21 Марта 2016 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 746-747

9-14 March 2016


Group of journalists attacked near Chechen-Ingush border

Boris Timoshenko, GDF Information Service

A group of journalists from Russia, Norway and Sweden and two human rights activists accompanying them were attacked late on 9 March on the federal highway connecting Russia’s North Caucasian republics of Ingushetia and Chechnya.

Lena Maria Persson Loefgren from the Swedish public broadcaster Sveriges Radio; Øystein Windstad, a reporter for the Norwegian monthly Ny Tid; journalists Alexandra Yelagina (The New Times) and Yegor Skovoroda (Mediazona); Anton Prusakov, a former reporter for the business daily Kommersant; blogger Mikhail Solunin; and Yekaterina Vanslova and Ivan Zhiltsov, respectively a lawyer and the press secretary with the Committee to Prevent Torture, were returning from a reporting trip to the North Caucasus organised by that committee. They were heading for Grozny when nearly twenty men in several cars forced their minivan to stop not far from the border between Ingushetia and Chechnya. Armed with wooden sticks, the men broke the vehicle’s windows, forced the passengers and the driver out, and started beating them while shouting, “Get out of Chechnya, you traitors, you are not wanted here because you defend terrorists!”

The attackers took the victims’ mobile phones and money, and set fire to the minivan before escaping.

The victims of the gangster attack were taken to the Sunzhensky district hospital with scull traumas and concussions of various gravity, lacerated wounds, and numerous cuts and bruises. Many were in a state of serious psychological shock. Windstad had suffered the gravest bodily harm: he lost several teeth and was left with cuts on his face and knee, bruises all over his body, and an injured leg that had to be put in a plaster cast.

“That was terrible, I thought they’d kill me,” Winstad said. “This country is under gang rule, and I thought how terrified the people who live here must feel.”

Norway’s Foreign Ministry quickly responded to the incident by demanding explanations from Russia. Ny Tid editor Truls Lie has alleged the journalists’ beating might be connected with an article his newspaper published in December 2015 – about two Chechens found dead in Chechnya after deportation from Norway, where they had asked – in vain – for asylum. The journalists were investigating alleged instances of abduction and torture, Committee to Prevent Torture head Igor Kalyapin said.

The Presidential Council on Human Rights has appealed to the Prosecutor-General’s Office and Investigative Committee over the attack on the rights activists and journalists. Committee head Mikhail Fedotov stressed that this crime should be investigated in the most thorough way and that the perpetrators should be identified and brought to justice. In a subsequent statement, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic called for a probe to be started into this attack in Chechnya/Ingushetia, and for all journalists to be guaranteed full security. Reporters without Borders expressed its indignation and urged the Russian authorities to have the attack duly investigated. Amnesty International called it “the latest and most brazen in a series of attacks on journalists in the North Caucasus”, noting that such attacks so far have been condemned only verbally, instead of having the perpetrators effectively prosecuted. If this time the attackers are brought to justice along with the potential masterminds, the authorities will show they can walk the talk, Amnesty’s statement said.

State Duma deputies, too, have condemned the attack on journalists in Indushetia, Utro.ru reported. “We urge the republic’s authorities to take this crime’s investigation under special control,” the news agency cited Vice-Speaker of the Russian parliament’s lower chamber Sergei Zheleznyak as saying. “We cannot let it be used by destructive elements as a provocation aimed to destabilize the regional situation and whip up tensions between Russia and the countries whose citizens suffered in that attack.” The Kremlin likewise frowned at the attack on the minibus carrying journalists and rights activists. “It’s absolutely revolting; it’s absolute hooliganism,” the TASS news agency cited presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying. “As far as we understand from the information available, people’s lives were endangered.” President Vladimir Putin himself has tasked the Interior Ministry with clearing up all the circumstances and assessing the incident in legal terms.

The ministry took the case under its supervision. “RF Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev instructed Sergei Chenchik, chief of the ministry department for the North Caucasian Federal District, and Ingushetia’s Interior Minister Alexander Trofimov to take ‘exhaustive measures to identify and detain the individuals involved in the attack on the rights defenders and media workers that took place on the Kavkaz federal highway in the Sunzhensky district of Ingushetia,’” the ministry’s press office said in a statement.

