14 Сентября 2011 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 536

September 12, 2011


Yet another killing claimed “disclosed”

On 8 September Alexei Vasilkov, deputy chief of the North Caucasus department of the RF Prosecutor General’s Office, announced the “disclosure” of the killing of Natalia Estemirova, head of the Chechen branch of the human rights centre “Memorial” and an observer for the Novaya Gazeta newspaper.

“The police have identified a suspect who is on the wanted list now, so this crime can be considered solved,” Vasilkov said, while declining to give the suspect’s name – “in the interests of the investigation”, to be sure. He did say, though, that “the alleged involvement in the murder of law enforcement officers is currently being checked” and that “the investigation process continues”.

That sounded odd: the investigation is not yet over but Estemirova’s assassination is deemed disclosed…

Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin earlier indicated that it was Alkhazur Bashayev, a gangster, who was suspected of killing Estemirova – allegedly for her critical publications and attempts to discredit Chechen authorities. Bashayev was wanted by the police and a law court had ordered his arrest, Markin said. Some sources reported Bashayev dead, but other reports said later he had been seen alive.

Estemirova’s colleagues accepted Vasilkov’s announcement sceptically.

“I don’t think identifying a suspect amounts to solving a crime,” Civil Co-Action Committee chair Svetlana Gannushkina told the Interfax news agency. Memorial Centre board member Alexander Cherkasov, too, said it is too early to celebrate the disclosure of Estemirova’s killing.

Actually, a crime can be deemed solved after a law court has passed a convictive sentence. But it looks like our law enforcers have fallen into a habit of reporting successful crime disclosures as soon as they identify a suspect who has not even been detained yet – just as they did investigating Estemirova’s assassination.



Republic of Dagestan. Police officers prohibit cameras

By Magomed Magomedov,
GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

Police officers in Makhachkala have confiscated photo and video equipment from two journalists. The incident occurred on 5 September outside City Hospital No. 1, where relatives of Ruslan Magomedov, a suspected criminal offender, had gathered to rally in his support.

As Ruslan Alibekov, a photo correspondent for the Chernovik newspaper, and freelance reporter Zakir Magomedov were gathering information and taking pictures of the proceedings, they were detained by police officers who seized Alibekov’s photo camera and Magomedov’s video camera and took both journalists to the Leninsky district police headquarters without explaining the reasons why. All the photo images and video footage were erased.

Ruslan Alibekov has more than once come across police interference with journalists’ work. On 14 July he was detained by policemen while taking pictures of the scene of a crime in the Sovetsky district of Makhachkala, and similarly had all his images destroyed (see Digest 529).


Samara Region. Dragged-out trial crowned with unfair verdict

By Viktor Sadovsky,
GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District

The Bolshe-Glushitsky district court has completed hearings of a reinstatement claim lodged by Olga Dubrovina, the Stepniye Izvestia newspaper editor fired in early June.

The hearings lasted for nearly a month and a half and resulted in Judge Nina Sashnina’s declining to uphold the plaintiff’s case despite ample evidence in favour of Dubrovina’s reinstatement as editor, in which position she had successfully worked for over 15 years.

Seemingly unbiased at the outset, the judge grew strikingly near-sighted toward the end of the proceedings, disregarding quite a few facts that proved the editor had been dismissed unlawfully. One, the newspaper charter says the editor shall be elected by the staff and approved by the trustee (the district administration). Two, the judge overlooked a number of employment- and dismissal-related discrepancies in formal entries made into Dubrovina’s work record card that should be interpreted under the law, like any other doubts, in the defendant’s favour. Third, Judge Sashnina either failed to understand or simply ignored the 8 August 2008 ruling passed by the Civil Law Collegium of the RF Supreme Court on the case of another fired newspaper editor, Alexander Popov of the Sergiyevsky district of Samara Region. The country’s highest judicial authority had finally brought closure to protracted judicial proceedings at the time by ruling to get Popov reinstated.

Also, Sashnina disregarded a number of other circumstances that prompted the passing of a different – lawful and fair – verdict. Maybe that happened because she was distracted by the district administration’s lawyer, Sergey Bortnikov, who was sitting almost shoulder-to-shoulder with Prosecutor Ruslan Kuramshin and kept taking on the chairperson’s functions, feeling free to evaluate his opponents’ actions, tell them what to say and how, interrupt their speeches, and come up with remarks totally unrelated to the case under consideration.

