14 Декабря 2017 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 824

November 20, 2017


Lawsuit against journalist Yulia Litvinenko draws to a close in Yekaterinburg

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

A regular 17 November sitting of the Leninsky district court in Yekaterinburg to look into the libel case against Ura.ru news agency journalist Yulia Litvinenko gave a glimmer of hope that the legal claim lodged against her by Russia's former General Prosecutor Yuri Skuratov would be rejected, saving the lady journalist the trouble of potentially paying up to a million roubles in damages or serving a forced-labour term of up to 240 hours.

It was Skuratov's representative, lawyer Vyacheslav Vukkert, who proposed settling the dispute amicably. The plaintiff himself did not appear in court citing poor health conditions and presenting the relevant medical documents. Now hearings have been delayed until the ex-prosecutor confirms his consent to the proposed way of settling the dispute. “I want to hear Mr Skuratov's own opinion about the amicable settlement; personally, I would be glad to have the case closed,” Litvinenko said.

As we have reported, the criminal case against her was started in late 2016 (see digests 791, 802-803, 810, 816 www.gdf.ru), following Ura.ru's carrying an article alleging Skuratov's involvement in decision-making on a corporate dispute over the Ventprom ventilation-equipment works in the city of Artyomovsky.

Well, the entire local media community has long called for an end to their colleague's prosecution, the more so because all of the searches of media offices carried out as part of the probe, as well as expert studies and lie-detector tests, have failed to yield a single proof of Litvinenko's guilt. The journalists are waiting for justice to triumph.

Criminal case against editor: Probe conducted by wrong investigative authority in Karelia

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

It took Karelia Interior Ministry investigators a whole 14 months to understand that the lawsuit against Alexei Gavrilov, a former MP and chief editor of the newspaper Nam Vsyo Yasno, has all the while been handled by the wrong investigative authority. In line with effective legislation, deputies of the republic's parliament are classified as “special subjects”, and in case they violate the law, it is up to the Russian Investigative Committee branch for Karelia, not police, to decide their future.

Criminal proceedings against Gavrilov were started in September 2016 on charges of his allegedly hiring two young men for 25,000 roubles to daub the walls of several houses in Gavrilov's constituency with obscenities smearing his election-race rivals. According to the investigators, this offence falls under Criminal Code Article 214 (“Vandalism”).

The young men confessed to their wrongdoing and pointed to Gavrilov as the mastermind, which the former MP is vigorously insisting is a lie. To prove this point, he noted that one of the two suspects was under investigation in a totally different case involving severe beating of a person. Most important, there is absolutely no documentary evidence of Gavrilov as a candidate for a Legislative Assembly seat having masterminded that pre-election provocation. The entire case is built only on the two suspects' confessions.

Writing obscenities on house walls should be qualified as an administrative offence, Gavrilov's defence lawyer argued, adding that he couldn't understand how his client might at all be accused of politically-underpinned vandalism. The fact of Gavrilov's being a member of the Fair Russia Party did not mean he had organised a group aiming to politically discredit election rivals, he said. As per the period of campaigning, Valentina Pivnenko, one of the victims, was running as a United Russia Party nominee for the State Duma and won the election, whereas the second victim, Dmitry Makeyev, was running for Karelia's parliament as a Yabloko Party nominee, just as Gavrilov himself, but lost the race. This means the mural daubing neither helped nor harmed anyone.

The investigation has already produced 9 volumes of case materials. Gavrilov started reading the files after he received the official indictment on 28 September. The first court sitting had been scheduled for 14 November but the police investigators themselves recalled the case materials after it “suddenly” turned out that the case should have been handled by the Karelia Investigative Committee Department.

Chief editor Gavrilov is hoping more professional investigators will be appointed, whom he would like to take notice also of his own complaint: during last year's elections, he sought protection from dirty writings about him on house walls. He cannot understand why obscenities about United Russia and Yabloko candidates should be qualified as vandalism motivated by political hate while the same offence against a Fair Russia candidate should be left unnoticed.

