22 Октября 2010 года



Journalist Mikhail Beketov’s case considered

Court hearings have commenced in the town of Khimki near Moscow of the case of Mikhail Beketov, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Khimkinskaya Pravda who barely survived an attempt on his life November 12, 2008.

The trial is not what everybody expected: the investigation of the crippling attack on the journalist, as well as of another criminal case in which his car was set on fire in May 2007, has been suspended. Instead, the judge is considering the case opened against Beketov on libel charges in the wake of a complaint filed by Khimki Mayor Vladimir Strelchenko whom the journalist accused of having had a hand in the car arson in revenge for critical publications.

The first hearings were held back in 2007, and the judge was reported to have been pressured at the time. And the prominent lawyer Stanislav Markelov, whom the Glasnost Defense Foundation hired to defend the journalist, was repeatedly “advised” to give up the case. Then the attempt on Beketov’s life followed, causing Judge O. Savelyeva, who was in charge of the libel case, to resign, and shortly afterwards S. Markelov was assassinated.

This time, Strelchenko did not come to the courtroom in person but sent a representative who told the court that the mayor had never read Khimkinskaya Pravda, not known the author, and that everything Beketov wrote was “dirty and malicious libel”. In contrast to his opponent, Mikhail Beketov did arrive to attend the hearing – in a resuscitation ambulance van and escorted by medics. His defense lawyer Andrei Stolbunov presented linguistic expert conclusions saying Beketov had just “expressed his opinion”, not asserted that Strelchenko had personally ordered the setting of the journalist’s car on fire. “Prosecuting a person for expressing his views is against the Constitution,” the lawyer said.

The court heard several witnesses who said Beketov had repeatedly been threatened by persons who urged him to stop criticizing the municipal administration. After the car arson, two unidentified men had clubbed Mikhail’s dog to death laying the body at his door. One of the witnesses said that shortly before the attack, a gangster had called Beketov on the phone to tell him that the arson and the dog’s killing were meant as warnings that he would be next to be targeted. “And so it actually happened,” the witness said.

The defense is awaiting Mikhail’s full acquittal. “We are sure Beketov will be acquitted – if not by the Khimki court, then by Russia’s Supreme Court, or else by the European Court,” A. Stolbunov said.

Meanwhile, Novaya Gazeta’s Elena Kostyuchenko, who is covering the judicial proceedings, has said that the next, eighth, surgical operation on Beketov – an essential one – will have to be performed abroad, and the later it takes place, the fewer chances of success it will have. Until the end of the trial, Mikhail is officially required to stay in town.

As for Strelchenko, he is in no hurry to appear in court. It is not clear whether he, a retired army colonel, will have enough courage to come to the courtroom to attend the second hearing which is scheduled for October 21.



Ryazan police officers sentenced to imprisonment for beating reporters

By Dmitry Florin,
GDF staff correspondent in Central Federal District

S. Tersky, judge of the Zheleznodorozhny District Court in Ryazan, has found two former police officers, senior lieutenant D. Zenkin and sergeant major R. Shchegolikhin, guilty of beating two local journalists, husband and wife Yuri Manov and Elena Knyazhskaya, and sentenced them to two and a half and two years in prison, respectively.

This precedent-making decision will cause many law enforcers to think twice before letting loose with their fists again while investigating civil cases.

As we have reported, late on April 17, after a conflict with a taxi driver who had charged an inordinately high fee, Y. Manov and E. Knyazhskaya got out of the cab at a bus stop near which a police car was parked. Two officers took them to the police station to settle the matter. But once they got there, the journalists were turned into detainees: the policemen gave Manov several kicks and beat Knyazhskaya, handcuffed, with her head against a wall. According to the victims, the officers did not ask their IDs but took away their personal effects and did not allow them to call relatives on the phone. They were only released late at night.

Yuri Manov, a writer and journalist, commented:

“Any court hearing is a severe test not only for the accused but also for the victims. You may trust me, it’s anything but a pleasure to hear once again about thugs in shoulder straps kicking you almost to death and beating your wife while you are lying faint on the police station floor. I’d rather not talk about it anymore… Now, as regards the verdict. Judge Tersky did a very good job investigating the circumstances and taking each party’s arguments into consideration. He as a judge should know better how severely each of the villains must be punished. But personally, I feel he was too lenient towards the main villain, Zenkin, who handcuffed my wife Elena and cracked down on her with his fists. And it was he, too, who broke my arm. He’s a sadist, really… Besides, as the senior officer at the police station at the time, he bears full responsibility for the outrage that happened there. Yet he got away with only two and a half years in jail. But then, I believe, he’ll have a hard time serving that term – his fellow inmates will hardly treat him as a hero…

“As for Shchegolikhin, I really feel sorry for him – he got involved by sheer stupidity: seeing his boss kicking away at a detainee, he rushed to help by giving me a couple of strikes by his club, too… He’s a young guy, with a wife and two small kids. Elena and I thought the judge would sentence him to a probationary term – we’d have had nothing against that.

