4 Октября 2012 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 585

1 October 2012



FH Freedom on the Net 2012 report released

Freedom House on 24 September released its “Freedom on the Net 2012” report which identifies Russia, just as one year ago, as a country where access to the Internet is only “partly free”.

“Physical attacks against government critics are intensifying” worldwide, the report says. In the past year, “in 19 of the 47 countries assessed, bloggers became the targets of violent attacks… as a result of their online posts”. Besides, “new laws or directives have been passed since January 2011 that either restrict online speech or punish individuals who post content deemed objectionable or undesirable”. Bloggers and ordinary web users have been under increasingly strong pressure from the authorities and have faced threats of arrest for political statements posted online, and cyber attacks on government critics have become more common, the report says.

The analysts divided the surveyed countries into those where the Internet is free, partly free and not free.

The first group includes Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Estonia, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Kenya, the Philippines, South Africa, Ukraine, and the United States.

The second includes Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, Rwanda, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.

And the third group includes Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Ethiopia, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

The section devoted to this country says that “Internet and mobile phone penetration in Russia has continued to grow in 2011 and 2012, and the government largely supports the dissemination of these technologies… In 2011, Internet penetration in Russia stood at 49 percent.” But “the level of infrastructure differs significantly across the country,” and “the worst access conditions can be found in the North Caucasus mountainous regions… The rapid spread of mobile Internet in recent years, however, has significantly improved connectivity in remote areas.”

“After independent television channels were eliminated and press regulations tightened…,” the FH report goes on to say, “the Internet became Russia’s last relatively uncensored platform for public debate and the expression of political opinions. However, since January 2011, massive distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks and smear campaigns to discredit online activists have intensified. After online tools played a critical role in galvanizing massive anti-government protests that began in December 2011, the Kremlin signalled its intention to further tighten control over Internet communications”.

The report calls attention to “informal meetings with the security services” and “extralegal intimidation of social network activists and independent forum moderators” as common “lines of pressure over the online world” in Russia.



Ura.ru office in Yekaterinburg searched by police

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

A five-hour search of the Ura.ru news agency office in Yekaterinburg on 27 September, resulting in the seizure of some documents, was followed by searches of the homes of the agency’s chief editor Aksana Panova, her deputy Mikhail Vyugin, and chief accounting officer Natalia Popova. Those actions were said to be part of an effort to investigate the theft of over 10 million roubles from Ura.ru’s bank account, which gave rise to the opening of a criminal case on charges of fraud.

“I want to specially stress that this case has nothing whatever to do with the agency’s creative work process,” Sverdlovsk Region police department chief Valery Gorelykh said.

Still, there are reasons to believe the searches may signal yet another attempt to put pressure on Ura.ru in view of the news agency’s independent editorial policy and repeated recent criticism of the regional administration and law enforcement. Whatever its motives, the police crackdown on independent journalists caused broad public repercussions and brought back memories of prior government attempts to pressure Ura.ru that had caused the regional branch of the Russian Journalists’ Union and the Glasnost Defence Foundation to come out in defence of media freedom (see Digest 565).

The investigators in charge of the case asked the Oktyabrsky district court in Yekaterinburg on 28 September to warrant Popova’s arrest – an action that the news agency’s lawyers challenged as one contravening the Russian criminal code, which prohibits the arrest of persons accused of fraud under Article 159 if their alleged offence was committed in connection with business activity.

Aksana Panova urgently fled Russia taking a flight to Baku, Azerbaijan, on 27 September, but returned to Yekaterinburg three days later to officially refute allegations about the theft of money from her company’s bank account as groundless. A statement to the same effect was made also by the agency’s co-owner BF TEN (Austria).

The GDF will closely follow the developments in Yekaterinburg and monitor law observance by the officials investigating the Ura.ru case.

Municipal media status imposed on Petrozavodsk and TVR-Panorama newspapers in Karelia

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

Until recently, the newspapers Petrozavodsk and TVR-Panorama positioned themselves as private periodicals – first, because they had no municipal bodies among their founders or owners, and second, because they earned a living themselves, without reliance on budgetary support. The issue of having them recognised as municipal media came up as a by-election was announced recently to fill a vacant seat on the Petrozavodsk City Council.

