Дайджест
5 Февраля 2016 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 741


STORY OF THE WEEK

Trench warfare” in St. Petersburg

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

The 13th Arbitration Court of Appeals on 26 January granted an appeal filed by the St. Petersburg State Trade Unions University (SPbGUP) by awarding it 1 million roubles in reputational damages payable by the web news agency ZakS.ru.

The Glasnost Defence Foundation has repeatedly reported that SPbGUP actually wages a war against the media: if the university management happens to dislike a media report, it is certain to lodge a legal claim against the media outlet concerned and its journalists.

It should be noted that this kind of “trench warfare” has been going on with varied success, which is quite understandable: even a detached onlooker will plainly see that university claims aren’t worth a thin dime. And although courts turn the majority of such claims down, SPbGUP persistence is sometimes rewarded by “victories”, each of which is presented as a very significant event and receives bombastic, bold-type coverage on the university website. Meanwhile, information about cases lost in court is modestly hushed up to make an appearance that the entire judicial system is geared to defend SPbGUP’s “good name” and “business reputation”.

Few have ever attempted to analyse the variability of legal grounds on which university claims have been based. Suffice it to say that the above-mentioned case against ZakS.ru was initiated based on a claim demanding that a quote from a statement by activists of the youth movement Vesna (Spring) about SPbGUP allegedly acting in violation of one of the articles of the Russian constitution be declared untrue. The quote was posted online on 17 April 2014, and reposted at about the same time by other St. Petersburg-based web resources, including Bumaga, The Village, and Ekho Peterburga. In 2015, legal claims were lodged against all of those media outlets, plus the Vesna leader.

In July 2015, the Smolninsky district court awarded SPbGUP 40,000 roubles in damages from Sergei Nedovodin, owner of Ekho Peterburga, who challenged that ruling, though. In November 2015, the Arbitration Court of St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region declared the online post “not true to fact” and awarded the claimant 6,000 roubles in the first case against ZakS.ru.

Both sides were dissatisfied: SPbGUP thought the compensation amount was too small, while ZakS.ru insisted it had not violated the law at all. They filed reciprocal appeals, and an appellate panel, quite unexpectedly, satisfied the university’s claim more than in full, increasing the compensation amount to 1 million (sic!) roubles. It should be noted that the SPbGUP lawyers had requested as much justifying the sum by “reputational damage suffered”, but failing to present any proofs – either in the statement of claim or during the court hearings – of the fact that such damage had been suffered in real terms.

ZakS.ru intends to appeal, considering the ruling unfair and running counter to the RF Supreme Court Plenum decisions of 2004 and 2010 on cases involving claims in defence of honour, dignity and business reputation. These decisions unambiguously stated that compensation awarded to claimants must not lead to media bankruptcy or endanger freedom of expression.

RUSSIA

Na Rubezhe editor fired in Yuzhno-Kurilsk, Sakhalin

By Vladimir Dymov, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

The Municipal Property Management Committee (MPMC) under the auspices of the Yuzhno-Kurilsk district administration has unilaterally terminated the work contract with Oksana Riznich, chief editor of the local newspaper Na Rubezhe.

As we reported (see digest 740), district leader Vassily Solomko personally notified Riznich of her pending dismissal citing her “support for the opposition” as the reason. Speaking later on the phone with a Sakh.com news agency correspondent, Solomko said, though, that the decision to fire her was “not final” and that some kind of an “internal inspection” would be needed to settle the matter. According to Riznich, no such inspection ever followed.

To be sure, the MPMC directive did not say a single word about the opposition. Instead, it said that Riznich was dismissed in line with Labour Code Article 278.2, “even in the absence of guilty acts (or inaction)”, and with Paragraph 7.4 of her work contract stipulating that she might be replaced anytime before her contract term expired, receiving the average six-month salary amount in compensation.

The editor was sacked on 26 January with a pledge she would be paid her compensation within a week, which is a clear violation of labour legislation prescribing that the scores with a fired worker must be fully settled on the day of his/her dismissal. Unless she gets her money, and soon, Oksana Riznich will complain to the labour inspectorate.