“Now, a few words about how I feel about it, generally. The court proved we are right, and the convicts acknowledged that everything we said is true. But up until now, not a single police commander has apologized for the wrongful behavior of his subordinates – neither the chief of the department where we were beaten, nor the official police spokesman who made everybody laugh at his pronouncements about [me and Elena showing] ‘last year’s black and blues’ and his very peculiar interpretation of Russian legislation. It seems the local police command got offended by our proving in court, and telling the entire country, that police officers violated the law by beating us and breaking my arm.

“It was the regional governor who had to take the rap for them. He called Elena personally on the phone to apologize for the Ryazan law enforcers’ unlawful actions and express his sympathy. That was a very manly thing to do.”



1. Ryazan. GDF correspondent threatened

Корреспонденту ФЗГ Дмитрию Флорину угрожают. После публикации 14 октября на сайте «Новый Фокус» его статьи «За бруствер», в которой, в частности, рассказывалось о судьбе семьи Гатаевых, вывозивших из районов боевых действий детей, в разделе «Комментарии» появились странные записи. Сначала при знакомстве с этими комментариями возникло ощущение неадекватности их автора. Но затем он проявил необычную осведомленность – оказалось, «комментатор» знает не только о деталях биографии Д. Флорина, но и адрес журналиста, место его работы, состав семьи…

Хамская и агрессивная манера общения анонимного автора «комментариев», который также позволяет себе угрожать журналисту и его семье (мы еще к тебе позаходим; тебе осталось недолго писать, да и жить; если сынишка твой вообще вырастет…), больше напоминают попытки закомплексованного и невостребованного субъекта хоть как-то самоутвердиться. Однако подобная «осведомленность» не должна оставаться вовсе незамеченной.

Д. Флорин пишет не только о Кавказе, но и о разного рода радикалах из молодежных (и не очень) группировок. И ему неоднократно приходилось отбиваться не от виртуальных, а вполне реальных агрессоров. Журналист намерен обратиться в правоохранительные органы в связи с публикацией неизвестным его персональных данных.

2. Perm Region. Editor required to undergo medical examination

By Vassily Moseyev,
GDF staff correspondent in Volga Federal District

After the 5-year employment contract of Natalia Irzhanova, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Kamskiye Zori issued in the town of Dobryanka, Perm Region, expired October 12, the newspaper’s founder (the district administration) instantly notified the editor of her dismissal. But when she went to district leader Vladimir Varlyga for explanations, he assured her, and even gave a word of honor (he is a former army officer), that the contract might be extended, as a minimum, until the end of the year. Yet as it turned out shortly afterwards, in line with the new charter the contract must be signed by the head of district administration – another person with different views.

Amir Makhmudov is the acting head of district administration in Dobryanka. Until recently, he was mayor in the ancient city of Kungur where he became notorious for a series of conflicts with the media. After a single term in the mayor’s seat, he failed to be re-elected and found himself in Dobryanka. It was he who told Irzhanova during a face-to-face meeting that the way her newspaper covers the district administration’s performance “leaves much to be desired”. He reproached the editor for “praising the authorities too little, and sometimes even criticizing them”, and recalled the proverb about “the cobbler sticking to his last”. Makhmudov suggested that Natalia Irzhanova, an experienced editor and graduate of the school of journalism at Urals State University, go through a “probationary period” – a test of loyalty to power – or face the prospect of having her contract terminated in a month or two.

He did not sign even that palliative order at once: his apparatus required Natalia – a young woman just back from her maternity leave last summer – to undergo a medical examination (sic!) for some strange reason. Of course, she was shocked by that requirement. But a few hours later it turned out that the bureaucrats had messed things up and the lady editor did not have to go through medical tests, after all. Didn’t they do that deliberately?

After two days of humiliating treatment, Irzhanova was nevertheless appointed for two and a half months, until December 30, director of the municipal company Kamskiye Zori. The position of editor-in-chief has now been scrapped: the town administration found it redundant. One may wonder if they ever tried to run a town or district without a mayor or a district head…

To prevent misunderstanding, it may as well be noted here that Dobryanka is not a godforsaken province with bears walking the streets and the town head trading in unlicensed vodka. It is a nice modern town with a population of nearly 60,000. The only problem is that the authorities want the next election, due in March 2011, to run smoothly and end in the predicable way. That is why they want the local newspaper to have an agreeable and easily manageable editor.


3. Voronezh. Court finds in favor of newspaper

By Roman Zholud,
GDF staff correspondent in Central Federal District

The arbitration court in Voronezh has completed hearings of a legal claim lodged against the newspaper Voronezhsky Courier (VC) last spring by the construction company AT-Stroiservis Ltd. The plaintiff wanted its business reputation to be protected against “encroachments” by the regional Architectural and Construction Police Department, its former head Vladislav Kurnosov, as well as VC and its author Elena Ruzanova.