Oddly enough in this context, the Interior Ministry of Ingushetia has started legal proceedings under comparatively “light” Criminal Code Articles – 213 (“Hooliganism”) and 167 (“Deliberate destruction of, or damage to, others’ property”). True, one more article – 162 (“Robbery with violence”) – was added later.

It is not clear how the whole story may end. Everyone knows that cases of these kinds are seldom duly investigated in this country. Igor Kalyapin, commenting for Gazeta.ru on a recent attack on his organisation’s office in Grozny, said with quite understandable pessimism: “The same kinds of shouts, and the same style of the attack. Legal proceedings [in the wake of the attack on his office] were started under the same Criminal Code articles, with no effective investigation following; so I think the fate of this criminal case will be the same, too.”

The Glasnost Defence Foundation will closely follow the developments.


Press office apologizes for Perm Region Court’s mistake

By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District

Ilya Vantsovsky, spokesman for the Perm Region Court, has officially apologized to the media for the incident that occurred on 24 February (see digest 744), when press reporters were asked out of the courtroom where hearings were under way of tax collectors’ lawsuit against regional MP Alexander Fleginsky over his underpayment of more than 1 million roubles in taxes for 2013. Contrary to the provisions of Tax Code Article 102, judges Olga Yeletskikh (presiding judge), Natalya Ovchinnikova and Tatyana Nikitina (returning officer) qualified the administrative offence as a “tax secret” and decided to review the case behind closed doors.

Vantsovsky, head of the court’s press office, said that Vladimir Velyaninov, chairman of the regional court, had been instantly informed of the GDF digest report about the clearly unlawful decision.

The court’s press office showed to the GDF correspondent the 29 October 2015 Permsky district court ruling (passed in the course of open hearings) which the regional court left in force on 24 February. The ruling awarded the Permsky district tax service more than 1 million roubles from Fleginsky in underpaid personal property tax, with nearly 43,000 roubles additionally withheld from him in penalty and nearly 14,000 roubles in state duty. The tax was due for the 23 facilities on the grounds of Berezniki Airport that had belonged to Fleginsky until 11 September 2013.

The court-proclaimed adherence to glasnost was reaffirmed days later, when Fleginsky, acting through his lawyer Alexei Bogdanov, again attempted to remove “outsiders” from the courtroom on 29 February in the Leninsky district court in Perm, where hearings have continued since 18 January of a prosecutorial legal claim against Fleginsky and OOO Very Welly, a company registered in the name of his wife Tatyana as its sole owner. The prosecutor’s office of the Sverdlovsky district in Perm is demanding that the Kristall-IMAX cinema (owned by Fleginsky and rented by OOO Very Welly) be reconstructed to suit the needs of disabled individuals who currently suffer inconveniencies because the cinema’s ramps, doors, lifts and toilets fail to meet the norms established in Russia for people with disabilities.

Bogdanov requested that the court ask the press out “to safeguard state and other law-protected secrets, including commercial ones”, and to ensure “the non-disclosure of personal data”. His request was supported only by lawyer Anastasia Sukhanova representing the interests of OOO Very Welly. Judge Irina Shabalina turned the request down with reference to the principle of the openness of justice administration. “The prosecutor’s office initiated the proceedings in the interests of public at large, including the disabled people. Journalists are performing their public duty by providing coverage of the process, so restricting their access to the courtroom because of their belonging to the professional media community is inadmissible,” the judge stated.

Tyumen-based blogger Alexei Kungurov suspected of justifying terrorism

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

Prominent Tyumen-based blogger Alexei Kungurov is suspected of committing a crime falling under RF Criminal Code Article 205.1 (“Public justification of terrorism”), the Ura.ru news agency reported noting that he also faces charges under two other articles, but which specifically remains unknown. The regional FSB department, which is conducting an investigation, keeps all case-related information secret.

