29 Февраля 2012 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 559

27 February 2012


Impunity still the norm in Russia

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based international organisation defending journalists worldwide, published its “Attacks on the Press in 2011” report on 21 February. The authors pointed to the fact that repressive governments, militants and crime rings around the world used both traditional and newer methods to conceal crimes, gag the opposition and deprive citizens of their rights. Specifically, mass journalist rights violations were recorded in Syria, Belarus and Azerbaijan.

As regards Russia, Nina Ognianova, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia programme coordinator, stressed that impunity for the perpetrators of crimes against journalists has largely remained the norm here, despite certain progress recorded. The Russian authorities have condemned attacks on journalists and demanded their investigation lately, although these statements have seldom been backed up with concrete action, the report says. The masterminds of Anna Politkovskaya’s killing are still at large, the murder of Natalia Estemirova remains unsolved, and more attacks on journalists in Russia have been reported; “the death toll grew yet again in December, when an assassin gunned down Gadzhimurad Kamalov, founder of the Dagestani weekly Chernovik”.

Ognianova sees “a lack of the political will to prosecute the masterminds” as the chief reason for the killers’ impunity. She cited Novaya Gazeta’s deputy editor Sergei Sokolov as saying, when asked how those who order attacks on the press are able to evade justice, “Why aren’t they held accountable? Because, one way or another, these are people connected to power, which in turn means that they are connected to big money and criminality. Unfortunately, no one has been able to untangle this skein.”

As the next journalist murder anniversary nears, a spokesman issues a statement that the investigation continues and that “measures are being taken”, the report says. But “thus far the official promises have fallen far short of achieving justice. Without tangible results – the prosecution and conviction of all those behind violent attacks on journalists – enterprising, independent journalism in Russia has a bleak future.”

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Omsk. Man who attacked radio station anchor with knife and injured station staffers convicted of “disorderly conduct”

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

The regional court in Omsk has failed to qualify as socially dangerous the actions of a young man who attempted on 15 February an armed attack on the office of the Rekord radio station and threatened with violence a lady anchor who narrowly escaped a knife stab.

As reported by Omsk-based media and confirmed in court, in the 18 months prior to the incident the attacker (a radio listener who is now 24 years old) had terrorised the victim, DJ Nina Smiley, with “obscene SMS messages” sent to her office phone number. The last few ones had contained threatening statements, and after the girl told him she had reported his actions to the police, he took a knife and went to the radio station office “to have it out” with her.

Presenting himself to security guards as an advertiser, the man went through without hindrance to the premises of the Siberian Media Group (radio stations Rekord, Europe Plus, Mayak, Retro FM and Auto Radio), stormed into the anchor’s office (where she sat conducting a live radio show), smashed the on-air monitor, and pulled out the knife, threatening Smiley with murder. She cried for help, and colleagues rushed into the studio early enough to disarm the uninvited visitor by concerted effort. In the course of the scuffle, the assailant cut a staffer’s lip. The journalists managed to push the thug onto the floor and pinion his arms with a telephone cord before handing him over to the police, according to Rekord’s technical manager Vyacheslav Nechukin.

The regional court qualified the attacker’s actions as nothing more than “disorderly conduct” and sentenced him to a fine of 1,500 roubles under Article 20.1 of the RF Administrative Code. As established during the hearings, the man had sent obscene SMS messages also to Europe Plus anchor Maria Gordeyeva. The last one read, “I wonder where you’ll hide when I come to your studios armed with a knife.”

This notwithstanding, the court decided those messages did not pose a threat to society. True, the police are checking whether reports about damage to the radio station’s property and bodily harm inflicted on its staffers were true; if confirmed, these may give rise to criminal proceedings, after all. But a conviction adequate to the gravity of the crime is still unlikely, since radio anchors are not members of the ruling elite, and this kind of their maltreatment does not amount to an act of extremism in the view of Russian law enforcers.

Voronezh. Former police officers’ legal claim against newspaper turned down

By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

The Central district court in Voronezh has passed a decision on a legal claim lodged by four retired police officers against the city newspaper Bereg, one of its authors, and the RF Internal Affairs Ministry’s Chief Administration for the Voronezh Region (CAVR) in the wake of a publication that struck the plaintiffs as “smearing and defaming”.

In February 2011, Bereg featured a story entitled “Four Wise Guys”, which described the plaintiffs’ efforts to get one-time compensation for the wounds they had received in the course of anti-terrorist operations in Chechnya. Supporting a legal claim they had filed against CAVR, a court of law ruled for the Chief Administration to pay each of the retired police officers 300,000 roubles in compensation.