While turning a blind eye to these appalling breaches of the rules of procedure by the defence lawyer, the judge repeatedly reprimanded representatives of the plaintiff, telling them to “speak quietly and strictly about the dismissal”, etc. Moreover, toward the end of the last sitting, she ordered Stepniye Izvestia deputy editor Natalia Sorokina out of the courtroom without explaining why. Sorokina had been among the first to testify and was entitled to stay in the courtroom until the end of the sitting.

To sum it up, the dragged-out process accompanied by numerous procedural violations and the application of law provisions that should not have been applied, and non-application of those that should have, was crowned by the passing of a clearly unfair decision which will necessarily be challenged before the higher-standing regional court. As regards the unduly close contact between the defence lawyer and prosecutor, it will be reported to the appropriate judicial authorities, and a private complaint will be filed with the chairman of the regional court about Sorokina’s unlawful expulsion from the courtroom.


Omsk. Regional leader claims half a million roubles in moral damage compensation

By Georgy Borodyansky,
GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

Governor Leonid Polezhayev has broken a promise he made to Omsk journalists about two years ago, at a news conference in December 2009, when he pledged never to press legal charges against the media again. As it turns out, that statement was not more than wishful thinking… On 7 September, the regional leader sued the Biznes-Kurs magazine, claiming half a million roubles in moral damages from the publisher and editorial board for a critical publication featured in one of the magazine’s latest editions (No. 32).

The article in question called against the construction in the city of a club for entrepreneurs at the regional budget’s expense. The project is managed by one of Polezhayev’s close friends, prominent businessman Valery Kokorin, who is also a deputy of the Legislative Assembly.

The plaintiff claimed hurt by the cover-page question, “How much does the Kokorin-Polezhayev business, fuelled by multibillion budgetary injections, cost the ordinary Omsk residents?” Adding to his “moral suffering” was a suggestion that Polezhayev is “the Omsk Region’s number one corrupt official” (on the other hand, should anyone be identified with a still higher corruption rating, that would hardly add to the governor’s public image, meaning that either the region is run by a shadow governor or that corruption in Omsk has been fully eradicated, which point the plaintiff may find very hard to prove in court).

Valery Kokorin has not filed any legal claim so far. That he, a former Komsomol (Young Communist League) executive, is on a friendly terms with the governor has been more than once stressed in different media, with neither of the two men ever attempting to disprove that.

Leonid Polezhayev claimed exactly the same amount – five hundred thousand roubles – in moral damage compensation in the past, too – for example, from the Vash Oreol newspaper which reported about the general contractor for a metro bridge construction having presented the governor with a little gold model of that bridge; and from the Novaya Gazeta newspaper which suggested not a single private business in the region might hope to thrive without Polezhayev’s personal patronage. An appeal against the compensation-awarding decision passed on the latter case by the Omsk city court has been accepted for consideration by the European Court.


Chelyabinsk Region. District newspaper’s print run withdrawn

By Irina Gundareva,
GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

The full print run of the fresh issue of the Krasny Uralets district newspaper has been withdrawn by district authorities in Verkhneuralsk, Chelyabinsk Region.

The reason was that the issue featured an article by the outgoing editor Nikolai Batavin, in which he was saying goodbye to the readers and advising the district leader, Sergey Khabin, to stop stringing the journalists’ nerves and start working in earnest at long last.

Below is an excerpt from the editorial as circulated in web blogs after the print run’s withdrawal.

“…It would be good to see the dragged-out personnel reshuffle come to an end and the district head get down to business,” Batavin wrote. “My advice to him is to stop using the good deeds of United Russia activists and deputies as a shield – it’s time to finish what others started before him, like paving Sovetskaya Street or completing the construction of the sports and recreation centre, and proceed to perform good deeds of his own. Trust me, Mr District Leader: that will leave you no time to hamper other people’s work. You’ve strained journalists’ nerves long enough by refusing to share information with us – not a single interview over nearly two years! Is this a way to raise your popularity rating? Well, may God judge you and your likes – all those who broke through to power only to indulge themselves without limit.”

