20 Октября 2016 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 773

17 October 2016


Newspaper banned for printing in Stavropol Region because of reporting about protest rally of Cossacks

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

The newspaper Iskra, one of the oldest in the Stavropol Region, was not released last week because of carrying a report about a protest rally held in the Cossack village of Yessentukskaya on 12 October.

Local people often get angry seeing how land is distributed in that fertile region. Cossacks as members of the indigenous ethnic group are entitled to receive land plots on the first-priority basis. Not so long ago, they succeeded, at long last, in getting the municipal government's authorisation to cultivate a specially-allotted piece of land which they then ploughed and sowed maize on. But as the time came to harvest their crops, the special police force against economic crime, acting without any court warrant, arrested their grain harvesters and the 25 tonnes of maize they had gathered. The rumoured man behind that action was one of their competitors, a farmer claiming the same land to which he has no official title but instead he has a relative who is an incumbent member of the RF Federation Council.

The Iskra editor, having checked all documentary proofs that local people's indignation was well justified, signed the issue featuring the report for printing, and sent the electronic make-up to the regular printing house in Stavropol - only to see the issue get stuck there and never come off the press. The regional authorities and oversight agencies are now looking into the situation with the Cossack land and confiscated grain. Let us remind the readers that the incident occurred in the very same Predgornyi District where Nikolai Potapov, a human rights defender and editor of the newspaper Sel-Sovet, was killed in 2013 after reporting on land machinations and the merger of local organised crime with government authorities. The GDF followed the investigation and judicial proceedings and reported that only the editor's killers were convicted, with no one ever bothering to look for the mastermind.

For your information: the newspaper Iskra has been issued in the Stavropol Region for 85 years. Initially, its name was Znamya Truda; during World War II, Za Rodinu; and after the victory, Za Izobiliye. It got its current name in 1965, after the Predgornyi District was restored within its original boundaries. The newspaper is part of the publishing holding established and funded by the regional administration.


FSB in Tyumen asks journalists for "help" in investigating blogger Alexei Kungurov's case

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

The FSB (Federal Security Service) department for the region of Tyumen has urged a number of Urals-based media to help it find additional proofs of guilt of blogger Alexei Kungurov - namely, to "provide the investigators with his articles containing insulting public statements about the authorities, and other information that law-enforcement and controlling bodies should pay attention to".

This request may otherwise be seen as a demand: according to Anton Yulayev, a Znak.com correspondent and one of the recipients of the FSB message, that document cites a legislative norm requiring media workers "to duly respond". "Our lawyers are currently trying to figure out how to furnish a reply that would not harm Kungurov while ruling out any potential claims against our news website," Yulayev told the GDF.

"This is a legislative novelty from the so-called `Yarovaya package,'" the blogger's defence lawyer Alexei Zyryanov commented to the Glasnost Defence Foundation. "In the past, you might as well leave such a message unanswered - but today's situation is different. Actually, this law imposes criminal liability on people for keeping silent".

Criminal Code Article 206.6 which took effect on 20 July 2016 stipulates that "non-reporting about an offence indicative of terrorist activity" shall be punishable by a fine of 100,000 roubles or by imprisonment for up to 12 months. If citizens learn about a person who is preparing, or has committed, such an offence but fail to report about it to law enforcement, they may be convicted.

Alexei Kungurov has been kept in pre-trial detention for more than 4 months on charges of "publicly justifying terrorism" (see digest 765 ). As we reported, investigators have detected signs of that crime in the article "Who are Putin's falcons bombing in real terms?" which Kungurov posted in his LiveJournal blog in October 2015 (by the way, the article is still available online).

The Tsentralnyi district court in Tyumen on 11 October this year extended his term of staying under arrest for two more months, until 15 December. The investigators claimed they had failed to "complete all the necessary investigative procedures" in the previous 4 months. According to defence lawyer Zyryanov, though, they did not carry out any investigation at all - all they did was they waited for the results of some expert studies, including a linguistic one. Why take so much time, one may wonder. Evidently, because experts were facing a pretty difficult task - to prove that the blogger's philosophizing about ISIS (a terrorist group outlawed in Russia) being "by far not the most horrific or blood-thirsty organisation" somehow or other "justifies" terrorism.