State labour inspectorate in Rostov-on-Don defies Media Law

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

The newspaper Bolshoi Rostov has received from the Rostov Region State Labour Inspectorate a curious reply to its inquiry filed in response to a complaint by several utility companies in the Kirovsky district of Rostov about wage payment arrears to them into which the labour inspectorate had already looked earlier. The newspaper asked the inspectorate about the results of the check-up it had carried out.

The reply to the editorial inquiry (addressed to the regional chief state labour inspector, Nikolai Fedyanin) came signed by Yulia Semchuk, head of Legal Oversight and Control Division No. 1, saying that the inspectorate could not provide the requested information “because the Personal Data Protection Law prevents us from doing so”. In an oral comment, Semchuk further clarified her legal stance by saying that “even the name of a legal entity is part of personal data”, while also hinting that it was her boss who had advised her what kind of reply to provide to the journalists.

Who would have doubted that! Nikolai Fedyanin is a regional celebrity, who had been the mayor of Taganrog for nearly ten years before he lost the latest re-election and was appointed head of the labour inspectorate. Under his predecessors, the inspectorate had willingly shared information about its performance with the press, and reported on identified law violations by different state and private companies, as well as on how labour inspectors protected citizens’ rights. With Fedyanin in charge, the labour authority has promised to report the findings of its inspection of the performance of the Optimum, ZhKKh-6 and Garmoniya utilities only if “the said three legal entities lift the ban on the disclosure of their personal data to third parties”, of which the journalists will be “specially notified”.

The trouble is, though, that those companies’ director, Mr Repalo, is under house arrest awaiting trial on charges of conspiring with several utilities based in and near Rostov to embezzle 200 million roubles! So he can hardly be expected to “lift the ban” on the disclosure of his companies’ “personal data”, the less so to “third parties”. It is about time he started confessing to the crimes he has committed.

City authorities in Omsk close doors to the press

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

Omsk Mayor Vyacheslav Dvorakovsky, who until recently promoted the principle of “maximum openness” of those at the helm, has suddenly decided to shut himself off from the press, and consequently, to keep Omsk residents uninformed about the city administration’s work. The weekly apparatus conferences, where both pro-government and opposition media reporters used to be admitted without any restriction, will now be held, on orders from the city head, behind tightly closed doors. His usual post-conference briefings have been cancelled altogether.

Only a short time ago, on 15 January, the Omsk mayor was ranked second among the heads of Siberia’s largest cities in the Medialogiya rating of the efficiency of municipal authorities’ information policy which can in no way be efficient without feedback from the population – a point Dvorakovsky has made on several occasions, including his Russian Press Day address to journalists on 13 January. The mayor’s office adhered to this principle for a long time, even after reporters were barred from the regional administration meetings (see digest 679-680), but now it, too, is shooing the press away. The city government apparatus is bound to turn into a kind of blackbox with incoming and outgoing data: its decisions will be published, as before, on the administration’s website, but residents will be left to guess why each decision has been taken, and for what purpose.

It is hard to say what caused the mayor to fence himself off from the journalists and the rest of the city residents, thus widening the gap between power and the population (although both Dvorakovsky and the regional governor, Mr Nazarov, have repeatedly called for “bridging” this gap). It may well be that they received recommendations to that effect from Moscow, as can be deduced from a comment by Information Policy Department deputy head Viktor Gasheyev for the news portal OmskZdes: “We have decided to adhere to the format chosen by our colleagues at the federal level.” Meanwhile, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, back at the time of his presidency, said that “Freedom is better than lack of freedom, and transparency is better than non-transparency”, including for the authorities themselves, who will never be able to hide away from the people they serve or the crisis these people are living through.

Finnish freelancer detained in Karelia, fined and expelled from Russia

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

Finnish freelance journalist Esa Tuominen could never imagine he might run into trouble interviewing Petrozavodsk ex-mayor Galina Shirshina. Yet he caught the eye of Karelia migration service officials who drove him away to check whether he was staying in Russia legally.

