5 Сентября 2013 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 625

2 September 2013



Re-criminalisation of libel in Russia: a look at effects

It so happens that we are actually beginning to forget about the re-criminalisation of libel in Russia: GDF research shows that Criminal Code Article 128.1 (formerly 129) has been applied against journalists in real terms only four times since its return into the penal code. Each of those four cases looks queer enough to be mentioned separately.

First, there is the so-called “Mizulina case” – one initiated by MP Yelena Mizulina, who is vigorously opposed to LGBT propaganda (until recently, this abbreviation, meaning “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender”, was hardly known in Russia; so the lady parliamentarian’s efforts seem to have produced an effect opposite to the intended). Criminal proceedings were started at Mizulina’s initiative in July against unidentified persons who, she claims, “circulated a priori false information about my professional work as a deputy”. Since then, investigators have questioned TV anchor Ksenya Sobchak, journalists Yelena Kostyuchenko and Olga Bakushinskaya, a number of reporters for the RosBalt news agency, and even a former vice-premier of the Russian government, Alfred Kokh, in connection with the case. The “unidentified persons” may be in for a fine of up to 1 million roubles or for up to 240 hours of hard labour.

The second case involves Rostov-based journalist Sergei Reznik, whom the authorities have charged with “smearing a police officer” by accusing him of paedophilia combined with homosexuality. These proceedings, too, started in July by some coincidence. “We asked the court to disregard the testimony of a police operative who claimed to have seen me take my car service card from a mechanic [The journalist is suspected of giving the mechanic a bribe for certifying his car as “safe to drive” without actually examining it – Translator.],” Reznik told the GDF. “I told the investigator I hadn’t seen anyone at the car service station except a man at a distance, who was engaged in what appeared to me to be sexual intercourse with a young boy.” The police officer got offended and filed a report that gave rise to the start of criminal proceedings against the journalist.

Also, proceedings on libel charges are being conducted by police against U.S.-based journalist Boris Belotserkovsky, who has written in his blog that MP Lugovoy, who is a former secret service officer, may have been involved in the poisoning of another secret service agent, Mr. Litvinenko, a few years ago. “What we deal with today are libellous assertions about my belying him [Lugovoy],” Izvestia cited Belotserkovsky as saying. “I won’t be able to travel to Russia – there are some circumstances preventing me from doing so.”

And the fourth case is one against Abakan-based journalist Mikhail Afanasyev, who has called a police colonel a liar with reference to a decision passed by a judge who dismissed the colonel’s testimony as untrue while trusting other witnesses (for details, see digest 602). The case is under investigation, but the authorities seem to be treating the accused tolerantly; they have returned the PCs they seized from him earlier, and they even allowed Afanasyev, notwithstanding his written pledge not to leave town, to fly to Stockholm in April to receive the Anna Politkovskaya Award conferred on him by the Swedish Club of Political Writers.

So the re-established criminal liability for libel does not seem to be a serious instrument of pressure on journalists – rather, it appears to be nothing more than an instrument of their intimidation, and hence, nothing much to worry about.

But one should bear in mind that the principle of “revolutionary expediency” may awaken in this country at any point, leading to the active application of Criminal Code Article 128.1 against journalists – as it happened to former Article 129, which was suddenly “galvanised into action” in the 2000s after total non-use during the previous decade…



Yet another “extremist-minded” journalist under prosecution in Adygea

By Georgy Tashmatov, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

The Investigative Committee and FSB in the Republic of Adygea have started legal proceedings under Criminal Code Article 282.1 (“Extremism”) against Vassily Purdenko, editor of the blog “Free Speech in Adygea”, in connection with a 2012 publication, “Being Russian in Adygea: Possible but Futile”, signed by a certain “A. Ivanov”.

Purdenko, who started up his blog two and a half years ago, has ever since earned the reputation of a serious critic of the local authorities.

