Дайджест
24 Ноября 2011 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 546

21 November 2011

 

EVENT OF THE WEEK

Media Rights Defence Centre marks 15th anniversary

The Media Rights Defence Centre (MRDC) in Voronezh, Central Russia, one of this country’s leading human rights organisations defending freedom of expression, has marked its 15th anniversary.

The Centre was registered on 15 November 1996 as a regional representation office of the Glasnost Defence Foundation. Since then, it has not only acquired independence but also significantly expanded the geography of its operations. MRDC lawyers participate in trials, provide legal consulting for media outlets and journalists in the Central Black Soil Region and elsewhere in Russia, including Siberia, and conduct cases under consideration in the European Court of Human Rights.

The MRDC organises educational programmes; holds seminars, conferences and training sessions in media law for journalists, barristers and judges; publishes methodological literature; and monitors violations of freedom of expression and attempts to block access to information.

The Centre’s efforts have been highly estimated by journalists and the human rights community. This year, its director and leading legal expert Galina Arapova was awarded the Russian Journalists’ Union’s Special Prize “For Defence of Professional Community Interests” and an honorary diploma from the Moscow Helsinki Group.

As part of jubilee celebrations, a conference was held in Voronezh on 17 November, entitled “The Russian Press: Status Quo & Prospects; Experience in Defending Freedom of Expression”. It was attended by GDF President Alexei Simonov; GDF Monitoring Service Chief Boris Timoshenko; Russian Journalists’ Union Secretary Nadezhda Azhgikhina; and media representatives from the regions of Voronezh, Lipetsk, Kursk and Ryazan.

Simonov made an overview of GDF activities in the area of journalist rights defence. Timoshenko presented the GDF-IFJ (International Federation of Journalists) database recording instances of infringement of journalist rights and attempts to put pressure on media workers).

“Impunity for the perpetrators of crimes against journalists mirrors the essence of today’s reality,” Simonov said. MRDC Director G. Arapova added that, according to the RF Investigative Committee, four of every five crimes are solved in Russia today, which does not, however, refer to the killings of journalists, of which only two ordered killings (of a total of 300-odd journalist deaths) have been solved over the past 15 years. In the last few years, the pattern of instances of pressure put on journalists has changed, with the number of threats and charges of extremism against media workers growing considerably. Journalist prosecution under Article 282 of the RF Criminal Code (“Instigation of inter-ethnic, racial or religious hatred”) triggered a vigorous discussion. With the current trend toward de-criminalisation of the Penal Code articles entailing criminal liability for insult and libel, the State has come to use charges of extremism as the major levers for putting pressure on journalists, Arapova said. “In this country, any sharp-worded disagreement with the ruling elite is presented as extremism,” Simonov noted bitterly.

MRDC representatives also received congratulations from Voronezh Region Governor Alexei Gordeyev, regional administration officials, lawyers, judges, fellow human rights defenders, and journalists.

 

RUSSIA

Sakhalin Region. Newspaper pressured economically

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

As the election campaign got under way, the Sakhalin Region’s oldest newspaper, Sovetsky Sakhalin, found itself faced with increasingly serious problems.

To begin with, it vanished from the retail trade kiosks, with newspaper vendors citing a sales ban imposed by the regional government. Second, the local air carrier refused to purchase the newspaper – because of dire financial straits, as its general director claimed. Third, many advertisers ceased co-operating with Sovetsky Sakhalin because of relevant instructions received from executive power again.

Issued on Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands since 1925, Sovetsky Sakhalin is the region’s oldest, largest and most influential independent newspaper, founded and published by its own staff. It is released four times a week and carries articles criticising executive authorities and the ruling party. The reasons for criticism are numerous: scandals over alleged corrupt practices, office abuses and anti-democratic actions follow one another. Kiosk owners make no secret of the fact that the authorities have openly threatened them with terminating their lease agreements or even tearing down their newspaper stalls if they continue selling Sovetsky Sakhalin, the more so since “your kiosks make the city look ugly”, as government officials claim. The vendors have tried to calm customers down by assuring them the newspaper will be back on the stalls when the elections are over.

Official bans, far from suppressing, have only warmed up public interest in Sovetsky Sakhalin. The situation is being actively discussed on the newspaper’s chat forum, and subscriptions to the print and online versions of the disfavoured publication have grown.