It is this particular passage that caused Verkhneuralsky district head Sergey Khabin and his deputy Galina Abakumova to dash for the post office on 2 September to withdraw the print run. They confiscated everything, even the last 30 newspaper copies held by the editor’s driver. Instead, they supplied a version of the same issue in which the scandalous editorial was replaced with an article about local celebrations of Uraza Bairam, a Muslim holiday marking the end of the Ramadan fast.

Batavin resigned in view of his failure to reach understanding with Khabin, who had first urged the opposition editor to leave right after his winning the March 2010 election race in which Batavin had supported his rival, the previous district head standing for re-election. The editor, however, said no, pointing to the law provisions protecting him. That marked the beginning of a pressure campaign against him in the form of repeated accusations of non-professionalism, sluggishness and incompetence, and most importantly, of his stubborn unwillingness to sing the new mayor’s praises.

“He would never write about the district head’s achievements, nor publish his photo portraits – I mean, he never publicised the work of the district administration or its leader in person,” Galina Abakumova complained to reporters. “Meanwhile, Krasny Uralets has remained the administration’s sole newspaper – we have no other one (to cover our activities). Batavin positioned his paper as an independent media outlet – and this despite the 2 million to 3 million roubles he annually received in subsidies.”

These charges look pretty artificial in the light of Nikolai Batavin’s statement about Khabin’s having not granted Krasny Uralets a single interview over the last two years without explaining why.

The ex-editor is preparing a report to the police and a legal claim against the administration in connection with the print run withdrawal. The Glasnost Defence Foundation will monitor the developments in Verkhneuralsk closely.


Republic of Karelia. Republic’s sole daily shut down

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

Having changed names 14 times over the 94 years of its operation, during the last few years the daily was called Kuryer Karelii (Karelia’s Courier). For a short period of time in its history, it was the most popular and authoritative newspaper in the republic, having the largest circulation and owned by its own journalists pursuing an independent policy. But the post-perestroika economic turmoil and staffers’ inability to reach mutual understanding first led to in-house discords and then caused the journalists to start looking for sponsors to save the newspaper from bankruptcy. Finally, KK was purchased by a businessman recommended by the then head of Karelia, who was interested in seeing the newspaper run the way he said.

The new owner has treated KK as a stepdaughter ever since, paying little attention to eternal debt defaults and the high level of personnel fluctuation. To skirt debt repayment, the publisher invented various schemes of re-registration, which in the last year of the paper’s operation led to a unique situation where KK did not have a single journalist on its payroll. The outcome was predictable: a few days ago the owner announced the newspaper project was shutting down. He promised that some of the laid-off workers (predominantly technical personnel) would be offered jobs with a TV company he owns, which is opening its own website; the rest would be employed by one of his trading firms.

Thus, a veteran daily newspaper ceased existing, with its niche remaining unfilled.


Rostov-on-Don. Prominent journalist sentenced to a fine of 120,000 roubles.

By Anna Lebedeva,
GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

Prominent Rostov-based journalist Alexander Tolmachev, editor of the Upolnomochen Zayavit newspaper, has published an article accusing V. V. Tkachev, director of the Southern Federal District Forensic Studies Centre, of producing false expert conclusions “at the request of his father V. N. Tkachev, chairman of the regional court”.

V. V. Tkachev asked the police to start legal proceedings against Tolmachev on libel charges under Article 129 of the RF Criminal Code on the grounds that “the author’s assertion about my family relationship with the court chairman is a lie”, and that the publication is “generally untrue and damaging to my honour and dignity” (see Digest 511).

The police opened a criminal case and, upon completion of an investigation, submitted it for consideration to a justice of the peace who found the journalist guilty and sentenced him to a fine of 120,000 roubles. The court also satisfied Tkachev’s claim of 100,000 roubles in moral damages plus 56,000 to pay for a hired lawyer’s services.

A. Tolmachev told the Glasnost Defence Foundation he has appealed against the decision to the Leninsky district court in Rostov-on-Don. The date of a new hearing has not been appointed yet.


Sverdlovsk Region. “Undesirable” media reporters barred from governor’s meeting with premier

By Vladimir Golubev,
GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

Many journalists from the number of those accredited to cover the first-day programme of the international exhibition “Russian Expo Arms 2011” were shocked to learn they would not be able to continue their work on the second day, 9 September, the UralInformBureau news agency reported.