The only comment was available from a “young operative” who participated in the blogger’s arrest; asked “Why?” he replied, “He isn’t allowed to write whatever he likes,” Kungurov’s wife told the GDF. During the search, she with two children was asked out of the apartment and had to spend more than three hours on the stair landing, she said. The operatives wrung Kungurov’s hands behind his back, pushed him into a vehicle and drove him to the FSB headquarters, from where he was released 4 hours later, having given a written pledge not to leave town.

Alexei Kungurov is a co-founder of the national-patriotic January 25 Committee along with such notorieties as [DNR former defence minister] Igor Strelkov, [pro-communist activist] Stepan Sulakshin and [scandalous writer] Eduard Limonov. The latter wrote in his LiveJournal blog on 5 March that he was breaking off with the group because, judging by its recently-published provisional statute, “its original goals have changed”.

The criminal proceedings may have been started against Kungurov in connection with his article “What to Do with Donbas and Crimea? Part 2”, an Ura.ru source alleged. The publication ran counter to all the previously-proclaimed goals of January 25. According to Kungurov, expanding the so-called “Russian World” is no longer the primary goal but a matter of secondary importance for his organisation now; moreover, he believes “Donbas will be inevitably given up”, even if Strelkov comes to power there. Nor is it worth, in the author’s view, trying to hold the grip on Crimea; instead, the authorities should “officially acknowledge their responsibility for the shot-down Malaysian Boeing”, “pay compensation to the victims’ families”, and prosecute “the anti-aircraft gunners who shot down the plane as criminals of war from the viewpoint of the Russian Criminal Code” – and put them on trial here in Russia to prevent the West from doing that in the Hague. On the whole, Kungurov favours “promoting ties with the West” because “this surely will help us restore our former might”.

His “patriotic programme” is tantamount to that of the liberals, and sets the same goal – “turning Russia into a world superpower”. The proposed means of attaining this goal, though, are diametrically opposite: Kungurov believes Russia needs “a breakthrough by mobilisation” which, in his view, is possible “only under a dictatorship” (evidently of a kind under which they would not release him after four hours in detention but would sentence him to a long term in a labour camp).

Igor Strelkov’s attitude to the “programme article” published by the Tyumen-based blogger remains vague. “Alexei Kungurov is known to have written very tough and pretty risky things sometimes going beyond the limit,” Strelkov said about his comrade-in-arms in a comment for Ura.ru. “But do note that the authorities tend to accept such things easily when they come from the liberals, while showing a very tough reaction to those coming from the patriotically-minded public [evidently, Strelkov knows nothing, for example, about the fate of Tomsk-based blogger Vadim Tyumentsev, who was sentenced to 5 years in jail for calling to ‘oust Lugansk and Donetsk refugees from Russia’ – G. B.]. I don’t rule out that this may be a blow to the committee. Kungurov is one of the committee’s co-founders, but his writing style is much harsher than others’. As for me, I don’t fear any charges that may potentially be brought against me – I’ve had my fill of fearing.”

It looks like Kungurov, while assessing the prospects of the criminal case opened against him, counts on the incumbent regime’s “leniency”. In an interview posted on Youtube by someone nicknamed “Max Shultz”, he is cited as saying, “Now that the story has become widely known, no one will venture to make any hasty moves (of the 20,000-odd subscribers to Kungurov’s blog many have certainly reposted the note about his arrest); yet with the process already going on, they may as well give me some conditional sentence someday.”

Court in Murmansk Region rules to reinstate unlawfully-sacked newspaper editor

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

Irina Iskorneva was dismissed as newspaper Pechenga chief editor on the eve of New Year’s Day 2016. We have already reported about Ivan Tsypilyov, mayor of the city of Zapolyarny, Murmansk Region, having been in conflict and at law with that newspaper’s staff (see digest 707). The Pechenga district court at the time upheld Iskorneva’s position by confirming that “Criticism of the authorities is an integral right of the citizens, while any politician shall agree that he is subject to potential criticism. If not, the criticised official is entitled to publish a reply using the same media which criticised him.”

In November 2015, Irina Iskorneva wrote a critical article resolutely protesting utility rate hikes expected in 2016. It was for her criticism, she told the GDF, that she was fired from her newspaper on 29 December 2015.

