Дайджест
3 Февраля 2011 года

GLASNOST DEFENCE FOUNDATION DIGEST No. 509

January 31, 2011

EVENT OF THE WEEK

Journalist cleared of libel charges in court

The Gagarinsky District court in Moscow considered January 25 an honour, dignity and business reputation protection claim filed by Vladimir Leshchevsky, deputy head of the Construction Management Department under the RF President’s Executive Office against investigative journalist Vladimir Voronov of the newspaper Sovershenno Sekretno.

The filing of the claim followed the newspaper’s publishing two articles last summer that exposed corrupt practices within the Construction Department – specifically, repeated facts of bribe-taking and “kickbacks” by department officials. Leshchevsky dismissed those allegations as groundless and claimed a refutation and nearly RUR 1.5 m in moral damage compensation.

Curiously enough, he filed his claim regardless of the criminal proceedings already instituted against him on charges of bribe-taking under Article 290 of the RF Penal Code. Suspended from office until the end of the investigation, he might have figured out that offensive would be the best defense, and attempted to deal a “preemptive strike”.

The proceedings lasted several months, during which time V. Voronov won the Andrei Sakharov Award “For Journalism as an Act of Conscience”, submitting to the jury for evaluation the two above-mentioned articles, among others.

Finally, the court cleared the journalist of all charges and turned Leshchevsky’s legal claim down.

Voronov himself was somewhat surprised by the ruling. “I’d expected the court to pass a palliative decision at best,” he told Radio Liberty. “But in the course of hearings it became clear that that would be unlikely, since our opponent’s claim was not only ill-substantiated but also wrong in terms of its form.” It helped a lot that the court required the prosecution to present a number of case file documents that confirmed the accuracy of Voronov’s stories and disproved the plaintiff’s own allegations, the journalist said adding that the final decision looked absolutely logical to him.

Worthy of noting is that two months ago, on November 26, 2010, the Basmanny District court in Moscow partially satisfied a similar claim by the presidential Executive Office against the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, charging RUR 100,000 from the latter (down from the RUR 1 million originally claimed) for a publication about corruption within the Office. The question is why – only because of Basmanny’s notorious readiness to please the ruling elite or because the journalists’ defence statement proved better prepared in Voronov’s case?

 

RUSSIA

Krasnoyarsk Region. Journalists denounced for feigning abduction

Continued from Digest 508

In the previous edition of the GDF Digest, we reported on the strange disappearance of two journalists in Norilsk. A message from Andrei Kalitin, editor-in-chief of the National Bureau of Investigations bulletin, said, “A group of persons identifying themselves as law enforcement officers from Krasnoyarsk came to the office of the newspaper Pravda Norilska January 20, taking away editor-in-chief Dmitry Belov and his deputy Artyom Orlov”. The “detainees” later sent their colleagues an SMS message saying they were “being escorted to Yekaterinburg”. At the same time, Krasnoyarsk police spokeswoman Irina Muzhetskaya denied any police involvement in the journalists’ detention.

The situation cleared up soon. Editor Andrei Kalitin’s message of January 25 said:

“Ladies and gentlemen,

“The Bureau of Journalistic Investigations hereby provides yesterday’s details about what was thought to be the ‘kidnapping’ of Dmitry Belov and Artyom Orlov whose disappearance was reported by their colleagues January 20. Thanks to the prompt interference of the City Without Drugs Foundation, Glasnost Defence Foundation, Russian Journalists’ Union, State Duma Security Committee, Artyom Borovik Foundation, National Committee Against Corruption, RF Public Chamber and media, the real picture of the incident was quickly restored. As it turned out, their ‘kidnapping’ was a product of Belov and Orlov’s unhealthy fantasies. Actually, the two men took a taxi at 7 a.m. January 20 from Kurgan to Yekaterinburg, from where they returned to Kurgan at about 2 p.m. the same day. That trip was not related to Belov and Orlov’s professional activities. The two journalists spent the following few days in Kurgan, their cell phones switched off. They did not appear in either Krasnoyarsk or Norilsk during that time. Nobody attempted to kidnap them, or planted drug packets on them, or threatened to use violence against them. The police, contrary to Belov’s claims, had nothing at all to do with their alleged abduction. Moreover, it was due to police effort that Belov and Orlov’s whereabouts were later established. We sincerely apologise to all those who came to share our concerns and thank everyone who quickly moved to act – only to help us expose the lies, fraud and mystification on the part of Belov and Orlov, whose dishonourable behaviour crossed them out of the list of journalistic community members.”

