20 Марта 2017 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 793

13 March 2017


Probe into attack on journalists near Chechen-Ingush border continues

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

Mikhail Fedotov, head of the presidential Human Rights and Civil Society Development Council (HRC); Yana Lantratova, HRC executive secretary; and HRC members Alexander Mukomolov, Leonid Nikitinsky and Maxim Shevchenko met with Ingushetia's Investigative Department leaders a few days ago.

“We were interested in learning what progress had been made in investigating the 9 March 2016 attack on a minibus carrying journalists and human rights activists,” Fedotov said. “We were interested in learning what the investigators had accomplished over the past year”.

The HRC members were told law enforcement had questioned numerous witnesses and carried out many expert studies, searches and other investigative actions. The case had originally been assigned for handling to the republic's police, but as it was re-qualified as “obstruction of journalists' lawful professional work” (Criminal Code Article 144), it was forwarded to the Investigative Department.

As we have reported, on 9 March last year a group of masked men attacked journalists and human rights activists from the Committee to Prevent Torture near the border between Ingushetia and Chechnya, beat them up, and burned their minibus. Four victims had to be taken to hospital.

No suspect has been identified in the case ever since, although the investigators reported having “questioned 150 eyewitnesses” and “carried out more than 25 forensic expert studies”. By a strange coincidence, the security cameras on a traffic police checkpoint near the crime scene were inoperative, as was the checkpoint's video recorder. In view of no suspect identified, the probe was suspended (see digest 790).

Now the department's leaders have cancelled that decision and the investigation has been resumed.


GDF's Roman Zakharov compelled to leave Russia for security reasons

By GDF Information Service

GDF correspondent Roman Zakharov in 2015 won in the European Court of Human Rights a lawsuit against the Russian authorities' use of the System of Operative Search Measures (SORM) to eavesdrop on telephone conversations and browse through citizens' e-mail correspondence (see digest 734). Our colleague and his lawyers have ever since continued pressing in courts for the normative base and law-enforcement practices regarding SORM to be abrogated.

In this connection, Zakharov has all the while been under official pressure to abandon efforts to get the government and law-enforcement authorities to observe the Russian Constitution and respect human rights. This pressure has been both direct - beatings; theft of digital apparatus with stored information about sources; hacking of his e-mail account; threats and invitations to cooperate from the Federal Security Service - and indirect, exerted through the owners of the publishing company with which Zakharov worked as editor-in-chief for more than seven years.

Finally, we decided Zakharov should leave Russia for security reasons. He continues working for the Glasnost Defence Foundation, and we support our colleague as best as we can, including through partner and other public organisations that rushed to give him a helping hand in a difficult situation.


Editor of The Independent Barents Observer (Norway) banned from entering Russia

By Alexander Borisov, GDF correspondent in North-Western Federal District

At the border checkpoint of Borisoglebsk between Norway and Russia, FSB officials on 8 March denied entrance to the Murmansk Region to a reporter for The Independent Barents Observer independent Norwegian publication.

Journalist Thomas Nielsen was accompanying a delegation of the Danish parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee but was unable to cross the border as a persona non grata. Considering Nielsen “a threat to national security”, the Russian Federal Security Service banned him from entering this country for a term of five years. The document shown to him by the border guards cited Article 27 of the Federal Law “On Exit from, and Entry to, the Russian Federation” and said the Norwegian journalist was prohibited to visit Russia “to ensure the state's defence capability or security, or public order, or the people's good health”.

Nielsen did not receive any further details about the entry ban.

Court decisions in favour of TV2 broadcaster cancelled on pretext of “impracticability”

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

The Moscow District Court of Arbitration has posted on its website a declaration pertaining to the lawsuit lodged by the Tomsk Media Group TV2 against the media regulator Roskomnadzor which earlier stripped one of its constituent entities, the Europe Plus Tomsk radio station, of its broadcasting license.