The investigator notified Zyryanov on 13 October that the findings of one expert study were finally available. "I haven't read them in full detail, but the conclusion drawn is well-predictable: Kungurov's article did contain elements of a crime," the defence lawyer told the GDF. "One could hardly expect anything different, because the expert study was carried out by a bureau belonging to the same agency which brought the charges against the blogger - the FSB department for the region of Sverdlovsk, not Tyumen".

Now the results of one more expert study are being awaited, which will determine the true author of the "terrorism-justifying" text - whether Kungurov wrote the whole of the article on his own, or borrowed it in full or in part from someone else. After that, the case will evidently be submitted to court.

Why have the secret services asked journalists for help? In Zyryanov's view, because the investigators clearly lack convincing evidence to support the charges. Or else, the FSB may have decided to "test" the new law on journalists by coercing independent media outlets (which in the Urals may be counted on the fingers of one hand while other media simply could not allow themselves to publish Kungurov's writings) into "testifying" as witnesses for the prosecution.

Ural.ru news website to be shut down in Chelyabinsk Region

By Irina Gundareva, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

The staffers of an online media resource established only two years ago have been notified of their pending dismissal - two months before the date, as required by law.

The project sponsors, including the Chelyabinsk electrometallurgy plant, Ariant Co. and different other industrial enterprises involved, thanked the Ural.ru team for the good work and promised timely financial settlements with everyone. The online legal entity itself will not be liquidated and may give its name to some other project, which is unlikely, though.

The same group of co-sponsors closed the free weekly newspaper Yuzhnouralskaya Pravda in 2015 as a totally unnecessary and unprofitable project. Earlier, in 2013, one of the co-owners set the task of lifting the newspaper to a level of self-sufficiency and turning it into an influential media resource, but that task turned out too hard to fulfil.

As with Ura1.ru, that project's losses amounted to nearly 8 million roubles in 2015.

The media business is living through a hard time. In June 2016, the regional public and political newspaper Chelyabinskiy Rabochiy was closed, with its wage arrears to the personnel for the last two years adding up to 8 million roubles, and still remaining unpaid. In the South Urals, only media outlets having information-support contracts with the authorities have been fairly well off, with the PR-money-PR principle underlying all of their transactions, as well as media outlets established under government auspices and receiving subsidies from the regional budget.

Media in Kabardino-Balkaria opposed to getting united into one media holding

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

The State Press Committee in the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria has announced plans to unite ten media outlets into one media holding for optimisation purposes - an idea that the media involved are strongly opposed to.

One, this kind of "optimisation" may result in mass layoffs. The government plan envisages "liquidating or transforming state-controlled agencies into ones of alternative organisational/ legal forms through centralising their functions," the Kavkazskiy Uzel news agency was told by sources within the government. So dozens of people, of whom many have families, children and loans to pay back, may find themselves kicked out onto the street. Wouldn't that be in violation of the federal media law, media charters, and the constitution which guarantees everyone the right to work?

Two, if the plan is seen through, actually all of the press, TV and book-publishing entities in the republic will be transferred to the control of the Press Committee's logistic services department. Journalists who commented to the GDF on anonymity terms out of fear of getting the sack described that department as a "pretty queer" service with a staff of "more than thirty lazybones not knowing what to busy their hands with," and if anyone is to be sacked, "it should be they in the first place".

Media workers have sent an open letter to the republic's head, Yuri Kokov, urging him to veto the Press Committee initiative.

Court in Perm requires newspaper Za Cheloveka to disclaim its publication by publishing a "reply"

By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District

The Leninsky district court in Perm on 10 October satisfied a legal claim lodged by the regional Interior Ministry Department by requiring the regional Human Rights Centre (PRPTs) to publish "a reply" to the 14 January article carried by the online newspaper Za Cheloveka which is part of the PRPTs structure. The article was titled "Police rejects reports on abuses and intimidates persons filing them".