 

Voronezh. Police seizes opposition newspaper’s print run

By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

Late on 18 November Alexander Boldyrev, editor of the Voronezh-based My Grazhdane (MG) opposition newspaper, had just had time to collect part of that day’s print run when police stormed into the printing house to seize the rest of the copies, according to Ivan Kondratenko, regional coordinator of the GOLOS Association which monitors compliance with electoral legislation. On the following morning, the editor had phone calls from the police urging him to come for questioning. Boldyrev told the callers to send him official summons and said he would bring his lawyer.

According to him, the newspaper is accused of breaching the rules of campaigning. “But in real terms, the print run was seized because of our criticism of the governor’s performance,” Boldyrev said. “Specifically, we reported on the resounding case of VoronezhInvest, a state unitary enterprise that invented a large-scale corruption scheme that involved both the previous governor, Mr. Kulakov, and the incumbent one, Mr. Gordeyev, then Russia’s finance minister; VoronezhInvest was led at the time by Mr. Netyosov, the current regional leader of the United Russia party branch.”

My Grazhdane’s publisher is the Voronezh Democratic Centre. During the previous (regional) elections in March 2010, the newspaper was likewise accused of unlawful electioneering and some of its retail distributors were detained – and this despite staffers’ assurances that not a single MG publication has ever been at odds with the provisions of the RF Federal Law “On the Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights”.

Human rights activists in Voronezh see the latest developments around MG as an open pressure campaign. “Unfortunately, the regional Electoral Committee has often connived at actual electoral law violations,” I. Kondratenko said adding that his organization is concerned over this “abnormal” zeal shown by law enforcement on the eve of December’s elections.

 

Rostov Region. Municipal newspapers “advised” to stay away from election campaigning

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

The first phone calls to the offices of municipal newspapers from the Rostov Region Ministry of Domestic and Information Policy rang as early as August, insistently “advising” the editors not to apply for participation in electioneering in a bid to get the right to publish – both free and for pay – competing political parties’ campaigning material. However, by refusing to take part in the pre-election propaganda campaign, district newspapers would lose the chance of earning a good bit of extra money, to say nothing of their often being the major source of information for the rural residents. In remote provinces, people are able, at best, to tune in to a couple of federal TV channels; few of them can afford subscribing to the regional or federal press, but district newspapers are extremely popular, offering plenty of topics for discussion with neighbours on the bench outside every other countryside house.

By publishing stories describing the programmes and activities of political parties, district and town newspapers would improve both their financial position and their standing in the eyes of the readers. But the editors did not dare to disobey their bosses from the Information Ministry, a co-founder of municipal newspapers. At one of the latest conferences, Deputy Governor Viktor Goncharov, who is in charge of contacts with the media, praised the municipal media editors for “taking the wise decision” to stay away from the election campaign – as if they had decided so of their own free will!

The same ministry recently required the municipal newspapers to carry “government news reports” – updates from Rostov on public events involving the regional administration. As a result, anyone buying a district and a regional newspaper has been compelled to read actually one and the same stuff in both. In the process, the ministry has paid for page space at a “special” rate of less than 2 roubles per sq. cm at a time when the regular price is 16 roubles, according to one municipal newspaper editor.

The bulk of ministry news updates focus on activities of Rostov Region Governor Vassily Golubev, leader of the regional branch of United Russia, and his administration. By driving the idea about the ruling party’s “guiding and directing role” deep into the readers’ minds, the authorities are evidently trying to prevent people in remote provinces of the Don River area from learning anything at all about the other parties.

 

Omsk. Administration-controlled media used in “black PR” actions

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

In the latest edition of the Moment Istiny (Moment of Truth) TV programme shown on the Omsk Region’s main television channel otherwise known as “gubernatorial”, its author Andrei Karaulov suggested that Europe’s largest gay club, which rents floor space at the headquarters of the All-Russia Society of Visually Impaired Citizens in downtown Omsk, has worked under the patronage of local State Duma deputy Oleg Smolin.

As follows from Karaulov’s conversation with Oleg Mitvol, former prefect of Moscow’s Northern Administrative District, Smolin has worked during the last 7 years in an office right over that club, where “flagrantly indecent shows” are staged every Friday night. Mitvol must know better what actually goes on there, since Smolin is known to have been born blind. Nevertheless, the former prefect insisted that it is Smolin who has been “in charge” of the gay club performances.

