3 Июня 2016 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 758


Journalist in Stavropol Region reports receiving threats

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

Critical journalist Yelena Sarkisova, a contributor to the newspaper Georgiyevskaya TV NEDELYA, has filed reports with the regional FSB department and the city police department and prosecutor's office in the city of Georgiyevsk, about threats she has been receiving lately. She named each of the potential authors of the threats, stressing that it was only her allegations that she had every right to voice. Her underlying publication, dated 24 May this year, was titled "Who Might Want to Remove a Journalist?"

Here is an excerpt from her official complaint to law enforcement: "The reason for unidentified persons to feel as bitter as they do was my publication in Georgiyevskaya TV NEDELYA about local self-government issues - namely, plans to create an urban district by means of attaching 14 rural municipalities to Georgiyevsk. As a journalist and citizen, I think the project is unacceptable, since its implementation would constitute a breach by the local and regional authorities of Article 131 of the RF Constitution and would defy the conclusions by regional prosecutor Y. Turygin unequivocally indicating that initiatives to merge cities with rural areas are unlawful. Nearly 40,000 residents of the Georgiyevsky district feel the same and have voted at public hearings against the merger. In my covering ongoing developments on the pages of my newspaper, I as a journalist have been guided by effective legislation and common sense".

Sarkisova named the man (a universally respected district celebrity) who had broken the news to her, and she attached to her complaint a Dictaphone recording of the visitor's telling her about the threats she faced.

"I hereby ask you to check this info, identify the alleged evildoers, and give me the opportunity to live and work quietly and without fear as all honest and law-abiding citizens do," Sarkisova wrote.

She found herself under surveillance about six months ago, she told the GDF, when the new mayor of Georgiyevsk and his team started translating into reality their idea of seizing and redistributing land belonging to rural municipalities, which in her view was bound to lead to the impoverishment and degradation of Stavropol provinces. After several publications, she noticed her telephones were tapped and that someone was remotely browsing through her PC content.

GDF info: Georgiyevskaya TV NEDELYA is an independent public and political newspaper established in 1994; its founder and publisher is OOO Fialina.

Perm-based blogger Konstantin Dukhonin sentenced to correctional labour as alleged phone caller "defaming" presidential envoy to Perm Region

By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District

Late on 26 May, a court in Perm found local journalist and blogger Konstantin Dukhonin guilty of defaming Oleg Melnichenko, presidential deputy representative in the Volga Federal District, and Irina Yermakova, leader of the regional public group "Mothers of Large Families", and sentenced him to 120 hours of correctional labour - a tougher punishment than the 100,000-rouble fine prosecutor Igor Sobolev had asked for.

The court hearings lasted for a week, with neither of the two victims attending. Nizhny Novgorod-based official Melnichenko called on the phone asking to hold the trial without his participation, and public activist Yermakova from Perm sent lawyer Arseniy Sokolov to stand proxy for her in upholding the charges she had advanced as a private person. It is Sokolov who urged the court on behalf of his client to punish the accused by forced labour.

As reported in GDF digest 754-755, police charged Dukhonin, 42, with defamation under Criminal Code Article 128.1.1. According to police investigators, the blogger, "with a view to improving his public image", called Yermakova on the phone at 7:39 p.m. on 19 November 2015 presenting himself as Melnichenko. On 9 December, he posted an audio/video recording of that phone conversation in Facebook and Twitter (see digest 754-755 ). The caption, "Presidential deputy representative Melnichenko discusses plans of seizing the regional branch of the All-Russia Popular Front (ONF) with Perm ONF leader Yermakova", attracted many people's attention. Also, Dukhonin allegedly discussed with social network users the a priori false information he himself had circulated.

The recording with the "catchy" caption, though, features a pretty obscure conversation: a man's voice promises assistance and support, and Yermakova says thanks - that's that. Phonology experts have concluded the voice on the recording (1 minute 18 seconds in length) is Dukhonin's, as many web users guessed earlier. Regional Union of Journalists leader Igor Lobanov, for example, has left on Dukhonin's page in Facebook a comment reading, "So you, too, have become one of those pranksters, eh?" Yet the state prosecutor read out the protocol of examination of that recording as a really important piece of material evidence against the accused.

