Дайджест
15 Октября 2017 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 818

October 9, 2017

STORY OF THE WEEK

Upholding tradition? Journalists detained along with oppositionists throughout Russia

Opposition activists held rallies in several Russian cities on 7 October in support of their leader Alexei Navalny. As usual, law enforcers detained protesters and brought them to police stations together with journalists who had been covering the action.

This had happened before: the reporters highlighting protest actions had always been in the authorities' focus and their detentions had become routine. Apparently the police are still tasked with preventing the dissemination of reports on protests. This explains why the jackets with the word “PRESS” displayed on them, or other identification signs or reporters' ID cards cannot make journalists safer.

In Krasnodar, police detained well-known journalist Andrei Loshak who was taking footage in the city centre. In St. Petersburg, European Photo Agency employee Anatoly Maltsev, Rosbalt correspondent Ilya Davlyatchin and Mediazone photographer David Frenkel were detained. In Moscow, police detained Radio Liberty correspondents Andrei Kiselyov and Beta Bubenets, Dozhd Channel correspondent Sonya Groisman, Life journalist Roman Vdovichenko and Daily Storm correspondents Rostislav Bogushevsky and Ilya Gorshkov. Bloggers Georgy Malets and Pavel Ryzhevsky were detained as they were running a live broadcast on Periscope.

Police later set free all the media representatives.

In Kazan, law enforcers simply reduced the number of participants in the sanctioned Navalny rally to 30; “You have no business there,” a police officer told the reporters who had come to cover the action.

Apparently, law enforcers are developing a bad habit of obstructing professional activity of journalists at protest actions.

EVENT OF THE WEEK

Sometimes attackers of journalists end up in court in Rostov-on-Don

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

The Investigative Committee Department for the Rostov Region has finished the probe into the criminal case against four Rostov residents who attacked Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) correspondent Vladislav Ryazantsev on 10 January 2017. A man in sportswear approached Ryazantsev near the regional government building at around 4 p.m. and suggested that they “talk”. Three athletic-looking men ran up to them and began to beat Ryazantsev. The attackers fled as several passers-by intervened on Ryazantsev's behalf.

Ryazantsev was badly bruised; doctors said he had suffered a cranial injury. Police opened a criminal case over “infliction of bodily harm” (Article 116 of Russia's Criminal Code). The incident was clearly meant to make an example; several hours after the attack, National Socialist movement activist Roman Zheleznov, also known as “Zukhel,” claimed responsibility in a post on his page on social media.

“A lesson was taught to presstitute Vladislav Ryazantsev in connection with his vigorous public activity which Russian National Socialists believe is harmful. He hadn't heeded the warnings. It was not battery; it was just a civil reprimand delivered to him. If we had aimed to beat him up, he would have hardly been able to write on social media until the end of the winter,” Zheleznov wrote and posted a photo taken at the scene.

The Federal Security Service's Counter-extremism Department for the Rostov Region tracked down the suspects and detained them. Three of them are members of “Misanthropic Division”, an extremist organisation banned in Russia. Depending on the roles and involvement, they were charged with battery (Article 116 of Russia's Criminal Code), participation in the activity of public or religious organisation whose operation in the country had been banned by a court in connection with the organisation's extremist activity (Article 282.2), as well as with recruitment or involvement of individuals in the operation of extremist organisation (Article 282.2.1.1).

Investigators said Ryazantsev had suffered for his political activity and that the nationalists had attacked him because he was coordinator of the “Leftist Bloc” public movement in the Rostov Region. Meanwhile, the journalist denied coordinating “Leftist Bloc” and said that he had been attacked because of his professional activity. He said he had received phone and SMS threats before.

“One of the suspects said in his testimony that the attack had occurred because Kavkazsky Uzel had disseminated misinformation about nationalist movements,” the journalist said. The investigator turned down Vladislav Ryazantsev and his lawyer Alexei Menshikov's petition to re-qualify the case under the charges of obstructing legitimate professional activity of journalists and using violence on journalist (Article 144.3 of Russia's Criminal Code). Whereas punishment for battery (Article 116) carries a penalty of up to two years in prison, Article 144.3 envisions a prison term of up to six years.

The case will go on trial at Rostov-on-Don's Kirovsky district court.

RUSSIA

Ejection from media offices in Sverdlovsk Region as revenge on journalists

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

The Sysert district newspaper Mayak editorial office which marks the 86th anniversary of first issue publication this month is facing eviction in the near future. Newspaper editor and director Irina Letemina appealed to the readers and media community to make the authorities stop the pressure. The authorities plan to eject the newspaper staff from the office on the strength of the letter signed by deputy head of the Regional State Property Management Department Sergei Sosnovsky, declaring the contract with the editorial office on free use of 100 meters of office space null and void.