When crossing the border, he had written in the registration document that his visit to this country was “for cultural purposes”. But this, as he was told at the migration office, was not supposed to involve his acting as a reporter or interviewing anyone on Russian soil. To be entitled to do that, any journalist, including a freelancer, was to get accreditation from the Foreign Ministry’s Information and Press Department – or be regarded as an illegal alien working in Russia, with all the ensuing consequences, as it happened to Tuominen. The migration officials made an administrative protocol, finding the journalist guilty of two offences – illegal work in Russia and misstatement of the purpose of his trip to this country – which cost him a total of 4,000 roubles in fine. As a result, the Finnish freelancer was compelled to return home earlier than planned.

Most likely, he would not have been expelled like that if the ex-mayor of Petrozavodsk, Galina Shirshina, had not herself been taken under close surveillance by law enforcement. Two “vigilant” coffee drinkers in a café not far from the mayor’s office reported to the “competent agencies” that Shirshina was talking to a foreign correspondent at a table next to them. Ever since Petrozavodsk Council deputies impeached her in December 2015, Shirshina has been meeting with citizens – by way of challenging the authorities – in that café; its owner, very pragmatically, has reserved a table with free coffee for her for the whole year. That’s where the Finnish journalist came to interview her – but it seems Shirshina was not the only person for whom a special table was reserved…

Court in Kirov Region turns down businessman’s legal claim against web publication

By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

A court in the city of Podosinovets, Kirov Region, on 25 January finished reviewing a legal claim lodged by entrepreneur A. Makarov against the web newspaper Podosinovets-Info over a publication that, in the claimant’s view, hinted at his “seizing” a farm in Dorozhaitsa village last summer. The article mentioned a certain “A. Maksimov with his lawyer” allegedly seen in the office on that farm.

According to the defendant, the publication under review did not contain any information that might identify Makarov and Maksimov as being one and the same person. The court agreed with the argument and refused to satisfy the businessman’s demand for a disclaimer to be published.


BELARUS

Tut.by journalist beaten up and fined

As the trial over graffiti artists started in Minsk on 25 January, Tut.by news agency reporter Pavel Dobrovolsky, who was covering the proceedings, was detained and beaten up.

Before the court sitting began, several activists inside the court building unfolded a transparency reading “No to political repressions!” and chanted “Art isn’t a crime!” They were forced out onto the street.

The Tut.by journalist was in the corridor. Seeing that several young men were being forcibly led out of the courtroom, he switched on his camera and started recording. Police detained him along with the activists.

According to eyewitnesses, right after the detention policemen started beating the activists and Dobrovolsky in a neighbouring room; the sounds of the beating could be clearly heard in the courtroom. The detainees were then taken to the district police department, with two protocols made for each, charging them with “contempt of court” under Administrative Code Article 24.1, and with “non-compliance with the lawful demands of a government official” under Article 23.4. They were driven back to the Frunzensky district court for trial, with their personal effects left behind at the police headquarters. “The boys displayed signs of beating,” human rights defenders stated.

His mobile phone was confiscated, and all of its content was erased, Dobrovolsky said. Several riot police officers shoved him onto the floor and kicked away at him for some 20 minutes – and this despite his wearing a press card on a string around his neck, which the policemen could very well see, he said.

According to rights activists, Pavel Dobrovolsky was fined 45 minimum salary amounts (9,450,000 Belarusian roubles), with police officer Sergei Kovalchuk, whom the detainees identified as one of those who had beaten them, testifying as a witness for the prosecution.

No spokesman for the Frunzensky district police department has been available for commenting. City police department spokesman Alexander Lastovsky has promised to comment on the situation later.

[Tut.by report, 25 January]


OUR CONTRIBUTORS

Who is to judge Petrozavodsk city court chairman?

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

In November, a justice of the peace fined photojournalist Sergei Yudin 300 roubles for taking pictures in a corridor of the Petrozavodsk city court without authorisation from the court chairman or court administrator. A bailiff, upon finding out that Yudin had not requested any such authorisation, made a protocol of administrative offence, giving rise to a litigation that is still going on.