Dukhonin himself claimed to have had nothing to do with either the phone call or the video, and suggested the recording might have been forged in revenge for his critical publications.

At the request of defence lawyer Irina Fadeyeva, the court on 23 May questioned Lyudmila Gruzberg, an assistant professor of philology and an undisputed dialectology authority in and outside Russia. A specialist with a 23-year record of work, Gruzberg stated with confidence that it was not Dukhonin who had spoken on the phone with Yermakova. The Perm-based blogger, she said, had a distinct northern accent, while the man on the phone had a clearly audible southern accent. Yet police refused to add Gruzberg's conclusions to the case files, describing them as "inadmissible" evidence, because the dialectology expert had not been duly warned against giving an a priori false opinion.

The convicted blogger said "yes" to Judge Oksana Artyomova's question if the sentence was clear to him. He would appeal to the Sverdlovsky district court in Perm, he told the GDF.

The trial was special inasmuch as no public representative came to attend the hearings. There wasn't a single journalist either - apart from the GDF correspondent. Were people afraid to show up in the courtroom because Melnichenko the victim was too high-ranking an official? Or do they believe they will never themselves come under prosecution, so widely practised here, for writing a simple chat forum comment?

Karelskaya Guberniya Publishers' being ejected from its leased premises in Karelia

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

The publishing house Karelskaya Guberniya rents two floors over a Lentorg Co. shop in a house where, as it turns out, the two floors were once built unlawfully over an originally one-storey building. This is why the Karelia Prosecutor's Office has demanded that the house owner should stop violating the law and dismantle the wrongfully-erected storeys. A year back, in June 2015, a court of appeals found this prosecutorial demand perfectly legal. Yet the bailiffs, upon receiving the writ of execution on the dismantlement of the second and third floors over the Lentorg shop, refrained from doing it themselves, while urging the prosecutor's office to execute its own ruling independently, and charge the expenses to the defendant. The oversight agency refused to, requiring the building owner to tear down the superstructure before June 3.

Karelskaya Guberniya Publishers', which is finding itself a hostage in this tripartite conflict, can clearly see now that the whole thing is going beyond an ordinary property dispute to become a politically-underpinned matter. The point is, the publishing house involves a newspaper of the same name and a website called Guberniya Daily - two opposition media outlets related to local politician and businessman Vassily Popov, the owner of Lentorg. The politician himself currently lives in Finland which has offered him shelter from criminal prosecution. The Russian side wants him extradited because of his alleged involvement in a fraud scheme to acquire municipal property, and Interpol has already called for Popov's forcible return to his home country. The Finnish courts, though, have not yet taken a final decision on the issue, so Popov currently stays in Helsinki awaiting political asylum and insisting that he and members of his team in Petrozavodsk are under prosecution for political motives.

In this context, attempts to eject Karelskaya Guberniya from its leased premises are seen as yet another proof of a political persecution campaign being waged against "Popov's group". At least, the combined staffs of the newspaper and news website insist on this particular version, which right certainly cannot be denied to them.

By the way, the newspaper Karelskaya Guberniya went through a similar situation in 2003, when it was likewise being ejected from a building owned by a construction firm. That conflict had a happy ending: after some time the journalists moved to the offices over Lentorg belonging to Popov. Now history is repeating itself, and the bailiffs have already notified the publishing house of the need to move out, and quickly, from the premises built by the house owner without official authorisation.

Student from Omsk sentenced to forced labour for "hurting believers' feelings" in a social network comment

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

The Leninsky district court in Omsk has sentenced Alexander Razhin, a state university student, to 120 hours of correctional labour for his "lenient" attitude toward U.S. rock singer Marilyn Manson and his criticism of the Orthodox fundamentalists whose protests led to the cancellation of Manson's concert in Novosibirsk two years ago.

The young man couldn't but feel upset at the time: he had bought a ticket to his favourite singer's concert in advance, and had planned, on top of it all, to spend 16 hours on a train ride from Omsk to Novosibirsk and back.

