18 Февраля 2017 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 789

13 February 2017


No great loss without some small gain: Crime gang leader threatening journalist Mikhail Afanasyev jailed for robbery in Khakassia

By GDF Information Service

We earlier reported an incident in Abakan involving Novy Fokus online magazine editor-in-chief Mikhail Afanasyev, an Andrei Sakharov Award laureate. He received a phone call from Andrei Ashcheulov, a purported local criminal authority who demanded that the article about crimes committed by his gang be taken out. The caller swore at the journalist and insulted and threatened him. As he was making his demands, he boasted the authorities had been unable to put him behind bars for five years already (see digest 783 ).

Ashchelov is now in custody. The court ordered his detention after a shop owner reported to police that Ashcheulov had taken a box of beer at his store and walked out without paying. The shop owner said Ashcheulov had done it time and again, but that he had not complained to the authorities for various reasons.

The businessman did report the latest escapade however, apparently inspired by Mikhail Afanasyev's story. He understood that one could successfully defend his rights as the journalist's story had proved.

The now ex "crime boss" has been charged with robbery (Criminal Code Article 162) in addition to obstructing legitimate professional activity of a journalist and issuing threats.


Several media editors replaced at once in Krasnodar Region

By Galina Tashmatova, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

A spate of dismissals followed hard on the heels of the hyped resignation of NTK television and radio company director general Zhdan Tikhonov, who stepped down after reports alleging that his colleagues had invited a pole dancer to perform at his birthday party. TRK NTK incorporates the television channel and the Kuban 24 Internet news portal, as well as the Pervoye Radio station founded by the Krasnodar Region administration. Kuban news editor-in-chief Yelena Zolotova and Krasnodarskiye Izvestia newspaper editor-in-chief Yelena Krylova were replaced two days later. Both newspapers are mouthpieces of regional and municipal authorities.

Of course, nobody buys the voluntary resignation story. The editors keep silent refraining from comments to their colleagues and apparently hope that they will be offered new jobs.

The flurry of media executives' resignations clearly shows the relationship between mass media and the authorities. In the Krasnodar Region, authoritarian attitudes have always prevailed. Official mass media differ little from political parties' press. There is no provision in the Media Law on replacing mainstream chief editors together with senior regional officials, yet this norm has actually been effective in the region at all times. However, the replacement of all pro-government media editors at once had been unheard of prior to Veniamin Kondratyev's taking gubernatorial office.

Two unknown persons seeking to interview North Caucasus Environmental Watch head Dmitry Shevchenko at Krasnodar airport turn out to be fake reporters

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

On 4 February evening, Dmitry Shevchenko arrived at Krasnodar airport on a flight from Helsinki where he had participated in the general meeting of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, of which Environmental Watch is a member. Neither Environmental Watch nor Shevchenko had publicly advertised his visit; he only communicated with the forum organizers in Helsinki via electronic mail. However, by the time of his arrival a camera crew had come to the airport. A young man and a girl were waiting for him in the street, and once Shevchenko exited the airport terminal, they rushed toward him, their camera on.

"Hello Dmitry, welcome to Krasnodar. Why did you travel to Helsinki for the Civil Forum? Do you happen to know Rudomakha, who was fined 800,000 roubles? Do you know that Environmental Watch is a foreign agent? So have you brought money for Rudomakha to help him out?"

The young people said they represented a Novy Gorod online television company (there's never been such organisation in Krasnodar). Dmitry Shevchenko refused to talk to the provocateurs and got into a mini-bus, but the sham reporters followed him inside, keeping their camera trained on him and repeating the same questions.

The mini-bus driver quickly understood what was going on and said the vehicle would not start until the camera crew got out. The impostors had to retreat yielding to other passengers' angry demands that "they leave while they were still in one piece".

An Environmental Watch press release emphasized that there was no way a television company could legally obtain the information on Shevchenko's trip to the forum or on his itinerary in or outside Russia. The administration of the public environmental organisation believes that they have long been in the focus of secret services.