The journalist is claiming not guilty and saying that the seizure of his computer by law enforcers, the opening of a criminal case against him and the labelling of Ivanov’s article as “extremist” by linguists from the University of Adygea are all elements of a well-planned persecution campaign. “Extending the case’s investigation until 14 September is needed to prevent netizens from posting in my blog their comments on the forthcoming elections, which are to be held on 8 September,” Purdenko said.

“I was chief specialist on the Ethnic Policy and Foreign Relations Committee under the first President of Adygea; I was the first head of the republic’s Migration Service; I am a poet, prose writer, political writer and member of the Writers’ Union and Journalists’ Union of Russia; I am the author of eight books of verse – and yet they are trying to make an ‘enemy of the nation’ out of me,” he told the GDF over the phone.

TV company “under destruction” in Omsk

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

Staffers at Irtysh TV, the Omsk branch of the All-Russia State TV/Radio Company (VGTRK), have tried in vain for six months to call Moscow’s attention to the “catastrophic situation” that results, in their view, from Andrei Groshev’s appointment company director two and a half years ago. The business newspaper Kommercheskiye Vesti on 10 April made public an open letter to VGTRK General Director Oleg Dobrodeyev, in which 64 signatories complained about various malpractices committed by their company management. Groshev’s prior career included directorship at Volga TV – a similar television company in Ulyanovsk, and the position of a deputy head of administration in Prioksky District in Nizhny Novgorod.

As it happens, Andrei follows in his father’s footsteps. Mikhail Groshev had spent a long time running the state television company in Nizhny Novgorod before becoming an aide to President Putin’s personal envoy to the Volga Federal District. The way the Omsk TV people look at it, it is this father-and-son professional relationship that protects Andrei Groshev against getting fired from Irtysh for incompetence – an outcome the company’s trade union and many staffers have long been pressing for. “He has repeatedly said behind the scenes he is ‘the big boss here’ because his father is on friendly terms with the head of the VGTRK Regional Policy Department,” the authors of the open letter wrote, adding that their director “pursues his selfish ends instead of improving company performance”; “often feels free to appear in public looking inadequately”; has let the work process drift; doesn’t meet with creative staff; and generally, “behaves not like a company head but like a construction work superintendent” – but here, too, he lies down on the job: “The repairs conducted in a slipshod manner for the third year running have largely boiled down to throwing money away.”

With Groshev at the helm, more than 60 staffers have quit working for Irtysh – most of them because they could not make ends meet earning 10,000 to 12,000 roubles a month (with the region’s average salary estimated at 25,000 roubles). As a result, the “once-respected television company has been losing its public image” and causing staffers to think Irtysh “is being deliberately destroyed”.

Their open letter left unanswered, trade union committee chairman Mikhail Mandel, a renowned sportscaster whose voice is known to all fans of the Omsk-based Avangard football club, and union board member Nikolai Smirnov, a sound control supervisor, flew to Moscow in July to check whether their appeal had got through to the addressees, and to hear their comments on the conflict.

As reported by Kommercheskiye Vesti, VGTRK General Director Dobrodeyev did not find the time to meet with his provincial colleagues; he sent his deputies Rifat Sabitov and Andrei Nikitin to talk to them in his stead. “We talked for a couple of hours, and it seemed the Moscow officials did get the message”: they promised to send a commission to Omsk to assess the situation on the ground and take appropriate measures, the newspaper quoted Mandel and Smirnov as saying.

The commission did arrive a week later, represented by Nikitin alone. “He went directly to Andrei Groshev’s office and stayed there for the good part of the day talking to the director and the ‘pocket’ people invited one by one by his assistants,” the activists said. “After lunch, he talked to others, then to union members, trying to persuade everyone Groshev is a ‘good manager’ – a point we resolutely disagreed with. Then he suggested we submit a list of requests that he would try fulfilling upon returning to Moscow; in the meantime, we should pledge to leave the company management alone.”

