Дайджест19 Апреля 2012 года
Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 566
16 April 2012
Story of the week
News from GDF partners
TOPIC OF THE WEEK
Following up on the previous Digest’s story about police inaction in Balashikha, here is a new report about police turning a blind eye to lawlessness in another town near Moscow, Zhukovsky, where a group of private security guards cracked down, clubs in hand, on defenders of a national park section where trees are being felled to make room for construction of a new motorway.
Journalists covering this lawless action got hurt along with protesters. Two women reporters fulfilling an editorial assignment suffered bodily harm at the guards’ hands, Zhukovskiye Vesti chief editor Natalia Znamenskaya told the GDF, explaining that correspondent Anastasia Grigoryeva received a blow on the head and her colleague Ella Znamenskaya “was thrown onto barbed wire, receiving numerous bleeding scratches”. Also, the guards attacked journalist Alexei Rassolov from the town of Khimki and smashed his video camera.
For two hours the police officers on duty in Zhukovsky pretended to know nothing about the incident. People’s attempts to get the police to interfere were in vain until someone phoned the police department’s internal security. But even patrol vehicles’ arrival did not stop the guards from continuing to beat activists in the presence of police officers.
The police showed a rare example of self-control, watching from afar the men in security guards’ uniform who were attacking and detaining environmentalists, eyewitnesses said. “Police officers are recording ongoing clashes with their cell phone cameras,” green activists reported from the scene of the incident. True, one officer, Captain Alexei Tkachev, offered to help victims by inviting them to file reports on the guards’ arbitrary behaviour, and even claimed ready to hand out report forms to be filled in, but he did not personally move to stop the beating, either.
Significantly enough, security guards were pushing detainees into the police vehicles. Police officers themselves, looking only half-awake, finally started helping to detain protesters “for resistance to law enforcers’ lawful demands”.
Wouldn’t it have been better if they’d continued sleeping?
By Anatoly Tsygankov, GDF correspondent in North-Western Federal District
After Maksim Yefimov, leader of the Youth Human Rights Group in Petrozavodsk, Karelia, posted on his public organisation’s website in December an article sharply criticising the Russian Orthodox Church and its local hierarchs, he was accused under Article 282.1 (extremism and instigation of enmity toward the church) of the RF Criminal Code within the framework of an investigation started earlier this spring.
A few days ago, officers of the republic’s “force” agencies (the FSB and Investigative Committee) nearly stormed into Yefimov’s home; they claimed to be doing “investigative work”, having earlier called him on the phone to invite him to the FSB “for a conversation” without an official summons, and then sent an investigator to his apartment without a court warrant. Since the human rights activist on both occasions refused to cooperate, the Petrozavodsk city court warranted the seizure of his PC’s system unit on which the investigators suspected “extremist” material might be stored. This resulted in the law enforcers’ starting to bang on Yefimov’s door one late evening. The host would not open the door for a long time, inviting the visitors to come back in the morning; so an emergency ministry specialist was called, who said he would break the metal door. After a while, Yefimov agreed to open up; the law enforcers entered his apartment and carried away his personal computer “for checking”.
To avoid charges of “putting pressure” on the investigators, we will refrain from any assessments as to the course of this “anti-extremist” investigation but will note the way the law enforcers were entering the activist’s private flat. Why come late at night and deprive Yefimov of his right to talk to the visitors in the presence of a hired lawyer later? Why disturb the entire apartment house by entering his flat as noisily as they did to seize his PC? The suspect himself is suspecting today that the investigators may (deliberately) feed some “wrong” information into his database.
The “extremism” charges brought against Yefimov are bound to cause broad public debates. The underlying law provision, which from the outset has been seen by critics as an instrument in the fight against dissidents, is doubtful; but it is absolutely clear that any citizen is unprotected against finding him- or herself “cut to fit” into this legal norm. If need be, and considering the ruling elite’s strength potential, any critical media publication may be qualified as an attempt to fan hostility toward some or other social group.
