12 Декабря 2016 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 778

21 November 2016


Fabulous stupidity: Media regulator in Tyumen Region discovers "harmful" content in fairy tales for children

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

The Tyumen Region department of the media regulator Roskomnadzor has found "wrong" content in fairy tales for children.

The Roskomnadzor division for the city of Ishim accused Tatyana Kotlyarova, a blogger and the owner of a book store, of spreading information "capable of harming children's health or development". In a check-up that followed, two oversight agency officials closely studied the list of books on sale, and then demanded two books - "The Humpback Horse" by the 19th-century poet Pyort Yershov, and tales by Hans Christian Andersen.

"We have several editions of Yershov's tale," the businesswoman told the GDF. "They chose the one from the `School Library' series and claimed it was not age-marked for reading. Indeed, it is not marked graphically, but there's the verbal marking: `A book of verse for children of middle-school age.' Andersen's collection of fairy tales does bear the mark `0+', meaning there are no age restrictions at all, which sign the inspectors somehow happened to overlook".

With the kind of fabulous - hilarious - accusations as were advanced, the case nevertheless made it all the way to a magistrate court that accepted it for scrutiny. "Well, even if Roskomnadzor officials know existing legislation poorly, any judge is supposed to know it well!" astonished Kotlyarova noted. "The law they refer to, 436-FZ, clearly stipulates that age marks may be either graphical or verbal, and Item 3 says, `This Federal Law does not apply to the turnover of information products of considerable historical, artistic, or other importance to the public.'"

Kotlyarova suspects this may be a way for the local authorities to revenge themselves on her for her criticism of their performance: for example, she strongly censured them in her blog for "oversleeping" last spring's high water and failing to quickly deal with its aftermath (causing 250 flood victims to stage a protest rally in Ishim in May). "And last year I videoed vote-rigging during elections to the city Duma; the principal of the school where the voting took place tried hard to conceal the law violations by stepping in between vote jugglers and my camera lens," Kotlyarova said.

On the other hand, one can see Roskomnadzor's lawsuit as a subtle provocation against the Ishim and Tyumen administrations which have sought to turn "The Humpback Horse" and its author Pyotr Yershov, whose 200th birth anniversary was marked last year, into the main symbols of Ishim, the city near which the poet was born.

Anyway, the claimants did not appear in court during the first hearing of the high-resonance lawsuit. "I showed the age mark on Andersen's book to the judge, so this part of the claim will not be reviewed. As to Yershov's book, a decision on it is likely to be passed on 29 November," Kotlyarova told the GDF. In line with Administrative Code Article 6.17 ("Violation of RF legislation regarding children's protection against information harming their health and/or development"), the book store, if found guilty, may be fined 20,000 to 30,000 roubles.


Chechnya's Supreme Court starts reviewing journalist Jalaudi Geriyev's case

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

The Supreme Court of Chechnya on 15 November started reviewing Kavkazskiy Uzel correspondent Jalaudi Geriyev's appeal against the decision of the Shalinsky district court which sentenced him on 5 September to 3 years in penal colony under Criminal Code Article 282.2 for keeping a large batch of drugs (marijuana, which the defendant says was planted on him).

The GDF has written that Geriyev's case is yet another example of how independent journalism is suppressed and how government critics are targeted in the Chechen Republic. Similar statements have been made by many Russian and international human rights organisations, including the Russian Union of Journalists, the Memorial rights group, Reporters Without Borders, Article 19, Civil Rights Defenders, Free Press Unlimited, Front Line Defenders, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and the Observatory for the Defence of Human Rights Defenders.

As we wrote, Geriyev himself fully overturned the investigators' version in court and refused to plead guilty, stating that he had originally confessed to the crime under pressure. He said he had actually been abducted by three unknown men from a minibus in which he was heading for Grozny to then fly to Moscow to take part in the Law and Public Politics Institute's seminar "The Media and the Constitutional Court" (he did have on him an air ticket he had booked in advance). "They hit me on the head, pushed me into a black Priora car, seized my two cell phones and backpack with my passport and other personal effects, and drove me to some forest area," Geriev said (see digest 769-770 ).