In line with the Federal Law on Guarantees of Citizens’ Electoral Rights, the city electoral committee published a list of the media in which candidates were entitled to feature their campaigning materials free of charge. Petrozavodsk and TVR-Panorama were on that list. Naturally, their editors protested, since nobody wants to give up page space for nothing; with a whole 12 candidates vying for the parliamentary seat in the relevant constituency, four full pages were to be devoted to the campaigning stuff the twelve nominees would like to see published in each newspaper issue (Petrozavodsk is a 28-page weekly with a circulation of 12,000, and TVR-Panorama is a 32-page weekly with a circulation of 40,000).

Differences in the assessment of the two newspapers’ statuses caused the editors to file legal claims against the municipal authorities. The dispute was considered by the Petrozavodsk city court, where the territorial electoral committee insisted that it was up to the regional department of Roskomnadzor [federal service overseeing the sphere of public communications] to establish whether or not the two newspapers are municipally owned. The committee’s own role, its representative claimed, was reduced to “fulfilling the federal law provisions requiring the state- and municipally-owned media to keep the citizens informed about the election process and candidates for parliamentary positions, free of charge”.

To justify its putting the two newspapers on the list of municipal media, Karelia’s Roskomnadzor claimed that neither of them is an independent legal entity and that both are structural subdivisions of PetroPress Publishers’ Ltd. which, in its turn, is co-owned by the Petrozavodsk administration (with a 19.76% stake), which is indeed so. Therefore, Roskomnadzor and the electoral committee insisted that the city administration shall have the right to use the two newspapers’ page space to feature candidates’ campaigning materials for no pay. The court upheld this statement and turned the plaintiffs’ claims down.

Unwilling to break federal law, the editors of Petrozavodsk and TVR-Panorama accepted the 12 candidates’ campaigning ads for publishing but challenged the district court’s decision before a higher-standing judicial authority. Unless the latter disproves the municipal status of the two newspapers, they might be in for significant financial losses during elections in the future – particularly next year, when a new mayor of Petrozavodsk is to be elected, and later a 50-strong new body of the City Council.

Regional court in Khabarovsk rubber-stamps decisions?

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

The newspaper Khabarovsky Ekspress (KE) is to pay 60,000 roubles in moral damages to Gen. Viktor Chechevatov, former commander of the Far Eastern Military District turned president of the RF Customs Academy, for using the proverb “I want to have everything, and nothing as legal punishment for what I (unlawfully) have” in a story that he took as a personal insult.

Actually, that proverbial sentence – part of the story “Viktor Ishayev’s Power Tree” – related not to Chichevatov but to Ishayev, then Presidential Envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District; and the information about Chechevatov, which KE is now to disclaim, was reprinted from other media publications, the authors say. Significantly enough, the general remains undisturbed by a score of scandals mentioned in connection with his name, for example, in Wikipedia – but he insists that KE should disclaim its (reprinted) characteristic of him as a man who “arrived in Khabarovsk from the Kiev Military District with a reputation damaged by his rumoured unfair dealings in the car business. He had kept a low profile until hitting newspaper headlines in connection with 326 soldiers who served on Russky Island finding themselves in hospital.”

Chechevatov did not appear in court; his interests, as well as those of six other persons who claimed offended by the same publication about Presidential Envoy Ishayev (now a minister in the RF government), were represented by lawyer L. Yeliseyeva. As we have reported, those six claims, citing one another word for word, were lodged with one and the same court on one and the same day, due to the coordinating effort of State Duma deputy Boris Reznik, who had himself come under KE criticism earlier.

This is already the second judicial decision “rubber-stamped” by the college of judges at the regional court in Khabarovsk with Judge I. Kulikova at its head. The first, as we have reported, was passed a month ago in the case of State Duma deputy Aleksandr Shishkin, who, too, was awarded 60,000 roubles in moral damages.

We wrote about flagrant violations of effective legislation and our Khabarovsk colleagues’ rights in previous editions of the Digest (see Digest 573; Digest 569; Digest 531). Our fellow journalists were denied the opportunity to speak in court; their pleas were turned down for no evident reason; court hearings were sometimes held in the absence of defendants; and copies of courtroom protocols were made available to them after the established deadline, thus denying them the chance to file well-motivated appeals in due time. Journalists complained about those malpractices to higher-standing judicial authorities, such as the Qualifying College of Judges and the Regional Council of Judges.