The Leninsky district court in Kostroma, Central Russia, is to consider a legal claim lodged by the regional Security Department against the independent newspaper Moy Gorod-Kostroma (MGK) in the wake of an October publication, “The Special Department”, which struck department officials as smearing, damaging to their agency’s business reputation and a reason to claim 50,000 roubles in moral damages from the co-defendants – MGK ex-chief editor Ruslan Tsaryov and someone using the pen name “Sergei Smirnov”, an author whose real name remains undisclosed despite the officials’ repeated attempts to find it out.
It all began soon after the story was published. A lady official who identified herself as Klara Vorobyova of the Security Department phoned the MGK office on 2 November to say she was acting on behalf of Department head Sergei Kolesov who, in his turn, had received orders from Governor Igor Slyunyayev to “take a good look” at the critical publication. Vorobyova demanded a disclaimer and full details about the author – only to hear “no” because her both demands were considered unlawful. She then threatened the journalists with “serious problems”.
The district police officer came on 7 November to question Tsaryov, then editor-in-chief, in connection with the Department’s complaint about MGK’s “libellous” publication. He came again to ask for some additional details later, but never once since then, which the journalists took as a signal that the police had found nothing criminal about their activity. During both visits, the officer asked for the author’s personal data to be able to question him, but each time the editor refused to provide such data, pointing to the relevant provisions of the Media Law. The police seemed to be satisfied with that motive, but the holder of the pen name has nevertheless been brought to pose as a co-defendant in the libel case.
“I can’t find a reasonable explanation for this legal claim filed by the plaintiff, who clearly turned to the wrong court,” Tsaryov said. “The plaintiff knows nothing about the author except his pen name. I am officially registered as a resident of Moscow, and have never had housing or any other property in Kostroma. They should turn to the district court at the place of my permanent residence, which they very likely know. Instead, they filed their claim at the location of MGK’s founding organisation, which act would seem reasonable and logical if the founder, too, were made a co-defendant. I am definitely an improper defendant – I even haven’t seen the claim so far. And if they want a disclaimer, where on earth should I get it posted? On a fence? Or have it written on a placard to be carried around the city? Or should I have it published at my own expense in the newspaper as an advertisement? But the newspaper would be required under the law in that event to post an appropriate note next to such a publication. And anyway, it’s simply not supposed to publish an ad that it for some reason or other doesn’t want to see posted.”
What the Security Department is seeking to learn at any cost is the author’s real name, so as to subject him to reprisals, Tsaryov said.
“When we were just beginning to issue our newspaper,” he went on to say, “I was shocked by the way most of my would-be colleagues behaved. They were literally afraid of their own shadow. Signing an article with one’s real name, or requesting comments from a government official, or entering their own personal data into an inquiry – all those things seemed just impossible to them! For some time, I couldn’t make out what the matter was, since all my previous professional work had been unrelated to Kostroma. But after a while I understood they did have something to fear. I am a lucky guy: I have no relatives in this region; otherwise they all, including the most distant ones, might face reprisals. Maybe this is why (the Department) is trying to sue me here – it can hardly hope to get at me elsewhere. But my colleagues here do have a few things to fear. That’s why (Department officials) will never get me to disclose the pen name holder’s identity.”
The regional Security Department filed its libel complaint and its civil claim along with a report to OBEP [special police force against economic crime] about MGK’s alleged tax evasion – although the newspaper’s initial tax-break period had not yet expired by that time. Also, it complained to the regional departments of Roskomnadzor [federal service overseeing public communications] and the Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS). Moreover, since January 2012, unidentified persons claiming to be OBEP, prosecutor’s office or FAS servicemen, have repeatedly phoned MGK advertisers or gone around their offices threatening them with potential problems in business unless they stopped placing their ads in Moy Gorod-Kostroma, according to Albert Stepantsev, MGK acting editor-in-chief and general director of Moy Gorod Ltd.