The Pechenga district court on 2 March reviewed a legal claim lodged by the district administration against Iskorneva for the “damage” she had allegedly done during her tenure as chief editor. The court rejected the officials’ claim as irrelevant while pointing to the unlawfulness of Iskorneva’s dismissal, and ruled to reinstate her in her former position as of 3 March, with moral damages payable to her along with compensation for the time she had been forced to stay jobless.

Web news portal in Khabarovsk Region sued for reposting critical publication

By Vladimir Dymov, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

A Birobijan-based private medical laboratory, OOO Tafi Diagnostics, has turned to the Khabarovsk Region Court of Arbitration filing a legal claim against the web publication Debri-DV for its reposting a nearly one-year-old press release by the All-Russia Popular Front (ONF).

Last June, in response to a request by journalists from the Birobijan-based Gazeta na Dom, the ONF officially asked Russia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General and Rospotrebnadzor [federal service overseeing observance of consumer rights] to “check complaints about a local company that has monopolized the medical services market”. The relevant info was posted on the ONF website on 4 June last year, and reposted by Gazeta na Dom along with the results of its own independent investigation entitled “That’s Not Funny Anymore”, which described the Jewish Autonomous Region’s healthcare system and the problems it faced. Debri-DV reposted that article together with the ONF press release three days later.

The legal claim lodged by Tafi Diagnostics general director and co-founder Tatyana Puchinskaya does not mention the ONF, or Gazeta na Dom, or the article’s author Yelena Golub. There’s not a single “redundant” detail, as if a lawyer turned surgeon has used a scalpel to excise “invaded tissue”. For example, the plaintiff quotes an excerpt from the ONF press release: “Journalists from Birobijan have informed the ONF Journalist Legal Assistance Centre of numerous complaints by local residents and physicians about the poor quality of clinical tests carried out by the private laboratory” – and claims: “This is not true!”

Well, actually, not only did the journalists appeal to the ONF, they also told President Vladimir Putin, for everybody to hear, about that private laboratory during last September’s ONF-sponsored all-Russia conference “For High-quality, Affordable Healthcare”! There is a transcript of that forum, there are numerous publications, and the conference was shown live on TV!

The same press release has an interesting passage that the plaintiff must have “overlooked”: “In 2008, Tafi Diagnostics turned to the Jewish Autonomous Region Court of Arbitration filing a legal claim against Yelena Golub and the newspaper Gazeta na Dom in a bid to protect its business reputation. Yet the court upheld the journalists’ position by accepting as proven facts the defendants’ statements that in dozens of cases, the results of tests carried out by the private laboratory had not reflected the real condition of patients, while in other cases medical reports contained the results of tests that patients had never actually undergone, meaning that moneys from the Mandatory Health Insurance Fund had been written off in remuneration for work undone.”

So what is it that the medical centre wants by going to law while turning a blind eye to existing documentation? It insists that “by spreading a priori false, untrue and smearing information, the defendant seriously damaged Tafi’s business reputation” and asks the court to “require Debri-DV to publish a disclaimer in all media across the Khabarovsk Region and the Jewish Autonomous Region”, plus pay 6,000 roubles in state duty.

“I’d like to look at the ‘all-media’ list mentioned by the plaintiff,” Debri-DV founder Konstantin Pronyakin said smiling. “Yet, joking apart, this claim, filed nearly a year after the publication, is only being used as an instrument to prevent Debri-DV from raising regional healthcare issues on its website by reprinting local press reports in the future.”

Vladivostok-based news site Akulypera.rf blocked

By Anna Seleznyova, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

A group of media activists in Vladivostok at the end of February presented a newly-established project, Ochevidets (Eyewitness), aimed at creating a system of public oversight over elections, registering electoral errors and violations, and ensuring the legal correctness of early and absentee voting.

The group includes such prominent journalists as Viktor Bulavintsev, Lada Glybina and Andrei Kalachinsky, and lawyers Pavel Solevarov and Alexei Klyotskin (former deputy prosecutor of Vladivostok, ex-mayor of the town of Bolshoi Kamen, and current head of the Legal Assistance Centre).

Ochevidets intends to train a thousand observers to monitor next autumn’s elections. The main purpose of the project, as spelt out in the first press release, seems clear: to rule out unlawful “correction” of election returns, and ensure the legal clarity of early and absentee voting.