Colleagues at Kavkazsky Uzel are convinced the case is trumped up, and that Geriyev is under prosecution for his journalistic work and his readiness to cooperate with their news agency by reporting the news from Chechnya.

At the very first sitting, the defence asked for the replacement of Judge Dmitry Gorbovtsov as "a biased official". The defence lawyers have pointed to numerous procedural violations in the case, particularly as regards protocols of inspection of the crime scene and the way Geriyev's personal search was carried out.

Khabarovsk bank refuses to comply with court decision on information provision

By Vladimir Dymov, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

Journalists frequently run into denials of official information, but few of them ever challenge such denials in court. In this context, a decision recently passed by the Industrialnyi district court in Khabarovsk, requiring a bank to disclose at media request allegedly confidential information can be called exceptional.

As the newspaper Debri-DV was preparing a story about bank loans and related violations of consumer rights, it requested from Vostochny Ekspress Bank details about the terms and conditions of collective insurance of borrowers practised by that bank - only to receive a couple of weeks later a note that "The bank's legal department recommends to not comment on situations involving judicial decisions" and that "The number of borrowers embraced by the insurance programme, too, is confidential information".

The newspaper sued the bank for hushing up significant info, and the court upheld its legal claim with reference to Media Law Article 40 requiring legal entities to provide these kinds of information within seven days' time. Also, it reproached Ekspress Bank for not furnishing clear answers to the newspaper's questions in its subsequent replies, either.

The court rejected the defendant's arguments that those had been generally-worded, rather than specific, questions. If need be, you could have specified any questions that seemed unclear to you, the court told Ekspress Bank, and could have notified the claimant about a delay in the provision of requested information, as directly stipulated in the same Media Law.

The district court required Vostochny Ekspress Bank to provide full details in reply to each item of the inquiry filed by Debri-DV, which ruling came into full legal force on 9 October this year. Yet the bank has never fulfilled the court decision up until now.

The newspaper has decided to inform Russia's Central Bank of Vostochny Ekspress Bank acting in violation of existing Russian legislation by concealing significant information from the media, and to ask the bailiffs to help get the bank to furnish all the answers.

Editor Natalya Vakhonina remains under prosecution in Sverdlovsk Region

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

The Leninsky district court in Nizhny Tagil on 15 November rejected a complaint filed by Natalya Vakhonina, chief editor of the city news agency Mezhdu Strok, over what strikes her as the illegal start of criminal proceedings against her on charges of extremism. Judge Irina Pikina, though, has acknowledged that the period of limitations for the offence imputed to Vakhonina expired a few years ago. Yet during Vakhonina's questioning in July this year the journalist herself, the judge noted, protested against the closure of the criminal case.

"We couldn't really hope for a decision to be taken in our favour in Nizhny Tagil with the kind of corporate solidarity existing within the judicial community here," Vakhonina told the GDF. Yet the Sverdlovsk regional court, too, upheld the ruling passed by the first-instance court. Now the journalist and her lawyer intend to challenge that decision before a higher-standing court of appeals, and if they fail to, they will go all the way up to the RF Constitutional Court to highlight the fact that investigative and judicial practices at the grassroots are at odds with the Russian constitution.

Legal proceedings against Natalya Vakhonina were started on 14 July under Criminal Code Article 282.1 ("Instigation of hatred or enmity, or disparagement of human dignity"). According to the case files, back in May 2015 law enforcement found in the social network VKontakte some "extremist" audio recordings and a video of the "Right Cross" rock group which is deemed to be the mouthpiece of the nationalist organisation Russkiy Obraz (Russian Image). The songs dated back to the end of 2011, and the video to the end of 2012. They were posted online from the account Russkiy Obraz Nizhny Tagil which the investigators believe is owned by Vakhonina (see digest 765 ).

A search of her apartment in August resulted in the seizure of a notebook PC, a system unit, a telephone, and several flash drives. Curiously enough, no investigative action has been taken ever since in respect of Vakhonina, who still is deemed to be a suspect. Colleagues at Mezhdu Strok see the case as politically motivated and fuelled by a number of publications criticizing local officials for engagement in business.

The GDF will continue monitoring the situation closely.