The trade union’s list of requests included raising the staffers’ salaries to the region’s average level; restoring the system of surplus holiday pay (so-called “hospital money”) abolished by Groshev; setting up a commission with union activists’ participation to regulate stimulating bonus payments; and putting sports programmes back on the air.

In the month and a half that has passed since then, Andrei Nikitin has not fulfilled a single one of his promises. The Irtysh staffers have broken the “truce” and resumed the fight for their rights. The relevant decision was supported by 49 union members of a total of 56, with two abstentions and five persons absent. “We will continue defending our rights by any legal means that are available,” Mandel told the GDF.

A few days ago, the TV company staffers sent Dobrodeyev another open letter and collectively appealed to law enforcement for support.

Bailiffs in Khabarovsk arrest journalist’s full pension

By Vladimir Dymov, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

Khabarovsk-based journalist Irina Kharitonova last week lost the full pension amount transferred to her SberBank account: the bailiffs in the Industrialny district of Khabarovsk withheld everything she had (9,500 roubles) for payment of moral damages to Col.-Gen. Viktor Novozhilov, an ex-commander of the Far Eastern Military District, who had initiated the execution process. In line with a Central district court decision, the lady journalist owes him 20,000 roubles.

Kharitonova is one of the authors of the article “Viktor Ishayev’s Power Tree”, published by the newspaper Khabarovsky Ekspress on 13 April 2011. The story criticised President Putin’s personal envoy to the Far East, V. Ishayev, and members of his team (see digest 585 and digest 602). Novozhilov and three others sued the authors for libel and were awarded moral damage compensation.

When notified of the court ruling, Kharitonova went to the bailiffs to explain she could not pay the whole amount at once, and that she would pay by instalments; she did pay the first instalment there and then.

“Now it turns out I’ve lost my entire pension,” she told the GDF. “A bank clerk explained my bank account is under arrest, and the next pension will be withheld, too. Actually, they’ve left me with nothing to live on.”

The other author of the article, Konstantin Pronyakin, is to pay the general an equal amount in moral damages.

In all, the two journalists owe 210,000 roubles to the four plaintiffs who filed their legal claims, repeating one another word for word, on one and the same day; each claimed half a million roubles in compensation from the defendants. Besides Novozhilov, the group of plaintiffs included Maj.-Gen. Vyacheslav Baranov, ex-head of the regional police department; Viktor Chechevatov, another former commander of the Far Eastern Military District turned rector of the RF Customs Academy; and Moscow resident Aleksandr Shishkin. They hired an expensive lawyer to represent their interests in court.

Pronyakin and Kharitonova have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, complaining that their rights to freedom of expression and to fair trial have been denied them in Russia.

A curious detail: Novozhilov, apart from the 20,000 roubles in moral damages, demanded that the authors disclaim the sentence: “After retirement, Viktor Novozhilov moved to Moscow and settled down on the famous Rublevskoye Highway [a luxurious residential area near Moscow – Translator.].” As established in court, he does live on Rublevskoye Highway – his home address was written in black and white both in the text of his claim and in the court order for the bailiffs to execute. Yet the judge satisfied the high-ranking official’s legal claim in full.

Award-winning journalist accused of robbery in Kabardino-Balkaria

The trial over Igor Tsagoyev, a prominent journalist and correspondent for the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets, is drawing to a close in Nalchik. The man was detained in the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria on 8 May and was placed under arrest two days later on suspicion of committing robbery 13 years ago (see digest 615). His stay under arrest has been extended several times “because of the gravity of the offence” and on the pretext that he may escape or otherwise attempt to influence the course of investigation. This seems queer, considering that Tsagoyev has lived in one and the same apartment for all the 13 years and never tried to hide from the police; moreover, he has actively cooperated with the republic’s “force” agencies and received well-earned awards from them in acknowledgment of his efforts. Yet our law enforcers, having sent a person to prison once, tend to treat him like a jailbird for the rest of his life.