During the press conference, the project organisers announced the establishment of their own website, Akulypera.rf. On the same day, curious journalists who tried to access it – in vain – reported that access to the site was blocked. A beautiful sea-piece would pop up instead, featuring the note: “Page not accessible”.

Attempts to open other pre-announced materials on Akulypera.rf yielded the same results.

The website was soon unblocked, and Lada Glybina wrote in her Facebook blog: “Since the newly-opened website, Akulypera.rf, was promptly shut down by the bad guys toward the same day’s evening, one may conclude our texts had caused some resonance.” Also, she reposted the texts from the website to Facebook – just in case, as she said.

Sakhalin branch of United Russia party to defend its “dignity”

By Vladimir Dymov, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

The news agency Sakh.com has received an angry message from Alexander Kislitsyn, secretary of the regional branch of the United Russia party (URP), in response to a news report about the arrest of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk City Duma member Vladlen Malkov.

Ksenya Semyonova, the author of the publication, wrote that candidates for seats on the Duma had contributed money to the URP fund – a point that Kislitsyn refutes: “We urge your agency to present proofs that a certain ‘URP fund’ actually exists and that candidates did ‘contribute millions of roubles’ to it. In our view, this legally and morally ungrounded assertion arouses negative attitudes toward the URP on the part of Sakhalin Region residents. We urge your agency to officially disclaim on the pages of your publications your allegations about United Russia’s involvement in those corrupt deals. Otherwise we will go to law to defend the United Russia party’s dignity.”

It so happened that the message came on the eve of an interesting date: one year since the arrest of Sakhalin Governor Alexander Khoroshavin. Over this year (and a couple of preceding months) a total of 19 (sic!) persons have been detained, arrested or convicted on charges of bribe-taking. All of those individuals were related to the ruling United Russia party.

With the investigation continuing, residents of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk have often found out lately that some MP or other used to pay money into a certain fund established at the initiative of ex-Governor Khoroshavin in support of the 2014 City Duma elections. Candidates for deputies’ mandates paid millions of roubles to advertise themselves and to support those at the helm.

According to a post on the official website of the Sakhalin Region Investigative Department, Vladlen Malkov, too, is “suspected of committing a crime punishable under Criminal Code Article 29.5 (‘Official bribery’)”: he allegedly “gave bribes to regional officials”.

“If it all boils down to language and if one starts cavilling at every word, well, that fund was not actually called ‘the URP fund’,” Semyonova wrote in her reply message. “Indeed, in the case files at the investigators’ disposal, no ‘URP fund’ is ever mentioned. But we are talking about the essence of the matter, and about common sense… The above-mentioned ‘officials’, acting as intermediaries, delivered money to the fund – what a coincidence! – only from those candidates who later came to represent in the Duma the party known to everyone. And they campaigned on its behalf, and generally, it is clear they used both administrative and financial resources to secure election returns in favour of the United Russia party alone. So what is the subject matter of Alexander Kislitsyn’s dispute with our news agency?”

To explore the issue in-depth, Sakh.com has carried out a poll asking the public, “Does the URP have any dignity?” The results of the survey are very easy to guess. The region’s “chief URP man” had better not written that message, ever…

City court in Magadan requires defendant to use newspaper for disclaiming Twitter post

By Vladimir Dymov, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

As we have reported, Oleg Dudnik, head of the Magadan administration’s Information Policy Department, has sued AiF-Magadan journalist Natalya Alekseyeva for writing in Twitter that Dudnik, ex-director of the Magadan Institute of Economics, reportedly with assistance from a regional MP, created a commercial “conveyor line” issuing diplomas for pay for persons unwilling to attend classes in real terms. Although the exchange of Twitter messages involved several people, Dudnik filed a lawsuit against Alekseyeva alone because he knew she was a journalist (see digest 742).