Mayak has occupied these quarters for more than five decades. A conflict occurred three years ago. “In December 2014, MP Maxim Serebrennikov tried to oust us from this building; it was handed over to the firm affiliated with him,” Letemina told the URA.RU news agency. “I posed the question to the government at a news conference, and he ordered signing a free use agreement with the newspaper in March 2015,” she said.

The looming eviction is a “farewell present” of former Sysert mayor Alexander Karamyshev who was elected chairman of the local legislative assembly, journalists said. The ex-mayor is having it out with the media outlet which had criticised his policies during his term in office. He established the newspaper Sysertskiye Vesti by the end of his tenure, and secured the Sverdlovsk Region State Property Management Department (MUGISO)'s consent to accommodate its staff in the Mayak quarters, whereupon the ministry demanded that Mayak move out.

Mayak journalists are bewildered; the newspaper has used its own money to fund office renovation works for years. Karamyshev claimed that he had merely asked the ministry to pass a number of former printshop buildings into municipal ownership.

Letemina's appeal caught the attention of the regional Union of Journalists and the Sverdlovsk Region Information Policy Department.

GDF will follow up on the story.

Building workers' foreman threatens journalists in Murmansk Region

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

Journalists of the OpenTown website and the newspaper Dvazhdy Dva (Two By Two) in Kirovsk were doing a story on a multi-level junction at the entrance to the city on 4 October. A scandal flared up as they tried to take photos of the work in progress. The leader of the construction team developing the road junction approached them and tried to prove that taking footage of people was illegal. He used invectives in his speech citing alleged Civil Code provisions. Of course, the journalists voiced objections.

The dialogue was emotional and ended up with the foreman's phrase, “Do you want a cigarette stubbed in your eye?”

The conversation with the aggressive man was captured on video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCJkNKedCYM .

Journalists are considering a legal action.

Official in Dagestan to be held liable for ignoring media

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

The mayor's office in Makhachkala violates the Media Law by not answering at all or providing belated answers to media inquiries, the head-managers of the newspapers Dagestanskaya Pravda and Chernovik concluded before turning to the prosecutor's office for help.

A prosecutorial check-up confirmed their conclusion: the city administration had indeed failed to duly respond to inquiries filed by the two above-named newspapers. In view of these violations, the prosecutors warned the city head of the need to rectify them and called to responsibility the administration's chief of staff.

In line with Article 39 of the Media Law, a media outlet is entitled to request information about the performance of state bodies, local self-governments, organisations, public associations, and their officials. An inquiry, whether oral or written, shall be answered within 7 days' time at the longest.

Court in Krasnodar Region prohibits journalists to write

By Galina Tashmatova, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

The Lazarevsky district court in Sochi on 27 September ruled on the honour, dignity and business reputation-protection claim lodged by State Duma MP (representing the Liberal-Democratic Party) Yuri Napso against BlogSochi editor-in-chief Alexander Valov and blogger Vladimir Melnikov. The court partially satisfied the deputy's claim by awarding the plaintiff one million roubles in moral damages from Valov, and half as much from Melnikov. In his statement of claim, Napso originally wanted Valov and Melnikov to pay him 3 million roubles each.

The court decision had been passed in the absence of all parties, defence lawyer Karina Karanovich told the Kavkazsky Uzel news agency. She said she came to attend the 27 September court sitting and handed over to the judge requests to adjourn the hearings because Melnikov had fallen ill, and Valov and his defence lawyer, Mr. Benyash, had departed on business. This notwithstanding, the judge withdrew into the retiring room, came out, and announced his decision, Karanovich noted.

Apart from paying the plaintiff inordinate moral damage amounts that might actually ruin them, the court, eager to please the Duma deputy, required the bloggers to stop posting on the BlogSochi website any “controversial” articles, and to disclaim the content of those already posted, which is a crude violation of a whole number of Media Law provisions.

Both defendants disagreed with the court ruling and announced their intention to challenge it: “I will file a complaint by all means,” Valov told the Caucasian Knot. “We have freedom of expression which the court is trying hard to stifle by charging these kinds of million-rouble compensation amounts. My yearly income is close to a million roubles. Where could I possibly get the money to pay [Napso] - even if I wanted to? Those amounts are inadequate, because they are charged for our criticism of a public official - a thing that Melnikov and I have every right to do. Yet the court has now deprived us of this right”.

BELARUS

Journalists Lunyova and Kravchuk fined 690 roubles each

Minsk's Zavodskoy district court has fined journalists Lyubov Lunyova and Dmitry Kravchuk 690 roubles each finding them guilty of working for the Belsat Channel without accreditation, the press service of the Belarusian Association of Journalists reported.

The legal action followed the 29 August events. On that day the journalists took footage for the Belsat Channel in the Shabany neighbourhood. The story told about a parents' meeting at the school which local authorities had earmarked for closure. The parents invited the journalists to the meeting. Lyudmila Lekhnovich, an official from Minsk's Zavodskoy District Department for Education, Sport and Tourism, then spoke on camera about the reasons that prompted the decision to shut the school down. Lekhnovich said that the school was built in the middle of the 1990s and that its quality was very poor.