By Anna Seleznyova, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District
An open-to-all round table in the office of the newspaper Arsenyevskiye Vesti in Vladivostok to discuss torture practised by the police has attracted defence lawyers for real victims of torture; parents and other relatives of people humiliated by ill-behaving police officers; RF Public Chamber representative Alexander Smyshlyayev; and Pyotr Dovganyuk, leader of the Maritime Region “Law Keepers” public association.
The conference was covered by reporters for different regional media, including the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, the Stalker TV show, the TNT municipal television channel, and the news agencies PrimaMedia and VostokMedia.
The issues on the round table’s agenda are still burning and pressing: fresh on everyone’s memory is the February-June 2010 case of the “Maritime guerrillas” [six young men convicted of grave crimes against police officers – allegedly in revenge for humiliation and beating by the police], whose relatives and defence lawyers told the conferees about police torture and backed their words with photo pictures and audio recordings. The discussion involved a defence lawyer who himself had been beaten for attempting to defend his clients. A public review board representative played some videos enabling the conference participants to conclude that “Police do actually resort to torture”. Since not a single law enforcement official came to attend the round table, “They are clearly unwilling to change their work methods,” Dovganyuk summed up. “We have evidence of mass-scale falsifications of judicial cases accompanied by the use of torture; hence the unfair decisions passed by courts of law.”
Any talk of glasnost or media influence would be irrelevant here: our media are free to shout about social problems and society’s inability to effectively protect the individual as much as they want to, but glasnost is unable to defend a citizen against lawlessness. And its influence on those at the helm is really negligible, which is why our so-called law enforcement felt free to ignore the journalists’ invitation and not to send anyone from the prosecutor’s office, or investigative committee, or the police or FSB, to attend the round table. No administration official came to take part in the discussion, either.
“Had they been present, they’d have had to acknowledge a few undeniable facts,” Dovganyuk commented. “And this acknowledgement would mean getting it in the neck for the regional law enforcers and their commanders.”
By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District
Alexander Chernega, publisher and editor of the Paramushir-Vesti newspaper based in Severo-Kurilsk, is often a character of GDF Digests because of his media outlet’s independent position. A justice of the peace has just finished hearing two judicial cases in which Chernega was a figurant again – in one of them as the plaintiff, which is a rare occurrence.
In January, he was asked by a friend to come as a witness to the headquarters of the municipal Heating and Power Systems Co., where his friend was to receive his work record card but suspected the company head, Y. Pletenskoy, might refuse to hand it over to him as he had repeatedly done before in the course of labour disputes with employees. (A criminal court is currently considering a complaint filed by an electrician whom Pletenskoy beat for his daring to ask why he had been heavily underpaid for several months running.) Chernega and another witness were standing at the accounting department’s door behind which the company head was having it out with their friend, when Pletenskoy dashed out of the office, started calling the journalist bad names and even attempted a fistfight.
The journalist did receive his work record card after all, but he sued Pletenskoy under Article 5.61 (insult, i.e. disparagement of another person’s honour and dignity in an obscene form) of the RF Administrative Code. The company head, for his part, lodged a counter-claim on the same charges, attempting to present the conflict just the other way round. Although he had a whole army of “witnesses” from the number of his reports eager to testify in his favour, and defence lawyer Y. Antonenko representing his interests, the court proved able to reconstruct the true picture of the conflict due to a video presented by Chernega. Judge Yekaterina Galakha found the journalist’s testimony trustworthy in contrast to that received from Pletenskoy’s witnesses, which she found unreliable and controversial. She pronounced Chernega not guilty, while sentencing his opponent to an administrative fine of 1,000 roubles.
Both Pletenskoy and his lawyer Antonenko more than once came under criticism on the pages of Paramushir-Vesti in the past.
“I never walk into government offices now without carrying some recording device in my pocket,” Chernega admitted in a conversation with the GDF correspondent.
