5 Октября 2017 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 816

September 25, 2017


Editorial corrections ordered by phone from Chechnya “to spare believers' feelings”

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

A case involving coercive changes made by a state-run news agency to its own publication shows media head-managers are afraid lest they should potentially insult believers' feelings, an act punishable by criminal law. It looks all the more serious because the threat comes from Chechnya.

On 26 July 2017 RIA Novosti, which is part of the media holding Russia Today, published an article titled “A Slave Pays Off in a Week's Time”. A little over a month later, the story's author Larissa Zhukova, a Novosti staff writer, started receiving threats. According to a post on her social network page, the greatest anger was caused by the word combination “sex Mecca”. She had had a phone call from a man presenting himself as a “member of the Chechen administration” and demanding that she reword the phrase to avoid hurting the feelings of all Muslims. To Zhukova's quite logical remark that he should file an official inquiry with the editorial office, the caller responded that in that case she, too, would be required to apologize officially. “That made me recall all those who'd had to publicly apologize to the Chechen people and Kadyrov - from [punk rocker] Gnoiny (“Purulent”) to the Chechen man whose house was torched for his criticism of the authorities,” Zhukova wrote.

Yet she did not succumb to pressure, unlike the editors of her state-run media outlet. They started by writing the word “Mecca” with the lowercase “m”, and then they removed the article from the website altogether. Since the news agency adopted a no-comment stance, it is impossible to find out if that was a concession made under pressure from Chechnya or an instance, even if a forced one, of editorial self-censorship.

Shortly after the incident, Larissa Zhukova stopped working for Novosti, and many wondered if she had been sacked. Yet in her interview for the GDF, she called her resignation voluntary: “It just so happened that the two events coincided in time”. She noted, though, that she likely would have been fired anyway, and not because of a particular phrase but because she was bold enough to openly tell others about the pressure exerted on her. “They hinted they'd have me replaced in any case for disclosing the incident to the public,” she said.

The lesson to be learned here is that not a single media outlet - not even a state-owned one - is guaranteed against harassment under the loosely-interpreted Criminal Code article against insulting believers' feelings. Meanwhile, the Chechen authorities continue totally ignoring the Russian Constitution's clause guaranteeing freedom of expression.


Sib.fm editor resigns in Novosibirsk after new website owner clips out his story about Navalny

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

The editor of the Sib.fm website has tendered his resignation after his news story about [opposition presidential candidate Alexei] Navalny was erased by the site's new owner.

Problems started piling up for Sergei Samoilenko, chief editor of Sib.fm, with the emergence of the new owner - Viktor Ignatov, a senator from the Novosibirsk Region leading the inter-regional coordinating council of the ruling United Russia Party (URP). Evidently, the new proprietor decided to show everyone “who the real boss is” and arbitrarily, without notifying the editor, removed from the news line the story reporting on Navalny's meeting with his supporters in Novosibirsk on 22 September. That clearly indicated to the editor that his cooperation with the URP-nominated new boss would be impossible, so he filed a statement of resignation as of 1 October, of which fact he himself reported to Radio Liberty.

On the website of the publication he is still officially heading, Samoilenko posted the following comment: “The owner took a decision that I see as senseless and even idiotic. I took a while to think that over and understood I was unprepared to continue working on such terms… I think what they actually did was they pretended no one named Navalny had ever existed in this world”.

Three more news reports mentioning Navalny's name have been removed from the Sib.fm website, according to The Insider.

Case closed, but journalist again summoned to court in Yekaterinburg

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

Judge Alexander Taranenko of Yekaterinburg's Leninsky district court, at a 22 September sitting closed for the press, cancelled the decision passed by another judicial authority in the case of Yulia Litvinenko, an Ura.ru journalist accused of belying Russia's former General Prosecutor Yuri Skuratov. The scandalous and unprecedented criminal case is again up for scrutiny by the same court (see digest 810).

As we have reported, a magistrate on 10 August decided that the lawsuit against the journalist was structured in a way depriving Litvinenko of her right to defend in court. For example, the judge wrote in the decision she passed that the charges against the defendant were not totally clear - in other words, that no phrases in the journalist's publication had been identified that could be classified as libellous. The indictment merely listed the phrases that a linguistic expert had compiled so as to make their assessment easier. The magistrate returned the case to the prosecutor's office which agency, however, challenged the ruling. The district court went over to the prosecutors' side and appointed a new hearing at the same Leninsky court.

