Дайджест
22 Января 2016 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 739

18 January 2016

STORY OF THE WEEK

Internet provider restricts access to St. Petersburg-based newspaper’s website in response to anonymous complaints about critical publications

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

The website of the newspaper Novaya Gazeta v Sankt-Peterburge (NGSP), registered as an online media outlet and located at the separate domain novayagazeta.spb.ru, was blocked on 11 January. As it turned out, access to the online version of a popular St. Petersburg-based newspaper was restricted by the host, Hetzner Online GmbH, a limited-liability company based in Germany, in response to a complaint signed by someone who only used his nickname, “Ivan Ivanovich”.

No warnings had preceded the blocking, although normally, hosts try to contact the website administrators, who are usually represented by system administrators or other technical specialists of client companies.

NGSP managed to “plug” its website and invited readers to see its pages in social networks instead. As established, the complaint giving rise to the website blocking was about an article criticising corruption. Colleagues in Moscow offered to repost the article on their own site – Novaya Gazeta’s principal web resource.

After nearly 24-hour negotiations and an English-language protest addressed to the host, the NGSP site again became accessible to all. Nevertheless, more blockings are likely, website chief editor Alisa Kulistikova told the GDF. The host company has received another anonymous complaint (signed by “Maria”) regarding the article that made “Ivan Ivanovich” so angry. Clearly, Hetzner Online GmbH is unable to verify these kinds of complaints, but why not act in a clear and logical manner – for example, why not send an inquiry to NGSP, to begin with? Yet it takes action that both in Germany and in Russia is only possible with authorisation from a court of law or, as a minimum, from other government bodies. NGSP hopes for the host company to reply to this and other questions.

A closer look at the German host’s performance has revealed that it is not for the first time that Hetzner Online blocks Russian websites registered as online media. In each of those cases, some unidentified “support service officials” have chosen to trust anonymous persons’ complaints.

RUSSIA

Journalist and blogger Sergei Reznik appeals for release on probation in Rostov

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

The prominent journalist and blogger Sergei Reznik, sentenced by the Leninsky district court in Rostov-on-Don in January 2015 to three years of imprisonment on four different charges (see digest 693), has filed with the Kamensky district court an appeal for his release on probation. His case is to be reviewed by an assize court in the Kamensky penal colony where Reznik is serving his term.

In this connection, the hearings are to be held behind closed doors, and this time Reznik’s interests will be represented by defence lawyer Tumas Misakyan from Moscow. According to the convict’s wife Natalya Reznik, no hearing date has been appointed yet. In accordance with the sentence passed by Judge Strokov of the Leninsky district court, and considering the time Reznik already has served under the sentence passed in his first case by the Pervomaisky district court in Rostov, he is to be remanded in custody until October 2016.

Apart from imprisonment, the court levied on Reznik additional punishment – a two-year ban on his professional work as a journalist after coming out of prison. This is a very rare, if not an unprecedented, occurrence in Russian journalism. Reznik himself did not confess to his guilt that time, while repeatedly stressing that the criminal charges had been brought against him in retaliation for his activities as an oppositionist.

Internal conflict at newspaper in Murmansk leads to newsroom editor’s dismissal

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

For some, New Year’s Day 2016 turned out a sad, rather than merry, date. Shortly before the start of winter festivities, Tatyana Britskaya, newsroom editor with the newspaper Murmanskiy Vestnik, received a notice of dismissal “in view of the expiry of your fixed-term work agreement”.

Evidently, the sacking of a veteran journalist – one of the most respected staffers – has to do with a conflict that has plagued Murmanskiy Vestnik for more than a year, ever since a new chief editor, Ms Shedchenko, was appointed to lead the newspaper (see digest 717 and digest 698).

Since then, Britskaya’s writings were heavily censored, actually meaning a ban on profession for the author, until she was finally fired. Tatyana has not found any alternative job so far.

Newspaper Nastoyashcheye Vremya-Analitika shut down in Dagestan

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

The last issue of Nastoyashcheye Vremya-Anatilika, a newspaper that used to work under the motto: “The North Caucasian Federal District lacks freedom of expression”, came out on 24 December 2015.