Let us remind you this was one of the last few assets that the disfavoured broadcaster still owned after it was deprived - not without Roskomnadzor's participation again - of its TV/cable broadcasting license. The media regulator explained the annulment of the radio license by the fact that Viktor Muchnik, chief editor and founder of TV2, could not prove his not having dual citizenship (the relevant certificate provided by the Federal Migration Service somehow failed to suit the regulator).

Arbitration courts at two levels have found Roskomnadzor's refusal to prolong Europe Plus Tomsk's license illegal, but the Federal Arbitration Court on 28 February cancelled their rulings and returned the case to the Moscow City Court of Arbitration for new review (see digest 792).

Viktor Muchnik read the Moscow District Court's declaration a few days ago and left this comment on the TV2 website: “I consider this decision absurd. It says the rulings passed by the two previous courts on giving back our license `cannot be executed'. The implication is that since our network partner is gone, we don't need any license at all. Funny logic, really! Our partner left particularly because our license had been taken away! That's a point we've been trying to prove in court, and have twice proven in real terms that our license was grabbed illegally”.

The logic behind stripping TV2 of its TV license was actually the same: first, a natural monopoly-holder, the Russian TV/Radio Relay Network, terminated its agreement with TV2 on some farfetched pretext; then Roskomnadzor took away the TV channel's broadcasting license “in view of no technical capability to broadcast”.

TV2 will challenge the latest court decision before the RF Supreme Court, Muchnik said.

Criminal prosecution of bloggers as a trend in Yekaterinburg

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

A clear re-division of the media space can be observed in the Urals. Not only do print media carry out circulation cuts and worker layoffs; many are on the verge of closure in view of the shrinking advertising proceeds. Local companies that won TEFI Awards not so long ago have cut their own content drastically, turning into ordinary relay channels for Moscow partners. The Internet has moved into the foreground, with online journalism playing the lead; hence the growing number of lawsuits brought against bloggers.

Last week saw the release from detention of two Yekaterinburg-based female bloggers, Yevgenia Chudnovets and Oksana Sevastidi; the first was exonerated by an appellate panel of the RF Supreme Court, the second was amnestied by President Putin. The media community's focus today is on the trial over Ruslan Sokolovsky, charged with extremism and hurting the feelings of believers. The proceedings started in Yekaterinburg on 13 March, and Sokolovsky acknowledged that the videos he had posted in YouTube might indeed insult some believers because of the harsh anti-religious statements they contained.

Speaking in the court's corridor during a break, Sokolovsky said: “I do agree that my videos might have hurt some of the believers, to whom I'm ready to apologize. I am even ready to take a shovel and make the city look a bit better - generally, I like manual work. Yet I think up to five years in jail for these kinds of things is too much. A fine or compulsory work would be adequate measures - such punishment is practised in Europe, too”.

As we have reported, Sokolovsky videoed himself “catching pokémons” inside All Russian Saints' Temple on Spilled Blood in Yekaterinburg in August 2016. The video caused a wave of indignant comments from believers and caught law enforcement's eye. The blogger is facing charges under Criminal Code Article 282 (“Instigation of hate or enmity” - 9 episodes); Article 148 “Breach of the freedom of conscience and religion” - 7 episodes); and Article 138.1 (“Illegal turnover of special technical devices designed to secretly gather information” - 1 episode).

The GDF is closely monitoring the developments.

Dollar millionaire's newspaper in Perm owes lady journalist parental benefit

By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District

Court hearings started in Perm on 10 March of journalist Anastasia Miftakhova's legal claim against the newspaper Zvezda controlled by State Duma MP Dmitry Skrivanov, a dollar millionaire. Miftakhova, a mother of two, wants to retrieve 30,965 roubles due to her in parental benefits payable every month, which she never received however.