The GDF reported on the police department's litigation with human rights defenders in digest 769-770 (see digest 769-770 ). The claimant's lawyer Tatyana Sokolova said in her statement of 10 October that the PRPTs as the website owner should pose as the defendant in the case. She further said that expressions like "rejects", "intimidates", "tries to put pressure" and "the investigator threatened" all bear "accusatory connotations" and describe people's relationships with police "in a one-sided manner". "We are not required to prove that this is not true to fact. Instead, we propose our own assessment and want to see our reply published," Sokolova said.

The PRPTs representative Ilya Shenkman rejected the police department's claim. "We don't see this as a reply. It is a refutation. We did not violate the law and did not hurt the plaintiff's honour," he said, citing "A review of decisions passed by courts in lawsuits in defence of honour, dignity and business reputation," approved by the RF Supreme Court Presidium on 16 March. Item 4 of that document clarifies that the absence of at least one of the several mandatory conditions for satisfying such claims (information must be smearing; it has to have been disseminated; and it must be not true to fact) shall be seen as a legal ground for rejecting a claim.

Judge Alexander Alekseyev decided to uphold the police department's position. The Human Rights Centre will appeal to the regional court in Perm, its representative said.

The outcome of this seemingly negligible litigation is quite easy to predict. The regional court, as some of its judges have said, sees the "stability of its decisions" as a top priority implying bonuses for judges, and good career prospects for assistant judges and secretaries. For middle-rank police department officials, it gives a chance to demonstrate their own "importance" to the higher-standing generals: according to an informed GDF source, before going to law regional police officials must get "the green light" from Moscow, report on each of their media-related conflicts to, and coordinate their actions with, their Moscow bosses. It is not accidental that the Perm police department filed its lawsuit over a January article as late as May, the GDF source noted.


Journalist Irina Mednikova attacked by unidentified man in Almaty

An unidentified man has attacked Almaty-based journalist Irina Mednikova, as she wrote today in her Facebook blog.

The incident occurred late on 12 October outside her apartment house. The attacker dragged the woman along the ground, "of which my knees were all bleeding, then he hit me against a car, grabbed my handbag, and ran away," Mednikova wrote.

According to Mednikova, who is head of the NGO "The Youth News Service of Kazakhstan", the handbag contained materials and documents needed for preparing a planned media event in the city of Atyrau. In the journalist's view, the attack on her was work-related.

Police in Almaty have started a preliminary investigation in the wake of the attack on Mednikova which they qualified as a robbery case.

Irina Mednikova contributed reports to the opposition newspaper Respublika, whose editors and journalists were targeted ever since the paper's establishment in 2000. The Kazakhstani authorities have designated this publication as "extremist" and have closed it in line with a court decision.

[Ozodliq report, 13 October]


Makhachkala mayor dresses journalists down, demands "love for those at helm"

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

Actually, the heading of the mayor's videoed speech posted on the newspaper Chernovik's website uses the verb "criticise" (see chernovik.net ).

Yet any viewer of that video is bound to agree that that was a dressing-down proper, nothing nearly like criticism. For 40-odd minutes, Musa Musayev kept lecturing, scolding, or plainly humiliating and insulting journalists in the audience.

The meeting had been conceived as a review of the mayor's performance during the 15 months of his stay at the helm - a frank exchange of opinions in the "no ties" style.

Yet right from the outset, after his second or third phrase, Musayev suddenly pounced upon the reporters, whom he had not even given the chance to say a word, with claims. What kind of claims? About their choosing the "wrong" topics, setting the "wrong" targets, and generally, representing "tabloids", rather than "decent" media.

Here is a quote from his address: "You are the press, the hegemony of truth! Can anyone recall now any event organised by the mayor's office? Oh no, you can't! You're interested only in mind-blowing things that foment social anxiety… And can you recall any of the dirty things you have reported on? You have this `hunting instinct'… You want to know where a pipeline or a sewer has leaked, where garbage lies scattered; you just take some negative facts, scribble a story, and offer it to the public. You just sit waiting for some administration official to die or for yet another pipeline to spring a leak… And you go there, show lots of filth and dirt, and say: `Good morning, capital city!' - that is, to cheer everybody up".