The deputy himself has already commented on the TV programme shown on Channel Five twice, on October 17 and 24, and highlighted each “moment of lie” of which Karaulov had compiled his slanderous “Moment of Truth” feature.

Specifically, he quoted a message sent to Karaulov by Society Presient A. Neumyvakin, who is also a member of the presidential Council on Disabled Citizens’ Affairs, which said that “…Smolin’s office is at … 14, Novaya Ploshchad, not at … 19a, Kuusinen St.” (where the gay club is located).

Nor has Smolin ever had anything to do with the disposal of Society assets, since his range of duties is limited to “interaction with the Federal Assembly chambers on matters related to legislative work”. Asset disposal is a function of the Society president who, by the way, is a member of United Russia’s General Council and the person to whom questions about “gay club patronage” should logically be addressed.

Karaulov also asserted in his TV show that Smolin is “a member of the Communist party’s Central Committee”, although Smolin is commonly known as a man who has never been affiliated with any political party – he was only nominated for his State Duma seat by the Communist party, whose leading member Andrei Alyokhin told the GDF correspondent that “this newspaper hoax would never have been spread without regional authorities’ approval; it was meant to smear the Communists who have always been in favour in Omsk” and have real chances to win the December 4 elections. “That’s ‘black PR’ pure and simple, and if the authorities decided to resort to it, things must indeed be turning out badly for them,” Alyokhin said. After Moment Istiny was shown on regional TV for the second time, the Communist party’s regional committee filed a complaint with the Electoral Committee, and Oleg Smolin is preparing to lodge a legal claim demanding moral damage compensation. He has already filed similar claims against Channel Five and A. Karaulov.

Significantly enough, it is not for the first time that PR technologists and authorities in Omsk attempt to belittle their opponents by listing them among sexual minorities.

For example, four and a half years ago, then Right-Wing Union leader Nikita Belykh’s visit to Omsk coincided in time with (gay artist) Boris Moiseyev’s performances in the local circus. Unidentified persons picketed outside the circus building hinting at the right-wingers’ “wrong” sexual orientation, and regional television was quick to show a TV report about the action.

Meanwhile, United Russia activists themselves have been given derogatory nicknames on the chat forums of independent websites. The largest of these forums, where United Russia gathered barely 4% of the votes, came under a 7-day (13-19 November) Ddos attack by unknown hackers, and it is only due to the forum’s foreign location beyond the regional administration’s reach that the “pretty expensive” attack was successfully rebuffed, the webmaster said.

 

Voronezh. Conflict over Inside business magazine

By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

The Voronezh-based Inside business magazine has remained in the centre of a conflict that flared up in August, when the magazine’s owner Tatyana Prishchenko voiced her dissatisfaction with the editor’s policy and started a personnel reshuffle. The staff, led by chief editor Yevgenia Kurilyonok, refused to obey Prishchenko and registered the magazine under a new name, Inside Comments. According to some sources, the conflict had financial underpinnings: Kurilyonok accused Prishchenko of terminating the media outlet’s financing, while the other party claimed she had remained in the red all the time publishing Inside.

Today, two separate magazines are released in Voronesh – Inside owned by T. Prishchenko and Inside Comments led by Y. Kurilyonok.

In September, officers of the Cobra private security firm arrived to carry out Inside’s office equipment. As the editor attempted to find out what particular items were being taken away, a security guard punched her in the face and pushed her out of a vehicle, after which she was taken to hospital with bruises and a concussion. Police started a probe into the circumstances.

Last week, Kurilyonok said the police had refused to open a criminal case in connection with her beating, claiming they had not been able to identify the attacker and that no forensic medical examination had been carried out to establish the gravity of the bodily damage she had received.

The editor finds both claimed reasons ridiculous. She believes the police simply did not bother to look for the man who had attacked her. Besides, she did provide a copy of the protocol of forensic medical examination, but it mysteriously vanished from the case files.

Meanwhile, T. Prishchenko has said unidentified persons torched her car late on 12 November, and sent her an SMS message the following day that said, “Stop releasing your magazine, or you’re in for trouble.” The police are investigating the circumstances and deciding whether or not to start criminal proceedings.