It all began with Voronezhsky Courier publishing an April 17 article entitled “Picture-Forming Pause”, which described problems with the reconstruction of the regional drama theater. The plaintiff insisted the story was libelous and harmful to the company’s reputation. It wanted VC to publish a refutation and pay RUR 30 m in moral damage compensation.

The bulk of disputed information had been cited from an interview with Vladislav Kurnosov, then head of the Architecture Department, meaning that the newspaper and its author were not legally liable for publishing it. The rest of the author’s statements that made the plaintiff frown were purely evaluative and could not be either confirmed or refuted.

The regional court of arbitration turned the construction company’s claim down. The interests of the newspaper and E. Ruzanova were defended in court by lawyer Galina Arapova of the Media Rights Center in Voronezh.


4. Moscow. Rally in support of journalists prosecuted for “fanning hostility” towards military

By Dmitry Florin,
GDF staff correspondent in Central Federal District

A rally was staged near the monument to Alexander Griboyedov in Moscow October 14 in defense of journalists Nadezhda Nizovkina and Tatiana Stetsyura of the newspaper Svobodnoye Delo (issued in the Republic of Buryatia) who are under prosecution for publishing an article about the deportation of several Caucasian ethnic groups in 1944. Despite Russia’s official condemnation of the deportation decree issued by Stalin, the two journalists are being harassed for reminding the nation that February 23 is not only the day when the Soviet Army and all homeland defenders are honoured but also the day when the inhumane decree was signed. Accused of instigating hostility toward the national law enforcement bodies, Nizovkina and Stetsyura have appealed for protection to the European Courts of Human Rights.

On February 23, 2009, the two Democratic Union activists were detained while distributing leaflets with a statement dedicated to the 65th anniversary of the Caucasian deportation. After 10 hours at the police station, they were released in view of no elements of an administrative offense in their actions, according to N. Nizovkina.

The statement censured the maltreatment of Muslims in the Russian Federation. “In our leaflet, we described the tragedy which the Chechen and other ethnicities had suffered at the hands of those ‘motherland defenders’,” Nizovkina said. “We also mentioned the dates of our incursions into Afghanistan, Czechoslovakia and Chechnya.” Since not only Chechens but also Ingushes, Crimean Tatars, Finns, Latvians, Lithuanians, Poles, Bulgarians, Armenians, Turks and Kurds – a total of 3,333,000 people of whom many died in exile – were deported from their home regions 65 years ago, the authors of the leaflet called February 23 “Genocide Day”.

A criminal case was opened against Nizovkina and Stetsyura April 23, 2009, initially on charges of fanning hostility towards three social groups – the army, the police and the investigative agencies. Later they were also accused of writing an article about a Buryat prisoner of conscience – the imam Bakhriyar Umarov.

The Moscow rally of solidarity with the two journalists involved several dozen activists who were holding placards that read: “Put fascists, not human rights defenders, on trial!”, “Human rights defenders don’t fan interethnic hostility!”, and “We are being turned into extremists!” The rally was organized by the Moscow branch of Russia’s Democratic Union.



Authorities seek to control Internet

Tajikistan is yet another ex-Soviet Central Asian country where a top-level decision has been taken to put pressure on the journalists and toughly control citizens’ access to the Worldwide Web. Several local and foreign websites, among them Russia’s Ferghana.com, have been inaccessible since October 11.

Reports about the blocking of access to that web resource appeared late last week, but Ferghana.ru was only closed to customers of the Babylon internet service provider at the time. Today, it is inaccessible to the customers of other web service providers as well, among them Telecom Technology, Istera and TajikTelecom.

A source at Telecom Technology told Ferghana.ru his company is compelled to abide by the written instruction of the Ministry of Transport and Communications that shuts down access to a number of websites, including the Russian-language Centrasia.ru. The source said as long as top-level recommendation remained oral, web service providers had ignored them and continued providing access to the disfavored web portals.

For two weeks now, Tajikistan has not allowed access to the website of the local news agency Avesta and the political commentaries blog Тjknews.com. Tajik web users could not reach the TojNews agency’s website for two days; then it operated for a brief period of time until it was finally shut down.

Restrictions on people’s access to information caused the local media to criticize the authorities and circulate links to proxy servers enabling PC users to skirt government-established “filters”.

Meanwhile, in line with Tajik legislation, the authorities have no right to shut down web resources without an appropriate court decision. Local analysts see the web access restrictions as connected with media coverage of the situation in the country’s east where government troops are conducting a special operation to crush the militants who attacked a Defense Ministry unit October 19, killing 26 soldiers and officers.

[Ferghana.ru report, October 11]



Russian journalist tried

A court decision has been passed on the case of Vladimir Berezovsky, the Tashkent-based correspondent for the Russian newspaper Parlamentskaya Gazeta and editor of the Vesti.uz website.

The sentence read by Judge Nodyr Akbarov found Berezovsky guilty of libel and defamation but relieved him of legal liability through amnesty.

Significantly enough, it is still unclear whom the journalist belied or defamed in person, since the bill of indictment did not name, nor could the court identify, any victims.

[Ferghana.ru report, October 13]


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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