By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District
A court of law in Omsk has accepted a legal counter-claim brought by a human rights defender against Governor Leonid Polezhayev who is claiming from him, in turn, half a million roubles in moral damages.
As we reported in a November edition of the Digest, the governor lodged his claim against Valentin Kuznetsov, a pensioner and head of the regional Human Rights Committee, for his saying during a protest rally, “Polezhayev must be prosecuted for ruining the (region’s) industry and agriculture and for subjecting residents to economic genocide.”
The Oktyabrsky district court in December turned the governor’s claim down in full, thereby asserting that a citizen of Russia has the right to publicly evaluate any government official’s performance. The plaintiff, however, challenged the decision before the regional court which returned the case to the first-instance court for review in January. Hearings were started again from scratch and have been deliberately dragged out since then, in Kuznetsov’s view. Testimony by over 30 witnesses from different walks of life (including pensioners, farmers, schoolteachers, businessmen, etc.) confirmed what the defendant had said during the rally. Stories about villages that have fallen into decay under Governor Polezhayev were particularly numerous. In Isilkul, for example, where there were a farming machine plant, a chemical fertiliser plant, a knitting factory and even a plant that assembled TV sets since Soviet times, residents are busy today shuttling by commuter train between their village and neighbouring Kazakhstan in search of cheap clothes and footwear. In the district centre of Odesskoye, a haulage company, a huge dairy factory, a road-building and repairing company, and a pool of farming machines have all ceased operating, leaving over 1,000 residents jobless. In Zhelannoye village in the same district, raiders have seized the land plots and other property of more than 600 farmers; and Tam-Chilik village lost its sheep and horse farms, its dairy production and its high school built in 1993. The nearest bakery is 30 km away. The situation throughout the region is as bad and even still worse in some villages, where residents take drinking water from local lakes at the risk of falling ill and having to ride several dozen, up to a hundred, kilometres along a snowbound or sludgy rut to the nearest hospital.
Attached to the eyewitnesses’ testimony are video materials and print media reports, mostly by Novaya Gazeta. The next court sitting is scheduled for 10 May. The way Kuznetsov looks at it, the court might have passed its decision long ago but seems to be waiting until Governor Polezhayev’s term of office expires on 21 May.
Tired of the protracted litigation, the elderly human rights activist has lodged a counter-claim of 100,000 roubles from the governor in compensation not only for the moral and physical damage Kuznetsov has suffered in the course of court sittings which, as a rule, continue all day long, but also for the personal losses incurred through that “ruining of the region’s economy and agriculture” which offended Polezhayev so much. Economic devastation caused Kuznetsov to resign as an inventor and lead engineer first at the Sibzavod seeding-machine plant and then at the Elektrotochpribor plant which produced electrical meters (both plants ceased operating during Polezhayev’s 20-year stay at the region’s helm), and to take up human rights defence instead. It took him quite a long time persuading the plant managers to pay what was due to him and to 1,500 other laid-off workers.
“If my legal claim is turned down in Omsk, I’ll go all the way up to Strasbourg,” he told the GDF correspondent.
By Anna Seleznyova, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District
A courier bringing the fresh issue of the weekly business newspaper Konkurent featuring a critical story about the speaker of the Maritime Legislative Assembly was simply not allowed into the Assembly building.
A creation of ex-Governor Sergei Darkin, notorious for his dislike of journalists, Yevgeny Ovechkin was compelled to resign as vice-governor, but that did not signal the end of his political career. Quite unexpectedly, he first became chairman of the regional Electoral Committee and then was elected Assembly speaker.
But when Konkurent decided to make Ovechkin’s sudden new appointments as well as details about his performance as vice-governor known to the general public, some secret well-wisher must have decided to protect the deputies and speaker from the “naughty” press and make sure this newspaper number never reaches the MPs who gathered to hold a regular sitting of the Assembly. An old-time courier, who has brought fresh issues of the newspaper before each new sitting for several years now, was left outside this time.