Dmitry Kravchuk told the court hearing that he had been accredited by the Belarusian Foreign Ministry and that he had broken no rules while working on his story.

For her part, Lyubov Lunyova filed a petition requesting the court to raise the issue of contradictions in legislation with Belarus' Constitutional Court. She reminded that the Constitution gave every citizen the right to gather and disseminate information. The judge put aside the petition and later turned it down.

Municipal official Lyudmila Lekhnovich told the reports that no twisted facts had been found in the Belsat story. However, the judge fined the journalists all the same.

[Radio Europe for Belarus, 4 October]

OUR CONTRIBUTORS

How to divide budgetary pie among state publishing house's daughter companies in Chelyabinsk Region?

By Irina Gundareva, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

Krasnyi Uralets newspaper editor-in-chief Nikolai Batavin has filed a statement of claim with a court of law. Last week, yet another attempt was made to illegally dismiss him and to introduce a new editor to the newspaper staff.

“The editor-in-chief prevented a new attempt to replace the executives,” editorial office employees told the GDF. Batavin said in his statement of claim that the decision by the Autonomous Non-Profit Organisation (ANO) to cancel the contract with him was “politically motivated”. He also said he was ready to step down only if the court so ruled.

According to the Charter, journalists have the right to elect the editor-in-chief; the vote for Batavin was unanimous. However, this right does not seem to work in practice.

The ANO Council (nearly all district newspapers in South Urals are now viewed as ANOs) comprises the newspaper founders: the Chelyabinsk Region's Verkhneuralsk District administration, the local deputies' assembly, the Krasnyi Uralets Editorial Office ANO, and the regional state-owned Publishing House Guberniya. The Council decided to dismiss editor Batavin by a one-vote margin in September 2017.

It turned out that the Council had been under pressure from Verkhneuralsk district head Sergei Aibulatov. He had taken an intense dislike to Batavin. Aibulatov keeps egging on various supervisory fiscal bodies such as the Social Insurance Fund, the Audit Chamber, the Pension Fund, and Property Management bodies to check the newspaper. The essence of his claims is not clear. In fact, he cannot present any, because the ANO Council largely approved chief editor Batavin's performance in its June 2017 review. The official's actions might have been explained by the newspaper's criticism of the mayor and his administration but it had never published any exposes against local officials.

The newspaper is more than loyal to the mayor keeping track of his visits and statements in regular releases. Nevertheless, the mayor demanded at an ANO Council meeting that the contract with Batavin be cancelled and that another person replace him. It is a big question why the dynamic mayor wishes to see his nominee as Krasnyi Uralets editor-in-chief.

The latest regional budget subsidy for Krasnyi Uralets amounted to 976,000 roubles. South Urals district newspapers are eligible for subsidies from the regional government and municipal authorities to cover publication costs; another funding option is compensation for local media's publication of regulatory acts. From a legal point view, Krasnyi Uralets is affiliated with the Publishing House Guberniya, as are nearly all district newspapers. The publishing house is an asset of the regional State Property Ministry.

This means that the regional government de facto owns and controls district newspapers through this arrangement. Why then, did the journalists receive no reply to their appeal from this organisation?

Because the publishing house and local authorities have a free hand in dismissing quite loyal editors (the disloyal ones were ousted long ago). Officials' decisions on dismissals seem to be based on certain personal considerations they prefer not to voice.

Guberniya has been rocked by scandals over reshuffles at district newspapers and schemes of subsidy allocation for local media. The Kizilskiy Vestnik editor was replaced in this kind of reshuffle in 2016; a similar hot conflict hit the newspaper Zlatoustovskiy Rabochiy. Acting on behalf of Guberniya, representatives of the Chelyabinsk Region governor's information and press service department pay visits in person to dismiss editors. That is, they take the matter very seriously; local media independence cannot be tolerated! Officials are unanimous on how they should handle these issues.

Regional information department head Dmitry Fedechkin who supervises district newspaper commented at length in Facebook on the conflict involving Batavin. It appears that the formula for calculating multi-million sums of contracts (subsidies) for district newspapers which filter through Guberniya is so complex that nobody understands it, not even Fedechkin.

To avoid the blame in this story, the supervisor urged the editors who were happy with the subsidies their newspapers had received, to add their comments to his post. The editors obliged Fedechkin and did not forget to praise him.

How about giving up scandal-provoking subsidies and adopting the practice of grants? Or letting the newspapers float freely? How about releasing them from the commitment to promote regional officials and other powers-that-be? No and no again! Officials flatly reject such freethinking. Parting with official propaganda mouthpieces, albeit ineffective, through which tons of taxpayers' money flow, is out of the question.

Not in this life!

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.

Contacts:

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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Архив
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