6 Февраля 2017 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 781

12 December 2016


GDF files lawsuit with ECHR over its listing as "foreign agent"

The Glasnost Defence Foundation lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights protesting its listing as "foreign agent" non-governmental organisation.

The Justice Ministry blacklisted GDF in November 2015 following an unscheduled inspection. The Ministry reported in its findings "political activity" and foreign grants transfer of which however, no secret has even been made in all 25 years of the Foundation's operation.

According to the ministry, political activity included Investigative Reporting School seminars for journalists and bloggers in cooperation with the Community of Investigative Journalists (Foundation 19/29) and disseminating news digests on journalists' rights violations in Russia. As separate evidence, the Ministry cited speeches by opposition politicians Rustem Adagamov, Alexei Navalny and Boris Akunin at the Investigative Reporting School. In actual fact, however, the above persons never attended School training sessions, and what the students saw was a video of blogger Adagamov speaking at Moscow State University's Department of Journalism. Another important point is that everybody knows that there is no such person as Boris Akunin; yet his name appeared in the ministry's document.

In March 2015, Moscow's Khamovniki district court fined the GDF 300,000 roubles for not registering as "foreign agent" voluntarily. In April, the GDF challenged the inspection and resultant report, as well as its foreign agent listing, in Gagarinsky court which however turned down all of its complaints. The appeal with the Moscow City Court was not granted either.

The GDP complained to ECHR that the Russian authorities had violated three articles of the European Convention on Human Rights: Article 10 (freedom of expression), Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association) and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination).

In legal actions, the GDF was represented by Mass Media Defence Centre lead lawyer Tumas Misakyan, and GDF resident lawyer Svetlana Zemskova. The complaint to ECHR was written by Misakyan.

"The Ministry's decision to recognise the GDF's dissemination of information about journalists' rights violations as `political activity' is certainly unsubstantiated and infringes the NGO's right to freedom of expression and dissemination of information of public relevance," the lawyer said. "We also reported to ECHR the issue of GDF discrimination by authorities. The Foundation and Russian-funded NGOs operate in similar environment, yet the GDF's mandatory registration as a foreign agent and foreign-agent labels on all its information materials put it at disadvantage in interaction with the authorities, compared with Russian-funded counterparts. This impacts the frequency and size of GDF accounting records and imposes other limitations, with risks of heavy fines and criminal prosecution of the executive".

"Foreign agent" feels like a "blood-type mark on the sleeve" (a line from Russian singer Viktor Tsoi's song), a yellow Jewish star you can neither accept nor tolerate, and as we promised, we'd go the whole way to as far as the Supreme Court and ECHR," GDF president Alexei Simonov said. "Frankly, I very much want to shut the GDF down and let it all go to hell… Yet 25 years of honest service to journalists and journalism won't let me do it. So wait for the news".

"That GDF, a long-standing Russian organisation protecting the press and journalists was listed as a `foreign agent' is certainly a disgrace," Media Defence Centre director Galina Arapova said. "The inferior quality documents drawn by the Justice Ministry, devoid of logic or proofs of GDP political activity make a pattern found in similar cases across the country, showcasing listing at any cost, never mind the reason. Regrettably, legal proceedings were absolutely formal with the courts making no attempt to look into the matter in earnest. Moscow's Gagarinsky district court began the final hearing of the GDF case at 17:55, five minutes before the end of the working day, and passed its ruling at 22:00. What a pity that the court, working overtime with such enthusiasm, did not take the trouble to get to the heart of the problem. We hope for professional assessment by the European Court. The approach adopted by supervisory bodies and courts makes one wish to rephrase the words of a key protagonist in Mikhail Bulgakov's novel `Heart of a Dog': `We imprisoned them and imprisoned them journalists…' We're not giving in, though, because the mockery at play at Moscow courts we observed as we were defending GDF was proportionate to clear-cut absurdity of the accusations by the Justice Ministry which recognized the reputable GDF as a `foreign agent,' so I'm sure justice will triumph at the European Court".

Aside from complaining to ECHR, the GDF has lodged an appeal with the Moscow City Court.