On 7-8 February, the Kuban 24 (controlled by the Krasnodar Region administration) and Krasnodar (controlled by MTRK Krasnodar, principal owner is the Krasnodar mayor's office) television channels and their websites ran the stories titled "Environmental Watch for North Caucasus at the centre of scandal"). Their authors reproached the environmentalists for refusing to acknowledge their organisation as a foreign agent and challenging the imposed fines in legal actions.

Environmental Watch director Andrei Rudomakha told the GDF that his organisation had filed penal actions with regional prosecutors and the regional Investigative Committee department against Kuban 24 and Krasnodar executives for slandering and defaming Environmental Watch and its spokesman Dmitry Shevchenko.

Female journalist detained and questioned in Moscow after interviewing oppositionist

By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

Moscow police detained Gradus TV reporter Olga Sapronova on 7 February. OVD-Info website reported that she had been taken to the FSB department in Lubyanka Street over her interview with opposition activist Mark Galperin. The latter was detained by police as a suspected extremist on the same day. Police searched Sapronova's apartment seizing her electronic data storage devices.

Olga Sapronova was questioned and set free later in the day after she signed a non-disclosure statement. The journalist said she was a witness in the case but could not provide further details due to her secrecy pledge.

District court of appeals in Novosibirsk terminates administrative proceedings against Sibkrai.ru news web portal

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

The Leninsky district court in Novosibirsk has overturned the ruling by the court of original jurisdiction on administrative penalty for Sibkrai.ru news web portal editors. The ruling had made a precedent even in current Russian judicial practice, as it satisfied an invalid statement of claim by invalid plaintiff. It is not known why the claim was filed with a magistrate court which had nothing to do with the purported defender or the plaintiff, as both were not residents of the area under the court's jurisdiction.

As it turned out, the puzzling statement of claim was authored by the regional Labour, Employment and Workforce Ministry. Last August, it sent a letter to Sibkrai.ru demanding that the journalists "turn up for signing a protocol of administrative offence". The letter said the portal had posted a notice "with discriminating attributes" in the jobs section. The Ministry did not provide details on the venue or date of the post.

The portal's editorial office requested the regional Labour Ministry to clarify which notice had been meant and specify the irregularity itself, so it could be corrected. It informed the watchful officials that employers posted such notices on the website for free without consulting anybody, which the ministry should look into in the first place, because its primary function was to arrange employer-jobseeker interaction.

However, officials brushed off the request and demanded that local prosecutors punish the journalists for disobeying the order to report to the ministry. The editorial office said the ministry might have been motivated by the strong desire for revenge, as it could not forget the articles published about a year ago, such as the story on how the ministry wrecked the vocational training system after it had come under its supervision.

A magistrate court hearing found that the statement of claim had erroneously landed in the wrong jurisdiction area (both Sibkrai.ru and the Labour Ministry are not residents of that district, nor is the news portal owner); the defendant was misrepresented (there is no such legal entity as "web-based media," it has a different name), and therefore could not be held liable. Its "director general" K.A.Antonov, also misrepresented, could not be held liable either.

Most importantly, the plaintiff, before filing his statement of claim, had not clarified the irregularity to the defendant and therefore had given him no chance to correct it.

But the magistrate court dismissed these circumstances and ruled in the ministry's favour while ignoring the Supreme Court resolution of 15 June 2010 which said that if online media published controversial information, the courts, before ruling on the case, should first find out if the government body had demanded that the information be deleted, and if the media outlet had complied.

The editorial office challenged the ruling with Novosibirsk's Leninsky district federal court of general jurisdiction which overrode the resolution by magistrate Melnikova and terminated the legal proceedings. The editors will seek compensation for the legal expenses they incurred. The Sibkrai.ru portal reported that the compensation claim would be filed against regional Minister Schmidt rather than the Labour Ministry.