In the run-up to the trial, the investigators and prosecutors were stubbornly unwilling to acknowledge appalling discrepancies in the evidence gathered against the accused; they insisted Tsagoyev was guilty of breaking and entering aggravated by robbery. As the hearings started, the defence lawyers did their best to bring the numerous contradictions to light.

Now, as regards the subject matter of the case. The victim, Madina U., claims that the defendant came to her house on 13 January 2000, hit her several times on the head and robbed her of 1,950 dollars. Tsagoyev denies ever taking any money from her, while admitting that he did hurt the woman in the course of a quarrel in which she, too, left some bleeding scratches on his face. He says he came to Madina’s place to talk to her husband, who had sexually harassed Tsagoyev’s girlfriend. The woman herself let him in. Her husband happened to be out, so the journalist asked if he could leave him a note. It was the note’s content that triggered off the scandal. However, in 2000 Madina did not tell the police anything about the note, thus concealing the true reasons for the quarrel; instead, she accused Tsagoyev of robbery. Nor did she say anything about her meeting the “robber” in the city a few months later. Her “amnesia” lasted for thirteen years, until she had a confrontation with the accused, who reminded her that she had met him more than once, and not only on the day of the crime, contrary to what she was claiming. This and many other contradictions in Madina’s testimony, which were at odds also with what witnesses for both the defence and the prosecution were saying, caused the court to seriously doubt the validity of the evidence presented.

The investigators wrongfully qualified Tsagoyev’s actions as robbery, prosecutor Bella Ulbasheva said during the hearing of arguments. The defendant did not claim anything from the victim; he came to her house for purposes that had nothing to do with robbery – moreover, the victim herself invited him to come in, the prosecutor acknowledged. She asked the court to have the defendant convicted under Criminal Code Articles 155.1 (“Deliberate infliction of light bodily harm”) and 158.2c (“Theft of a large sum of money”), but to relieve him of any legal liability in view of the limitation period expiry.

The defence, however, insists Tsagoyev did not steal any money at all – there is no evidence to prove the fact of robbery except the victim’s words, which should not be trusted, considering the many contradictions in her testimony, defence lawyer Natalya Yusupova (who is also a GDF correspondent in the North Caucasian Federal District) said during the hearing of arguments. She called the court’s attention to the fact that Tsagoyev had been labelled a criminal long before official charges were brought against him: the police department had posted an announcement to that effect, with Tsagoyev’s photo next to it, on its official website right after his detention, without even specifying the year to which the alleged crime dated back. Besides, it had called on “anyone who has suffered at the hands of this criminal” to immediately report his “wrongdoings” to the police.

The circumstances of his detention on 8 May look dubious, too. As established in court, Tsagoyev was detained at a police station after the officer-on-duty received an anonymous phone call from someone who claimed that the man escorted into the station shortly before was the person who committed robbery 13 years ago and – imagine that – the one who killed a World War II veteran, Mr. Mogilko, earlier this year. But two questions remain unanswered: who and why brought the journalist to the police station, and who is that “vigilant” anonymous person who happened to be “at the right place at the right time” to be able to confirm what the investigators were saying?

In his last plea, Igor Tsagoyev acknowledged the fact of his inflicting light bodily harm on Madina U.; he repented and apologised to the woman. “I feel ashamed and very sorry for that – but I am not guilty of any other offence,” he said.

The verdict was to be announced on Monday, 2 September, but the reading was postponed till the following day because prison guards failed to duly bring the accused to the courtroom.

