13 Июня 2017 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 802-803

15-22 May 2017


Yekaterinburg blogger convicted, although stays out of jail

By Vladimir Dymov, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

The Urals region saw the finale of yet another resounding trial on 11 May as Yekaterinburg's Verkh-Isetsky district court passed a guilty verdict on Ruslan Sokolovsky for insulting the feelings of religious believers by inappropriate Pokemon chase in the Church of the Saviour on Blood. Judge Yekaterina Shoponyak gave him a 3.5-year suspended sentence. Sokolovsky cannot change his place of residence or attend public events for the next three and half years. The judge gave him a month to delete nine controversial videos on his website.

The 22-year-old blogger posted his video on 11 August 2016 and in a just a few days it got 1.5 million views (as of now, it has been viewed 1.9 million times). Sokolovsky said he did it in protest against Rossiya television channel announcement about likely punishment for hunting Pokemons in a church. The trailer shows him strolling across the temple and catching several Pokemons in the Pokemon Go application, and as he emerged from the church he added a voiceover to tell that everything had gone off well except that he hadn't caught the rarest Pokemon called Jesus.

Federal Security Service agents searched his apartment. The blogger was detained and later on placed under arrest. He spent more than five months at a pre-trial detention centre; the court released him on recognizance once but later sent him back to the remand ward after Sokolovsky dated a girl in violation of restriction terms. He was charged on nine counts of inciting hate or strife (Criminal Code Article 282), seven counts of violating the right to freedom of conscience and faith (Article 148) and one count of acquiring illegal surveillance equipment, a spy pen camera (Article 138.1).

The investigators and prosecutor repeatedly underlined that Sokolovsky had gone on trial for his public statements viewing them as insulting for believers or inciting strife. A complex religious, linguistic and psychological expert examination found signs of the above crimes in several of the blogger's trailers.

The young man who suddenly found himself in the limelight admittedly dealt with his popularity in a very reasonable way and is now ready to give many interviews. “I got to know a large number of believers over the period of my persecution, and my opinion about them has changed for the better,” he said adding that he still remained an atheist.

Lastly, here's an extract from the verdict passed by Yekaterinburg's Verkh-Isetsky district court: “He denies the existence of Jesus Christ and Prophet Muhammad whereby he committed a crime covered by Article 148.1 of Russia's Criminal Code”.

Omsk journalist brings lawsuit against Centre for Countering Extremism

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

Omsk journalist Natalia Gergert demands five-million-rouble compensation for moral damages caused to her and her son by anti-extremism centre personnel and investigators.

Operatives and investigators have been hounding Natalia's son for three years because of the post which accidentally found its way to his page in the Vkontakte social network (the text and the video had been downloaded automatically). He did not immediately discover the unwelcome content, and when he did, he deleted it, but law enforcers had already made screenshots of his Vkontakte page by then. The adolescent who had just finished school came under law enforcers' surveillance.

“Then they began to gather evidence by questioning his former classmates and teachers,” Natalia told Glasnost Defence Foundation. “Investigator Gordeyeva's three-hour interrogations put people under heavy pressure as criminal case materials show. For example, the biology teacher said, `I cannot recall this schoolboy manifesting any Nazi views.' The investigator did not like the answer and continued the interrogation: she showed the screenshots of the boy's alleged repost and upon seeing it, the woman promptly reversed her opinion saying, `I believe he did it because he sticks to Nazi views.'”

His former classmates wrote in Vkontakte that “These interrogations really f.. us off. They have summoned us again to give details”. “I can't say anything bad about him; he was the calmest in the class”.

“Late last year, three anti-extremism centre personnel forced their way into our apartment, seized our computer and took my son away for interrogation,” Natalia wrote. “The judge's resolution on apartment search said that `the evidence is insufficient for instituting criminal proceedings.'”

The investigators and operatives persevered in fact-finding and brought the case to trial in the long run. Natalia believes that the case had been blatantly falsified at all stages but she doubts that the court would take this circumstance into consideration. “We learnt that the case had been referred to court from local media reports,” she said. Four days later, a prosecutor summoned her son to sign the indictment.

Natalia Gergert said the case against her son who might get a five-year prison term was fabricated to punish her for her journalistic work.