The prosecution is being represented by Tatyana Shavkunova, head of the state prosecutors' division of the regional prosecutor's office. “Everything that has happened to me in connection with this criminal lawsuit is, in my view, an attempt by the former prosecutor-general to get his revenge,” Litvinenko said. “Everyone knew how he made money. Yet I alone proved bold enough to write about it. When I highlighted that point in court, the state prosecutor came up to me and warned me that I should be `more accurate about what I was saying'. Asked if I should take that as a threat, the prosecutor replied she was `just giving me a piece of advice'”.

Although the news agency offices were searched as part of the investigative process, expert opinions were requested, and journalists were even required to undergo polygraph tests, all those actions failed to produce any proofs of the reporter's guilt. Local social media users consider the ex-prosecutor-general's unyieldingness unworthy; as one of the bloggers noted, “In normal societies, people with a reputation like his [Skuratov's] tend to keep a low profile till the end of their days”.

The lady journalist may be in for a fine of up to 1 million roubles or for up to 240 hours' hard labour.

The GDF is closely watching the developments in Yekaterinburg.

Blogger's legal claims turned down in Stavropol Region

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

The city court in Pyatigorsk has ruled on a legal claim lodged by the Environmental and Water Resources Protection Department of the Karachai-Cherkess Republic, along with the Cultural Heritage Protection Department and the Zelenchuksky municipal district administration, against Pyatigorsk resident Nikolai Kasyanov.

As we reported earlier (see digest 813), the plaintiffs wanted the blogger to disclaim his statements (posted on the Caucasian Knot news website) about an “ecological catastrophe at Arkhyz”, which in their view “undermined” the mountain spa's image and the business reputation of their respective agencies.

In the course of pre-trial investigation, not only did the plaintiffs submit overenthusiastic reports about how “hard” they'd worked on the waste-processing problem and that control measures had “failed” to identify any law violations; they also attempted to question the validity of video recordings made by the defendant, including after the filing of the legal claims against him. The videos clearly showed heaps of refuse dumped in the vicinity of Arkhyz.

As a result, the court turned all the three claims down and ruled for the agencies concerned to collectively reimburse the defendant for his costs of hiring a lawyer: 30,000 roubles.

Perm military school instructor attempts to conceal from media his use of force against cadets

By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District

An appellate panel of the Perm regional court on 21 September held an open sitting to review the criminal case against former police officer Andrei Yakovlev, convicted of beating a witness. The lieutenant fired from the police turned into an instructor with the F. Kuzmin Perm Cadet Corps; therefore he was strongly against details of the case - his use of physical force against cadets - leaking to the public.

“I hereby ask [the court] not to allow the press reporter whose publications have negatively affected my private life and work to attend the sitting,” Yakovlev said in the courtroom back on 10 July as his case was being heard by a local court. His lawyer Alexander Tsukanov supported his client's request, whereas another lawyer, Leonid Kilin, let the matter at the court's discretion. State prosecutor Alexander Zakharov objected, noting that “We are holding an open sitting that anyone is free to attend”. Judge Svetlana Trenogina of Perm's Dzerzhunsky district court finally decided to let the press stay.

The regional court on 21 September left the earlier-passed sentence unchanged: a suspended 3-year term of imprisonment with 4-year probation, plus a 2-year ban on working in law enforcement; once a month, the convicted man must register with a probation inspectorate. Official information about this criminal case considered in the presence of the press has been posted on the national automated system “Justice” for anyone to read.


Moscow's Sakharov Centre invites to visit exhibition summing up results of 2017 Direct Look documentary photography competition

The exhibition will be open 29 September - 26 October from 1p.m. to 8p.m. every day except Mondays and Tuesdays. Admission is free.

The competition's purpose was to highlight problems in individuals' relationships with society and the state, as well as outline possible solutions to these problems.