 

Rostov Region. Authorities bring newspaper to bankruptcy persuading disagreeable editor to retire

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

The Zvezda Pridonya (ZP) newspaper released in the Ust-Donets district, Rostov Region, used to be a profitable enterprise for many years. Very popular with the readers, it sold well both by subscription and through retail distribution networks. All was well until the old copier broke (it was used for form replication purposes; the newspaper itself is printed in the city of Shakhty), shutting down a major source of additional income for the media outlet. Then the district administration stepped in to continue ruining the newspaper financially by establishing pay for the publishing of official stuff at a rate below the actual costs of the newspaper’s release.

The authorities then required ZP to pay 30%, not 15% as before, of its income into the municipal budget. They declared the positions of ZP photo correspondent (who also performed as a regular reporter) and accounting officer redundant – and this despite there being only three (sic!) correspondents on the newspaper’s payroll! To crown it all, they cut down the editor’s salary by 12,000 roubles – i.e., nearly by half.

“The administration told me I earned too much against the average earnings of a woman resident of a rural area,” editor Tatyana Samborskaya told the GDF correspondent. “Does it really make any difference if an editor is male or female?”

To Ust-Donets district leader Vladimir Tkachenko, it evidently does. To “bridle” an editor with who is in the “bad” habit of publishing critical stories that highlight the most burning problems of district life, local bosses deprived the newspaper of economic independence and cut down the journalists’ salaries which they had honestly earned by hard work.

Samborskaya declared her disagreement with the administration’s policy and warned she would resign unless the draconic decisions were cancelled. For several weeks running, the district leaders kept silent pretending nothing was happening, and on 18 November they finally ordered the editor’s dismissal – but not in line with Article 77.7 of the RF Labour Code (because of her disagreement with the employer’s change of working conditions) but “of her own free will”, an option depriving Samborskaya of her dismissal pay.

The GDF Digest has more than once reported on the bitter fate of “serf journalists” – editors and correspondents of municipal media. Russia’s top-ranking leaders have repeatedly called for an end to those shameful practices – but nothing has actually changed. Provincial journalists continue to be fully dependent on local administrations: any district leader feels free to “kill or pardon” a reporter, depending on how he feels at the moment.

 

Astrakhan (Volga). Judge reviewing beating of journalists challenged

See Digest 448

By Dmitry Florin, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

The Astrakhan court on 15 November challenged Judge N. Kuzichkina and barred her from reviewing the case of V. Yashchenko and O. Teplishchev, two journalists beaten while covering local elections. A ruling to that effect was passed in response to pleas by the victims and the prosecutor, who pointed to the fact that the judge had (wrongfully) handled the case earlier, in spring 2011.

Yashchenko and Teplishchev were beaten while covering mayoral elections in Astrakhan on 11 October 2009. The man accused of masterminding the attack – regional Duma deputy Rifkat Shabanov – told the police at the time that it was he who had been beaten by Teplishchev at one of the polling stations.

Teplishchev himself said criminal proceedings against him were started right after his refusal to settle the conflict with Shabanov amicably. The latter, though, kept claiming the 11 October 2009 incident had been a pre-planned provocation against him as a member of the United Russia party.

The first (spring) trial ended in the court’s finding two “ruffian journalists” guilty of beating Shabanov – a professional boxer and ex-president of the Astrakhan Boxing Federation (sic!) turned city Duma deputy…

It was Judge Kuzichkina who disregarded an audio recording clearly featuring the sounds of the beating of Teplishchev and Yashchenko; ignored eyewitnesses’ testimony; and turned a deaf ear to the testimony of Yashchenko (beaten together with Teplishchev), dismissing him as an “interested party”. Instead, the court questioned the witnesses brought by Shabanov (who now are known to have lied in court) and used their testimony to acquit Shabanov and convict Teplishchev.

No new judge has so far been appointed to conduct the case.

 

Perm Region (Urals). Lady MP claims hurt by complaint

By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District

Olga Kolokolova, leader of the Yabloko party’s branch in the Perm Region and a member of the city Duma in Krasnokamsk, has lost in court to the local Krasnokamsk Nash Gorod (KNG) newspaper that published a letter from Yevgenia Ageyeva, a disabled pensioner, who said portraits of the lady activist “hang over each desk” in the office of her private company.

Ageyeva came to the PKF UralComp municipal property management company for explanations about the poor quality of community services they provided, but was offered a cold-shoulder reception in a rather rude form. Her neighbour advised the elderly woman to report this to KNG; having checked the facts, the newspaper published the reader’s complaint for everyone to know, under the heading “Outrageous Lawlessness”.