Krasnodar farmers' march gives rise to numerous lawsuits against media

By Galina Tashmatova, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

A tractor march on Moscow by Krasnodar Region farmers in early autumn received extensive coverage in Russian media. The press' attention to this topic was well understandable, while the reaction to it from some regional land market players has not always been adequate, it seems. Courts across the region are currently reviewing about a dozen legal claims in defence of honour, dignity and business reputation lodged against media by owners of large agro-holdings. In the farmers' view, big landlords, with reliance on the big money they have, have sought to deprive small farming coops - by right or wrong, most often by filing lawsuits - of the land they work on, leaving them with unpaid loans, jobless, and unable to feed their families.

Journalists covering march-related developments, as a rule, have just cited specific facts without expressing their own opinion and remaining "above the battle". Yet even this "weighed" approach to reporting about the re-division of land cannot guarantee them against getting sued. One demonstrative lawsuit aiming to gag the press has been lodged against Novaya Gazeta Kubani (NGK). The claimant, who is the owner of one large agro-holding in Russia's South, demanded 10 million (sic!) roubles in moral damages from the newspaper only for its reporting about a news conference of farmers who were discussing their would-be tractor march on Moscow.

During the several months of court hearings, NGK journalists and farmers from the number of news conference participants (who were involved in the case as third parties) presented a sufficient number of proofs of their innocence. After pretty lengthy negotiations, the conflicting parties, at the court's recommendation, reached an amicable settlement giving the claimant the opportunity to publish a reply - an option, by the way, he had never been denied by NGK prior to the trial, either.

Opposition media in Karelia fall victim to politicized conflict over real property?

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

The city court in Petrozavodsk has ruled to have the publishing house Karelia Publishers' ejected from its leased premises at 33, Vatutin St. As a result, two media outlets - the newspaper Karelskaya Guberniya and the news website GubDaily - actually found themselves out on the street.

Back in July, a decision was taken on tearing down the second- and third-floor superstructures over the Lentorg shop occupying the first floor in the building at the above-mentioned address. The bailiffs notified the media outlets of the need to move out of the illegally-built premises they had rented from Lentorg.

Yet the media within Karelia Publishers' could not find new premises at once, so they failed to meet the established deadline. Early in October, the Petrozavodsk city court again reviewed the prosecutor's office's motion on declaring the rent and sub-rent agreements regarding the second and third floors of the shop building null and void, and OOO Guberniya was required to see the superstructures were torn down, and Karelia Publishers' to promptly move out.

The two outlets have moved into another building by now, but they still remain under prosecution with the bailiffs demanding that they pay a penalty for not complying with the court decision in due time.

This property-renting conflict around media outlets known to be in opposition to the incumbent head of Karelia has given rise to suspicions that the lawful legal claim against Lentorg might be accompanied by secret wishes to get the opposition media punished.

Lentorg owner Vassily Popov is currently hiding in Finland, while Russia's Interior Ministry is demanding his extradition to the home country. Popov faces criminal charges in connection with the acquisition by his wife, a Lentorg co-owner, of some municipal property in Petrozavodsk. As other suspects in this case, Popov is insisting he is being prosecuted for political motives as leader of the republican branch of the Yabloko Party which is in opposition to Karelia's head. Since Karelia Publishers', in which businessman Popov has a stake, provides info support for him, as well as for his friends and business partners, this may well be the real reason behind its ejection from its leased premises.

FSB shows signs of journalists' being under electronic surveillance in Perm

By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District

On 15 November the Perm regional court was to review an appeal by Galina Postanogova, ex-head of the regional department of the State Property Management Committee, as openly announced on the court's official website. Yet it seems a motion presented that day in writing by FSB representative Tatyana Drobyshevskaya shortly before the hearing started and the press appeared shed some light on that special service's secrets.

The story of how the high-ranking lady official was first dismissed and then came under prosecution is anything but ordinary for the Volga Region. Federal and local media have continued covering events related to the scandal. On the eve of Postanogova's appeal coming under review in court, the GDF correspondent was exchanging related news reports with colleagues - by phone and e-mail, as we usually do. By 9 p.m. on 14 November, individuals capable of keeping these kinds of contacts under electronic surveillance had known for certain that press reporters would be near Room 344 in the city court at 10:15 a.m. on the following day.