She began having problems 11 years ago, when she tried to publish a regional edition of Novaya Gazeta in Omsk; the project failed because the authorities went out of their way to stop her. The federal issue of the newspaper disappeared from the newspaper stands and only went on sale again several months ago. In recent years, Natalia has published articles on medicine-related topics which for the most past caused resentment of the regional Healthcare Ministry. Natalia Gergert is deputy editor-in-chief of the newspaper Novaya Gazeta v Zapadnoi Sibiri (Novaya Gazeta in West Siberia)'s website which is about to be launched.

It seems secret services have recently employed a new method of pressure on journalists; in fact they put their children on the line. Digests No 798 and 799 reported that unidentified persons who apparently had authority had disseminated threats against an underage daughter of Omsk journalist Natalia Yakovleva on 12 federal websites and social media. They slandered the child citing allegations from an anonymous “psychologist”. Next, Natalia was harassed by the guardianship service, while an internet portal affiliated with the authorities began to praise the author of the libel calling him a “well-known Omsk writer”.

Anti-extremism centre personnel do not care that the materials which Natalia Gergert's son allegedly disseminated are still freely available in Vkontakte. The question is whether it is the authorities themselves who provoke adolescents and young people into “actions of extremist orientation”. It is known that the authorities were involved in establishing Nazi organisations such as Russkiy Obraz. Several years ago, law enforcers caught the Young Guard organisation of the ruling United Russia Party inciting ethnic strife on the Internet. However, no criminal proceedings were instituted, and the organisation's leader later headed the regional government's domestic policy department.

Natalia wrote in her statement of claim that anti-extremism centre personnel had tapped her and her son's phones for a long time which she could prove, and that their persecution had harmed her health (medical certificates were attached) and wrecked many of her life plans, with cumulative damage amounting to five million roubles. If the district and regional court turn down her statement of claim, she would appeal to higher bodies and take her case to the Strasbourg Court.

Police in Dagestan detain reporters and delete video content from their cameras

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District;

Makhachkala police detained PBS NewsHour camera crew as it was taking footage by the mosque in Generala Omarova Street on 20 May.

Mosque imam aide Gafur Nigmatulayev told the newspaper Chernovik that the imam had shown the mosque to the journalists before the Friday prayer. After the prayer the camera crew walked into the yard to take footage of police who stopped parishioners to drive them to a police station. The law enforcers demanded that the journalists show their IDs. Having inspected their papers, the police put the journalists into a van and drove away.

“The journalists were very surprised at being detained. They asked why nobody was telling them anything,” the mosque imam said. Another mosque cleric said the journalists had been kept at the police station for three hours. No documents were drawn over the fact of their detention. Police took away the journalists' phones and cameras and only returned them after the footage had been deleted, he said.

Prison guards in Sverdlovsk Region detain and humiliate journalists

By Vladimir Dymov, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

RBK Journalist Vladislav Pushkarev was detained in Nizhny Tagil at 5 p.m. on 16 May as he was filming penitentiary No 5. In the afternoon, he took a video of the picket staged by head of the Mezhdu Strok (Between Lines) news agency Yegor Bychkov near the Sverdlovsk Region's Penitenitiary Service Department, and later in the day he came to Nizhny Tagil to record an interview with former inmates.

“At first, the foreign-made car of the deputy prison chief (accused of torture) drove past us, next the former inmates told about “splitting the legs,” a prison torture, and then a white minibus pulled up and three masked men in navy blue fatigues jumped out,” Vladislav told URA.RU. “We were taken to a police station. They split my legs and kept me in this position for half an hour. A plainclothes man recorded the torture with his iPhone. Then we were told that an anonymous caller had reported that we carried drugs. The police later apologised to us. After the incident I'll be working on my story about tortures with much more fervour. I'm not going to lodge a complaint understanding that it's useless”.

The press service of the regional Penitentiary Service department made no comment saying “call police”.

Media offices in Yekaterinburg raided on ex-prosecutor's initiative

By Vladimir Dymov, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

Economic crime police swooped down on the URA.RU news agency on 18 May to search it as part of the probe into the criminal case against correspondent Yulia Litvinenko (see digest 791) suspected of media-aided libel.

The case was initiated by former Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov over the article published on 22 November 2016. The journalist recounted the story of Skuratov company lawyers' helping Ventprom personnel after they had invited Uralmash raiders to their company and later on suffered at their hands. The sources quoted by the news agency believe that the high-profile Ventprom case had been carried through thanks to Law Academy graduate Yuri Skuratov's connections in the Urals. The official filed a legal action. In the course of the investigation, the journalist had to take a polygraph test. It confirmed that the article did not contain false information and that Litvinenko had not been paid for its publication.