The story’s author Alexander Prytkov also cited CAVR as saying that the officers had attempted to get compensated twice – they had already received insurance payments together with salaries during five previous years; the plaintiffs, however, insisted they were entitled to all those categories of payments.

The retirees claimed insulted by the stand adopted by their former command and demanded a disclaimer of CAVR’s “smearing” comments. Also, claiming hurt by the story’s subheading, “Asking for seconds?”, they demanded 200,000 roubles from the newspaper, 100,000 from the author, and 300,000 from CAVR, payable to each of them in moral damages.

The court left their legal claim unsatisfied. The newspaper and journalist’s interests were represented in court by Galina Arapova, senior legal adviser at the Media Rights Defence Centre in Voronezh.

Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Further on “unbridled censorship”

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

At a recent meeting with students of journalism, President Medvedev said “we have no censorship at all, the less so ‘unbridled’ censorship, since no one has ever introduced or maintained it on purpose”.

Actually, censorship need not be introduced deliberately, since the relevant functions are successfully performed by different press departments throughout Russia. In the Sakhalin Region, for example, there is the Information Policy Department which not only dictates to the media it oversees (those controlled by the regional government) what to write and how, but also reads newspaper pages prior to printing and watches TV shows prior to their going on the air. As regards independent media outlets, these are subjected to economic blockades which are even more effective than censorship, as shown by the situation around the newspaper Sovetsky Sakhalin.

Below is an excerpt from an interview granted to the GDF correspondent by Sovetsky Sakhalin editor Vladimir Sorochan.

Question: The regional administration has always frowned at Sovetsky Sakhalin because of its independent stand, to put it mildly. I remember different governors at different times complaining about your newspaper to the presidential Chamber on Media-Related Disputes, filing legal claims against it, and ejecting you from your leased premises… In what way is the current situation different from those in the past?

Answer: Today, the authorities are using the full range of economic and information blockade techniques against us. We are operating in an environment where the Sakhalin Region government is constantly meddling in our professional work. Since last spring, they have denied us information about administration activities. In reply to our freelance reporter’s inquiry about budgetary expenditures, they said freelancers are not entitled to request any information at all. A similar inquiry filed by our staff correspondent was turned down on the pretext he had not confirmed his status and not explained why he needed that information. Finding those claims irrelevant, we complained to the prosecutor’s office, which then went over to our side. Explaining the situation to a prosecutor, I cited just one argument: all (government) structures are required to reply to citizens’ inquiries within 30 days without asking anyone to confirm his or her citizen status. Why require such confirmation from a reporter? This is indeed absurd, since Article 47 of the Media Law unambiguously stipulates, “A journalist has the right to request information.”

The prosecutor’s office issued a representation in the governor’s name, but it was ignored. Those Information Policy Department officials behaved in a really outrageous manner – even the prosecutors seemed bewildered by their actions...

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“Media Conflicts in Russia” database: Does Article 144 of RF Criminal Code protect journalists in real terms?

As a Glasnost Defence Foundation representative was preparing an address to the judicial community, he asked the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)’s analyst John Crowfoot – the developer and one of the operators of a new database on media-related conflicts, compiled jointly by the IFJ, GDF and RF Journalists’ Union – to answer the question of how Article 144 of the RF Criminal Code (“Interference with a journalist’s lawful professional activity”) has been applied by courts of law in the Russian Federation.

Based on his analysis of information in the database, J. Crowfoot drew the following conclusions.

“We are finishing work on our database which features data gathered by monitors at the GDF (with assistance from colleagues at the Centre for Journalism in Extreme Situations, CJES) between 2005 and 2011,” he said. “Of a total of 1,774 registered incidents (attacks, threats, instances of censorship, unlawful sackings, administrative detention and criminal prosecution), I have found 10 cases of criminal proceedings started by law enforcement under Article 144. With this article discussed extensively, and with many more requests filed for legal proceedings to be instituted under it, the number of cases of its being applied in real terms has been reduced to those ten.”

Most of these cases have been left uninvestigated because of the period of limitation, and only three have gone all the way to court and been crowned with convictions, Crowfoot said. Specifically, police lieutenant Georgy Totoyev was sentenced to 3 and a half years in a penal colony for attacking Channel One reporter Olga Kiriy in Pyatigorsk in 2006. He was convicted on combined charges of Article 144 and Article 286 (“Action in excess of one’s official authority”) of the RF Criminal Code. A woodcutter from the region of Novosibirsk was sentenced to a suspended one-year term of imprisonment with one-year probation in November 2006 for wielding an axe before a crew of TV reporters who were shooting sequences for the Vesti-Novosibirsk news show about the unlawful felling of trees. And in Karsnodar in October 2009, a group of three were convicted of beating a Krasnodar TV/Radio Company film crew that was shooting a TV report about a road accident. One of the attackers was sentenced to a fine of 30,000, another of 20,000 roubles, and the third to 120 hours of correctional labour.

