29 Января 2016 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 740

25 January 2016


Yuzhno-Kurilsk mayor fires newspaper editor for “supporting opposition”

By Vladimir Dymov, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

The mayor of Yuzhno-Kurilsk, Sakhalin Region, has personally notified the local newspaper Na Rubezhe’s chief editor Oksana Riznich of her dismissal, citing her “support for the opposition” as the reason.

For Riznich, that came as a shocking surprise: over the six years of her tenure as chief editor (and prior to that, as a freelance reporter), she had not heard a single reprimand, and as established during a financial audit in September 2015, her only “fault” was that she had underpaid herself her own salary once…

She knows nothing what opposition activities are all about and is just finding herself between the devil and the deep sea in some kind of a dispute between her newspaper’s two co-founders – the district administration head and the local assembly of deputies, Riznich told the GDF. Na Rubezhe is a municipal enterprise, and in accordance with her work agreement, she might be fired anytime without explanation, which is what the mayor evidently intends to do, she said.

Journalists of the Sakh.com news agency have called Yuzhno-Kurilsk Mayor Vassily Solomko on the phone asking why he wants to fire the Na Rubezhe editor. The district head found it difficult to formulate the reason, but his report to the regional government said there were “too many Riznich family members on the newspaper’s payroll”. Indeed, Oksana’s mother, 70, was employed there as a proof-reader, and Oksana’s daughter as a reporter – but only because “in a small city, you can barely find the specialists to fill those vacancies”, according to Riznich.

Lyubov Kasyan, chairwoman of the Sakhalin regional branch of the Russian Union of Journalists, said her group would urge the Sakhalin governor to consider the mayors’ openness and willingness to talk with the press while assessing their performance.

Governor Oleg Kozhemyako, who is in the know of the conflict in Yuzhno-Kurilsk, has ordered a check-up.


City authorities in Berdsk attempt to “optimize” independent media

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

Yevgeny Shesternin, head of the city of Berdsk, Novosibirsk Region, elected to his post by the City Council two months ago, sees the reporting style of media uncontrolled by the mayor’s office as “insufficiently optimistic”. With local realities actually giving too few reasons for optimism, and wishing to raise the spirits of city residents, he has decided to what he calls “optimize” the content of the most popular independent newspapers.

Typically, to change a media outlet’s editorial policy, the authorities look for ways to change the owner or conclude agreements with the existing on covering the topics they need, paying for the sponsored publications from the state budget or from the proceeds of a friendly business. In Berdsk, evidently having no such funding sources, the administration started acting in a Peter Pan manner, sending around popular local newspapers and news websites “lists of topics to focus on and give front-page coverage to”. Those are not traditional press releases that media editors are free to take note of or ignore, but municipal authorities’ recommendations, i.e. a kind of big-brother instructions.

According to the SibKrai.ru news agency, the first such list was circulated on 22 January, recommending the following – presumably “catchy” – headlines: “Driver with 33-year work record gets new bus”; “‘Kindergarten teacher-2016’ competition announced in Berdsk”; “Hard frost: no hindrance to heating season in Berdsk”; and “Berdsk motor transport company: new development prospects”. Officials evidently believe these topics might cause the majority of residents to sit up and take notice – an allegation that journalists categorically deny.

“Over the 13 years of our newspaper’s operation, we have developed our own code of ethics,” Galina Komornikova, chief editor of Kuryer-Sreda-Berdsk, told SibKrai.ru. “We have never covered topics chosen by the administration, and will never do.” This kind of policy is prompted also by business considerations: “We can’t afford issuing a newspaper that won’t sell. Our distribution department has the decisive say during planning meetings, because it monitors the topics that sell well.”

Galina Zhiltsova, editor of the Berdsk-Online news website, sees eye to eye with her colleague on the issue. “Attempts have already been made in Berdsk to issue a newspaper featuring good news only,” she said. “The newspaper was called Pozitiv, and local business community members clubbed together to finance it. It did not live long though, because city residents are not interested in reading a newspaper that doesn’t reflect their problems and needs. If the mayor’s office continues imposing its own vision of ‘the right way of covering city life’ on the independent media, that will only make government-media relations still more tense, because the journalists will see that as pressure from the authorities.”

Detaining and attacking film crew not a crime, according to Murmansk law enforcement

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

Murmansk investigators have notified the local broadcaster TV 21 of their refusal to start criminal proceedings in the wake of a November 2015 attack on its film crew, involving an attempt at taking hostage reporter Sergei Shiryayev and cameraman Boris Savelyev as they were shooting a TV report on a fishing vessel near Tri Ruchya village. The film crew members reported the incident to the police and the Investigative Committee on the same day (see digest 732).