Journalist-belies-MP case submitted to court in Chelyabinsk

By Irina Gundareva, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

Chelyabinsk-based journalist Pavel Bolshakov, at one time a gubernatorial press spokesman, is facing (under Criminal Code Article 128.1.2) charges of libel allegedly spread via the newspaper Vozrozhdeniye Urala. After nearly a year of investigative check-ups, the case the other day went to court.

On the eve of elections in the Korkino constituency, where Fair Russia Party nominee Valery Gartung was running for election, a special edition of Vozrozhdeniye Urala (VU) was circulated, “almost entirely dedicated to bringing the candidate MP into disrepute through spreading lies and libel,” according to Gartung's website.

The Criminal Code envisages up to 1 million roubles in fine or a forced-labour term for this kind of offence.

The pre-election edition of VU did carry a number of materials under the common title “Non-invented Stories by Chelyabinsk Region Governor's Press Secretary”. Gartung happened to dislike two of Bolshakov's publications: “Betraying Russia's Interests: Valery Gartung and the Chechen War”, and “How MP Deceived Mining Workers”.

In his memoirs, Pavel Bolshakov, press secretary to Chelyabinsk Region Governor Pyotr Sumin in 1997-2000, described some 1990s events that he had been an eyewitness to, including a conference that had discussed Gartung's relationships with Chechen “businessmen”, particularly his military equipment supplies to those “businessmen” during the then war. The author called this “betrayal of Russia's interests” while the deputy took that as libel.

The VU editorial office has stated that it sees the investigators' conclusions about Bolshakov's being guilty of belying Gartung as “absolutely wrong” and that it intends to defend its position in court relying on newly-acquired evidence, facts, and testimonies.

School bookkeeper's claim against TV journalists turned down in Chelyabinsk

By Irina Gundareva, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

The Central district court in Chelyabinsk has rejected an honour-and-dignity defence claim and a demand for moral damage compensation lodged against Channel 31 and the Parents' Committee of one of the city's schools.

The plaintiff, the school's bookkeeper, asked for a disclaimer of information posted on the bulletin board and made public in a TV report titled “Bookkeeper Uproots Trees”, which “offence” the story's main character estimated at 50,000 roubles payable to her by the defendants in moral damages.

Channel 31 in September 2017 reported on the destruction of pine trees earlier planted by pupils and their parents outside the school building. It showed security camera footage featuring accounting office workers busy doing something in the bushes on the day when the trees were uprooted.

The journalists also cited children's parents as alleging that the fault rested with the school bookkeeper whose name was not disclosed, though. It is unclear how the woman might recognize herself in the TV report.

In the judge's view, the testimony given by both parties was insufficient for the story to be pronounced as “damaging” to anyone's honour, dignity, or reputation.

Media reporters barred from sitting of Krasnodar governor's council on civil society development and human rights

By Galina Tashmatova, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

The Civil Society and Human Rights Development Council under the Krasnodar Region governor held an enlarged session on 15 November, according to the press pool of the PARNAS Party's regional branch.

Earlier, a group of citizens - residents of the Krasnodar Region supporting the Golos (Voice) movement in defence of electors' rights, members of the PARNAS, Yabloko and Revolutionary Workers' Parties and Open Russia movement, as well as oppositionist Alexei Navalny's campaign headquarters volunteers - had filed with the regional Election Committee a request for holding a referendum on the resumption of direct elections of city mayors and district leaders.

The referendum documentation was approved by the Committee after the third reading (with the first abortive attempt made by PARNAS a year ago) and submitted to the regional Legislative Assembly which now is either to appoint a date for the referendum or prohibit the action on really strong legal grounds (which actually are non-existent).

Invitations to attend the governor's Council session were sent to three referendum initiators - Golos coordinator David Kankiya, PARNAS member Leonid Zaprudin, and Navalny campaign coordinator in Krasnodar Miroslav Valkovish. Yet as it turned out shortly before the event, not a single media reported had been accredited - on orders from the regional administration's Internal Policy Department, as the Council chairman explained.

