22 Сентября 2017 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 815

September 18, 2017


Criminal probe started into journalist's murder in Birobijan

By Vladimir Dymov, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

The Investigative Committee department for the Jewish Autonomous Region has started a criminal probe into the death of Andrei Ruskov, 30, a journalist with the BestVideo Broadcasting Studios. The investigation is being conducted under Criminal Code Article 105.1 (“Homicide”).

The journalist's body was found in the River Bira, Birobijan District, on 28 August. Earlier that day, the man had been seen at the workplace. The cause of death, as established in the course of preliminarily investigation, was his drowning in the river. A medical examiner found traces of violence - several bruises on the body. The measures already carried out include the questioning of family members, friends and colleagues of the deceased, the watching of security camera recordings, and other check-ups. Yet the reason why the journalist found himself in the water is still unclear. A decision has been taken to open a criminal case and check all plausible versions, including an accident, murder, reckless killing, suicide, etc.

An investigatory experiment has been carried out to identify the spot from where the man might fall into the water. Also, the Bira waterfront has been thoroughly examined in search of objects that might help solve the criminal case.

The investigation continues.

St. Petersburg officers of justice enemies of journalists?

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

In the Leningrad Regional Court, officers of justice have attempted to oust a journalist from the courtroom. Their actions were supported by the suspected hired killers in the criminal case the reporter had come to cover.

Court reporters have often suffered at the hands of officers of justice abusing their official authority. On 15 September this year, reporters for the online news outlet 47 news.ru were barred from attending a regional court sitting. Before the public was allowed inside, justice officers had been heard discussing the need “to remove this photographer, Valentin Ilyushin” (one may wonder in what sense they were using the word “remove”).

The main “battle” unfolded in the courtroom, as reported by 47news.ru's Alexander Kalinin: “One of the officers of justice, a sturdy guy… seemed to have his own idea of what a reporter can and cannot do inside a court building. He attempted to demarcate the borders of the permissible: calling himself `a government representative,' he started, with an underworld intonation, to drive it home to the journalist that he should leave until a special decision was taken; then he tried to grab the reporter's mobile phone mumbling something about its potential use as a photo camera. He defended the courtroom using his chest and belly as a pusher and battering ram, yet he proved unable to get the reporter out”. Actually, he failed to because Kalinin's colleagues had been filming the entire scene of the officer's resorting to physical force.

That was not the end of the story, though: those in the dock rejoiced at seeing justice officers go over to their side. They started demanding a ban on photography, pointing for some reason to the media reporter who only had a pad and pen in his hands. The reporter was searched once again as a precaution, but no secret filming devices were found on him.

Notably, the justice officers were behaving the way they did without any instruction from the judge. The regional bailiffs' command has not commented on the incident either for 47news.ru or for the Glasnost Defence Foundation. Does this mean the top-ranking bailiffs shut their eyes to wrongdoings at the grassroots and barring journalists from the courtroom is more important for them today than securing the openness of justice administration and freedom of expression?

Independent newspaper to be auctioned off in Chelyabinsk, with its brand's starting price set at 500,000 roubles

By Irina Gundareva, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

The South Urals' oldest newspaper, Chelyabinskiy Rabochiy (CR, established 108 years ago) is slated for auction after it released its last - farewell - issue a year ago. The auction's starting price is half a million roubles, as decided by a meeting of creditors.

Put up for auction along with CR are also the commercial bulletin Tumba (2.6 million roubles), the website Mediazavod.ru (which used to largely reprint many CR publications, 1.6 million), editorial offices (11-12 million each), and garages in downtown Chelyabinsk. The bankruptcy-announcing website also mentions the sale of various residual property (to a total of 100,000 roubles) of ZAO CR-Manager Co. under direct contracts with buyers without inviting bids.

All of the assets slated for sale until recently belonged to the CR founders, not the staff. The newspaper was an “umbrella” for several legal entities, ZAO CR-Manager being the largest among them.

The regional arbitration court in April 2017 ordered the start of bankruptcy proceedings in respect of the newspaper's publisher, ZAO CR-Manager. This was what the CR staffers wanted, since for years - from the date of the paper's privatization through 2016 - the company had accumulated debts before service providers, the Pension Fund, the tax collectors, and the workers.

Today, its indebtedness to creditors exceeds 27 million roubles, and wage arrears are over 14 million, and it seems the journalists no longer hope to get their money, ever. Payments to them are rumoured to be the last line on the payments order list - and this despite effective legislation's designating the payment of wage arrears to workers as the first priority.

