6 Ноября 2015 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 729

2 November 2015


International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists

November 2 marks UNESCO-established International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.

According to UNESCO research, more than 700 journalists have died in the past ten years while performing their professional duty; 90% of them were local media reporters.

At present, journalists die more often that over the entire media history: our colleague is killed somewhere in the world once every five days. The highest death rate is among press reporters (40% of the total), followed by TV (28%) and radio journalists (21%), and online reporters (5%). Journalist murders are solved very seldom: according to UNESCO data, only 5% of all such murder cases in 2002 through 2012 resulted in convictions for the killers, and 8% in 2014.

Hardly more than 10% of journalist killings are solved worldwide, according to the International Federation of Journalists.

The day to end impunity for crimes against journalists is marked the world over; the purpose is to pool the efforts of all international, governmental and public groups to solve a problem that has become a serious barrier to social development.


Editor’s killers convicted in Stavropol; mastermind remains unidentified

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North-Caucasian Federal District

The regional court in Stavropol has completed the trial over the killers of Nikolai Potapov, a human rights activist, environmentalist, and editor of the newspaper Sel-sovet (see digest 698). Three Vinogradov brothers – Sergei, Nikolai and Aleksandr – as well as Aleksandr Mustafayev were convicted of forming a crime ring to carry out Potapov’s contract murder.

The court established that Mustafayev performed the organiser’s functions by hiring Sergei Vinogradov as a hitman for pay, and by giving him a gun. As they were preparing to kill, Sergei and Nikolai Vinogradov spent a long time closely watching the would-be victim; also, they stole licence plates to be fixed on the car they used.

They attacked Potapov early on 18 May 2013 in his car parked near his home. Sergei Vinogradov, wearing gloves and a balaclava helmet (he is a former police officer from Budyonnovsk who took part in armed operations), ran up to the car, broke the left window and fired six gunshots at Potapov, lethally wounding him. The third Vinogradov brother, Aleksandr, was sitting at home and receiving calls on his brothers’ phones to create alibis for them.

The bleeding editor found the strength to call his wife and tell her the license plate number of the car in which the attackers had fled the scene.

The court sentenced the gangsters to different prison terms, from 15 to 18 years, to be served in a tight-security penal colony. The sentences are yet to enter into full legal force.

The investigators and judges all turned out unable to identify the mastermind behind this contract murder; nor did they seem to care much about tracking him down. The victim had not been acquainted with anyone from the gang. So who was it who felt enmity toward the elderly human rights defender printing out his newspaper on his home printer and delivering it around the village in his old Oka car? Who was enraged by Potapov’s reports about power abuses by government officials and their machinations with very expensive health-resort land? Who hired Mustafayev to get rid of the restless truth-seeker? Who introduced Mustafayev to Sergei Vinogradov, a newcomer to the district who could shoot well and needed money badly (the two had not known each other before)? From whom did Vinogradov the hitman buy the cartridges for the murder weapon? Generally, how could a police major write an indictment with so many factual discrepancies, and how could a prosecutor endorse such an indictment later? And finally, where did the thugs, who were known to be in dire financial straits, get the money to pay for expensive defence lawyers’ services? Gang members’ relatives said in court it was not they who had selected the lawyers or paid them for the work done.

Mustafayev, convicted as the murder organiser, repeatedly stressed the point that he had not known the slain editor. This notwithstanding, he showed the killers Potapov’s photo portrait, described his car and gave them his home address, while adding that Potapov was “a major headache for one big boss”.

Who is that “big boss”, and was Mustafayev telling the truth when he shouted in court that the investigators had “deliberately destroyed” all the leads to “those at the helm”? It looks like it is becoming a routine practice in this country to leave these kinds of questions unanswered.


Court in Voronezh turns down Media Defence Centre’s appeal

By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

The Central district court in Voronezh on 28 October rejected the Mass Media Defence Centre (MMDC)’s appeal against a fine imposed on it for failure to voluntarily register as a “foreign agent”. As we have reported, the RF Justice Ministry put the MMDC on its blacklist early this year, initiating the judicial proceedings which ended in the Centre’s sentencing to a fine of 300,000 roubles and its challenging this ruling.

During the trial, MMDC representatives made a number of motions, including a request for having its texts studied by linguistic experts and political scientists in order to prove that the Centre did not engage in politics. All of those motions, however, were turned down by the judge.

“The judge read out a decision that almost fully replicated the Justice Ministry order,” MMDC lawyer Svetlana Kuzevanova told the GDF. “Now that the first-instance court’s ruling has entered into force, we are to pay the fine. Yet we will appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.”