The initiators considered this lack of transparency inadmissible for a public organization and, fearing likely insinuations from the Council, prudently left the meeting. “Please note that the body under the Krasnodar Governor's auspices is called `Civil Society and Human Rights Development Council,' which name per se requires Chairman Andrei Zaitsev to support the resumption of municipal elections. This name per se requires due observance of glasnost and transparency,” Leonid Zaprudin, a referendum initiator and member of PARNAS, said. “The Council is finding itself in an awkward position, having invented nothing `cleverer' than barring the press altogether. It thus demonstrated as large as life how sham the governor's Council really is”.


Authorities urged to end persecution of freelance journalists

In the course of the conference “Freelance Journalism in Europe: Problems and Challenges, Special Focus on Belarus”, held in Minsk on 16 November, its participants including representatives of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) demanded that the Belarusian authorities end their crackdown on freelancers.

The conference, organised by the IFJ jointly with the Belarusian Association of Journalists, brought together nearly 50 participants from Belarus, Ukraine, Britain, Germany, Norway, Spain, Italy, France, Sweden, and Estonia. Although invited in advance, no Belarusian government representative attended the event, according to the BelaPan news agency.

As noted in the final resolution, freelancers “encounter work-related difficulties in some European countries” as well, but the pressure put on them in Belarus is “really unprecedented”. Police and the judiciary, in defiance of effective media legislation, require Foreign Ministry-issued accreditation for foreign media reporters working as freelancers and “unduly equate work without accreditation with violation of the rules of producing and circulating media products (an offence punishable under Administrative Code Article 22.9.2)”.

“Yet media products are produced not by individual journalists but by editorial offices, and are circulated not by journalists but by newsvendors. Based on the definitions laid out in the Media Law, a journalist is not the subject of producing or circulating media products. It follows that no journalist should be prosecuted for violating these regulations even if he did work on a would-be publication without accreditation,” the authors of the resolution are convinced.

The document also says that since 2014, freelancers cooperating with foreign-based media without accreditation have been sentenced “to sizeable fines that often exceed monthly per capita consumption norms”. In 2014 - 2016, at least 48 such cases were registered in Belarus, worth a total of 15,000 euro, whereas in the first ten months of 2017 - at least 50 cases worth an equivalent of 18,000 euro.

In these circumstances, the IFJ representatives and other conference participants urged the Belarusian authorities to stop harassing freelancers for their professional work as journalists; have their status officially fixed in national legislation to protect their rights and lawful interests; cancel the clause on foreign reporters' mandatory accreditation with the Foreign Ministry; and start applying in practice the norms of international law regulating everyone's right to freely express one's opinion and freely disseminate information.

The conferees also called on international journalists to express solidarity with Belarusian freelancers, and stated their intention “to continue lobbying freelancers' interests at the international political level”.

“The acutest problem in the media space of Belarus is the ongoing crackdown on freelance journalists, of which a lot of evidence has been collected recently,” former Constitutional Court Judge Mikhail Pastukhov told the conference.

He underlined that the ruling circles deliberately deny accreditation to disfavoured media, which “actually makes journalists very vulnerable. […] Currently, freelancers have no legal status in Belarus, because the authorities are after them”.

In Pastukhov's view, the situation can be improved by introducing the notion of “freelancer” into national legislation. “This would be quite logical; from the legal point of view, it's just a gap that needs to be bridged. We need a definition that would put the freelancers on a par with other journalists in terms of rights,” he said.

Oleg Ageyev, a lawyer with the Belarusian Association of Journalists, said the UN Human Rights Committee had registered to date several Belarusian freelancers' complaints regarding unduly-imposed fines and had put them on the waiting list for consideration.