As announced by Governor Alexander Misharin’s team, journalists were to be admitted to the exhibition on the following day on the basis of a special list, in view of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s arrival. Regional authorities said the pool of “selected” media reporters had been approved by the Federal Security Service, which explanation struck many as totally unconvincing, considering the fact that only the regional Oblastnaya Gazeta newspaper, the regional TV Company and a number of “pocket” outlets from the governor’s media pool were on the list of the “lucky ones”.

Most likely, the gubernatorial administration led by Vyacheslav Lashmankin resorted to that trick to save the premier the need to answer “awkward” questions regarding Governor Misharin’s performance.


Kurgan Region. Disfavoured editor reinstated

By Valentina Pichurina,
GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

After five years of banishment, Anatoly Babikov has been reinstated as editor of the Tribuna newspaper in the Almenevsky district of Kurgan Region, as collectively decided by the journalist himself, the trustees (the regional Press and Media Affairs Committee) and the district administration. So far, a one-year contract with him has been signed, Babikov said.

He was relieved of the editor’s duties in 2006 on the pretext of “poor managerial performance” – and this despite Tribuna’s invariably good creative and financial results and the fact that Babikov had complemented his higher education as a journalist with two retraining courses in Moscow, one of them particularly in district newspaper management. The true reason for his dismissal, he figured, was the upcoming chain of elections, during which authorities were unwilling to deal with an editor who was ready to defend his independent political views and civil position. After he was fired, Babikov started his own newspaper, Vecherneye Almenevo, but the project failed for a variety of reasons.

Curiously enough, the trustees did not hesitate to invite him back on the eve of new elections to the State Duma. Evidently, they had no choice: his successor had failed to cope with his editorial duties and resigned. Veteran journalists are more reliable, beyond doubt.


Republic of Ingushetia. Investigation of Maksharip Aushev’s killing resumed

By Vakha Chapanov,
GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

The RF Investigative Committee’s Main Department for the North Caucasian Federal District has resumed the investigation of the killing of Ingush human rights activist Maksharip Aushev.

The relevant decision was taken in response to an appeal by Aushev’s family to Russia’s President and General Prosecutor, which pointed to the fact that the criminal case investigation had been unlawfully suspended.

M. Aushev died on 25 October 2009 as unknown attackers fired shots at his car on the Kavkaz federal highway. One year later, the investigation was suspended “in view of no suspects identified”.

Aushev’s killing is believed to have been linked with his human rights activities: he openly protested against kidnappings, torture and human rights violations in the republic. He was a member of the Board of Experts on the North Caucasus under the RF Human Rights Ombudsman. Shortly before he died, on 15 September 2009, he became the target of a kidnapping attempt.

Progress in the investigation of his murder case will be personally overseen by Russia’s General Prosecutor.



Internet banned – together with all the rest

By Yuri Chernyshov,
GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District

On 7 September, a justice of the peace in the Oktyabrsky district of the city of Saratov considered an administrative case against Mikhail Namestnikov, chief of staff of the regional branch of the Yabloko party, and established that “As found in the course of a check-up carried out by the city prosecutor’s office on 28 June 2011, Namestnikov posted in the ‘Videos’ blog on his publicly available page on the Vkontakte website the documentary ‘Russian Resistance’, which is on the Federal List of Extremist Materials pursuant to an 18 November 2010 ruling of the Miyakinsky district court of the Republic of Bashkortostan.” It may as well be noted here that the district court ruling came 4 months after the documentary’s posting in the web.

The Oktyabrsky district court found M. Namestnikov guilty of an administrative offence falling under Article 20.29 of the RF Administrative Code and sentenced him “to a fine of 2,000 roubles payable into the state budget, with the confiscation of the … documentary”.

Leaving the logic of this court decision for the boards of appeal to analyse, let us try to assess the real effects that the said decision may bring about. What did the court actually do by defining Namestnikov’s actions as extremist while not passing any judgment in respect of the Internet, where the convicted man had found the link to the documentary? Clearly, the court did not – and could not possibly – ban the worldwide web, the actual showcase of the film qualified by the Miyakinsky court as extremist. Moreover, in mentioning the film title in its ruling, the court itself got into a kind of trap, since it could not fail to mention that title in a document that is open for reading by an indefinite number of people and accessible to the media for citing. But isn’t this mentioning of the film title in itself a reference to an extremist material? In other words, can’t the court ruling itself be regarded as a document publicising links to an extremist video? Having read that ruling, any person – even someone who never knew such a film exists – may type the film title into any web browser’s box and watch the banned documentary not only on the Vkontakte website but elsewhere too, regardless of the fact that the relevant link has been erased from Namestnikov’s web page. Isn’t that an absurd situation, really? Following the court’s logic, shouldn’t the court itself be held liable under the same Administrative Code article?