To begin with, the official decided to get Alekseyeva held liable for defamation. Yet a prosecutorial check-up resulted in his claim turned down on the grounds that “she acted in good faith but erred, while the information she shared in Twitter had been heard from others”. Dudnik then lodged a 116-page claim in defence of honour, dignity and business reputation, which the Magadan city court satisfied partially by requiring Alekseyeva to:

- publicly disclaim her Twitter statements addressed to public at large and to specific individuals (with about a dozen addresses listed);

- remove the said statements from Twitter;

- acknowledge the fact that Alexeyeva’s statements harmed Dudnik’s personal non-property relations;

- pay Dudnik 50,000 roubles in moral damages, and pay 1,200 roubles in state duty;

- publish this court ruling in the newspaper Vecherniy Magadan.

Throughout the period of the prosecutorial check-up and judicial hearings, Dudnik, an official supposed to promote ties with journalists, rather than put pressure on them, kept insulting Alekseyeva on his page in Twitter, calling her “unrestrained liar”, and openly rejoiced at the court’s having created “a precedent” in dealing with Alekseyeva and her likes.

Meanwhile, the clouds began to gather over Natalya Alekseyeva. After the mayoral information policy chief filed his lawsuit, she received a layoff notice from the AiF-Magadan management. Her attempts to find another job in the media sector all resulted in nothing.

The court ruling, which Alekseyeva sees as unlawful, has not yet taken full legal force, and she will appeal: “An opinion shared in a social media network cannot be censored, because my constitutional rights would thus be infringed. My personal page in Twitter, which is anything but a blog in terms of the number of readers, has nevertheless been equated with a media outlet. Besides, the claimant did not present a single proof of his having suffered any moral damage, or damage to his business reputation. On the contrary, it is during this ‘Twitter scandal’ period that he was promoted and put in charge of such an important sector as the mayor’s office’s information policy.”

Blogger from Chelyabinsk complains to ECHR over convictive sentence for online repost

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

Chelyabinsk-based blogger and activist Konstantin Zharinov has complained to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) about a convictive sentence passed in his case in 2015, when he was found guilty of “calling for acts of extremism” by means of reposting in the VKontakte social network excerpts from statements by Pravy Sektor, a Ukrainian ultra-nationalist organisation outlawed in Russia. He was sentenced to a suspended two-year imprisonment term with two years on probation, and was instantly amnestied.

Zharinov himself pleaded not guilty, saying that he had not called on anyone to do anything wrongful, and that he had reposted those texts driven by his professional interest as a journalist and political writer, without meaning to engage in political agitation. In all, the posts remained accessible in the network for about 60 hours.

Lawyer Irina Khrunova, who is representing Zharinov’s interests in the ECHR, argues that the RF Supreme Court outlawed Pravy Sektor in Russia as late as 17 November 2014, which had not deterred law enforcement from starting legal proceedings against her client under Criminal Code Article 280 (“Calls for acts of extremism”) back in April that year. Zharinov sees his criminal prosecution as politically motivated, he wrote in his complaint to the ECHR. The case files contain several reports from officials at the Chelyabinsk Region anti-extremism department, saying that the blogger has participated in mass opposition actions since 2012, his lawyer noted. Attached to the complaint are 2 March 2014 warrants to monitor his social network blog and to eavesdrop on his telephone conversations. Moreover, there is testimony given by two “unidentified witnesses” – complete outsiders who had allegedly entered Zharinov’s web page shortly before the posts were removed, informed the police they were “insulted” by what they had read, and urged the authorities to start criminal proceedings against the blogger, Khrunova said.

As noted in the complaint, notwithstanding the amnesty, Zharinov sees the very fact of his criminal prosecution as too severe a measure, because he instantly obeyed the prosecutors when they demanded the removal of the questionable texts from his page in the social network.

Zharinov’s is the first ever complaint to the ECHR about a Russian citizen’s getting a convictive sentence for a repost in a social network. Another one may be filed by Yekaterina Vologzheninova, a single mother from Yekaterinburg sentenced for a similar repost to 320 hours of correctional labour by the Zheleznodoroshny district court on 20 February this year (see digest 744).