Regional court in Perm qualifies video as infringement of lawyer's privacy

By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District

"The defendant must remove the videos showing lawyer Valentina Gilmutdinova from the official Ural-Inform TV television and radio company website. Further dissemination of these videos is prohibited; the videos shall be taken out and deleted. The defendant shall pay 15,000 roubles in moral damages to the plaintiff". This 8 February decision by the Perm Region Court upheld the earlier ruling which said that the video of a lawyer at work was an infringement of her right to privacy.

The issue in litigation was the story concerning cheated investors in a Perm neighbourhood housing construction project which the radio and television company aired on 27 June 2016 and posted on its website. Lawyer B.Gilmutdinova did not like the way she looked in the video. On 29 June, she asked a notary to certify a review of the Ural-Inform TV website. On 5 July, she filed a claim against the journalists demanding 500,000 roubles in moral damages. The hearings ended on 18 November as the court partially satisfied her claim. Perm's Motovilikhinsky district court judge Oksana Kondratyuk ruled that the video depicting the lawyer was illegitimate as the latter had not given her written consent. Aside from deleting the videos, the television company had to pay the plaintiff 15,000 roubles in damages, and reimburse 7,800 roubles of her legal expenses and the 300-rouble state duty she had paid.

"The public status of the plaintiff's profession has nothing to do with review of the defendant's actions under Articles 23 and 24 of the Russian Constitution and Civil Code Article 151, and does not exempt the defendant from the duty to secure the plaintiff's consent to dissemination of her images in mass media," according to the ruling.

Lawyer Gilmutdinova agreed with the ruling. She objected to the defendant's appeal but did not attend the regional court hearing. In her arguments on 8 February, lawyer Svetlana Dolishnyaya presented evidence that the video had been made legitimately. "With video recording on, the journalists asked the lawyer: `What should private investors do?' She answered that they `should take their case to the director general!' that it, she implicitly agreed to speak to the camera and gave her comments. The investors came to their contractor to find out how their problems were being solved. Earlier, they had met with the governor and regional administration officials," Dolishnyaya said.

The publicity given to the investors' problem was apparently helpful, as police opened a criminal case on 29 July over "grand fraud by unidentified persons". The building located in 44a Bulvar Gagarina, Perm was identified as the crime scene. This is the place which investors and television journalists visited on 27 June to hear explanations from the developer, KamStroiInvest Ltd. The room of Lawyer V.Gilmutdinova who represented the developer was not locked, so the journalists sought comments from an "independent professional legal counsel".

Perm judges misinterpreted the legal definition of a lawyer's public status, relying on narrow-minded allegations that privacy of the plaintiff "in a public profession was violated". The appeals panel that passed the ruling comprised presiding judge Dmitry Pyankov and his colleagues Vyacheslav Fomin (who presented case summary) and Nina Trenogina.

Presidential Human Rights Council head fails to contact Karelia Supreme Court chairman

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

The presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights Development held a three-day meeting in Petrozavodsk, Karelia. Council members met with local journalists to discuss media problems. The discussion largely focused on difficulties the journalists encountered in their work, not on Karelia issues.

As it was, journalists' biggest problem was coverage of legal proceedings in courts. Even the use of voice recorders raises judges' questions although it is perfectly legal and it is up to the journalist to decide whether or not they should make a recording. Taking photos or videos requires judges' permission, and is often prohibited at hearings. As a rule, it happens because one of the parties objects to journalists' request for recording, and the court often sides with the objecting party while ignoring public interest in the case. In the Petrozavodsk city court, photography is prohibited without the management's permission even outside the courtrooms. In actual fact, the openness and transparency in the operation of courts is shrinking rapidly. This fact was communicated to presidential Council members who asked the journalists to write formal statements detailing the problem for substantive discussion in Moscow with Russia's Council of Judges.

The same issues were raised again with Council chairman Mikhail Fedotov as he summed up the results of the three-day meeting in Karelia. He regretted that Karelia Supreme Court chairman A.Nakvas had not taken part in the discussion, and that he had been unable to elicit Nakvas' views on the problems which worried the journalists.


On Andrei Sakharov Competition "Journalism as an Act of Conscience"

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

True journalism always soars high.