Criminal charges to be brought against Khakassia journalist Erik Chernyshov for social network post

By Mikhail Afanasyev, chief editor, Novyi Fokus online magazine

In Sayanogorsk, the Investigative Committee is poised to bring charges against Karatosh newspaper editor-in-chief Erik Chernyshov. Criminal proceedings were instituted in March over alleged slander against Khakassia MP I. Ulyanov. Ulyanov's colleague D. Brazauskas recently became a second injured party in the case.

Chernyshov put those two deputies on a wanted post and placed it on his blog, asking the audience to report their whereabouts to police.

Here's the backgrounder. In September 2013, Khakassia held local parliamentary elections. A month later, Erik Chernyshov's findings were published following journalistic investigation, proving that Ulyanov got his mandate illegally, and triply so. A statement detailing the crime (election documents fraud) was forwarded to the Investigative Committee.

The correspondence with law-enforcement bodies continued for more than a year and was dismaying. "Questioning Brazauskas in person was not possible; he does not answer phone calls," was the investigator's invariable reply justifying the decision not to initiate criminal prosecution.

The investigative body, bogged down in non-committal replies, needed urgent help. Cheryshov decided to help the investigators and put out a wanted notice for suspected criminals.

This made the Investigative Committee snap out of stupor and, in likely gratitude for the assistance rendered, open a libel suit against Chernyshov. He was on recognizance, and his personal computer was seized for expert examination.

Erik Chernyshov regarded the incident as a bad joke for a while, but the investigator's resolve to make sure the indictment reaches the court made the journalist take a sober look at the situation. Let the Investigative Committee sort wrongdoers from respected parliamentarians who have legal immunity.

Columnist may be laid off in Yekaterinburg for expressing independent opinion

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

Uralsky Rabochy newspaper observer Yuri Glazkov fell out of favour with his employers after criticizing St. Catherine Church construction project in the vicinity of the Yekaterinburg city pond. The journalist helped arrange a public discussion of the project which took place in the Writers' House whereupon the newspaper managers told him that his job would be cut.

"They suspended me and offered to write a statement of voluntary resignation, which I refused," Glazkov told the URA.ru news agency. "Later I received a formal notice saying that my job would be made redundant on 7 February. It was my staff job that happened to be superfluous. This occurred because of my free-time public activity which somebody doesn't like".

According to the journalist, he never wrote anything concerning the church-building project, because he had been told that it would never be published. "I'm still at my workstation with nothing special to do. They've already edited out my article totally unrelated to Church and told me my materials would not go to print at all. It goes without saying I would not get the royalties which account for much of my income," Glazkov said adding that newspaper managers had ignored his questions and that he had appealed to the holding's general director through the latter's reception office.

Newspaper chief editor Lev Koshcheyev acknowledged to an URA.ru reporter that he was not aware of the situation. "It's the first time I hear about it. He has not contacted me over the issue. Many journalists' texts are not published for various professional reasons, such as lack of space or failure to meet certain rules, but denying publication because of one's standpoint is not practised here".

Sverdlovsk Union of Journalists chairman Alexander Levin said the regional organisation would look into the situation. Russian Union of Journalists head Vsevolod Bogdanov is willing to help Glazkov, too.

The GDF will monitor the situation.

Journalists in Chelyabinsk threatened with dismissal for "discrediting" municipal administration

By Irina Gundareva, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

The REN-TV federal channel, using an OTV Yuzhny Ural television company video, aired a story on 6 December about children-made New Year toys which officials had thrown into the junk yard. The toys were meant to compete at a contest timed with the Russian figure skating championship.

REN-TV highlighted the fact that "More than 3,000 children kept late hours to produce Christmas tree decorations to jazz up the town in the run-up to the championship. The winners were named and awarded, but then all the toys were junked. Children later found some of them and even identified them as their crafts".

A scandal broke out. Criticism on a federal television channel is always harmful for the reputation of the region and hence its administration. OTV executives were immediately reprimanded. Importantly, OTV is controlled by the Chelyabinsk region administration and governor's deputy Vadim Yevdokimov is in charge of media relations.