Media-related conflicts registered by GDF Monitoring Service on RF territory in February 2016

Attacks on journalists and bloggers – 5 (Andranik Suleimanyan, freelance journalist, Moscow; Tatyana Shakirova, RIA OmskInform correspondent, Omsk; Yevgeny Kurakin, blogger, Moscow Region; Maria Smirnova, reporter, and Olega Biryukov, cameraman, both of Saratov 24 TV channel, Saratov; Sergei Vinokurov, correspondent, Sobesednik weekly, Moscow)

Instances of censorship – 5 (NTA-Privolzhye and Vremya N news agencies, both based in Nizhny Novgorod; LiveJournal, Moscow; Beton.ru news portal, Moscow; newspaper Serpukhovskiye Vesti, Moscow Region)

Criminal charges against journalists, media and bloggers – 3 (Grigory Pereborshchikov, journalist contributing to Meduza, Moscow; Anton Nosik, blogger, Moscow; Erik Kiruashvili, blogger and founder of Smotra.ru project, Moscow)

Illegal sacking of editor/journalist – 2 (Olga Ovsyannikoova, deputy chief editor, Redaktsiya SMI municipal unitary enterprise, Maritime Region; Yelena Vyatkina, editor, municipal newspaper Ozyorskiy Vestnik, Chelyabinsk Region)

Detention by police, FSB, etc. – 2 (Konstantin Solomatin, freelance journalist, Olga Pavlova, KavPolit correspondent, and Iida Tika, MTV 3 reporter (Finland) – all three detained in Grozny, Chechnya; Erik Kituashvili, blogger and founder of Smotra.ru project, Moscow)

Denial of access to information (including bans on audio/video recording and photography; denials of accreditation; restrictions on visits to or presence at events held in government agencies, at industrial enterprises, in state institutions, etc.) – 24

Threats against journalists, bloggers and media – 5 (newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, St. Petersburg; Yevgeny Kurakin, blogger, Moscow Region; Alexander Karpov, Vesti news show correspondent, Moscow; Mikhail Dasyuk, BNK journalist, Syktyvkar; Sergei Vinokurov, correspondent, Sobesednik weekly, Moscow)

Disruption of TV and radio broadcasts – 1 (Life78 TV channel, Leningrad Region)

Closure of media – 3 (TV TREK channel, Maritime Region; newspaper Pravda Severa, Arkhangelsk; newspaper Moya Informatsionnaya Gazeta, Moscow Region)

Withdrawal, purchase or confiscation of print run – 1 (newspaper My-Patrioty Rossii, confiscated in Sverdlovsk Region)

Interference with internet publications – 6 (The New Times website, Moscow; RosKomSvoboda web news site, Moscow; web publication Otkrytaya Rossiya, Moscow; website Nemtsov-most.org, Moscow; REN TV website, Moscow; Article20 website)

Damage to photo, audio and video apparatus and computers – 1 (computer of Iida Tika, MTV3 journalist (Finland), damaged in Grozny)

Other forms of pressure/infringement of journalists’ rights – 34


Media forum in Golitsyno discusses ways of preventing authorities from wasting billions on self-PR

By Galina Tashmatova, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

The city of Golitsyno near Moscow last week hosted a conference of Russian media industry representatives, including government officials, entrepreneurs, and members of public expert groups. The organisers called the event “a brainstorm” to work out suggestions on support for regional and municipal media, to be subsequently forwarded to the Russian president who recently set the relevant task before Mikhail Fedotov, head of the Presidential Council on Human Rights and Civil Society Development.

To begin with, Fedotov reviewed the Russian laws on media support retrospectively, starting from the 1990s, with focus on “pluses” and “minuses” of each; recalled some vivid examples, both positive and negative (such as the wars of media holdings); and stated that as of today, there are no state-level laws regulating support for the media. Yet there is Federal Law No.7 FZ of 13 January 1995, “On the media coverage of government performance”, requiring that significant provisions for media maintenance be made in the budgets at all levels. Experts attending the conference estimated last year’s total Russia-wide spending on the media at 150 billion roubles, of which only 7 to 8 billion went to regional media.

Anna Kachkayeva, dean of the Media Communications Department at the Higher School of Economics, and Ilya Shumanov from Transparency International, a public organisation exploring corruption in Russia, presented the latest research findings about how much the regional authorities spend today on the so-called “media support” which actually is tantamount to purchasing the loyalty of the press. In addition to the widely-known methods of support, such as tenders, subsidising, etc., they described a score of other methods, including criminal ones, which governors have used in chase of self-PR. In a number of regions, in addition to the media pools under their control, the authorities have actively purchased regional supplements to federal media to enhance their influence on citizens, and sometimes to banally use those as instruments of money-laundering.