Originally, this Dagestan-based newspaper (established 2007) was called Nastoyashcheye Vremya (The Present Times). After a six-month suspension in 2014, it began to be released again early last year with a third word added to its name – Analitika (Analyses). “Print media recently have found it hard to compete with online resources, and there are several reasons why,” the then chief editor, Milrad Fatullayev, said explaining the change. “One, there are no newspaper stalls at all in many districts across Dagestan. Even in Makhachkala, there are only 40 press kiosks, and there are only 58 of them throughout the republic. Their number in and around Derbent is hardly more than eleven. Two, newspaper delivery to the readers is dragged out for too long – sometimes for up to two weeks. And three, the majority of our readers are shifting online today.”

Therefore, the chief editor said at the time, NV had decided to try to reach a qualitatively new level – provide more detailed analyses of developments in and outside the republic; publish news reports post factum, without direct links to dates; and feature more political articles and analytical reviews. No TV listings would be published, the more so because the newspaper would be released twice a month; and there would be no commercial ads, so the entire content would consist of journalistic stuff, Fatullayev said.

Yet his optimistic expectations did not come true: the newspaper has stopped being issued since January 2016. “We changed the editorial policy and reporting style in hopes of winning back our target audience,” NV incumbent chief editor, Mussa Mussayev, wrote in social networks. “In the six months of our operation, we had some very positive feedback from readers. I never expected a newspaper that was set up to deal with long-term tasks to shut down as suddenly as it did. My guess is that the founders came under pressure because of the [critical] content of NV publications. That is understandable though, because the republic’s authorities are indeed capable of bringing a newspaper to face serious – very serious – problems.”

Nastoyashcheye Vremya was the sole newspaper that took the liberty of criticising Dagestan’s leader Ramazan Abdulatipov, who has spent big money on self-promotion and taken pains to gag any criticism on the part of media disagreeing with his policies. He has dozens of pro-government media and an army of bloggers at hand to sustain and improve his public image. All budget-financed outlets are staffed with his appointees. And even some private newspapers have tacitly agreed to leave the republic’s leader alone, fearing that otherwise they might be deprived of their sources of funding and their pools of advertisers.

City court in Petrozavodsk, Karelia, urged to review internal regulations

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

Until recently, few ever knew that the behaviour of anyone coming inside the city court of Petrozavodsk was subject to regulation by the document “On Visitors’ Presence inside the Court Building”, adopted and posted on the court’s official website in August 2013. At the end of last year, though, those internal regulations triggered vigorous public debates.

As photojournalist Sergei Yudin was sent by his editor to cover a court hearing of the criminal case of Petrozavodsk First Vice-Mayor Yelena Sukhorukova, he started filming trial participants right in the lobby, before entering the courtroom. A bailiff standing nearby demanded that he switch his camera off, which Yudin refused to do. As a result, a protocol of administrative offence was made, accusing him of violating the above-mentioned regulations.

In November, a magistrate court reviewed his case, found the photojournalist guilty, and fined him 300 roubles. With support from the Karelia Union of Journalists, Yudin challenged the rules of visitors’ behaviour in the city court – to be more exact, that part of the document which required anyone to use one’s camera only with authorisation from the court chairperson or court administrator.

The Supreme Court of Karelia refused to review Yudin’s claim – allegedly because it was outside its jurisdiction. That caused the journalist to turn to the city court again to lodge a legal claim against its chairman, who had enacted the questionable regulations. As Yudin had expected, he came to face lots of procedural difficulties. To begin with, his claim was rejected because “the claimant failed to specify where in particular” the regulations had been published – although the judge knew all too well they were hanging on his court’s official website. The journalist corrected his mistake and specified the source of information.

Yet the judge claimed dissatisfied with the corrected version as well – this time because Yudin “failed to mention the media” which had published the regulations. And again, the judge knew for certain that the document had not been published anywhere except online, which point Yudin specially stressed in the third edition of his claim which was finally accepted and is to be reviewed on 28 January. It is likely, though, that the photojournalist will have to rewrite it again and again...