Meanwhile, REN TV followed up on the story with "Chelyabinsk journalists lose jobs for reporting junked children's contest toys". And again the image of the region and its leadership was tarnished. This fact exposed the officials' shifting the blame to journalists.

It was made clear to journalists that they would be fired without severance pay for "smearing" the region, but in actual fact they are being punished for officials' stupid actions to junk the toys crafted by children.

On top of that, journalists' families have been threatened, according to REN TV. "Despite the administration's promise to clear up the matter and punish the culprits, i.e. contest organizers, nobody has been fired and no dismissals are expected. Two journalists were dismissed however, the one who did an interview and her colleague who communicated with REN TV".

OTV is a state-owned company, so executives must have valid reasons to fire personnel. However, they did find a way out: the targeted employees' contacts are about to expire and will not be extended.

Firing reporters in Russia for crossing the line and violating self-censorship or a copy editor's or media outlet owner's rules is not infrequent in Russia. You either put up with censorship or, if you break the rules, you give up your job and quietly withdraw without stirring up media scandals or making pubic appeals.

In the Chelyabinsk Region, the situation concerning government-controlled media is very tense. After the New Year, when the noise dies down, the journalists will be fired anyway. This is the way things are.

Incidentally, the junked children toys video is missing on the OTV playlist. Has it ever been there?

Soaring moral damage amounts claimed from reporters in Omsk

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

Omsk's Kuibyshevsky district court has ruled that a BK 55 online news portal report alleging corruption was at variance with the facts. BK 55 anonymous sources said that Omsk Communist (KPRF) leader, State Duma deputy Alexander Kravets had taken a 25-million-rouble bribe from the leadership of the regional branch of the United Russia Party. According to the "insider report," the sum was paid for securing KPRF nominee Oleg Denisenko's State Duma election loss (see digest 775)

No proofs, direct or indirect, were presented in the article that was later challenged in a legal action, and no supporting evidence was articulated during case review. The plaintiff demanded one million roubles in damages. He won the case, but the compensation was reduced dramatically to 30,000 roubles.

One might recall the libel suit filed by the then regional governor Leonid Polezhayev against the newspaper Vash Oreol which briefly noted an expensive present given to him on the occasion of launching the metro bride, or "millennium bridge," as regional media called it. The present was a diamond-studded golden bridge model, estimated to cost 500,000 roubles. The defendants could not produce any supporting evidence either. The court ruled on a 300,000-rouble moral damage compensation. At the current rouble rate, it reaches 1.5 million roubles.

It follows that the governor to State Duma deputy (if the latter is not from the ruling party) moral suffering ratio in similar circumstances (with Kravets admittedly having more at stake) is 50 to 1 on the local scale of justice.

The plaintiff told the SuperOmsk news website that he was pleased with the court ruling viewing the disavowal as having more significance than the compensation.

Municipal newspaper Pripolyarye closed in Karelia shortly before 82nd anniversary

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

The newspaper Pripolyarye established in January 1934 (the original name was Krasnaya Kestenga, changed to Loukhsky Bolshevik and later to Kommunist which the newspaper kept till the end of the Communist era) has been shut down. The newspaper founders in the person of local authorities announced that they were unable to pay million-rouble debts piled over the years and preferred to initiate bankruptcy proceedings at the publishing company. Municipal officials therefore decided to shut down Pripolyarye and replace it with newly-established municipal newspaper Nashe Pripolyarye.

The old newspaper's circulation was 1,000 to 1,200, and the new one's is expected to amount to less than 1,000 (the area's population slightly exceeds 12,000 and continues to decline). All municipal newspapers in Karelia are in dismal financial situation. At least five are as good as bankrupt (overall, Karelia has 17 town and district newspapers founded by municipal authorities). Most of them have modest advertising revenue and local authorities while not providing sufficient funding, seek to have their materials printed for free. Stable funding only comes from the regional budget, but yearly allocations per newspaper only make up 175,000 roubles.