Embittered by the event's cancellation and knowing he might not have another chance to see and listen to Manson performing live again, ever, Razhin posted a very emotional comment in his VKontakte blog about those who had "disrupted his life plans" and "insulted his aesthetic feelings" (the exact wording of his comments is not quoted either by the court or by law enforcement on their respective websites). His posting, signed by an assumed name, happened to catch the eye of the regional police department's counter-extremism unit specialists who qualified it as an offence falling under Criminal Code Article 282.1 ("Instigation of hate or enmity, as well as disparagement of human dignity based on attitude to religion").

During the court hearings, Razhin said he had not even suspected whom his reading audience might potentially include. In contrast to Orthodox activists, who insulted Manson and his fans publicly - at a rally of more than a thousand protesters - the blogger had shared his views on the subject only with a narrow group of virtual friends, as confirmed in court by witnesses who failed, though, to prove that believers might in no way have been hurt by Razhin's comments.

Judges and law enforcers have shown an especially warm attitude toward believers, and not in Omsk alone, lately. For example, in a sudden flashback to 2014, a note on the website of the city police department in Sysert, Sverdlovsk Region, reports that the local Centre for Countering Extremism and the regional Investigative Department have been "questioning" individuals within the framework of criminal proceedings "against persons who challenged the cancellation of Marilyn Manson's concert in Novosibirsk". Ilya Shaternik, a student of journalism from Yekaterinburg, was "questioned" twice, in April and May, in connection with a comment insulting Orthodox fanatics that Shaternik claims he never wrote.

The Novosibirsk Region Investigative Department the other day finished investigating the case opened under Article 282.1 against Berdsk resident Maxim Kormelitsky who posted on his VKontakte social network page a "photo of people bathing in an ice hole" with a caption that, according to one expert, "negatively characterized Christians, thus showing one group's enmity toward another group of persons united by their religion".

Authorities in Yekaterinburg seek to place blogger Kirill Formanchuk behind bars

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

The pressure campaign unleashed by law enforcement against prominent Yekaterinburg-based blogger and motorists' rights champion Kirill Formanchuk received a new impulse on 24 May as three law enforcers met him at 7 a.m. right at the boarding ramp at the Koltsovo airport where he had arrived from St. Petersburg. "One identified himself as an Interpol official, as if he were dealing with an international criminal," Formanchuk told the GDF. On the same day, the Verkh-Isetskiy district court in Yekaterinburg reviewed a motion to place the rights activist under house arrest.

As we have reported, the blogger more than once had conflicts with law enforcers in the past, and currently he is involved in a criminal case started under Article 319 ("Public insult to a government official"), of which we wrote in digest 740 (see digest 740). In July 2015, Formanchuk quarrelled with a traffic policeman who had attempted to cross the road right in front of the blogger's motorbike. After the incident, Formanchuk filed a complaint about the police official who he thought was to blame for the road conflict. The inspector filed a counter-complaint charging Formanchuk with using foul language.

The investigators' motion to have the blogger placed under house arrest is obviously connected with Formanchuk's failure to obey a previously-imposed restrictive measure - a pledge to appear in court whenever summoned. This notwithstanding, the court on 24 May decided house arrest would be too tough a punishment for the activist. Investigators are still discussing what to do next, Maxim Stafilov, chief of the Verkh-Isetskiy Investigative Department, told the GDF. Clearly, Formanchuk is in for a fine of up to 40,000 roubles or for correctional labour, he said. The Glasnost Defence Foundation will closely follow the developments in Yekaterinburg.

Regional court in Rostov arbitrarily closes doors to the press

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

Entrepreneur Yuri Osipenko has spent nearly 6 years in pre-trial detention, whereas other suspects involved in the high-resonance case of the Rostov-based consumer cooperative Investor-98, including its chairman, have all the while walked free.

The businessman's defenders, from barristers to human rights and business ombudsmen, have filed dozens of petitions to authorities at all levels, trying to prove Osipenko is not guilty and to have him released - at least until trial. Yet local investigators and their bosses in Rostov and Moscow have turned a blind eye to those appeals, while forbidding journalists to honestly report about progress in the investigation on the pretext of such information constituting "investigative secrets". Nor has the press been admitted to the court hearings where the terms of Osipenko's stay in a pre-trial prison have been extended: each time the city court in Novocherkassk declared the hearing closed.