Police searched the editorial office for three hours seizing journalists' and chief editor Ivan Nekrasov's computer hard drives. Litvinenko's notebooks were seized as well. Police took away the video of the search taken by Novyi Den journalists Maxim Borodin and Alexander Salivanchuk who had come to the URA.RU office to record law enforcers' actions; the journalists were not allowed to perform their professional duties.

An administrative case against the URA.RU agency is also under review in court. Initially, Yuri Skuratov filed for a criminal case, but later decided to seek justice with a civil suit.

GDF will follow up on the story.

Vladivostok deputy mayor hopes to win 100,000-rouble suit against journalists

By Vladimir Dymov, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

The public campaign against the takeover of Vladivostok suburban land belonging to the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAN) began in April 2016, when researchers saw blue bands on the trees on the RAN land plot outside Vladivostok for the first time. That day launched the public protest against tree cutting on the RAN land in Vladivostok suburbs. Media outlets carried reports about the takeover of academy property, illegal cutting of protected trees, construction of private villas in the territory, and developers' plans to build high-rise structures next to research institutions working with dangerous substances.

The hype over land seizure and illegal deforestation in the Academic Town lasted for six months but elicited no reaction from the authorities. Tree cutting and rallies continued as before with an increasing number of appeals to officials at all levels, from local government to the president. Prosecutors were running checks, the public council for ecology under the Maritime Region governor was looking into the situation and the People's Front local department conducted a probe of its own, trying to hold city authorities to account and demanding explanations from RAN's Far Eastern branch.

It was only in February 2017 that the mayor's office reacted by filing a legal action against journalists.

On 3 February 2017, Deita news agency published Olga Anisimova's article titled “All-Russia People's Front Accuses Vladivostok Administration of Issuing a Criminal Resolution”. Following the article publication, libel action was filed with the city's Lenin District Court by deputy mayor Alexey Litvinov. The defendants in the case are the Deita news agency and author of the article, RAN staffer Olga Anisimova.

Litvinov's legal claim was prompted by such phrases as “Maritime activists of the All-Russia People's Front told regional governor Vladimir Miklushevsky that the Pushkarev administration's rent-seeking policies with respect to Vladivostok's recreational area land in the Academic Town was high treason”; “city mayor Pushkarev and his deputy Litvinov issued a criminal resolution. We believe that this resolution on the leading research centre PIBOC (Pacific Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry) is high treason. For some reasons, these persons decided that this is nobody's land and allotted it for private countryside construction” (quoted from the original).

Plaintiff Litvinov asked the court to meet his demand by recognizing that the information carried by the article was not consistent with the reality and recover 100,000 roubles in moral damages from the defendants, a state duty of 600 roubles, and legal expenses worth 58,540 roubles.


Victory parade: Did reporters break any law?

By Vladimir Dymov, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

VL.ru news portal chief photographer Sergey Orlov was detained as his quadrocopter was filming the 9 May Victory Day parade in Vladivostok. The photographer's colleagues said he was standing on the balcony of the Arsenyev Local History Museum in Svetlanskaya Street, the venue of the parade and city residents' march marking the 72nd anniversary of victory in the Great Patriotic War. Orlov had received permission to work on the balcony, as well as accreditation. However, after he launched the quadrocopter, police detained him and brought to a police station where his passport data were taken down and his drone seized.

“The police drew a protocol of confiscation in the presence of two witnesses without stating the reasons. When I asked why I had been detained and what I had done wrong they told me they did not know and that they had merely acted upon their superiors' orders. They gave me a copy of the protocol saying that I could collect the quadrocopter when I brought all the product documents,” Orlov said.

According to his colleagues, the police, in explaining their actions, said they followed the resolution on anti-terrorist security during public events but gave no details on the alleged resolution or the official who had signed it.

The situation with Sergey Orlov's detention on Victory Day and seizure of his quadrocopter has not been resolved up to date; the decision to allow or prohibit the use of unmanned aerial vehicles rests with the Khabarovsk regional centre of the unified air traffic control system. Orlov said the drone remained in possession of the police who had promised to return it.