Loukhi's municipal newspaper Pripolyarye has been in its death throes for about a decade. District prosecutors, who have been monitoring wage arrears problems since 2015, repeatedly punished its editor-in-chief for labour legislation violations and even took the matter to court which had him pay stiff fines.

As the situation deadlocked, the authorities decided to shut the newspaper down. They started from scratch on 1 January, 2017; the new publisher is the municipal district library, which will also run the editorial office. Judging by the Loukhi district 2017 budget, local authorities have serious plans, envisioning a yearly allocation of 1.794 million roubles for Nashe Pripolyarye (as part of a dedicated project), and an extra 1.294 million roubles earmarked for "stable district newspaper publication". In addition, district authorities allocate 500,000 roubles for coverage of their work (the new newspaper might expect a share in this money).

District Council deputies and the Loukhi administration would publish an official information bulletin of local documents. The bulletin's print run is ten copies, to be distributed among rural administrations. One copy will go to the prosecutor's office and another two will be kept by district authorities. The bulletin will be published at least bimonthly.

Other district municipal newspapers unable to settle their debt problems might follow suit of Pripolyarye.

Local administration head's 1-million-rouble claim against newspaper turned down in Krasnodar Region

In May 2016, head of Yuzhno-Kubanskoye settlement Andrei Sivokon demanded one million roubles in damages from the newspaper Novaya Gazeta Kubani and other defendants, and an extra 40,000 roubles for his agent's services. Sivokon's power of attorney for his lawyer stated that his representative had no right to administer the recovered funds. Apparently he was confident that he would win the case and had designs on the coveted one million roubles.

However, the official's hopes were dashed as Krasnodar's district court only partially met his original damages claim, ruling on a mere 3,000-rouble compensation and later the regional court's civil cases panel overturned the lower court's ruling and fully dismissed his claims.

Thanks to the case review, the journalists gathered many new facts and documents concerning the work of the Yuzhno-Kubanskoye administration and its head, which were of public interest. According to the ruling by the court of original jurisdiction, the lawyer's 40,000-rouble fee was paid not by the plaintiff, i.e. Sivokon, but by someone named Khodzhayev who did not represent either of the parties in the case. This is just a feature in the overall picture of the official who believed that his honour and dignity were equivalent to one million roubles.

[NGK investigation office report]


Molot Publishers' sold to new owner who may close printing house and open yet another shopping centre in Rostov-on-Don

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

The Rosimushchestvo Federal Agency for State Property Management held a tender on 5 December with tender documents setting no terms for the use of the Molot building, its print shop equipment and the House in Rostov-on-Don's Budyonnovsky Prospekt which had accommodated editorial offices of regional newspapers for seven decades. Businesswoman Tatyana Shishkina, the new owner, has not disclosed her plans yet. "I'm not quite sure what I need. I'll have a clear picture after the New Year," she told reporters.

Molot Publishers has been printing newspapers for 94 years. The current daily print run of 50 federal, regional, town, district and departmental newspapers reaches 346,900 copies (with each copy equivalent to four A4 newspaper pages). Molot has a 40% share in the regional printing services market.

In January 2005, the publishing house was privatized and restructured, pursuant to Rosimushchestvo instruction, to a company with a 100% federal stake. The executive functions were passed to Rossiiskiye Gazety. In 2015, Molot posted a net profit of 516,000 roubles (it was in the red in 2014). The new owner cannot expect quick payback on the 447 million roubles she had spent to purchase Molot given its current yearly revenue, so her future moves are difficult to predict.

Perhaps, she will succeed in making newspaper printing more efficient and therefore profitable. Molot's rivals in the printing services market are private companies sustained by what they earn. However, the new owner might find more advantageous options to use her newly-acquired assets. In that event, the liquidation of the large publishing house will lead to price hikes by other print shops whose current price lists must factor in lower Molot costs.

Higher prices of printing services impact independent publications. Rostov region authorities have offered incentives to regional and municipal newspapers (listed in regional registry), such as regional budget subsidies that cover 70 to 90 per cent of the cost of newsprint, printing expenses and distribution.