Until recently, journalists would at least be allowed into the regional court building to attend the reviews of appeals against the city court rulings mentioned above. Yet Judge Mikhnevich declared the latest court sitting (25 May) closed, too, and the bailiffs in the corridor did not even allow reporters to take out their cameras. The reason for the restriction remains unknown: regional court spokesman Alexei Shimolin said commenting on the issue was beyond his competence. Reporters feel that asking regional or city court judges directly is still less likely to bear fruit.

Each district or city court has a pool of PR officials in charge of dealing with the press. However, they believe all they are supposed to do is to tell a reporter the telephone number of the relevant judge's apparatus - let him call, and wait and see what comes out of it. A lady assistant to Novocherkassk city court Judge Andrei Steshenko, who refused to identify herself, gave the GDF correspondent a good dressing-down: "You think you are entitled to put questions to the judge? You expect him to give you any details? Are you a victim in a lawsuit or what?"

She did not connect me with the judge, of course. Evidently, the assistant judge had never even imagined journalists might in theory have some rights.

As far as the hapless entrepreneur Osipenko is concerned, it seems it is not accidental that his case has been enveloped in secrecy for six long years - what else can a person of common sense think in a situation like this?

The Rostov Region Court, upon reviewing an appeal against the Novocherkassk city court ruling to extend Osipenko's stay in pre-trial detention for three more months (which will make 6 years and 1 month in all), upheld that ruling while leaving the appeal unsatisfied.

Yuri Osipenko is a Russian entrepreneur who established an innovative domestic business at a time when the state had not even said a single word about "import replacement" or "innovation". He has been kept in detention since 2009 without any criminal charges brought against him and without any indictment read out to him. Since 2010, he has stayed in a pre-trial prison.

Before the latest court sitting began, the presiding judge, without identifying himself or declaring the hearing open, without explaining to the participants their rights, and evidently wishing to get rid of the press as soon as possible, hastened to announce that the sitting would be held behind closed doors. The first signs of "secrecy" had made themselves felt back in the corridors, where bailiffs were on the alert for stopping reporters from taking covers off their equipment. Many process participants were perplexed to see the court take a position like that. In the defence's view, Judge A. V. Mikhnevich closed the doors to the press arbitrarily, disregarding protests from the defence lawyers and the victims' representative who came to attend the sitting, and refusing to cite at least one reason substantiating his clearly unlawful decision.


Crimea press freedom situation analysis for 2014-early 2016

The press freedom space in Crimea has drastically changed over the past two years, having gone through the "hot" phase (February-August 2014) characterised by the seizure of media facilities, broadcasting disruptions, and attacks on journalists, and the phase of "systemic work" (September 2014-December 2015) accompanied by raids on media offices, the filing of lawsuits against reporters, unlawful bids for broadcasting frequencies, and refusals to register or reregister media. Today's situation can be described as a stage at which the media have been finally "adjusted and taken under control" in terms of arbitrary blocking of websites, meddling in editorial policies, the imposition of internal and external censorship, and unjustified detention of freelance journalists with a view to putting pressure on, and intimidating, them.

Crimea press freedom statistics

The number of media outlets registered on the peninsula had shrunk by 1 April 2015 by 88% as compared to the beginning of 2014. At least 15 media were denied registration and other official authorisations in a biased or outright unlawful manner.

In 45 cases, Crimean media, journalists and bloggers were subjected to direct pressure from law enforcement (in September 2014 through February 2016) in the form of unjustified searches, unlawful detention, advancement of criminal or administrative charges against reporters, attacks on media offices and journalists, obstruction of work by paramilitary groups, threats, and other instances of interference with journalists' work (including bans on the use of cameras, seizure of reporting equipment, entry bans, etc.)

Records include 20 instances of authorities' directly banning the attendance and coverage of state- and government-sponsored events as well as refusing to provide official information.