“Olga (Kolokolova) in person came out of her office to start pushing me in the back until I went all the way downstairs to the ground floor,” Ageyeva wrote in her complaint. “On the reception day, Tuesday, Kolokolova is never to be found at her workplace… She rudely reprimanded me for speaking illiterate Russian… There was a portrait of Olga hanging over each desk in the office.”

Kolokolova, who now leads the regional branch of the Yabloko party, lodged against the disabled elector and KNG a legal claim demanding a disclaimer and 500 roubles from each of the defendants in moral damages. She said she was hurt by the fact that she, a business lady and politician, was characterised as a “dishonourable and negligent person, who is indifferent to the problems facing the city and its residents and who feels free to bully a woman she does not know and to actually use force against her”. In her view, the letter’s publication “suggests I breached effective electoral law by performing a dishonourable act”, Kolokolova wrote in her claim.

The Krasnokamsk city court invited as co-defendants the three NGK trustees – Metronom Ltd. Co., the city administration and the city Duma. The questioning of witnesses confirmed the validity of Ageyeva’s charges against Kolokolova. Mr. Ovsov, a journalist who had checked the accuracy of the facts stated in Ageyeva’s complaint, said Kolokolova’s portraits are indeed hanging on the walls of her office. Having carefully studied the evidence, the court turned Kolokolova’s claim down.

The higher-standing regional court in Perm, too, rejected the claim and supplied its own conclusions that read, “The letter does not indicate that the portraits were hung around the office by the plaintiff in person; the relevant phrase does not contain any evaluative judgments nor implies that the plaintiff has breached any effective law provisions or ethical norms; therefore, it cannot be regarded as ‘smearing’. The author’s remark that the plaintiff does not greet visitors cannot be viewed as disparaging either, since the generally accepted moral and ethical norms do not imperatively require a public official to greet everyone everywhere.”

 

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

Cinemas refuse to show “Khodorkovsky” documentary

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

United Russia-owned cinemas have refused to show the German documentary “Khodorkovsky” on the eve of elections because of the “poor outlook for potential commercial yield”.

The first-night shows of the documentary, scheduled for 1 December, will not take place in Omsk, just as in many other Russian cities. None of the cinemas in Omsk dared to show the film to the public on the pretext that “it’s a documentary, not a feature film, meaning it’s doomed to failure”.

“There are no political underpinnings – the film is simply unable to be a commercial success,” Galaktika Cinema chief market analyst Valeria Sedelnikova told the SuperOmsk.ru website. Her assessment was shared by Dmitry Ortakhov, Atrium-Kino’s senior film distribution specialist. Both cinemas, by the way, are owned by Legislative Assembly deputies representing United Russia – Vladimir Sedelnikov and Valery Kokorin.

“Actually all of the cinemas in the city are under control – either by United Russia MPs or by other persons heavily dependent on the regional authorities”, Vladimir Vinogradov, leader of the regional branch of the Opora Rossii (Pillar of Russia) Association, told the GDF correspondent. Having talked to his friends and acquaintances, including those who are too busy to go to the cinema frequently, if ever at all, he concluded that most of them would definitely find the time to watch the new documentary. “Everyone understands who Khodorkovsky actually is”, he said. “He might have fled the country like Berezovsky did – but he chose to behave in a manly way. He was sent to jail, but he has held his own there, too. His most important message is that Russia is finding itself in a deadlock, with zero development prospects identifiable. If that’s what the new film is about, then showing it on the eve of elections would hardly ever add to the ruling elite’s chances to win.”

Pavel Kruchinsky, President of the Regional Businessmen’s Union, acknowledged that film distributors “do have a taboo” – an outspoken or secret instruction to ban the film’s show on the pretext of “zero commercial value”.

Olga Papernaya, the film distributor’s representative in the Russian Federation, explained the cinema owners’ behaviour the way she understands it. “There is some commercial value in the film, after all”, she said. “But people are afraid of (all sorts of) inspections and of terminated financial support. But most likely, they feel apprehensive ‘just in case’; this Soviet-style fear is deeply rooted in each of us.”

Only 20 cinemas throughout Russia will be bold enough to show “Khodorkovsky”, Papernaya said. First-night shows will be held in Moscow, Novosibirsk, Perm, Chita, Togliatti, Yakutsk and Saratov.

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

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, 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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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