistic expert study of Mr Savenko’s new claim,” the judge declared in reply.

But Otkrytaya had not been notified of any new claim lodged against it! Moreover, even after the judge’s shocking announcement, no “new claim” could be found in the case files! Evidently, she had received that delirious text from the ordering party right before the hearing, and had not had the time to read it and at least cut out the malicious and libellous phrases addressed to a war veteran decorated with numerous medals for his courage and valour!

Before that, Otkrytaya had more than once written about lawyer Gevorkyan’s inadequate behaviour in courts, and about his habitual use of foul language. But to hear a federal judge repeating his curses and referring to non-existing “judicial documents from the case files”! The journalists described that judicial farce in a story titled “With Disgust and Disdain” on the pages of their newspaper, and simply read it out in full at the next hearing as a justification of their decision to challenge the judge. Upon hearing the article, all red in the face, Judge Kravchenko did not find anything to say in reply and just recused herself.

Leontyeva and Parfyonov reported Kravchenko’s manipulations with judicial documents to the district court chair, Ms Prosvirina. The latter, however, not only neglected her duty of carrying out an internal inspection, but she decided not to reply to the newspaper at all to avoid a scandal in view of pending re-election. As to the case trumped up by Judge Kravchenko, it was reassigned for handling to another judge, Ms Volkovskaya.

In her purely formal reply to Mr Dikovich, whom Kravchenko belied and insulted in the pseudo-decision she passed, Chairwoman Prosvirina wrote that he had “no right to complain” because he was “not a party to the case”.

She thereby reaffirmed a judge’s right to insult any citizen attending a court hearing. Meanwhile, Otkrytaya journalists have filed complaints with two higher-standing judicial officials – Mr Kuzin, chairman of the Regional Court, and Ms Vanichkina, chairwoman of the Qualifying Board of Judges, reading as follows: “We see Prosvirina’s actions as an attempt to conceal the wrongful behaviour of judges of the court she heads, and as a revengeful attempt to drag journalists into trials to be held on falsified charges and with predictable outcomes in the interests of our newspaper’s opponents. We assess all this as interference with the lawful professional work of journalists who testify in courts exclusively as public defenders of victims of communal service providers’ fraud schemes.”

The addressees have not replied to this message, either. Meanwhile, the judge appointed to handle the case instead of the one who stepped down has begun with no less hair-raising manipulations. We plan to describe these in future issues of the GDF digest.


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:

Glasnost Defence Foundation, Room 438, 4 Zubovsky Boulevard,
119992 Moscow, Russia.

Telephone/fax: +7 (495) 637-4947 and +7 (495) 637-4420
e-mail: boris@gdf.ru , or fond@gdf.ru

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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