Quite predictably, the independent paper Chernovik received "special" treatment: the mayor named a specific author, advised him to consult the ophthalmologist and psychologist, and said he was sure that all negative reporting in the newspaper was "pre-ordered and prepaid".

In Musayev's view, many journalists "have forgotten what journalism is all about". In the first place, he said, "it's all about ethics and morals"; "the media must cultivate positive reporting and educate society culturally. You highlight [mostly] negative facts to the city residents… Yet under certain conditions and in a certain situation in this country, you face the choice: either to say something or keep silent. You need to think big and act locally!"

During his speech, the city leader mentioned some specific facts about mayoral accomplishments, such as recycling waste, cleaning storm water sewers, planting flowers, and sponsoring city festivals. That's everyday work and nothing to boast of, one may say. Yet Mayor Musayev holds a different view: "We've organised more than 300 cultural events in Makhachkala! Yet I see you feel anything but euphoric about that. Are you blind or what? Where is your positive reporting that can help city residents concentrate on their work and, so to say, increase their love for those at the helm? Where have you seen any social development taking place without society's love for the government?"

About himself, Musayev said the following: "Personally, I am a democrat. But in any field, there is the limit - this is possible while that is not. I can kill half of your potential questions with only one comment. I wasn't born in a library or a conservatoire, but my education allows me to make an expert assessment and draw this conclusion: 50% of the social network users are far from knowing the real state of things about which they feel free to give their own expert assessments".

And finally, about his team: "This administration's messages are always very clear, and the things we've been busy doing are important enough for everyone to value and respect the work of each administration member".

And what was the audience's reaction? None of the journalists rose to reprimand the mayor for the scoffing tonality and humiliating content of his remarks making their communication process impossible. No one left the conference room. Moreover, some shyly tried to persuade him they were "on the same side" with him and that "meetings like this should be held more often".

One cannot but agree with Mayor Musayev on one point he made - that many journalists have forgotten all about the journalist's profession and its ethical and moral components.

Meanwhile, many viewers of the video on Chernovik's website have come up with very emotional assessments of the mayor's behaviour during the meeting, as well as his "economic achievements". Can you guess what they wrote?

St. Petersburg politician vs. female journalist: xenophobia, boorishness, even use of physical force

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

St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly Vice-Speaker Anatoly Drozdov has attempted to show Novaya Gazeta's "disagreeable" reporter Alexandra Garmazhapova her place by resorting to physical force and verbal insults with clearly xenophobic connotations.

He marked his election as vice-speaker of the northern capital's parliament in a peculiar manner - by changing one letter in Garmazhapova's surname (the lady journalist is an ethnic Buryat) to make it sound obscene in Russian.

But the MP with a stained reputation (nicknamed "Comb" for his getting caught red-handed during the 2011 elections while using a comb to push forged ballot papers through the ballot-box slot) met with strong resistance from Garmazhapova, who demanded an apology and kept videoing the deputy speaker's shameful retreat into the back corridors of the Mariinsky Palace housing the city parliament.

After the failed attempt to escape, in addition to his boorishness and intolerance toward non-Russians (although Buryatia is part of the Russian Federation, and all of its residents, along with ethnic Buryats elsewhere in this country, were particularly offended by his behaviour for well understandable reasons), Drozdov showed he could cope with a fragile girl: he pushed Garmazhapova strongly as he was walking by, then snatched her cell phone (which fell on the floor), and scurried away to get shelter in the office of a colleague from the ruling United Russia Party (URP).

The MP's behaviour was so evidently inadequate that URP representatives, including federal-level deputies in Moscow, demanded that he immediately apologize to Garmazhapova. Yet Vyacheslav Makarov, speaker of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, chose to keep defending his protégé to the end and simply sent him off on vacation. Just think of a newly-elected deputy (he was not a member of the previous Assembly body because of the above-described vote-rigging attempt) who had hardly started working when the vacation time came!

The Legislative Assembly will establish a commission on parliamentary ethics, Makarov has promised, which is the sole positive news in the given situation. Meanwhile, most social network users have agreed that the presence of Drozdov and his likes among the deputies is really a shame for the parliamentary corps.

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.

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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