A few minutes before the hearing started, Judge Denis Saltykov went out into the corridor and, noticing the GDF correspondent, told him: "The trial will be closed to the press". Returning to the courtroom, Saltykov read out the written requests already received. In one of them, Postanogova and her lawyer Larissa Alfyorova asked to adjourn the hearings in view of the claimant's feeling unwell. In another, Drobyshevskaya of the FSB requested that the trial be held behind closed doors, since some state secrets might be aired during the proceedings. The defence protested, calling the judge's attention to the "loose wording" of Drobyshevskaya's request. Yet Valentina Busova, the prosecutor, stood up for the secret service, and the hearing continued in the closed regime.

This kind of "far-sightedness" on the part of the FSB gives every reason to suppose the press is kept under electronic surveillance in Perm.

University in Belgorod sues journalists for reporting about corruption schemes

By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

A court in Belgorod on 2 November started reviewing in essence a legal claim in defence of business reputation filed by the Shukhov State Technical University and its rector Sergei Glagolev, chairman of the City Council of Deputies.

The claimant wants blogger Sergei Lezhnev to remove from the LiveJournal social network his posts alleging corrupt conversion of bank-card money to cash via university students. Glagolev is insisting those posts were harmful to the university's reputation. Similar claims have been lodged against the local newspaper Zhityo-Bytyo, from which the claimant is demanding both the removal and a disclaimer of what he calls "disputable information". No monetary compensation has been requested.

Glagolev is asking the court to declare as defamatory the blogger and newspaper's reports that university students were to return some of the money transferred to their bank cards in scholarships payments.

Lezhnev said in court that all published information was true to fact and had been obtained in the course of person-to-person conversations with students. Also, he said that after each new post he had sent relevant materials to the law enforcement agencies which, however, had refused to start criminal proceedings. He had backed each of his appeals with documents, and two of those, upon his second visit to the prosecutor's office, had been sent for additional verification which still was ongoing with no judicial decision passed thereon.

Svetlana Kuzevanova, a senior legal adviser with the Mass Media Defence Centre, who is representing the defendants' interests, called the case "fairly complex and causing broad public repercussions".

"We have a difficult problem to solve," she told the GDF. "The defendants need to defend the right of bloggers and the press to report about `strange schemes' of paying increased scholarships to students before the investigators and judges pass a decision on that matter".

At the following court hearing on 7 November, the claimant's representative asked to involve in the case as co-defendants four university graduates earlier questioned in court as witnesses for the defence. Judge Svetlana Markovskaya satisfied that request.

During the first few hearings, the four then students said they had received money to their bank cards on scholarship-payment days, to later return portions of that money to their group leaders or to faculty members. The defendant presented in court two audio recordings of a group leader talking to alleged faculty members at the university; the students supposedly were being asked to hand in the "extra money" they'd received along with their scholarship amounts. The city police department in Belgorod had carried out since April 2014 several check-ups of the facts reported by Sergei Lezhnev, but each time failed to find any pretext for starting criminal proceedings. The prosecutor's office, for its part, each time dismissed the police refusals as unlawful and sent the check-up findings back to the police for additional investigation.

"Not a single phrase in the publications was cited as said by any of those students," Svetlana Kuzevanova noted. "Here we deal with a substitution of notions. The students might have been involved in the case under the law [as co-defendants] if they were quoted, or their names were mentioned, as sources. In the three posts by Lezhnev which the claimant is challenging, not a single mention is made of any of those four students. Why involve them in the case as authors of those statements? It is not hypothetical but very specific information that we're talking about. We believe this kind of approach is not merely unfair, it is illegal as well".


MP in Chelyabinsk wants journalists sentenced to correctional public works

By Irina Gundareva, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

The 3 September 2016 issue of the pro-governor newspaper Vozrozhdenye Urala (VU) has given rise to legal proceedings: according to Fair Russia Party (FRP) members in the Chelyabinsk Region, their leader Valery Gartung, a State Duma deputy, "was actually labelled a U.S. spy and a collaborator of Chechen terrorists" (this is a quote from one of the regional FRP branches' press releases).