The transport branch of the Murmansk Investigative Committee’s reply message read, in part, as cited by TV 21: “A check-up has shown that the vessel owners, A. Gorbunov and A. Aleksandrov, did attempt on 13 November 2015 to obstruct the collection of information on their boat, but subsequently they did nothing to prevent the video sequences recorded on the vessel from going on the air, which means neither of them violated the journalists’ right to disseminate information; hence the absence of any elements of crime in their actions.”

The broadcaster disagreed with the official refusal to start criminal proceedings, and will challenge it.

Chelyabinsk-based activist fined 20,000 roubles for “undermining” penal colony chief’s reputation

By Irina Gundareva, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

An appellate board of the regional court in Chelyabinsk has upheld a lower-standing court’s decision to award Alexei Titov, chief of Penal Colony No.1 in Kopeisk, a suburb of Chelyabinsk, 20,000 roubles in reputational damages from Oksana Trufanova, a member of the regional Public Oversight Commission.

In the spring of 2015, Trufanova, at the request of her colleague V. Prikhodkina, posted on her Facebook page a note about the beating of a prisoner by Titov, as witnessed by Prikhodkina, who on her way home after a visit to the penal colony feared the prisoner might be killed before she accessed her home computer to go online. Prisoner deaths are nothing out of the ordinary in the South Urals. In 2008, four inmates were beaten to death in Penal Colony No.6, with the management attempting to ascribe their deaths to the use of special equipment by riot police while suppressing a prisoner riot that happened to occur there at the time.

The prisoner mentioned by Trufanova in her Facebook post had repeatedly complained about prior beatings and even had posted video addresses online to prevent further abuse. Yet neither of the two witnesses who had seen him being beaten – prisoner Konoplyov and Oversight Commission member Prikhodkina – were questioned either in the first-instance court or during the appellate panel sitting in the regional court. The judges ordered a linguistic expert study of Trufanova’s post, based on which they concluded that the lady commissioner had besmirched the penal colony chief’s “good name”.

“Of course, we will appeal to the Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights, which all is bound to take a lot of time and effort,” Trufanova told the GDF. “In the many years of my work [as a human rights activist], I’ve never been able to get an answer to the question of why different state structures – from the prosecutor’s office to the courts – have always asserted law enforcers’ right to torture people.”

Court in Perm finds evaluative phrase “windbag MP” non-insulting

By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District

The Motovilikhinsky district court in Perm on 21 January turned down two honour-and-dignity protection claims lodged by regional MP Dmitry Skrivanov against the broadcaster UralInform TV in a bid to have the latter disclaim its TV reports and website posts titled “Windbag MP” and “RosBusinessConsulting Sees D. Skrivanov as Lazybones Pretending to Work Hard”.

We already reported about this United Russia Party representative’s legal claims in digests 730, 735 and 736. The MP labelled “untrue” two TV reports shown on 26 and 17 June 2015. The passages which he described as “smearing” were about his pledge to have a gas pipeline laid through Kasimovo village, Permsky district, as well as his setbacks as a public official and MP, and during his brief tenure as head of the Monotown Development Fund (FRM) under the auspices of the RF government.

Between 4 June and 8 December 2015, the defendant posted on its website a total of 19 reports, all negatively assessing Skrivanov’s performance, said the claimant’s representative Pyotr Tsekhmister speaking in court on 20 January. “The journalists did not say a single positive word about Skrivanov,” he noted. “The texts were written in a style allowing the authors to shirk responsibility. They were mostly written in the form of questions, with many parenthetical phrases and third-party citations used. UralInform TV is seeking to evade the law, and is abusing the law.”

For his part, UralInform defence lawyer Dmitry Kazhin asked the court to add to the evidence a letter dated 2011, in which Skrivanov, on the eve of a new election, wrote to voter Svetlana Cherepanova from Kasimovo village about his plans to have the village connected to gas supply. Regarding the claimant’s performance as FRM head, Kazhin said: “We think that hiring a team of employees and registering a legal entity is much less than what a [good] politician would be expected to achieve.”

Having heard both parties’ arguments, Judge Tatyana Oprya ruled to reject Skrivanov’s claim in full. Police likewise refused to start legal proceedings on any of the other six publications the MP is challenging, Kazhin told the GDF. Asked why these police refusals were not added to the civil case files as proofs of the accuracy of Skrivanov’s characteristic as a “windbag MP”, the defence lawyer only smiled sarcastically.

Bryansk Region’s oldest newspaper changes hands

By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

The newspaper Bryanskiy Rabochiy, after several months in a state of crisis, has finally got a new owner. Formally, the limited-liability company of the same name remains its founder, but the right of ownership has moved to Alexei Kadomin, publisher of the district newspaper Starodubskiy Prospekt.

Back in autumn, people across the region began expressing concerns that Bryanskiy Rabochiy might be shut down before celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2017. The newspaper did not hold any subscription campaign last autumn, while local journalists kept talking about financial problems the paper was facing, and a lack of interest in it on the part of its then owner and chief editor.