Let us look at it from a different angle. The court “confiscated” the video film from one page of a single website. But by typing “Russian Resistance” into the browser of the same site Vkontakte, one will get dozens of links to that film and that topic. On the YouTube site alone, the browser indicates the film mentioned in the court ruling has already been seen by about 30,000 PC users! Features pertaining to “Russian Resistance” – only on this particular site, one among dozens of others covering this theme – have been mouse-clicked, by a rough estimate, more than 2 million (sic!) times! And how many of those who have seen the documentary posted links to “Russian Resistance” in their albums? Are they all to be tried and fined now? But the theme itself was not defined by the Miyakinsky district court as extremist – although it does cover a variety of materials that can be qualified as nationalist, fanning inter-ethnic strife, etc. It is often discussed by prominent politicians in their public speeches shown on TV to millions of viewers! That theme is important enough to be of interest to many, however hard we might try to hush it up. Evidently, any politically-oriented person would be certain to ponder over it time and again, let alone renowned politicians who are simply obliged to study it in-depth and draw conclusions based on realities reflected, among other sources, by this notorious documentary. This is what Namestnikov pointed to as he explained in court the reasons why he had posted a link to that film on his web page. In this context, the results demonstrated by the courts and the prosecutor’s office in their “fight against extremism” look frustratingly negligible and irrelevant or, still worse, aggravating the negative trends. Moreover, they raise concerns that the so-called “fight against extremism” may actually be an instrument of pressure on political dissidents, which creates a socially dangerous precedent.

This, by the way, is already the second attempt to prosecute Namestnikov. In July, he was summoned to the Anti-Extremism Centre at the regional police department and told that administrative proceedings would be instituted against him under Article 20.29 of the Administrative Code for his circulation of extremist materials (for his posting of the link to the “Russian Resistance” documentary in August 2010). However, the court declined to press administrative charges against him in July. So what has happened in the two months since then? Isn’t it because of the State Duma elections, scheduled for December 4, that the services charged with combating extremism have turned their attention to an opposition politician? If so, one may expect them to treat other opposition-minded activists and parties accordingly. This must be what they need the precedent with Mikhail Namestnikov for – not for purposes of invigorating their extremism-thwarting efforts.



Joint project by GOLOS Association and Gazeta.ru

The GOLOS Association in Defence of Electors’ Rights and the public and political web publication Gazeta.ru have carried out a joint project to create an interactive map of law violations in the course of upcoming State Duma elections. The map, designed for real-time monitoring of the situation at the polling stations, is available at: www.картанарушений.рф или www.kartanarusheniy.ru. It will feature reports sent in by campaign participants – electors, electoral commission members, political party representatives, and observers. Designed on the basis of Google Maps, the new monitoring tool will link election reports to specific geographic locations for detailed analysis on a scale ranging from the entire country to a municipal district. One can send a report directly from the website, or from its mobile version, or by sending a free SMS message to the number (+7) 925 00 333 50, or by calling the free number of a hotline that will start operating on 12 September. Messages to the site can be accompanied by a photo picture, an audio recording or a video clip.

To help campaign participants identify electoral law violations, experts have provided descriptions of typical examples and recommendations as to how to react to a breach of law. All in-coming information will be reflected on the map and on the news line; filters will help classify it by geography, types of violations and level of elections. In-coming data will be summed up in a statistical table online. GOLOS analysts will select the most typical stories and assess how well the voting is proceeding. The organisers believe people’s reports will be checked by the electoral commissions, and if a law violation is confirmed – by the law enforcement agencies.

For additional information, please contact GOLOS Association’s Olga Novosad by calling (+7) 909 638 33 05 or (+7 495) 234 59 39, or by e-mailing a message to: press@golos.org


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.


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, 119992 Moscow, Russia.
Telephone/fax: (495) 637-4947, 637-4420, e-mail: boris@gdf.ru, fond@gdf.ru

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Полезная деятельность Фонда защиты гласности за 25 лет его жизни