Journalists celebrate Russian Press Day, highlight current problems to Sverdlovsk Region governor

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

As part of Russian Press Day celebrations, Sverdlovsk Region Governor Yevgeny Kuivashev gave a traditional government-house reception to which veteran journalists, school-of-journalism professors, and editors and staffers of local and federal media were invited.After an introductory speech recalling the establishment of the newspaper Vedomosti by Tsar Peter the Great, the regional leader said some warm words about the regional school of journalism; that was followed by the handing of awards – first from the governor in person, then from Legislative Assembly Speaker Lyudmila Babushkina. In his turn, Alexander Levin, the board head of the Sverdlovsk Creative Union of Journalists, honoured the winners of a journalistic contest dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the Victory in World War II. The awards went to Shalinskiy Vestnik columnist Dmitry Sivkov; a creative group with the Urals TV Company Yermak led by Irina Arefyeva – for the documentary “According to Intelligence Data…”; and Nikolai Yablonsky, chief editor of the newspaper Kommersant-Ural – for the project “Sverdlovsk. Victory”.Governor Kuivashev himself received a Badge of Merit from the Russian Union of Journalists, whose head Vsevolod Bogdanov commended him for establishing the regional House of Journalists in Yekaterinburg.The reception proceeded in a free and easy atmosphere additionally warmed up by a humorous performance by representatives of the Krasnaya Burda magazine which marks its 25th anniversary this year. At the same time, a group of municipal media editors shared their concerns about the dire financial straits in which their media outlets were finding themselves at the beginning of 2016. Specifically, the newspaper Alapayevskaya Iskra is facing serious problems, and 10 staffers of Prigorodnaya Gazeta (PG) have started a strike action of indefinite duration in Nizhny Tagil, demanding the full payment of wage arrears by the management. They had not received any pay since November, PG representatives told the Novyi Den’ news agency; at that, their newspaper with a 3,000-odd circulation owed 400,000 roubles to the printing house. The latest issue came out early in January, but there was no money to pay for further print runs, they said.The regional Union of Journalists has taken the latter situation under special control, and Nikolai Kulish, head of the Gornouralsky municipality, has pledged to settle the conflict within two months. The Glasnost Defence Foundation will closely watch the developments.

Advertising company offices searched in Vladivostok

By Anna Seleznyova, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

ZAO PARI (Maritime Region Agency for Advertising and News Reporting) offices were searched on 14 January, Alexander Syrtsov, PARI director and the founder and chief editor of the newspaper Dalnevostochnyye Vedomosti and the radio station Vladivostok-FM, has told journalists. “Investigators from the Interior Ministry’s Investigative Department for the Maritime Region, in the company of FSB officials and half-sleeping witnesses, killed nearly half of their precious working day’s time trying to gather information about our journalists involved in the scandalous 23 December radio interview with Marina Lomakina,” Syrtsov said.

Ms Lomakina, former director of the construction company Moy Dom Primorye, without asking investigators’ authorisation, went live on the air on Vladivostok-FM to name the persons who had had a hand in embezzling millions allocated for construction in Vladivostok of two five-star hotels for the 2012 APEC summit. The hotels had not been completed by the summit and remain unfinished still, although millions of Maritime budgetary funds have ever since been allocated for their construction every year. Now criminal proceedings have been started against Lomakina for violating her written pledge to not disclose any information pertaining to the case unless she gets authorisation from the investigators.

According to Syrtsov, the officials conducting a preliminary probe explained the search of the PARI offices by a need “to identify the staffers who coordinated the 23 December 2015 live interview with M. Lomakina, and those who personally conducted that interview, with a view to establishing their positions and confiscating some items and documents pertaining to the criminal case”.

Staffers say the investigators might have collected the information they needed simply by filing one written inquiry, because journalists’ data are not secret. Yet they chose to stage a kind of intimidation action. As it turns out now, they summoned the journalists involved in the interview for questioning after the end of the New Year holidays (January 11) by sending them subpoenas dated 31 December. Since the journalists had no time machine at hand, their offices were searched. The company management is preparing a reply to a prosecutorial inquiry.

Many colleagues have expressed solidarity with the radio station journalists. What the scandalous interview ends up in is yet to be seen, but it is clear already today that the journalists will need the services of highly-qualified lawyers.


