6 Октября 2016 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 771

3 October 2016


Journalist Grigory Pasko attacked in Barnaul

In Barnaul on 27 September, unidentified persons attacked journalist Grigory Pasko who had arrived in the Altai Region capital to hold a school for investigative journalists and bloggers.

One day earlier, a strange text was posted on the local website Monavista, in which a "patriot" named Andrei Mayevich reported in poor Russian about the arrival in Barnaul of a "Japanese-US-British spy" to "recruit local bloggers and journalists" into a "secret agent network". Nonsense, one might say, who cares about a stupid "patriot's" concoctions? Yet in conclusion the man calling himself "Andrei Mayevich" earnestly warned Pasko: "You'll be the subject of our closest attention".

Toward the same day's evening, men in police uniform copied the passport data of people coming to Pasko's hotel to listen to him deliver a lecture. The officials claimed they were to check whether there were "any illegal migrants" among the journalists, bloggers and university students in the audience; as it turned out later, there were none.

At around 11:30 a.m. on the following day, Pasko did become the subject of someone's "close attention" - he was attacked on the street. "Two sturdy men were walking in my direction, and they'd nearly passed by when one of them gave me a sudden staggering blow on the temple - a very good, well-drilled blow dealt by an evidently strong man. I dropped down on one knee, instantly springing up and taking up a defensive stance. Nothing serious followed as regards further fighting, but the man told me, `Get out of this city or we'll make things really bad for you.' And that was that. I then drove to the police station to report the attack, and to a clinic for a medical examination. My head is still buzzing - that guy gave me a really hard, professional blow".

One can feel that chain of events was anything but accidental, and one may wonder if police are going to start legal proceedings in the wake of that attack. If yes, under which Criminal Code article? And will the case ever make it all the way to court?


Court in Omsk rejects corrupt official's moral damage claim against newspaper

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

The newspaper Nasha Irtyshskaya Pravda (issued in the Bolsherechensky District, Omsk Region) has finally gained the right to publish photo pictures of entrepreneurs and other individuals, regardless of their social status or degree of influence, without their consent - if the texts illustrated by such photos defend public interests. This is stipulated in the RF Media Law which the regional court was guided by when reviewing an appeal against a district court decision awarding entrepreneur Aramis Krjonyan moral damages for its using his photo in the article "Big construction projects for big bribes?" (see digest 761 ).

As we reported, the businessman, while having no objections to the content of the article which said he had got the right to build schools for kickbacks amounting to a total of 219,000 roubles, estimated the "moral damage" he suffered as a result of his photo picture used as an illustration to that publication (which showed him receiving a letter of thanks from a school principal) at 100,000 roubles. The first-instance court, though slashing the claimed compensation amount by nine-tenths, did actually acknowledge that giving a bribe to an official was not a socially significant matter. The higher-standing regional court of appeals, on the contrary, decided that such a fact was very important, and sentenced Krjonyan to a suspended 7-year term of imprisonment and a fine of 13 million roubles.

The civil law panel of judges of the Omsk regional court cancelled the decision taken by their lower-standing colleagues in Krjonyan's case as unlawful, and left the businessman's appeal unsatisfied.

Arbitration court in Voronezh requires newspaper to disclaim "smearing" information about gas company

The 19th Arbitration Court of Appeals in Voronezh has upheld a decision partially satisfying a business-reputation-protection claim lodged by the gas company OOO Gazprom Mezhregiongaz Voronezh against the newspaper Moskovskiy Komsomolets v Voronezhe in the wake of its publication titled "Chronicles of a communal robbery". The newspaper's owner, Regional Media Projects Centre, and the article's author, Alexander Yagodkin, posed as the defendants.

The disputed article criticised the plaintiff company whose management, however, took that criticism as "the circulation of untrue and smearing" information about the company.

The regional arbitration court on 27 June partially satisfied the plaintiff's claim by agreeing that the following two sentences in the text of the publication were indeed "smearing" and "not true to fact": "Mezhregiongaz continued, with barefaced impudence, switching off bona fide bill payers in Voronezh from life-support systems, never paying any attention to effective law provisions or directions received from Deloitte auditors"; and "Moreover, in December 2012, the [gas company] owners threatened to cut off gas supply to the whole of Voronezh by New Year's Day unless they got the underpaying customers to repay their debts by that time; they already have switched off 26 of the city heating network's 69 boiler houses and may well do the same with the rest, thereby turning the city population into hostages".

The court ruled for the two disputed statements to be disclaimed in both the print and online versions of the newspaper, and required the defendants to collectively pay 15,340 roubles for the linguistic study carried out, and 3,000 roubles in state duty.

In the text of the appeal which was eventually turned down, defence lawyer Yekaterina Zuban pointed to material and procedural law violations repeatedly committed by the first-instance court, such as the judges' failure to relieve the defendant of any legal responsibility in view of the fact that the disputed publication was based on information borrowed from the official website of the regional prosecutor's office.