Rostov Region miners lose lawsuits against Dozhd television channel and head of National Public Opinion Research Institute

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

The Ostankinsky district court in Moscow has rejected an honour-and-dignity protection claim filed by activists of the recently-established inter-regional public movement “National Unity”. Mining workers in the city of Gukovo have long been pressing for the management's repayment of all wage debts to them (of which a sizeable part has already been returned, including through payments from the Rostov Region treasury), with movement members also actively engaging in social activities.

In their statement of claim, they wrote they were insulted by a passage from an interview for the Dozhd television channel by Valery Fyodorov, head of the National Public Opinion Research Institute, who commented on TV anchor Vladimir Solovyov's utterance about “the 2% scumbags” attending pro-opposition rallies. Asked by Dozhd presenter Anna Nemzer if that applied to protesters in particular, Fyodorov said that he listed among the “scumbags” those individuals who were “dragged into discussions of Russia's future while not caring at all about this country”. “They are people who neither love our homeland nor wish to make it better; they are constantly criticizing, protesting with or without reason and no matter if this concerns them or not,” he said. By his own estimate, the percentage of such Russian citizens is “close to 15%” and they “negatively think about Vladimir Putin's course, his regime, and partly about the president in person”.

A group of miner strike initiators took that as a “public insult to a large social group opposed to unfair political and economic policies in Russia and seeking to change things for the better”. The claimants were five in number, including four strike initiators and Nikolai Mironov, head of the regional economic and political reform think tank. They said the purpose of their lawsuit against the Public Opinion Research Institute leader was to publicly condemn officials for their neglect of the ordinary people. Once the claim was filed, Fyodorov sent the initiators a message saying he had not meant to insult anyone by his statement and that he actually sympathized with the strikers facing as serious problems as they did. He refuted their accusation of his having insulted them.

To support their position, the claimants presented to the court an opinion by a linguist confirming that Fyodorov had indeed insulted a specific group of Russians opposed to the incumbent government. In response, Dozhd Legal Department chief Yekaterina Nazarova argued that Fyodorov's estimate of the number of pro-opposition citizens was not a statement of fact but rather was an opinion that could hardly be measured in terms of how accurate it was. “To affect one's honour and dignity, a disseminated info must be a fact statement, not a judgment or an estimate,” she said. “It must be identified as untrue and, most important, it must affect a clearly identifiable individual. In this particular case, there are no reasons to think the claimants were directly affected by that statement”.

Despite the miners' request to involve Vladimir Solovyov in the case as a co-defendant, Judge Valeria Bednyakova decided that was improper under the given circumstances. As can be deduced from the ruling she passed, she - just like the defendants - had not understood why the claimants should take Fyodorov's words as an insult to them personally.

After plaintiff Galina Koreneva's pretty bombastic utterance: “Television determines the younger generation's way of thinking, so people need to be held answerable for what they say there,” the judge asked the woman: “You probably cook at home?”

“Of course I do!” Koreneva said.

“And what if you hear on TV that many people are bad cooks, would you take that as a personal insult?” the judge asked further.

“Why should I take that personally?” the claimant wondered.

Indeed, following the logic of Gukovo activists, one might lodge a whole heap of legal claims against TV companies interviewing people from different walks of life - not merely against interviewees for what they say. This heap might include “social groups opposed to unfair political and economic policies in Russia” and seeking to change the situation for the better.


Yekaterinburg-based blogger Alexander Lapshin, amnestied by Azerbaijani president, will not serve his prison term

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

Urals bloggers have had a fairly hard time defending against various legal claims. Yekaterinburg-based blogger Alexander Lapshin, known in the Web by the nickname “Puertto”, was pardoned by the Azerbaijani president's decree of 11 September. Three days later Lapshin, 41, a blogger with Russian, Israeli and Ukrainian citizenship, flew to Tel Aviv together with his mother by a direct flight from Baku. He refused to answer reporters' questions at the Israeli capital's airport.

After a Baku court sentenced Lapshin on 20 July to three years in jail for visiting in 2015 the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic which Azerbaijan regards as part of its territory. Before that, back in 2011, Lapshin was blacklisted by Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry for his publications expressing sympathy for Karabakh residents.

He entered Azerbaijan showing his Ukrainian passport. The border guards failed to recognize him because his name in the passport was spelt in Ukrainian: Oleksandr. The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry put him on the international wanted list later. In December 2016, the blogger was detained in Minsk at Azerbaijan's request and then extradited to Baku. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated at the time that extraditing a Russian citizen to Azerbaijan was against the agreement on the union of Russia and Belarus.

As reported on 13 September, Lapshin had expressed gratitude to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. Hopefully, the blogger's sad adventures are over now.

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.


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