 

Moscow Region. Emergency Ministry officer detained journalist from reporting on terrorist act at Domodedovo

By Dmitry Florin,
GDF staff correspondent in Central Federal District

When Dmitry Berkut, a reporter for the Caucasian Knot news agency, arrived at Domodedovo January 24, police cordons were being placed around the left wing of the airport building where a suicide terrorist had set off a bomb. While shooting a video report, the journalist saw a group of Emergency Ministry officers bending over a table with a laptop and some remote control device on it, and with a satellite dish near it.

Since the officers and the table were in a zone not guarded by the police or airport security service, which anyone might enter unhindered, the reporter started recording the group from behind but was instantly stopped by a lieutenant-colonel who did not identify himself while ordering that the journalist leave the place immediately.

As D. Berkut questioned the lawfulness of the officer’s demands (he had not ventured inside any restricted access area), the lieutenant-colonel said in a rude form that he would call the police to get the journalist detained for declining to obey an emergency agency serviceman’s orders. Berkut preferred to retreat to be able to continue shooting his report from a distance.

 

Perm Region. Regional court rectifies district court’s mistake

By Vassily Moseyev,
GDF staff correspondent in Volga Federal District

The newspaper Chastinskiye Vesti in the district centre of Chastiye, Perm Region, has carried an article entitled “A Hospital in Need of Resuscitation”, which said the local hospital was in dire financial straits, having not paid wages to its personnel for two months. Besides, the very system of remuneration was flawed: the prosecutor’s office had repeatedly protested against medical staffers earning several times less than economic managers or administrators. Still worse, the hospital had a debt of nearly RUR 1.5 m to the local branch of the Pension Fund.

Former chief physician Svetlana Rubtsova sued the newspaper for libel, claiming that the publication undermined her “honour, dignity and business reputation”. A local court satisfied her claim, requiring Chastinskiye Vesti to refute the information contained in the story.

The regional court of appeals in Perm, however, decided differently. Having considered the prosecutor’s offices protests, the documents presented by the Pension Fund, and excerpts from the hospital management’s orders on wage payments, it established that the publication was true to life and that the chief physician was open to criticism due to her status as a government officer. It also found that the language of the article was neither rude nor insulting. As a result, Rubtsova’s claim was turned down.

 

Sverdlovsk Region. Drunk police officer kills video film director

By Vladimir Golubev,
GDF staff correspondent in Urals Federal District

Against the background of the terrorist act at Domodedovo which once again demonstrated our law enforcement’s helplessness, civil society in Yekaterinburg was shocked by reports about the killing of Yevgeny Ilyushchenko, a film director with Universal Video Ltd., by police mayor Pavel Miroshnikov who was found to be in a state of intoxication.

Miroshnikov, senior operative with the unit against economic crime at police station No.15, while being on duty, was driven home for lunch in a service car. He was wearing plain clothes but had his government-issue gun on him. On the landing, he scuffled with Ilyushchenko, 28, who was having a smoke, and shot and killed him. A hospital test later showed 0.33-0.35 ppm alcohol in the police officer’s blood.

The police command started actively defending him, saying he had the right both to carry arms and to have lunch at home. Only the fact of his intoxication gave rise to questions… After web bloggers and Yevgeny’s colleagues raised a hullabaloo in the Internet to prevent the killing from being hushed up, the police commanders quickly distanced themselves from the incident, stressing they had never once communicated with Miroshnikov since he committed the crime. They said the major will be dismissed from service after he stands trial.