"That is untrue and has been qualified by law enforcement as defamation," FRP members hastened to state. "That newspaper's distribution was illegal".

"VU dumped libel on my electors by distributing the issue in 600,000 copies," Gartung said. "Thousands of people have contacted me over that - some to express their indignation, others to say they believe those lies. That's how people's trust in the institute of elections and in government authorities as such is undermined".

The VU journalists, though, disagree that their publication was libellous; they intend to prove its accuracy and defend their freelance author's honour in court. Their source, at one time an influential official at the regional administration, mentioned in the disputed article a closed conference's protocol that is still kept in the archives. He attended the conference in person and can remember the protocol's content well.

During that conference, law enforcement officials reported to the governor about a certain Chelyabinsk-based millionaire who had sold more than 300 armoured vehicles to Chechnya at the peak of the military campaign ongoing there at the time. And the source retold all those details to VU.

Clearly, few VIPs frequently appearing in the media would welcome this kind of "hi" from the past. Some might prefer to keep a low profile, but MP Gartung is not one of them. He has filed with the police a complaint about VU and its journalists.

At this point, one might note that each election campaign with Gartung's participation has been marked by a chain of scandals involving media and journalists. It is the latter whom the deputy usually lays the blame with. For example, the author of this report was summoned to a sitting of the regional election committee last year after I cited an FRP press release; committee members scolded me like a fifth-grader, threatening to take "far-reaching" measures and urging me to immediately remove my story from the news site - and this despite the local FRP branch being the source! Why threaten journalists - not even those who ordered that press release?

This time too, as Gartung told one media outlet, he would like to see the journalists punished by being sentenced to correctional public works. "That'll be useful," the MP said. "Let them make the city look better; let them clean up icy walkways!"

Editor sacked, federal TV channel apologizes for one-sided coverage of inter-ethnic conflict between North Ossetia and Ingushetia

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

The Army Legends show about Ingushetia head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov on the federal channel Zvezda has given rise to a wave of criticism for the one-sided description of the 1992 conflict between North Ossetia and Ingushetia. Social network users and politicians called the show an attempt to fan inter-ethnic tensions. The channel's management acknowledged the bias and publicly apologized to the viewers.

The Ossetian-Ingush armed conflict flared up in the autumn of 1992 in the Prigorodny District of North Ossetia, where representatives of both ethnicities lived side by side. Yet the show presented it as seen only by one side, Ingushetia, while depicting Ossetia as the unquestionable aggressor, whose "armed gangs" invaded Ingush villages.

"That happened because of the unsatisfactory work of a group of editors who compiled a biased story. The channel management fired the executive editor for the gross errors made. Zvezda is apologizing to all viewers for the inaccurate interpretation of the tragic events that occurred. We deeply respect both the Ossetian and the Ingush people and wish them peace," a note on the TV channel's website reads.

Besides dismissing the editor, the management stringently reprimanded the TV producer/director, says Zvezda's apology letter published by the press office of the North Ossetia administration, adding that the Zvezda team "respects all people living in the republic and wishes them peace and prosperity".

Critics as well as ordinary TV viewers think it particularly important that the one-sided perception of the conflict was displayed in the televised feature by Ingushetia's head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov in person. He came up with this comment on the show with his participation: "My interviewer took the liberty of interpreting my words loosely, which might lead to a worsening of relations between Ingush and Ossetian people. This is a very sensitive topic, where each word needs to be well-weighed. North Ossetia leader Vyacheslav Bitarov and I have succeeded in building good working relations and must help each other in the future".

Yevkurov approved of the channel management's decision to fire the executive editor and called on people in the two republics "to show restraint and to not push up tensions through thoughtless words or deeds".


GDF's congratulations to Mass Media Defence Centre in Voronezh on its 20th anniversary

The Mass Media Defence Centre is marking its 20th birthday. The Voronezh Centre is our best and most talented brainchild. We were its father and mother, and it, as any child would, grew up, rose to its feet and went out into the international space, overshadowing its parents.

While loving you all but knowing you are as busy as ever, we are not coming to celebrate your anniversary but are congratulating you from afar.

With the very best wishes,

Glasnost Defence Foundation team

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