Miftakhova has worked with Zvezda as head of the Letters division since 2009. While on maternity leave, she stopped receiving the benefit guaranteed by the state. The last time she received it was in October 2016, when the management paid her 7,126 roubles in three instalments. Her paid parental leave ended on 7 January 2017. In view of no further money coming in, Miftakhova turned for protection to the Motovilikhinsky district court in Perm on 2 February.

No Zvezda representative attended the preliminary hearing. As the legal claim was reviewed in essence on 10 March, the newspaper's lawyer Svetlana Dolishnyaya acknowledged her company's debt to Miftakhova. The next hearing is scheduled for 27 March.


On government openness in Karelia

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

Karelia's Acting Governor Artur Parfenchikov is an active user of Facebook, so it's best to learn about the republican leader's latest policy moves from his personal page in the social network, where the number of his friends has been steadily growing. It should be noted the acting governor conducts his Facebook account himself and honestly answers questions put to him by web users. Parfenchikov's readiness to get involved in public polemics, though, got him in a fix recently.

After court reporter S. Myatukhin posted a link to his article on Parfenchikov's page, the acting governor got dragged into a dispute with the author over how objective his publication was. Both knew the subject matter of the dispute well, because the journalist had repeatedly written about tenants' protests against a businessman's illegal construction of an accretion (shop) to their apartment house. The fact that the shop construction was carried out unlawfully has long been acknowledged in court, with orders issued to tear it down. Yet the businessman has not been in a hurry to obey, while the bailiffs are only making helpless gestures and claiming that all architectural documents have long been lost and it is not clear how to execute the court decision demanding the restoration of the building's original form. Parfenchikov knows the matter through and through too, because during his tenure as the region's chief bailiff he handled that dispute in person - to no avail, though. Now back in Petrozavodsk as head of the republic, he is again facing the same problem, evidently taking reporter Myatukhin's claims personally.

This is what the Parfenchikov-Myatukhin debate in Facebook unrolled over. At some point, the acting governor realised that the public quarrel was not in his interests and instead started a one-on-one debate in which he gave a negative assessment of Myatukhin's methods of work by accusing him of not listening to his counterparts (the arguments voiced by the bailiffs) and made an ambiguous assessment of the website Chernika (Blueberry), where the article was published, by supposing that the site was named so because “it smears people”.

For some time, the polemics was conducted in the form of exchanging e-mail messages, but then Myatukhin suddenly decided to make public all the screenshots of that personal correspondence, giving rise to a vigorous public discussion that mostly laid the blame at the Karelia leader's door. Parfenchikov, despite his demonstrating readiness for a dialogue, was accused of turning the debate into a scandal at the moment when opinions clashed in real terms, as journalist Myatukhin showed.

Others argued that the reporter was wrong disclosing to the public his private correspondence with the acting governor without the latter's consent - with the stress on “private”, allowing Parfenchikov greater emotional freedom in anything he wrote in his messages. Myatukhin himself kept insisting that the dissonance between what Parfenchikov had been saying in public when talking about “power openness” and the need to “conduct a direct dialogue with the people”, and what he actually been doing with no witnesses around, should be shown to the public as “a must”.

Some colleagues described Myatukhin's actions as unethical and even discrediting him in person as a journalist, because he had treated his counterpart, even such a high-ranking one as Parfenchikov, dishonestly. Others supported the journalist, justifying his behaviour by the high social importance of the polemics.

Seeing that each new comment turned out harmful to himself in the first place, Parfenchikov ended the correspondence abruptly, although the subject matter of the discussion remained. As a minimum, two questions remained unanswered. One, is it right for the highest-ranking government official in Karelia to allow himself to characterise a news website and its journalist in a language that the criticised parties took as unfounded and negative evaluative judgments? Two, did the journalist have the right to neglect the secrecy of his personal correspondence with Parfenchikov?

It is quite likely that Karelia's head may prefer to avoid social-network correspondence with journalists or maybe all citizens in the future, in order to not get into similar awkward situations anymore.

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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