After a week in City Hospital No. 23, where he had turned for medical assistance complaining of a bad headache right after the killing, P. Miroshnikov was placed in a pre-trial detention facility under a decision passed by the Ordzhinikidze District court.

Thus the media and bloggers once again showed that glasnost is the most efficient weapon against intra-agency solidarity. A rally of protest against police arbitrariness is to be held in Yekaterinburg’s Labour Square February 5, preliminary reports say.

 

BELARUS

KGB releases Khartiya’97 editor from detention with written pledge not to leave town

Natalia Radina, editor of the Belarussian web publication Khartiya’97, who was detained in Minsk in December 2010, was released from the KGB pre-trial prison January 28 after giving a written pledge to stay in her home town of Kobrino, Brest Region, which is registered as her permanent residence place, Radia told the Interfax news agency.

She was detained in downtown Minsk December 19 during a protest rally in Independence Square staged by people refusing to acknowledge Alexander Lukashenko’s re-election President for yet another term and demanding new elections.

After protesters approached the Government House, special police officers cleared the square arresting more than 600 activists. The majority of the detainees were sentenced to fines or 10-15-day arrests for participation in an unauthorized action. But 19 persons, among them six former candidates for Belarussian presidency and N. Radina, were arrested on charges of instigating mass unrests, a criminal offence punishable by up to 15 years in prison under the Belarussian law.

[Lenta.ru report, January 29]

 

GLASNOST DEFENCE FOUNDATION

Some statistics cited

Last week, the Glasnost Defence Foundation was referred to at least 10 times in the Internet, including at:

 

OUR PUBLICATIONS

Transbaikal human rights defenders share President Medvedev’s concerns over corruption within judiciary

By Marina Meteleva,
GDF staff correspondent in Siberian Federal District

“There is no self-cleaning mechanism within the judiciary, so public support is needed to deal with the problem,” President Dmitry Medvedev said January 20 addressing a meeting of the RF Public Chamber. Transbaikal human rights defenders, who have monitored law violations and breaches of judicial ethics in their region for quite a long time now, are ready to provide such support.

“I agree with the President’s view,” Transbaikal Human Rights Centre director Vitaly Cherkasov said. “The regional judiciary does not report to the public and is dependent on government and law enforcement bodies. In such an environment, judges often bargain with their conscience and behave in a way that by far misses the targets set before the justice system.”

Corporate solidarity protects self-discredited judges from being held liable under the law, Cherkasov said. Transbaikal activists have tried to get some of them brought to justice but have run across the brick wall of protectionist attitudes on the part of court chairs and the regional Judge Qualification Collegium. The latter, for example, “failed to find anything wrong” in the actions of Anatoly Lineitsev, then acting chairman of the Khiloksky District court, as regards his alleged forgery of case file materials. An independent check-up by human rights defenders shows Lineitsev repeatedly inserted wrong data in judicial protocols, one of which indicates, for example, that he considered in court a motion brought by a defendant and his defence lawyer. Yet the lawyer could not possibly participate in that day’s hearing as he was attending another one a hundred kilometres away, as proven by an official reply the activists received to their inquiry from the town court of Petrovsk-Zabaikalsky. Nevertheless, Collegium chair Valentina Makhmudova stated that “there are no grounds for calling Judge Lineitsev to administrative responsibility,” and declined to submit the results of an official probe into Lineitsev’s performance for public scrutiny. Soon afterwards, A. Lineitsev became the full-fledged chairman of the Khiloksky District court.

A similar story occurred last November, when Judge Yelena Mershiyeva of the Ingodinsky District court in Chita did not stop even before the Dictaphone machines openly switched on by human rights defenders to record the court proceedings. She distorted the protocol over 100 times to justify a convictive sentence. Later she ignored the protests against her rigging the protocol and blocked off the filing of a complaint with a higher-standing judicial authority.

Transbaikal human rights activists maintain that to rule out any manipulation by dishonest judges with law provisions and human lives, permanent public control is needed over the way justice is administered. So far, many courts have placed barriers in the way of ordinary citizens and journalists’ attending even open court hearings.