In parallel, another district court in Voronezh is reviewing the MMDC’s appeal against its blacklisting as a foreign agent. To date, the court has ordered a study of Centre publications by psychologists and linguists from the Southern Federal University in Rostov-on-Don.

Another attack on journalists at “black visa” centre in Moscow

By Natalya Severskaya, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

Another film crew with the TV channel 360 Podmoskovye has come under attack: on 28 October its members were attacked at the Visa Centre in Moscow’s Zubovsky Boulevard.

Centre officials offered visas for pay, but they returned passports to customers without any visa marks. When journalists from the TV show Rassledovaniye 360 attempted an independent probe, one of the officials demanded that the camera be switched off. “This is a commercial place! You can use cameras out there in the corridor but you can’t use them here!” he told the reporters. Seeing no immediate reaction from them, he grabbed a tube of glue from a table and flung it at one of the journalists, and then stirred up a fistfight. The opponents were finally separated, but a man in sunglasses who sat at a distance took a knife out of his pocket and, too, demanded that the videographer switch his camera off.

Explaining the incident to a police patrol that arrived, he said he had produced the knife to show that “to every action there is an equal reaction”, but the policemen did not find his argumentation convincing and drove him, along with the cameraman, to the police station.

“We will file a report about the murder threats we heard,” the film crew members told the GDF. As has become known, the knife-wielding man will stay under arrest for 15 days, while law enforcers are considering whether or not to start criminal proceedings against him.

It may as well be noted that it is not the first attack on journalists at the Visa Centre. On 31 July, a security guard broke the camera of reporters for the same TV channel, who were trying, together with victims of deception, to look into a situation where Centre officials charged a fee for their “services” while refusing visas to their customers.

Hearings of legal claims against web portal NewsKo and newspaper Novyi Kompanyon continue in Perm

By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District

The Perm Region Court of Arbitration has refused to order a complex psychological-linguistic study of five phrases from the publications “Perm to Be Left without Its Port in Two Years” and “Nearly Run Ashore”, which appeared in February and March, respectively, on the NewsKo website and in the newspaper Novyi Kompanyon. The ordering of the study by a commission of experts is deemed to be a sufficient measure of response for purposes of the case.

We reported on litigations between OAO Port Perm and OOO Kompanyon Publishers’ in digest 726. The plaintiffs claimed offended by news agency reports about big money transfers from Russia to the Czech Republic, the sale of ships, the non-payment of wages and taxes, violations of the Foreign Investments Law, and working week reductions accompanied by a swelling of top managers’ earnings.

The two cases are under review, respectively, in the regional arbitration court and the Leninsky district court in Perm. Dmitry Fyodorov, general director of OOO EuroInvestGroup, is involved in each case as a co-defendant whose “libellous and smearing” statements were cited in the publications.

The businessman did not attend the 22 October hearing of Port Perm’s legal claim. In his absence, the arbitration court upheld the plaintiff’s request for having two philology experts, Professors Valery Mishlanov and Vladimir Salimovsky of Perm State University, examine the five disputed phrases and answer two questions: whether they are assertions of facts or evaluative judgments, and if they convey any negative information about the Perm port operations.

At the same time, the court turned down the defendant’s request for appointing two other Perm University professors – Yelena Levchenko, Ph.D. (Psychology) and Maria Kotyurova Ph.D. (Philology) – to carry out a comprehensive psychological-linguistic study of the disputed phrases.

The court disregarded as “inconsistent” the publishing firm’s argument that a complex study would rule out one-sided and hence biased conclusions. “The phrases being challenged refer to a legal entity’s economic performance and do not affect the honour and dignity of individuals; it is the latter kinds of statements which, as a rule, are coloured emotionally and psychologically,” Judge Yelena Kulbakova wrote in her decision.

This judgment may play a role in having an expert study ordered in the case of Charles Butler, referred to in the disputed publications as son of an English lord and the actual director of OAO Port Perm. He has lodged a legal claim in defence of his honour and dignity as an individual. The next hearing is scheduled to be held in the Leninsky district court on 9 November.

Club established by Omsk Region’s best photojournalists labelled “foreign agent”

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

The Omsk-based Photo Club So-bytiye [if written with a hyphen, this coining can be rendered into English both as “news event” and as “co-existence” – Translator.], established by prominent journalists Aleksandr Rymyantsev and Vassily Melnichenko, has been put on the Justice Ministry’s “foreign agent” list. Neither of its two co-founders makes any secret of the fact that they have received funds from abroad to finance some of their actions. For example, foreign money was used in co-financing the Art Festival “Multiplicity Space”, held in Omsk in June. Conceived as a small-scale exhibition for a limited number of amateur aesthetes, the festival caused repercussions going far beyond the grant amount of US$10,000.