Working group members pointed to the issue of preserving journalism as such as the most important one, since no one is willing to take the trouble of monitoring how efficiently the authorities spend the media-support money. In the media outlets mostly financed from the budget, journalism has been waning; the readers barely look at those newspapers before throwing them out and stopping to trust them altogether. The president is seriously concerned about that, Fedotov said, noting that it was not accidental that representatives of the All-Russia Popular Front (ONF) had proposed to the State Duma a bill banning the governors’ self-advertising – a document hailed by almost every parliamentary faction. Duma hotheads have even suggested introducing criminal liability for violations of the would-be law, which is still non-existent, he said.

The working group formed in Golitsyno – veteran experts from all across Russia – was invited to formulate alternative proposals based on members’ experience of work in the media industry and their knowledge of the situation at the grassroots.

The conferees unanimously rejected the easiest and most efficient way to put an end, once and for all, to the evil practice of “local government-media interaction” by prohibiting the regions to allocate funds in support for the media, because that would result in a collapse of the media market and the closure of virtually all print media outlets and TV stations financed by the authorities today. Those media are unable – and have never actually needed – to earn a living independently. Although such a scenario might open up new opportunities for privately-owned media, the conference participants agreed that Russian regions are very different, and not each of them may see the emergence of private district or town newspapers keeping the residents adequately informed, while by far not every Russian citizen can afford the Internet. From the more acceptable forms of transparent distribution of budgetary funds in support of the media, working group members suggested selecting the establishment of a network of regional funds that would accumulate media-support allocations from the regional budgets, to be subsequently distributed by specially-formed boards of guardians through the issuance of grants for media outlets and individual freelancers, regardless of how close they are to government authorities. Conferees voiced many suggestions on how to make those councils independent from those at the helm, self-sufficient and transparent, in order to prevent their turning into still other public chambers built into the power structures. Here is where regional experts’ experience came in handy.

For truth’s sake, it should be noted that not all of the regional governors have misused taxpayers’ money to create a “positive” public image of regional power. The group members included Ilya Sakharov, deputy head of the Voronezh Region Mass Communications Department and head of the Media and Mass Communications Development Division, who told the conferees how they in Voronezh use budgetary funds allocated for media support and what image-related and even economic effect the regional budget and governor get from that. We Krasnodar journalists and our peers elsewhere in Russia can only envy the Voronezh governor and his administration the openness and transparency they display. I would hardly have believed the official if it were not for the editor of a regional opposition newspaper attending the meeting, who gave a really high assessment of the positive changes that have occurred in the region since Governor Alexei Gordeev’s coming to power there.

Georgy Belozyorov, deputy director of the governmental department in charge of developing the Open Government Project, reminded the conferees that as of 1 March this year, all money allocated from the regional budgets for media support shall be assigned classification codes. In other words, this money will be “marked”, and however hard someone might try to “hide” it in financial reports, it will be pretty easy to count at the end of each year how much some region or other actually spent on the media during the year. Of course, some hidden forms of support will remain, such as media support by companies affiliated with the authorities, but that will not be taxpayers’ money anymore. According to Belozyorov, the regional budgets must allocate funds exclusively to keep the citizens informed, in a vivid and understandable manner, about the services provided by government agencies.

Group members agreed not to hold any debates over “social projects”, because this term may be applied, if need be, to anything at all. Meanwhile, theirs is a very concrete task – to work out uniform suggestions that would be acceptable to absolutely all of the regional market players, including print, electronic, state-controlled, and privately-owned media, regardless of the region-specific traditions or the governor’s personality. In mid-March, the document prepared by the working group in Golitsyno will be presented in Moscow for broad-based public discussion.

This digest was prepared by the Glasnost Defence Foundation (www.gdf.ru) 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.

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.

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  • 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:
Полезная деятельность Фонда защиты гласности за 25 лет его жизни