Significantly enough, the accuracy of the reported information had earlier been established in courts of law and confirmed by relevant judicial decisions. Yet when the defendant asked the court to facilitate gathering all related documents into one package, the judge said he would consider that request "later" but never actually did so until the final ruling was passed in the case.

"Since the court fully ignored that request, the defence was denied the opportunity to cite important documents that had formed the factual basis of the would-be article, and hence to effectively defend its position," Zuban told the GDF. Yet the appellate panel did not find anything wrong with the first-instance court's actually tying the defence's hands and thereby harming the adversarial nature of the trial.

According to the defence, they do not intend to challenge the arbitration court's refusal to satisfy their appeal.

[Mass Media Defence Centre report, 21 September]

Perm media group controlled by State Duma MP fined for failure to settle financial scores with fired workers

By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District

The Motovilikhinsky district court in Perm on 22 September upheld the sanctions levied on OOO Ural-Inform Media Group for violating journalists' labour rights. The media group controlled by Dmitry Skrivanov, who was re-elected to the State Duma on 18 September, has been fined 30,000 roubles for its unwillingness to pay in full to a group of sacked workers.

In legal terms, Ural-Inform has belonged since 11 May 2016 to Andrei Medvedev, a resident of the city of Serpukhov near Moscow, who now also has the controlling interest in the newspaper Zvezda. Yet the actual owner of these and a number of other Perm-based media is Dmitry Skrivanov, the latest winner of Duma votes in Single-mandate Constituency No. 60 in Kungur. As reported in digest 765, after United Russia Party nominee Skrivanov's taking the helm in the local media business, journalists and other media workers were compelled to go to law to have their labour rights defended.

The Motovilikhinsky court is currently handling several lawsuits brought against Ural-Inform by its former employees. The regional labour inspectorate carried out an unscheduled check-up on 6 July, identifying several instances of non-payment of wages and compensations to dismissed workers as per the date of their sacking, and urged the media group management to undo those injustices within two weeks' time. Since the company failed to comply with the inspectorate's demand, Ural-Inform was fined 30,000 on 28 July.

The company's director Andrei Smirnov, who faithfully served the previous owner and is eagerly serving the new one, has turned to the Motovilikhinsky court filing a complaint about "financial difficulties" his company is facing. According to him, the debt was accumulated by the former founder Yevgeny Fedosov, and there are some tax-and-duty arrears as well. Having considered the complaint, the court rejected Smirnov's arguments as inconsistent and noted in its ruling of 22 September that the unscheduled check-up "did not concern the ex-owner's performance" and that "The case files contain no objective evidence of Ural-Inform's being in a [difficult] financial position".

Three weeks prior to that, the same court started reviewing wage-arrear claims filed against the media group by its former employees S. Chirkov, O. Solovyov and V. Cherpakov. None of the defendant's representatives appeared in court that day, and the hearings were adjourned until 3 October. Ural-Inform former deputy director in charge of legal matters Dmitry Kazhin has told the GDF that after several months of going unpaid, he, too, intends to sue.


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

Deaths of journalists - 1 (Fyodor Kulagin, chief editor, newspaper Zvezda, Bashkortostan)

Attacks on journalists and bloggers - 9 (Yelena Kostyuchenko, Novaya Gazeta correspondent, and Diana Khachatryan, Takiye Dela journalist, both attacked in North Ossetia, twice; Vakhit Niyazov, correspondent with City TV Channel One, Omsk Region; Pavel Lobkov, observer, Dozhd TV channel, Moscow; Vitaly Karmazin, Vesti-Dezhurnaya Chast correspondent, attacked in Moscow Region; Denis Shaikin, journalist and publisher, newspaper MK-Chernozemye, Kursk; Andrei Gorelov, journalist, Virtualnaya Vyksa web news portal, Nizhny Novgorod Region; Revizorro film crew, attacked in Vladivostok; Grigory Pasko, freelance journalist, attacked in Barnaul)

Criminal charges against journalists, media and bloggers - 2 (Jalaudi Geriyev, Caucasian Knot news agency correspondent, Chechen Republic; Dmitry Shevchenko, North Caucasus Ecological Watch spokesman, Krasnodar)

Detention by police, FSB, etc. - 4 (Yelena Kostyuchenko, Novaya Gazeta correspondent, and Diana Khachatryan, Takiye Dela journalist, both detained in North Ossetia; Said Tsarnayev, RIA Novosti photojournalist, detained in North Ossetia; Denis Korotkov, Fontanka.ru correspondent, St. Petersburg; Alexei Kryzhanovsky and Zhanna Belik, freelancers, Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Region)

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.) - 41

Threats against journalists, bloggers and media - 4 (Polyarnyye Zori television company, Murmansk Region; Vakhit Niyazov, correspondent with City TV Channel One, Omsk Region; Alexander Sotnik, Sotnik-TV channel, Moscow; Sergei Ponomaryov, Komsomolskaya Pravda correspondent, Moscow)

Ejection of publication, etc., from its premises - 1 (Novgorod Region branch of Journalists' Union of Russia, Novgorod)