The festival’s success was in many respects due to the Centre for Countering Extremism, one of whose officials warned the organisers that that they might be “held legally liable” in connection with a complaint the Omsk eparchy of the Russian Orthodox Church had allegedly filed about one of the exhibits. The police official said the clerics were “enraged” by a 3-metre-tall installation called Dustbin Jesus, made of different kinds of household refuse, such as used packages, empty bottles, cardboard boxes, plastic plates and cups, moulded-pulp egg trays, etc., which young artists had picked up when strolling about the city.

An exhibit that had taken a whole month to build hardly lasted for a day: communal service providers arrived (eyewitnesses recognised them by the orange jackets they wore), loaded the sculpture onto a truck and drove it to a waste dump. Thanks to the “orange vandals” (it is easy to guess whose orders they were fulfilling), the exhibition became known internationally, and even Russian federal TV channels reported about its demolition. The action’s continuation became far more radical than the statue itself: online commentators wrote in social networks that taking a sculpture of Christ to a waste dump was in itself a real act of blasphemy, and as regards the fact that the statue was made of refuse was well within the canons of Orthodoxy: “[Jesus] himself was a poor and homeless man who walked around barefoot, and in rags and tatters.”

The authors of the installation said their work was intended “to draw public attention to the destruction of historical and cultural memory”, and to the littered urban environment.

Dustbin Jesus conveyed multiple ideas, but, as it turned out, the sculpture did not “insult believers’ feelings” in the least. At about the same time, the Omsk eparchy posted a statement on its official website saying that its reported “dissatisfaction with some art festival exhibits” or its alleged “complaint to law enforcement about that matter were not true to fact”, since it had no claims at all to the artists, and there was “no conflict between the eparchy and representatives of the art community”.

As it happens, the exhibition insulted the feelings only of Anti-Terrorism Centre officials, who felt particularly unhappy to learn that “enemies of Russia” co-financed the art festival.

The real reason behind the Justice Ministry’s blacklisting So-bytiye as a foreign agent was the art festival that had made the photo club widely known, Aleksandr Rumyantsev said. According to information on the ministry’s website, the club had “impacted the process of government decision-making so as to change the policy pursued by the government bodies”.

While disagreeing with the ministry statement’s language, he does not intend to challenge it in court, So-bytiye’s head told the Sib.fm news agency. The organisers of “Multiplicity Space” did not get any political or financial gains from the art festival: Vassily Melnichenko moved to Germany, evidently for a long time, after the June scandal, and Rumyantsev is currently searching for a job. Journalists agree that the two men belong to the group of the Omsk Region’s best photo correspondents and photo artists.


Periodika Kubani Publishers’ changes hands in Krasnodar Region; its editors urged to return self-paid fees

By Galina Tashmatova, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal Districs

The State Property Management Fund in the Krasnodar Region held an auction on 12 November 2014 to sell the 100% share in the authorised capital of OOO Periodika Kubani Newspaper Publishers’. After privatisation, the largest regional publishing company, a co-owner of 45 district newspapers, went to a certain Igor Tarasov who was an absolute “dark horse” in the region.

Local newspapers in the Kuban River area have gone through multiple reorganisations, turning into limited-liability companies. Olga Gorokhova, former head of the regional Media Department and of Periodika Kubani, is currently under investigation with two criminal cases opened against her on suspicion of her illegal spending of budgetary funds and involvement in some major fraud schemes. The regional Property Relations Committee, the owner of companies having newspapers of their own, have questions to ask those district and municipal newspapers’ chief editors (who concurrently are general directors of the relevant companies). Audits of the financial and economic performance of such companies/newspapers have revealed facts of authors’ fees having been paid to editors, which practice was declared unlawful and the editors were required to return quite significant sums – 50,000 to 70,000 roubles – into the budgets. Many disagree with this requirement, because writing journalists on the payroll at small local newspapers are rare, and editors are compelled to write news reports instead of them.

At the journalists’ forum held in Olginka village last summer, editors appealed over the matter to the then acting governor, Veniamin Kondratyev, who suspended the return of authors’ fees by the editors performing as part-time reporters. Yet the issue has not been finally settled, while the editors are soon to submit yearly reports, which may be a problem for them. Also, they want the question of whether they will be officially allowed to contribute news reports to their own newspapers and to get paid for that, to be decided as prescribed by the law and to not turn them into presumable offenders.

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,
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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