I have monitored all Russian regions for the presence of independent media (to identify potential participants for the Sakharov contest), and have found quite a few: not that they are fully independent, yet they produce their content on non-government premises, not in offices controlled by federal, regional, municipal or corporate administrations where editors-in-chief take care to never cross the red line. And even if government-controlled, they still try to be free, snubbing the corporate dress code to display their own fashion preferences and having their own language style while avoiding the topics where a bluntly spoken opinion may lead to one's dismissal. Or they hide their views behind irony (as was practised by Soviet intelligentsia who thumbed their noses behind officials' backs).

I counted more than 150 such media outlets. In replies to the invitation to participate in the contest, some said they were having problems with the Federal Service for Oversight over the Telecom, Information Technologies and Mass Communications (Roskomnadzor), others with Centre E officially set up to combat extremism and terrorism, while some provincial outlets were attacked by unidentified hackers (who on 4 February downed the remarkable Bryanskaya Ulitsa website which might take time to recover, see bryansk.newskey.info).

Importantly, these mass media are found in unexpected places, for example in the same Bryansk (there is another cool website there - nadesne.ru ) or in Saransk (www.vsar.ru pg13.ru). I cite these two cities as an example, because they rhyme [in Russian] with a derogatory term for provinces epitomizing ineradicable snobbism of the capital whose attitudes to outlying regions have been at best condescending at all times. My research showed that in our "pissant towns" one can well find journalists who can rival their peers working in the Russian capital in terms of talent, intelligence and courage.

I recall my monitoring Omsk district newspapers 15 years ago in search of fresh topics (at the time I was employed at Trud-7 newspaper). I came across an amazing article in Ust-Ishimsky Vestnik. There was no Internet at the time, and perhaps, a yellowing copy of the newspaper can still be found somewhere. So I'll retell the story as I remember it. It described a Soviet-era march (on the May or November holiday) in the district centre. A column was marching along the central street of Ust-Ishim holding coloured balloons, flags, banners and Communist leaders' portraits. Suddenly somebody accidentally let go of a balloon and it shot into the air. Heads were thrown back as marchers shouted, "Look, it's flying, flying…!" The column stopped; it saw the balloon flying away into some bright future, way different from the future they were marching toward… The author rounded up with a rhetorical question: "Which is more important: an abundance of flags, banners and balloons steadily flowing in one direction or one runaway balloon?"

The author of what I see as a brilliant essay is Andrei Otmakhov. The latest 22 May 2016 web search found that he was executive secretary at the same newspaper. He has only one post in his VKontakte social media blog - a photo of a balloon in the air suggesting a brighter future (see vk.com ); no other information is available.

I believe that true journalism (as well as true politics, etc.) is always like that runaway balloon.



We hereby announce the start of the 2017 Andrei Sakharov Competition "Journalism as an Act of Conscience".

The Andrei Sakharov Award "For Journalism as an Act of Conscience" is conferred on Russian journalists for publications reflecting the authors' active life stands consistently translated into their highly professional work, and for defending the values Dr Andrei D. Sakharov used to defend during his lifetime.

The materials submitted for the competition should have been published between 15 October 2016 and 15 October 2017 in Russian print or online media.

The submission deadline is 1 November 2017.

The award was established by Peter Vince.

For details, see www.gdf.ru

The winners' prizes will be different starting this year:

The monetary prize to the laureate - 500,000 roubles

The monetary awards to the nominees - 4 prizes, 50,000 roubles each

Honorary diplomas - to the print media outlets which published the winners' writings, and to the laureate, nominees and finalists of the competition

This digest was prepared by the Glasnost Defence Foundation in Moscow. The digest has been issued once a week, on Mondays, since August 11, 2000.

We acknowledge the assistance of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.

Currently it is distributed by e-mail to 1,600 subscribers in and outside Russia.

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  • Boris Timoshenko, Head of Monitring Service;
  • Svetlana Zemskova, GDF Lawyer;
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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