Withdrawal, purchase or confiscation of print run - 6 (newspaper Vozrozhdeniye Urala, in Chelyabinsk Region; newspaper Utro Peterburga, St. Petersburg; newspaper Tuvinskaya Pravda, Tyva, twice; newspaper Risk, Tyva; newspaper Politsiya Rossii, Moscow)

Interference with Internet publications - 4 (websites of weekly newspapers Novoye Delo and Chernovik, news websites On Kavkaz and Kavpolit, all four in Republic of Dagestan)

Issue of duplicate, i.e., rival, publications - 6 (newspaper Nash Oktyabrskiy Rayon, Sverdlovsk Region; newspaper Sovershenno Sekretno, Moscow; newspaper Oblastnaya Gazeta, Sverdlovsk Region, twice; newspaper Moskovskiy Komsomolets, in Irkutsk Region, twice)

Seizure of, or damage to photo, audio and video apparatus and computers - 6 (video apparatus of Yelena Kostyuchenko, Novaya Gazeta correspondent, and Diana Khachatryan, Takiye Dela journalist, seized in North Ossetia; video camera of Vesti-Dezhurnaya Chast news show, seized in Moscow Region; PC of Dmitry Shevchenko, North Caucasus Ecological Watch spokesman, Krasnodar; video camera of Pomorye State TV/Radio Company, Arkhangelsk; PC of Andrei Trofimov, Alternativnaya Gazeta journalist, Moscow Region)

Administrative pressure (unscheduled inspections by sanitary, fire or tax inspectors) - 6 (newspapers Nashe Vremya, Znamya Shakhtyora, Trud, Rayonnyye Vlasti, Perekryostok and Argumenty i Fakty-Rostov - all based in Rostov Region)

Other forms of pressure/infringement of journalists' rights - 39


Chief editor of Tomsk-based news agency obtains first official confirmation of his having no dual citizenship

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

Viktor Muchnik, the founder and chief editor of the news agency TV2, has obtained the first document officially certifying that he has no other citizenship than Russia's. As reported in digest 767, the Tomsk-based media holding has filed with 144 foreign countries' embassies in Moscow official requests to confirm that they do not have Muchnik's name on the lists of their countries' citizens. Unfortunately, no simpler or easier way to get such a confirmation could be found, since the Russian media regulator Roskomnadzor has all the while refused to accept a conventional certificate from the Russian Federal Migration Service saying they have no database information showing that Muchnik is a citizen of some other country in addition to Russia.

This "lack of proof" already has cost TV2 a new broadcasting license (instead of the previous one which expired 18 months ago when the company was switched off the air by a decision of the monopoly-holding Russian TV/Radio Relay Network (RTRS) which had unilaterally terminated its cooperation agreement with TV2). The broadcasting licence of the radio station Europe Plus Tomsk was not extended on the same pretext.

As it turns out, a certificate that the Russian media regulator could trust unconditionally simply doesn't exist, as proven by a directive sent to Roskomnadzor by the RF Foreign Ministry, recommending that in the event of controlling bodies' uncertainty about a person's potential dual citizenship, the individuals concerned should themselves request confirmation documents from foreign countries' embassies and consulates.

The first confirmation certificate came from Estonia, whose state apparatus turned out to be the fastest-working and least-bureaucratized among those contacted. Estonia's Embassy to Russia, based on the existing "Register of Estonia's Population", confirmed that "To the best of the consul's knowledge, Viktor Muchnik, born 11 June 1958, is not a citizen of Estonia nor is a holder of an Estonian residence permit".

Three more replies - all interim ones - have been received by e-mail. The Spanish embassy notified TV2 that it had forwarded the news agency inquiry to that country's General Consulate in Moscow. The Nigerian embassy wrote that to clear up the issue of whether or not Muchnik is a citizen of that African country, he must come to the embassy in person. The situation with Argentina is the most complicated for the moment, since its reply message read: "Your inquiry has been forwarded to the Electoral Chamber under the Argentine Republic's Judiciary (Junta Electoral ante el Poder Judicial de la Nacion). This is a paid service that you may request through an authorised representative. This means you can issue a special Power of Attorney certified by a Russian notary public, to be subsequently authenticated with an apostille stamp, or turn to the Russian Federation Embassy in Buenos Aires asking them to undertake all the necessary actions".

It looks like a lot of hard work is ahead for TV2 to gather evidence of its chief editor's having no dual citizenship. It is not clear if Roskomnadzor will be satisfied getting certificates from 144 countries, because there are 252 countries in the world in all, of which 46 have no embassies or other diplomatic missions in Russia: evidently, getting confirmations from them will be particularly difficult.

The TV2 news agency plans to continue "informing its readers about which countries Viktor Muchnik is not a citizen of". This information will be quite useful, telling much about countries and continents (the difference between Europe, Africa and Latin America is already visible), and may also be of practical interest for readers: who knows, maybe some of them - God forbid! - will, too, have to prove they have no dual citizenship…

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.


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