For details about the database, see http://mediaconflictsinrussia.org/search/#searchform


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



Draft electoral law provision threatens freedom of expression

By Roman Zakharov, GDF correspondent in North-Western Federal District

President Medvedev has presented to the State Duma a draft law equating “any action aimed to instigate, or instigating electors to vote” for candidates or groups of candidates, or against any of these, with pre-election agitation. This actually means that each media outlet will now be under the threat of closure for any publication that may easily be labelled “agitation” if this term is to be interpreted loosely. This is why a similar law provision was cancelled by Russia’s Constitutional Court back in 2003.

The draft law is entitled “On the Election of Deputies to the State Duma of the Russian Federation Federal Assembly”, and the controversial provision is contained in Chapter 8 dealing with pre-election canvassing.

Meanwhile, the Constitutional Court has already acknowledged that any vague or loose interpretation of the term “agitation” is inadmissible because it poses a threat to freedom of expression and everyone’s right to be informed. The court passed a ruling to that effect on 30 October 2003 in response to an inquiry filed by a group of State Duma deputies and three individuals – S. Buntman, K. Katanyan and K. Rozhkov. “The use of the ‘other such actions’ phrase for prohibitive purposes leaves room for similarly loose interpretation of the notion and forms of unlawful agitation and thereby allows for arbitrary application of the relevant legal norm,” the court ruling said. “This kind of loose interpretation laying the basis for disciplinary or administrative liability for representatives of media organisations in the course of their professional work contravenes equality under the law and is incompatible with the principle that the gravity of any legal restriction must be checked against the constitutionally approved goals; it thus leads to media freedom infringements […] and gives law enforcement inadmissibly wide discretion in assessing the performance of media publishers.”

Konstantin Katanyan, Foreman of the Guild of Forensic Reporters and Director of the Institute for Political and Legal Studies, was among those who demanded abolition of the relevant law provision in 2003. “It seems the developers of the new draft law have hauled out some moth-eaten old laws to rework them slightly and submit to the President for signing,” he told the Glasnost Defence Foundation. “They didn’t even bother to change the letter ‘g’ marking the (abolished) old clause, which looks symbolic. This is … a clear violation of the legislative provision banning any action aimed to overcome the legal force of a Constitutional Court decision.”



Appeal by Independent Regional Publishers’ Alliance

Dear colleagues:

We are seriously concerned over the situation in which one of the publishing houses in our Alliance – Revda-Info Ltd., publisher of the newspaper Gorodskiye Vesti-Yezhenedelnik Pervouralska – is finding itself today. Unfortunately, similar situations have repeatedly occurred in other regions too, causing us to step in to defend the interests of publishers coming under administrative pressure despite the RF President and Government’s evident interest in supporting freedom of expression in Russia.

Since 8 February, 46 of Revda-Info’s 92 retail distributors have notified the publisher of a freeze on the weekly newspaper’s distribution until at least 4 March. The local newspapers Novaya Yezhenedelnaya Gazeta and Vecherny Pervouralsk Svobodny have been banned for sale altogether without any official explanation. Gorodskiye Vesti staffers are certain the ban on the sales of these newspapers in the city of Pervouralsk is directly linked to the forthcoming presidential elections. The media distribution networks are under administrative pressure in the interests of one of the candidates (Vladimir Putin), whose popularity rating is to be kept up above 50% by any means available. Initiated by regional power, this pressure campaign has been “creatively implemented” by local administration officials.

The sales ban may result in huge losses for the publishing house which operates on the basis of self-accounting, with reliance on its own money only. Losses from the unsold print run and the newspaper’s failure to meet its advertising obligations may lead to the company’s bankruptcy and subsequent closure. This instance of actual government censorship is seen as an outrage that is inadmissible in a country claiming the status of a civilised democracy promoting freedom of expression.

We hereby ask you to support our colleagues by appealing to the Sverdlovsk Region governor, President Medvedev’s personal envoy to the Urals Federal District, the RF Public Chamber, the Sverdlovsk Region’s Human Rights Ombudswoman Tatyana Merzlyakova, and the RF Journalist’s Union.

For your information: The public and political weekly Gorodskiye Vesti-Yezhenedelnik Pervouralska has been issued since 2009; registration certificate PI No. FS11-0862. Further details.

Hoping for your solidarity and support,
Anna Koshman, Executive Director, Alliance of Independent Regional Publishers


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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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:
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