As announced last week, Bryanskiy Rabochiy also got a new editor-in-chief: Vladimir Melnikov was replaced by Irina Marchenkova. As regards the shift of ownership, it was the regional administration that insisted on the newspaper’s changing hands, unconfirmed reports say.


How to jail a blogger

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

The media community in the Sverdlovsk Region is actively discussing the 21 January detention by police of the prominent blogger and defender of motorists’ rights, Kirill Formanchuk, who is suspected of defaming a public official. A note he has posted on his Facebook page reads: “I’m under pressure from three senior police officers. They’re trying to present me as a dangerous criminal. Staying online for the time being. For your information: they are holding me at Police Station No.9 at 1, Krylov St., Office 405, criminal investigations unit. If anything, I am not planning to commit suicide…”

It is not for the first time that Formanchuk gets into an argument with law enforcers. Although some media have hinted that this may be yet another attempt by Kirill to remind the public he is still around, detaining the blogger and putting pressure on him is a very disturbing move. According to Formanchuk, criminal proceedings were started against him in the wake of a 24 July 2015 incident, when the blogger was riding his motorbike along the slow lane at a speed of some 10 kmh. “All of a sudden, a traffic policeman popped up from behind cars parked some 5 to 10 metres on my right, causing me to apply panic braking to avoid running him over,” Formanchuk recalled. “As a result, the motorbike fell to the right side, and I landed on the pavement some two metres ahead of it. The traffic policeman could very well see I got hurt, but he did not offer me any first aid.”

The blogger wrote a report blaming the road accident on the traffic policeman, who, for his part, lodged a counterclaim accusing the motorists’ rights defender of swearing badly at him. Formanchuk is insisting he did not insult the traffic police officer.

“We have started a probe under Criminal Code Article 319 (‘Public insult to a government officer’), in which this guy [Formanchuk] poses as the suspect,” Sverdlovsk Region Investigative Committee spokesman Alexander Shulga told the Ura.ru news agency. “As established during the investigation, he has repeatedly failed to report to the investigator for questioning, on which ground he was put on the police wanted list. Procedure-wise, he has not been physically detained by investigators, but has given a written pledge not to leave town and to behave.”

In the blogger’s view, the very fact of his having been put on the wanted list is absurd. “The investigator claims to have looked for me for five months to question me, while I wasn’t hiding from anyone, and my office is just a block away from the police department,” Formanchuk said. The Glasnost Defence Foundation will closely follow the developments.


Press release by Civil Control human rights group

A round table was held in St. Petersburg on 21 January, where Roman Zakharov and his defence lawyers discussed an action plan to get the European Court decision duly executed. Let us remind you that early in December, the ECHR Grand Chamber acknowledged the fact that Zakharov’s rights had been infringed by the illegal bugging of his telephones (see digest 734). Oxford University Press included the decision passed in the case “Roman Zakharov vs. Russia” in the 2015 Top Ten events that were the most important in terms of international law development.

All secret services, meanwhile, have pressed for citizens’ communications to be taken under still tougher control, which is understandable in view of the tasks and goals set before the relevant agencies. Yet in the absence of an effective mechanism of public control, applying the operative search systems (SORM) endangers the rights and freedoms of Russian citizens. The ECHR ruling, based on analysis of Russia’s legislation, draws this deplorable conclusion: the Russian secret services are beyond judicial, prosecutorial, or any other control. The system per se is fallacious, which fact needs to be understood and acknowledged! For example, eavesdropping recordings must be destroyed, but whether this actually happens remains unknown.

The claimant and his lawyers are currently discussing the prospect of going to law to have Roman Zakharov’s telephones disconnected from SORM. Russian legislation envisages the possibility of reviewing Russian court decisions passed in the cases lost by a claimant, once an appropriate ECHR ruling has been passed. The Civil Control human rights group plans to co-operate with the CE Council of Ministers in controlling the execution of the ECHR decision on general measures, and in working out recommendations on appropriate changes to be made to Russian legislation and SORM-related regulations.

“Human rights activists, lawyers and journalists attending the Round Table will pursue the following goals:

  • Take the SORM apparatus and software from under FSB and Interior Ministry control and place them under the control of the Justice Ministry;
  • Register each instance of communications interception;
  • Insert into the interception algorithm on a mandatory basis a command line regarding the need to have a court warrant for operative search measures without which such measures will be technically impracticable;
  • Establish transparent procedures of SORM control involving means of identifying individual controllers and of reporting control results to the public.”

The ECHR Grand Chamber ruling, the claimant says, has actually proven the illegal nature of SORM in its present form, so any subscriber has the right to require the operator to have his/her telephones and computers disconnected from this system. But two questions remain: Whose side are the operators on? And what will the Justice Ministry and Russian authorities do to have the European Court decision duly executed?

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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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