Digest editor’s note: Igor Tsagoyev was a nominee for the 2004 Andrei Sakharov Award “For Journalism as an Act of Conscience”; the winner of the grand prize in the 2005 All-Russia Competition “Arbitrariness in Law”; and the winner of the 2005 Golden Gong Award in the “Investigation of the Year” nomination. Also, he has won several other prestigious awards, including “For In-depth Coverage of the Dangerous and Socially Important Theme of Power Criminalization” in the 2006 “Arbitrariness in Law” competition; the national 2006 Iskra (Spark) Award in the “Journalistic Investigation” nomination; the 2007 Artyom Borovik “Honour, Courage, Mastery” Award; the Russian Journalists’ Union (RJU) 2007 Tamerlan Kazikhanov Award “For Courage and Professionalism”; the 2008 RF Government’s Media Award “For Personal Contribution to Strengthening Peace and Stability in Southern Russia”; and the 2011 RJU Award “For Professional Mastery”. Besides, Tsagoyev has been awarded a number of memorial and ministerial medals, including “For Military Valour”, “For Companionship-in-Arms”, the Marshal Zhukov Medal, “For Service in the North Caucasus”, and “For Cooperation”.



Report on freedom-of-expression violations in July 2013

The Adil Soz Foundation’s Monitor of Violations of Freedom of Expression registered 84 in-coming reports in July, among them the following:

- The persons accused of an attempt on the life of Uralskaya Nedelya correspondent Lukpan Akhmedyarov have been convicted;

- Former employees of the Respublika newspaper have complained of threats they received from persons presenting themselves as secret service officials;

- The court in the city of Ridder has commenced hearings of the case of journalist Aleksandr Kharlamov, who is facing charges of fanning religious strife;

- Printing houses across the republic continue refusing to print ADAM Reader’s magazine.

[Report by Adil Soz Foundation’s Monitoring Service]



District leader’s claim of 1 million roubles for anonymous letter’s publication turned down in Perm

By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District

The regional court in Perm on 28 August considered what veteran lawyers called a “unique” legal claim in defence of honour, dignity and business reputation: offended by an anonymous critical letter posted in multiple copies on fences and telegraph poles, Ordinsky district head Grigory Bannikov filed such a claim against the district Assembly, demanding an apology and 1 million (sic!) roubles in moral damages.

The level of glasnost in the district seems to be low enough for the head of local administration to claim seriously offended by a leaflet made by Ashap village residents who preferred to stay unidentified while accusing Bannikov, a former schoolteacher of physical culture and later an instructor with the Perm Region Committee of the Soviet Communist Party, of failure to fulfil his pre-election pledges. Since his election district head on 4 April 2011, they wrote, Bannikov has carried out none of his promises – he has not improved the healthcare system, nor opened new kindergartens, and so on. And generally, the anonymous authors suggested, the district has no master at all; instead, it has a mistress in the person of a certain lady [rumoured to be close to Bannikov].

Since the letter featured a district Assembly stamp indicating the in-coming number of the correspondence and the date of its receipt, the plaintiff pointed to the legislators as the initiators of the anonymous leaflet’s circulation. His civil law case was heard at the Ordinsky district court behind closed doors. Finding the fact of the Assembly’s involvement in the circulation of the letter unproven, the court on 31 May turned Bannikov’s legal claim down.

The district leader appealed to the higher-standing regional court but failed to appear in the courtroom on 28 August, asking for an adjournment of the hearing because of his having to attend a conference of district schoolteachers elsewhere. Assembly representative Aleksandra Gulyayeva left the matter at the discretion of Judge Vladimir Lavrentyev, who decided upon consulting with his colleagues to review the appeal in the plaintiff’s absence.

In the appeal that was read out during the open hearing, Bannikov complained about the primary court’s failure to pay due attention to the Assembly stamp on the anonymous letter, and its failure to order a linguistic study of the text. Gulyayeva contended that an official body’s stamp on a letter doesn’t prove that such body took action to make copies of that letter. Yes, deputies did read the letter delivered by post, but they did not copy it, she said, adding that some witnesses’ testimony should not be trusted in view of those persons’ subordination to the plaintiff in the service hierarchy.

The Ordinsky court decision has entered into full legal force. As regards apology, this demand was dismissed as irrelevant, since in line with effective legislation, a court of law is not supposed to require anyone to apologise to anyone else.


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.

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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