Yudin, who paid the fine, nevertheless decided that internal judicial regulations unlawfully restricted his professional freedom and challenged the ban on the use of photo and video cameras inside the court building. The Supreme Court of Karelia rejected his claim, saying the case was outside its jurisdiction. The photojournalist then filed three more claims against the city court chairman as the author of the unlawful regulations, but each time they were returned to Yudin because of alleged textual “discrepancies”. A judge rejected Yudin’s first claim because the author had “failed to specify” where the regulations were published (although the judge knew for certain that the regulations were posted on the Petrozavodsk city court’s official website). The second claim was turned down on the grounds that Yudin had not “mentioned the particular media” carrying the text of the regulations (although these have never been published in the media but remain effective, which is why Yudin was fined).

Finally, Judge Yelena Lazareva, a deputy chairwoman of the city court, recused herself at the initiative of the Judicial Department which decided that Petrozavodsky city court judges should not review judicial cases in which their chairman poses as the defendant. Now the Supreme Court is to decide which judicial authority should handle the case. It is indeed strange that it failed to decide the matter at the outset, dragging out the process for three months. Yudin and his lawyer think it important today that the judicial authority which is to settle the conflict be selected with due regard for the principle of geographical accessibility.

Decision regarding journalist’s legal claim against oligarch German Sterligov challenged in Moscow Region

By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

Journalist and writer Igor Shnurenko continues to press for his recognition as the author of a book released under the name of Alyona Sterligova, wife of the prominent businessman German Sterligov. On 25 January, the Moscow Region Court accepted his appeal against the Zvenigorod court’s ruling in his lawsuit against the Sterligov couple.

The dispute flared up back in 2013 over Alyona Sterligova’s autobiographic book “Beaten by Husband: What I’ve Gone Through Living with German Sterligov”, actually written by Shnurenko. The book was released by the businessman and his wife without the author’s consent, and all of his attempts to have the injustice undone were simply ignored. Shnurenko went to law, first claiming 50 million roubles from the oligarch, then reducing the compensation amount to 2.1 million, plus half of the revenues from the book sales.

Last summer, the Zvenigorod court rejected his claim and recognized Alyona Sterligova as the sole author of the book based on expert studies by two linguists chosen by the defendants. Since a formal copy of the judicial decision became available only at the end of 2015, Shnurenko could not file an appeal until now.

“Toward the end of the judicial proceedings, we received two diametrically opposite expert opinions,” said Media Defence Centre lawyer Svetlana Kuzevanova, who is representing Shnurenko’s interests. “The court took notice of the one by Mr Baranov, who maintains that an autobiographic book cannot have co-authors. The second opinion, provided by specialists from GLEDIS, the Guild of Linguistic Experts in Documentation- and Information-related Disputes, on the contrary, insisted on co-authorship. Yet the court considered this expert study flawed and disregarded its findings. We asked for the authors of both expert opinions to be invited to the last court sitting, but our request was rejected. Now we have an opinion from a well-known specialist, Dr Yelena Galyashina, a professor of forensic studies at the O. Kutafin State Law University of Moscow, who confirms that it’s Baranov’s study that was flawed.”

Kuzevanova also noted that the first-instance court had appointed one and the same person to carry out two expert studies, which, too, is a procedural violation.


NEWS FROM PARTNERS

Russia’s Golden Pen awards handed in Moscow

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

The New Opera theatre in Moscow on 29 January hosted a ceremony to honour the winners of Russia’s Golden Pen awards established by the Russian Union of Journalists. The awards in the nomination “Legends of Russian Journalism” went to TV anchorman Vladimir Posner, Rossiyskaya Gazeta editor Vladislav Fronin, and Urals celebrity Boris Lozovsky, dean of the school of journalism at Urals State University.

Without belittling the merits of other laureates, my colleagues in the Urals and across Siberia hailed the honorary title given to Mr Lozovsky, who has devoted more than 40 years of his life to the school of journalism, and has worked for 28 of them as its dean. Over the period since 1975, he has prepared many talented journalists who work today in different parts of Russia and abroad. And we at the Glasnost Defence Foundation have had the privilege of having Boris Lozovsky as our long-time friend and linguistic expert.

Our sincere congratulations to all award winners!


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
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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