BELARUS

Belarusian Association of Journalists appeals to presidential administration over pressure put on freelancers

The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) has urged the presidential administration to clarify the situation with a new wave of journalist prosecutions for co-operation with foreign media, a note on the BAJ website says.

The BelaPAN news agency said the BAJ statement quoted President Alexander Lukashenko as saying on 4 August 2015 in reply to a question about legal proceedings earlier started against Belarusian freelancers co-operating with foreign-based media: “I think that’s silly… Banning things is not my principle. I will look into this matter – and into those fines, too. I know our people aren’t rich. I promise you to check the issue – not because we’re meeting with you here but because you seem to look at it from the right angle. We will study the problem carefully.”

No legal charges were brought against freelance journalists under Administrative Code Article 22.9 since then, which was positively assessed, among others, by the European Federation of Journalists. Yet recent media reports from the Gomel Region mentioned a whole three administrative cases opened against Belarusian journalists whose reports had appeared in foreign media.

On 28 December last year, Gomel-based journalist Konstantin Zhukovsky was twice summoned to the police for making protocols under Article 22.9 in connection with his reports shown on the BelSat TV channel. Prior to that, on 24 December, a similar protocol was made in respect of another Gomel-based reporter, Larissa Shchiryakova.

Seeing the resumption of such practices as inadmissible, the BAJ expressed concern over the renewed administrative prosecution of journalists for doing their professional work.

The BAJ suggested discussing the issues raised in its appeal at a conference involving presidential administration officials, members of other government bodies, BAJ representatives, and other organisations and individuals concerned.

Attached to the appeal was a BAJ statement pointing at the increased pressure on freelance journalists and stressing the wrongfulness of holding reporters liable for co-operation with foreign-based media, as well as excerpts from the Association’s correspondence with the Supreme Court, Interior Ministry, Prosecutor-General’s Office, and KGB.

[Naviny report, 11 January]

OUR CONTRIBUTORS

Fired college director in Novosibirsk lodges legal claim against regional Labour and Employment Ministry

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

The Zheleznodorozhny district court in Novosibirsk has started reviewing a legal claim lodged by Pyotr Peshnyak, former director of a local machine-building college, against the regional Ministry of Labour and Employment.

The claimant led the college for about 15 years. Yet he was dismissed from office on orders from the ministry head, Igor Schmidt, on 27 October last year. The orders came shortly after the news portal Sibkrai.ru published Peshnyak’s article “Modernization through Liquidation: How Technical Schools and Colleges Live Today”, in which the author shared his own vision of the situation in the vocational training system which has suffered serious losses after shifting under Labour Ministry control five years ago. Of the 80-odd vocational training schools for youth only 52 are left today, as the ministry itself has acknowledged, while nearly 30 have vanished without a trace. Earlier, young people could learn a trade in all municipal districts across the Novosibirsk Region, including in rural areas; now they do not have such an opportunity in 23 of the 30 districts, nor in three of the 7 larger cities directly subordinated to Novosibirsk. Quoting Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko, the author wrote that such a policy “leads to a catastrophic fall of the prestige of blue-collar professions”. The want of local high-skilled workers has been filled through the influx of labour migrants which, according to the regional Statistics Committee, has more than tripled over the past 5 years to an annual 14,000 people.

Pyotr Peshnyak is convinced this kind of “import substitution” is not in the interests of the Russian state and its citizens. His article drew numerous comments – mostly positive – on the web portal and in social networks, and many colleagues, heads of Novosibirsk-based colleges, supported the author. Yet the labour minister categorically disliked the publication; moreover, it enraged him. According to Peshnyak, Schmidt first called him on the mobile phone in person, rudely urging him to resign voluntarily, which the college director, naturally, refused to do. Then the minister ordered the unilateral cancellation of the work contract with him – an illegal move, according to Peshnyak, since his was an indefinite-term contract, and cancelling it unilaterally would be possible on very weighty grounds, unlike those mentioned in the ministerial order. The claimant demands reinstatement, wage compensation for more than two months since his dismissal, and half a million roubles in moral damages.

The court is now to decide whether a college director has the right to express his personal opinion as a professional and a citizen. If the court recognizes Peshnyak’s status as a citizen of his country, it should – ideally – reinstate him in his position.


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.

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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:
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