[Naviny.by report, 17 November]


Info-attack on Novyi Fokus chief editor Mikhail Afanasyev in Khakassia

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

Mikhail Afanasyev, editor-in-chief of the Novyi Fokus web magazine, is well known in Khakassia as a laureate of quite a few journalistic awards and a defendant in at least as many criminal lawsuits which, though, he successfully won one after another.

The Khakassian authorities have long ceased trying to prosecute Afanasyev, and have even initiated cooperation with him; anonymous observers, however, continue tracking the journalist and his activities as watchfully as ever, getting really upset each time he scores yet another achievement.

For example, not so long ago the Jury of the Andrei Sakharov Competition “Journalism as an Act of Conscience” honoured the Novyi Fokus editor with the “For Personal Courage” honorary sign, an event that caused same-day reaction from a shady web portal calling itself AIS (News-Reporting Agency, vg-news.ru ). The portal's owner is unknown, and the scant output data (no editorial office address, no registration certificate number, etc.) suggest that the resource may have been operated illegally for all the 10-odd years it appears to have existed, as can be seen from the dates mentioned on its website.

AIS has regularly exploded with Afanasyev-related “unmaskings”, thus recklessly spreading lies about the prominent journalist while staying totally unpunished for that. In a brief report about the handing of the honorary sign to Afanasyev, the anonymous author managed to distort so many facts that the resulting article seems to represent one whole lie, with no room for the truth left at all. The sole real thing reported is that Afanasyev got the “Journalist as an Act of Conscience” Competition's Jury award (as we should note, it was given to him for reporting truthful information, which in Russia is often a very dangerous beat, as opposed to writing dirty lampoons).

Both the sign and the prize “are deemed to have been established by the Glasnost Defence Foundation” which, according to the “unmasker”, “has never had anything at all to do with either”.

Further, we can read that “The Jury consists only of emigrants,” which again is a lie, because of the 12-member panel, only three members can be described as émigrés; the rest are residents of Russia.

Without bothering to cross-check the facts, the websites Abakan.ru, 19RUS.info, and some others reposted that false report in full from the AIS website. Mikhail Afanasyev told the GDF that he would not sue any of those publications because he had “no time to waste litigating with petty trolls”.


GDF greetings to Civil Control human rights group marking its 25th anniversary

Happy Jubilee to our dear colleagues!

A new human rights group with a precise and striking name, Civil Control, held its constituent meeting in St. Petersburg on 19 November 1992. This year, our colleagues are marking the 25th anniversary of their work for the good of Russia.

Civil Control was established not on government orders but following the dictates of our hearts. The “Founding Fathers' Group” included former Soviet political prisoners, activists of the St. Petersburg-based Memorial group, deputies of the then democratic LenSovet (St. Petersburg Town Hall, etc.), with no uninterested people attending. Everyone was determined to defend human rights in the broadest context of the notion. Today too, 25 years later, idealism mixed with the founders' unabated perseverance and consistent, target-oriented work, inspire respect and yield fruit. With so much accomplished over the years, it would take time just to enumerate all of Civil Control's achievements. And yet, the main yardstick of success should be named: our colleagues' crystal clear reputation reaffirmed by the “foreign agent” tag stuck on them by those at the helm.

The Glasnost Defence Foundation team joins all those congratulating Civil Control on its glorious jubilee, and wishes our friends only one thing - never to lose optimism and courage in fulfilling their difficult mission!

Happy holiday to you guys!

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.

We acknowledge the assistance of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.

Currently it is distributed by e-mail to 1,600 subscribers in and outside Russia.

Editorial board

  • Editor-in-chief, Alexei Simonov
  • Boris Timoshenko, Head of Monitring Service;
  • Svetlana Zemskova, GDF Lawyer;
  • Vsevolod Shelkhovskoy, translator.

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 438, 4 Zubovsky Boulevard,
119992 Moscow, Russia.

Telephone/fax: +7 (495) 637-4947 and +7 (495) 637-4420
e-mail: boris@gdf.ru , or 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:
Полезная деятельность Фонда защиты гласности за 25 лет его жизни