The future of the building in 37 Budyonnovsky Prospekt that accommodated the editorial offices of regional newspapers Molot and Nashe Vremya (formely Komsomolets) is even more uncertain. Molot's editorial office has already moved out thanks to a 57-million-rouble subsidy allocated by the regional government this year. Nashe Vremya still keeps its office on the second floor of the historical building (custom-made for newspapers' editorial offices) in Budyonnovsky Prospekt.

It is a prominent location fetching a good market price per square metre of space, which only prosperous leaseholders can afford. Sadly, the four-storey building should belong to the Union of Journalists by right. In the early 1990s, Russia's Union of Journalists purchased this property for its Rostov branch. However, the then presidential envoy to the Rostov region Vladimir Zubkov carried out successful property alienation, troubled times and lawlessness permitting.

And so the building was sold to a businesswoman who owns a large shopping mall in the city centre, a private maternity house, and a land plot in western Rostov with on-going housing construction. Seven hectares of town land is coveted prize for any business and Tatyana Shishkina surely knows why she bought it. Perhaps, she decided to postpone unveiling her plans concerning the building until after the New Year for humane reasons, knowing that each of Molot's 130 staffers had families to support.

Authorities in Dagestan task journalists with developing "Human Dignity Index"

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

Censorship can be preliminary, subsequent and punitive. The second is basic stuff, its methods are primitive and its proponents can hardly come up with any novelties. Anyway, reporters and the media who dare present their viewpoints have a fair idea of what they can expect in possible backlash.

Not so with preliminary censorship, where abundance of forms and methods never ceases to amaze.

Dagestan leader Ramazan Abdulatipov and local parliament speaker Khizri Shikhsaidov recently met with journalists to discuss President Vladimir Putin's address to the Federal Assembly. The authorities announced the key points in their address to the local parliament and instructions for the media.

First, Abdulatipov ordered the local media to set up project offices. "Dagestanskaya Pravda pays much attention to coverage of priority projects. I believe project offices should be set up by our media, such as RIA Dagestan (news agency), RGVK Dagestan (State Broadcasting Company), and GTRK Dagestan (Television and Radio Broadcasting Company). The republic's newspapers don't provide much quality information about what the republic is trying to accomplish," he said.

In his 2015 address to the Federal Assembly, President Vladimir Putin urged to set up project offices (to introduce the best mechanisms for creating a favourable investment climate). However, having media outlets handle this and making them responsible is a bit overboard. It follows from the high-placed official's instructions that journalists are now tasked not with "writing history" (according to Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin's definition which remains the most concise), but taking up the duties of the three branches of power.

Second, the republic's leader ordered reporters and his press secretary Tamara Chinennaya to work out what he referred to as "the Human Dignity Index comprising dozens of indicators to add up to overall human dignity, the dignity of clan, village, district and republic. A key criterion for normal person is self-respect, which is particularly relevant for Dagestan national," Abdulatipov said.

Admittedly, government and municipal media have never been asked to accomplish anything like that. It might seem that the republic has coped with all its problems, such as notorious impunity with which unwelcome journalists are sometimes killed.

The society ridiculed and laughed at Abdulatipov's new initiatives. Some suggested that the author should take an IQ test first, others gloated: "Having a Dignity Index makes it easier to bypass junk yards and brave one's standing knee-deep in sewage water roaring through city streets". Some people offered a formula to calculate a Dagestani's dignity: Dd (Dagestani's dignity) = Td (Dagestani's patience) : Vbd (stolen budget money) x Kio (number of beaten opposition activists) x Kv (rampant reshuffles), x Vp (time wasted in traffic jams) x Kfp (number of festivals and holidays). Given Dagestani's infinite patience, their Dd equals naught because infinity divided by any number equals zero.


2016 Andrei Sakharov Award "For Journalism as an Act of Conscience" goes to no one

Considering the small number of works submitted for the 2016 competition and the authors' failure to highlight topics and issues meeting the high criteria of the Andrei Sakharov Award "For Journalism as an Act of Conscience", the Jury decided not to award it at all this year.

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