“One other important problem is slack discipline among the judges,” V. Cherkasov said. “Court hearings seldom begin on time. Usually, one has to wait in the corridor 20 to 60 minutes, or even longer, with no one bothering to explain the delay or apologise.”

A vivid example is hearings of a criminal case in the Central District court of Chita, attended by human rights defenders. All the ten sittings opened later than due, with the waiting time in the corridor adding up, in all, to a whole 6 hours (sic!). In Cherkasov’s view, this is one reason for the judicial red tape causing people not to believe in dynamic trials and to ignore the court summons they receive.

Human rights defenders in the Transbaikal Region intend to systematise all those and other law violations and to send the resulting document to the RF Public Chamber which President Medvedev has instructed to take the judiciary’s performance under more stringent control.

 

DIGEST MAIL

Please help defend the sole existing TV network in the Solnechnogorsky District of the Moscow Region!

The STV network has operated for ten years now, linked with district authorities by a municipal contract to produce the Nashe Vremya (Our Times) weekly news review (shown at 7 p.m. on Fridays). Apart from news items and analytical material, each edition featured an interview with a guest speaker.

Although the municipal contract was terminated as of this January, the STV team has continued working in the business-as-usual manner, reporting on district developments and inviting guest speakers. The absence of a contract gave us a freer hand to conduct journalistic investigations, probing into various sensitive matters, offering disfavoured individuals the opportunity to speak out, citing specific names and figures, etc. District administrators have started declining to comment on matters of public significance for such “weighty” reasons as “I just don’t feel like speaking to you this week”… Tensions have been growing in our relationships with virtually all structures that are officially non-affiliated to the administration, including the district police department, the central hospital, etc.

On Friday, January 28, we were busy preparing a regular news review. Mikhail Smirensky, the incumbent district head Y. Pankratov’s former deputy in charge of relations with the media, advertising and special project coordination, was to be our guest speaker who intended to make public some sensational information about the district leader and his team’s performance. But the TV network’s director received a notice that day saying our company must move out of its premises before February 2 in view of the lease agreement’s termination. (The building currently occupied by STV is a piece of municipal property.) Ten minutes before the show’s going on the air, the STV director had a phone call from Solnechnogorsk Mayor A. Toldanov who recommended that the interview with Smirensky be canceled. The company head ignored that recommendation. But right after the show began, power supply in the studios was switched off – unlike in the rest of the building. An electrician came only an hour later to fix the power supply which he suspected had been switched off deliberately. We shoot an impromptu report on what was going on in the studios during that hour.

We went on the air, after all, although with a 90-monute delay. Our guest speaker commented, among other things, on the STV blackout which he called a provocation by the local authorities. While he was speaking, we had numerous phone calls to the studios – by ordinary viewers expressing support and by administration officials (as well as persons deemed to be close to the authorities) voicing their dissatisfaction and hinting at potential negative consequences.

Summing it all up, we are under pressure to move out now, while willing to continue reporting the news, although in a generally unfriendly environment – administration-controlled and affiliated agencies are declining to comment even on “non-sensitive” matters of everyday, routine nature. Not believing in this kind of coincidences, we are wondering what to do and counting on your advice and assistance very much.

Sincerely,
STV team of journalists

 

This Digest has been prepared by the Glasnost Defence Foundation (GDF)

 

We appreciate the support of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Digest released once a week, on Mondays, since August 11, 2000.
Distributed by e-mail to 1,600 subscribers in and outside Russia.

Editor-in-chief: Alexei Simonov

Editorial board: Boris Timoshenko – Monitoring Service chief, Pyotr Polonitsky – head of GDF regional network, Svetlana Zemskova – lawyer, Vsevolod Shelkhovskoy – translator, Alexander Yefremov – web administrator in charge of Digest distribution.

We would appreciate reference to our organisation in the event of any Digest-sourced information or other materials being used.

Contacts: Glasnost Defence Foundation, 4, Zubovsky Boulevard, Office 432, 119902 Moscow, Russia.
Telephone/fax: (495) 637-4947, 637-4420, e-mail: boris@gdf.ru, 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