In 8 recorded cases, local administrations meddled in the editorial policies of Crimean media, including in the form of arbitrary demands for removing or disclaiming published news stories, unjustified sackings of reporters, and "didactic" conversations regarding the tonality and content of publications.

Four normative acts were adopted restricting journalists' rights and freedom of expression in violation of Russian legislation and one by Ukraine in violation of existing international norms.

Trends and consequences

Registration procedures were used as instruments of "purging" the media space (mostly from media for Crimean Tatar audiences).

The media were officially divided into "enemy" and "friendly" ones, with the work of the former subsequently obstructed.

Law enforcement exerted pressure on independent media outlets and individual journalists.

Legal restrictions were imposed on the media coverage of the work of official bodies.

Practices were introduced to restrict the opportunities for information gathering.

Local administrations were given a stronger hand to shape the media space on the peninsula.

What that led to

The majority of pro-Ukrainian journalists were compelled to flee Crimea.

The remaining journalists cooperating with Ukrainian media had to take steps to significantly strengthen their personal security.

Most violations of freedom of expression in Crimea were difficult to document and challenge in court because of victims' reluctance to come into legal conflict with the authorities.

With the number of independent journalists and their work opportunities notably shrinking, some high-resonance events failed to receive sufficient media coverage.

[Field Human Rights Centre report, 24 May]

Press distributor Pochta Rossii still unable to find common language with media

By Galina Tashmatova, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

A round table to discuss the Krasnodar Region print media's interaction with the monopoly-holding national press distributor Pochta Rossii, held in Krasnodar on 25 May, clearly wandered from the pre-announced agenda. As became clear from the speeches made by the very first few conferees, the parties were still unwilling to cooperate, as they had been for many years before.

In the past 20 years or so, district and regional newspaper editors have met with regional Pochta leaders at conferences of different format but with actually one and the same agenda, have kept asking postal officials the same questions, but the pattern of their relations has by and large remained unchanged: lack of equality, pure and simple. Both the previous regional Pochta head Georgy Osenchakov and his successor Yelena Babak have kept saying they cannot go beyond the scope of their authority because they must stringently carry out the federal Pochta Rossii orders regarding the established subscription rates. Media outlets have attempted to challenge those rates, including in court, and have sometimes succeeded in getting judicial bans imposed on unjustified rates elsewhere in Russia - but not in the Kuban River area.

At one point during the latest round table, incumbent regional Pochta head Yelena Babak grew very red in the face in the presence of her boss from Moscow, Mikhail Kazakov, head of subscriptions and additional services division of the federal postal department. That was when Lyubov Omelyanenko, editor of the newspaper Beloglinskiye Vesti, said that as she had learned from her colleagues in another region, the veterans and invalids of World War II were entitled to a 10% subscription rate discount. Yet in a local post office where the editor came together with a war veteran wishing to exercise his exclusive right to subscribe cheaper than others, an operator resolutely refused to give him the discount. It was only after numerous phone calls to Moscow that the editor could receive an additional subscription index making the benefit available to the old soldier.

Other local newspaper editors seeking discounts for their veteran subscribers said they'd faced similar refusals, too. Journalists noted that postal officials had not done enough to explain rate discount rights to veteran subscribers. Some editors also questioned the need for them to seek and acquire additional subscription indexes, a point Babak insisted on.

Krasnodar Pochta head looked unprepared for media representatives to start criticizing her agency in such a principled and insistent manner. Exchanges of views often turned into haggling, she commented later. In reality, though, there was no haggle - local media outlets are simply compelled today to operate on a shoestring fighting for survival.

The system of subscription and delivery rate formation is non-transparent and unclear to the media, which is the main stumbling block in the way of incessant attempts to strike a meaningful dialogue and maintain equitable partner relations between Pochta Rossii and the media. The regional postal service management announced during the round table that starting from 1 January 2017 the media outlets would be required to additionally pay for print run delivery from the printing house to the post office, which news caused a wave of indignation on the part of media representatives.

The conferees decided to print out media suggestions voiced during the round table in the form of an appeal to be sent to Moscow to the leadership of the federal department of Pochta Rossii.

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
e-mail: boris@gdf.ru , or fond@gdf.ru

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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