Orlov was not the only one whom police removed from the balcony. They also took away all the persons present there, including the journalists, and closed all the museum windows. VL.ru viewers and readers have not been able to see photos of the parade taken from a unique angle.


Mass Media Defence Centre challenges rules of journalists' accreditation with Voronezh Election Committee

By MMDC, Voronezh

The Media Rights Defence Centre and Voronezh-based media editors complained to prosecutors about the accreditation procedure set by the local Election Committee. The current regulations allow filtering disloyal mass media.

The Media Rights Defence centre lodged a complaint with Voronezh Region prosecutors over journalist accreditation rules adopted by the local Election Committee. The document titled “Journalist Accreditation Procedure” was adopted on 6 April 2017. Centre lawyers said it contradicted the effective federal legislation and might become a tool for discriminating against journalists and media editorial offices. The complaint was signed by editors-in-chief of leading regional media outlets such as Moyo!, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Kommuna, Kommersant-Chernozemye, RBK-Chernozemye, and Novosti Voronezha.

Blundering Officials

“When drawing accreditation rules, the regional Election Committee made the same errors as a majority of other officials do,” Media Rights Defence Centre director general and leading lawyer Galina Arapova said. “The federal law on the mass media views accreditation as a means to facilitate interaction between an organisation and mass media. It is a sort of easy-term access to information and incentives for journalists. A majority of government organisations use accreditation to restrict access to information and filter disloyal media outlets. This contradicts the law on the mass media: any journalist has the right to visit government bodies”.

This is how the Election Committee decided to limit the number of accredited journalists and media outlets: it cleared only the staff writers of registered regional mass media. This is an obvious violation of the media law.

First, Article 48 of the accreditation law says nothing about the mass media's having to be registered or disseminate information in a certain territory. Second, nothing is said about the status of the journalist whom the editorial office sends to an organisation to make a report. Therefore, the journalist can be a staffer, a stringer or a freelancer working under contract with the editorial office.

While listing the press, radio and television companies, the Election Committee omitted the online media in the section dealing with accreditation quotas. It might be a technical error yet it definitely denied a quota to web media.

Who are they to judge us?

The challenged document contains requirements which the Election Committee has no right to set for the mass media, experts said. “It is the second widespread error in accreditation rules, i.e. setting more requirements than envisioned by federal legislation,” said Galina Arapova.

Item 3.1.1. of the Procedure states the possibility of permanent accreditation for journalists who provide objective and credible coverage of the Election Commission's activity. “Objective” and “credible” sound like fine words but they are not the legal criteria to assess journalistic work. They are not the terms used in the law on the mass media and their interpretation is subjective. So the Voronezh Election Committee's demands that these norms be observed can become a means to shut out allegedly disloyal mass media.

Item 8.3 of the document says that mass media can be stripped of accreditation if they disseminate misinformation harming the Election Committee's reputation or defaming its officials and staff. Indeed, Article 48 of the federal law on the media contains a similar provision, which, however, has an important reservation, namely “if a court ruling is available”. It means that it is up to a judicial body to determine if a mass media outlet disseminated untrue or defaming information. An election commission or other organisations have no right to draw such conclusions, not mentioning using them as a pretext to deny accreditation.

Unlawful interference

Section 7 of the “Procedure” demands that the accredited journalists' reports draw a clear line between facts, opinions, versions, and speculation. Perhaps, the authors of the document had bona fide intentions, but in this case they obviously overstepped their authority. Though separating facts from opinions and suppositions is a good ethical rule, it is not a legal norm. If somebody sets conditions for an editorial office, they unlawfully interfere in its work.

The demand to show the interviewed official the text of the interview and photos for approval is unlawful, too. Although editorial office can do it out of goodwill or professional ethics, it has never been its duty, so if this is the case, we again encounter illegal interference in mass media work.

Interaction, not control

Media Rights Defence Centre lawyers and Voronezh media editors have asked regional prosecutors to check the document for compliance with federal legislation and announce their findings.

“We don't have any particular suspicions regarding the Voronezh Election Committee,” Galina Arapova said. “However, the violations of the law we have detected have created opportunities to restrict media's access to information. It is a sort of a loaded gun which can fire anytime. To avoid the temptation to muzzle the press, the inconsistencies with federal legislation should be eliminated. Accreditation is a very productive method to interact with mass media; it simplifies the journalist's access to information. Yet it should remain a mechanism of interaction between mass media and organisations, not an instrument to influence published content.

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.

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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