Guessing about the likely reasons for the ban, journalists pointed to the feature “Will Ovechkin Remain Speaker or Not?” in which political scientists and analysts pondered on his likely early resignation. In their view, the speaker’s replacement is one occurrence that the public may typically learn about only after the relevant order has been signed; this shows that decision-making in the region is a closed and non-transparent process. According to the newspaper’s sources, whether or not he retains the speaker’s chair will depend on the regional FSB department which has a number of questions to Ovechkin in connection with his having dual citizenship, and not only that.
“We are sorry the deputies didn’t receive the latest number,” Konkurent general director Viktor Staritsyn said. “We will respond by publishing still more accurate, double-checked information about activities of the Maritime Legislative Assembly and its leadership. Telling the truth is always easy and pleasant.”
By Anna Seleznyova, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District
The Maritime Region Legislative Assembly has set up an ad hoc commission to oversee the accuracy of property and income statements submitted by deputies. The group involves representatives of all parliamentary factions. Should any discrepancy be found in an MP’s income statement, he may be summoned for questioning. Besides, the commission is empowered to make inquiries and, if need be, turn for assistance to competent agencies. The novel practice caused parliament to make appropriate amendments to the regional law “On the Deputy’s Status”.
However, Maritime Prosecutor Y. Khokhlov, evidently seeking to protect the regional MPs with unclean hands from glasnost, has brought three protests against some of that law’s provisions. One challenged the requirement for the full names of Assembly deputies submitting untrue income statements or concealing their incomes to be published on the Assembly’s website and in regional media. Defending his standpoint, the prosecutor’s representative pointed to the fact that “no need for glasnost is officially required in line with effective federal legislation”.
The deputies found the prosecutor’s action bewildering. “At a time when a nationwide campaign against corruption is under way, protests of this kind are incomprehensible to both the general public and MPs,” they pointed out, turning all of the prosecutor’s three protests down.
NEWS FROM GDF PARTNERS
By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District
The Vladivostok-based AmurMedia news agency has requested assistance from the Media Rights Defence Centre in Voronezh in connection with Roskomnadzor’s officially warning it and its founder, PrimaMedia Ltd., on 20 February in the wake of a December web report about an activist of the National Bolshevik party arrested in Khabarovsk for organising an unauthorised protest rally in the city.
Roskomnadzor, the federal agency charged with overseeing the sphere of public communications, claimed dissatisfied with the report’s phrase “the leader of the unregistered ‘Other Russia’ organisation (former National Bolshevik party)…” The warning pointed to the fact that in line with Article 4 of the Media Law and the Federal Law “On Combating Extremist Activity”, any mention of outlawed organisations in the media is prohibited. The news agency report mentioned the National Bolshevik party without pointing out that this party had been liquidated pursuant to a court ruling; so Roskomnadzor demanded that AmurMedia either edit its report appropriately or remove it from the website.
However, both AmurMedia and PrimaMedia Ltd. disagreed with the Roskomnadzor warning and intend to challenge it in court on the grounds that they did not circulate any information about the National Bolshevik party while only mentioning its name, which action, in their view, cannot be qualified as “circulation of information” in terms of Article 4 of the Media Law.
Specialists at the Media Rights Defence Centre in Voronezh are currently helping AmurMedia to prepare a defence statement protesting the controlling agency’s warning.
This digest was prepared by the Glasnost Defence Foundation in Moscow. The digest has been issued once a week, on Mondays, since August 11, 2000.
Currently it is distributed by e-mail to 1,600 subscribers in and outside Russia.
We welcome the promotion of our news items and articles but if you make use of any information from this digest or other GDF materials please acknowledge the source.
Glasnost Defence Foundation, Room 432, 4 Zubovsky Boulevard,
15 Мая 2013 года
13 Мая 2013 года
9 Мая 2013 года
29 Апреля 2013 года
26 Апреля 2013 года