The contest organizers pursued the following goals:

• contribute to developing and promoting independent journalism;

• support authors exploring problems in man's relations with society and the state;

• support photo projects expressing respect for, and seeking to protect, human dignity and the principles underlying the Russian Constitution and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Areg Balayan (Armenia)

Arnold Weber (Moscow, Russia)

Stanislav Krupaž (Prague, Czech Republic)

Ilya Pitalev (Russia Today correspondent, Moscow, Russia)

Fausto Podavini (Rome, Italy)

Yuri Pritisk (Novocheboksarsk, Russia)

Antonio Aragon Renunzio (Spain)

Sadeg Suri (Iran)

Bettina Flitner (Germany)

Sakharov Centre address: 57, Zemlyanoi Val, Bldng.5, Moscow, Russia


Information flows grow while publications become ever fewer in Yekaterinburg

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

The sad tradition of disappearance of public-and-political publications and television channels that used to be highly popular until recently is gaining momentum in the Urals. Examples include newspaper Vecherniy Yekaterinburg's turn from a daily into a tri-weekly, which is a repetition of the ill fate of its now-scrapped peer newspapers from the Uralskiy Rabochiy media holding - the weeklies Glavnyi Prospekt and Nash Dom-Nash Gorod, which boasted circulations exceeding 100,000 not so long ago.

That the media holding, which for years was steered by the city administration, is doing exceedingly poorly today is additionally proved by the closure as of 29 May - because of financial dire straits - of the holding's largest newspaper, Uralskiy Rabochiy itself. Its staffers were thrown out onto the street. True, after veteran journalists' appeal to Governor Yevgeny Kuivashev, the paper was re-established as a new entity a month and a half later, turning from a regional into a city newspaper the release of which was taken over by specialists of the governor's Information Analysis Centre who very naturally focused on the regional leader's elections which took place on 10 September.

With media holding products absent from Yekaterinburg's and regional press stalls for quite a long time now, the choice lovers of periodicals are facing is limited to glossy magazines (that have become fewer, too), federal publications with local supplements, and the sole regional paper, Oblastnaya Gazeta, which still exists thanks only to the multimillion subsidies from the regional budget. It would seem the TV schedule published in it features quite a few television channels; yet local news are rather scarce in the content they show - at least as compared with just a few years ago. The expected merger of Channel Four (which has significantly reduced its staff) with generously-subsidized Oblastnoye Televideniye (Regional TV) can hardly ever change the situation for the better.

Most district newspapers are a far cry from prosperity, although there are several private media holdings dominating their respective localities. For the sake of truth, one should note that active blogging is more than compensating for the recent losses, because the number of online news agencies in the Urals has not shown any signs of shrinking.

Looking deeper into changes to the media market situation, most see the main reason in the economic crisis leading to a drastic drop of advertisement orders. Another, no less significant, reason has to do with the shrinking of the political space for discussion at both the regional level and throughout the country. Given one “correct” standpoint, no other is ever needed, especially considering the innumerable federal-channel entertainment shows working as a substitute.

Looking back at the hapless Vecherniy Yekaterinburg, one may as well add that its editor-in-chief, Lev Koshcheyev, has told the Ura.ru news agency he hopes to resume the paper's daily release before the New Year. “It's for the first time ever that I hear about plans to close the newspaper,” he said. “I have reasons to believe all this is just idle talk”.

Well, let's wait and see.


Whistleblower's report: Critical journalist barred from veterans' conference in Moscow Region

Hi everybody,

In Krasnoarmeisk, Moscow Region, on 15 September, something incomprehensible took place under the name of “The City Veterans' Council's Annual Meeting”. This group's bosses are notorious for ignoring effective legislation on public associations and veterans, as well as the regional Veterans Organisation's Charter. Yet what happened on 15 September really shocked the local self-government bodies and the Public Chamber performing supervisory functions. This get-together (it's hard to find an alternative description) was held - just think of it - at the show of invitations! No attempt had been made to elect delegates to the “conference”, and there was no credentials committee either!

Without citing the pretty lengthy list of violations, let's emphasize the fact that the organizers did not let ME through to attend the conference: evidently, they wanted to revenge themselves upon me for my critical remarks about the self-nominated board's actually neglecting their duties.

That's the kind of “younger generation's teachers” we have in Krasnoarmeisk. Oh yes, they can teach you - but only one thing: how to best evade the law. They threw down the gauntlet by preventing me from doing my professional work. I took up the challenge, and they will have to react.

Best regards,

Valery Pashkov, newspaper Po Sushchestvu

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