“It seems they rubber-stamp decisions without actually looking into particular cases,” Irina Kharitonova, one of the defendants, said. “That must be because our publication was about such a VIP as Viktor Ishayev, an incumbent minister, whose orders are obeyed by everyone in the Khabarovsk Region. I think the court knows his attitude to the independent press well enough for journalists to cease being attacked in the street now but to start paying inordinate fines instead.”

The Central district court in Khabarovsk this week is to consider the last two legal claims against journalists in connection with the same publication – those lodged by former police chief Gen. V. Baranov and former Far Eastern Military District commander Gen. V. Novozhilov (Chechevatov’s predecessor).

Europe Plus TV/Radio Company property arrested in Sakhalin Region

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

A bailiff at the Inter-District Department for the Execution of Special Judicial Decisions has arrested office equipment and furniture belonging to the TV/Radio Company “Europe Plus Sakhalin”.

The property seizure was warranted in view of the company’s owing to one of its former head-managers more than 1.6 million roubles in wage arrears, unpaid compensation for a holiday he had not actually taken, and penalty for the early termination of his work contract at employer’s initiative. The person concerned is Vladimir Chuiko, an incumbent deputy of the City Assembly of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.

To retain its property (which is essential to keep the work process going), the company is to repay its debt to the ex-manager voluntarily before the established deadline, the Sakhalin Bailiffs’ press service said.

So far, the arrest of its assets has not prevented the TV/radio company from continuing to work in the business-as-usual mode.

The media holding to which the company belongs (along with the television channels STS Sakhalin and DTV Sakhalin, the newspaper Telesem’, and the magazine Osoboye Mneniye) has repeatedly been shocked by commercial scandals lately. For example, in response to a complaint filed by one of its shareholders last year, the holding’s operation was frozen for a few days by the seizure by the police of all electronic information carriers and accounting documents that, according to company employees, constituted a commercial secret. The journalists described the police action as a raider attack. The police department, for its part, wrote on its official website that it was nothing more than “an ordinary inspection”.

As is known, “When the masters fall out, their men get the clout”: the primary victims of those “commercial wars” are ordinary press and TV reporters…



Almaty TV channel staffers resign en masse

More than 60 staffers of the television channel “Almaty” – reporters, directors, video engineers and cameramen – have notified the management of their resigning as of 1 October.

The main reason for this mass resignation is Almaty Mayoral Press Secretary Sergei Kuyanov’s interference with the channel’s creative work and editorial policy.

For example, the author of a TV story featuring politician Pyotr Svoik’s discuss language problems facing the country was summoned to the mayor’s office and required by Kuyanov to provide written explanations. Also, the press secretary gave a dressing-down to the editor who had aired a TV report about a mansion owner’s putting a turnpike on a road in the public domain to extort a passage fee from motorists. Almaty channel staffers have complained to the general director, asking him to restrict mayoral interference with their work, and to organise a meeting with the mayor’s spokesman, but Kuyanov refused to meet with them. This caused the media workers to say they quit.

This information was reported to the Adil Soz Foundation by the channel’s deputy general director Kairat Baltabai, who had resigned still earlier because of the mayoral press secretary’s meddling in the company’s creative work process. His colleague Serik Sarybayev, the first deputy general director in charge of the channel’s Kazakh-language programmes, had tendered his resignation, too.

[Adil Soz Freedom-of-Expression Defence Foundation report, 28 September]



Defamation bill not to be passed into law?

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich has described as “a mistake” the parliament’s passing of a bill re-introducing criminal liability for defamation. He made a statement to this effect at a conference in New York, the Interfax news agency reported. Earlier, the bill’s initiator Viktor Zhuravsky of the Party of Regions had announced his intention to recall the bill, which he said he was doing “after weighing all the circumstances carefully” and “in order to protect national interests”.

“I know that any initiative advanced on the eve of elections is bound to cause apprehension and mistrust as a minimum,” he said, adding that he still is convinced of the need to tighten responsibility for defamation, and that he intends – after the end of the elections – to propose a new version of his bill, having discussed it in detail with media representatives.

Yanukovich stressed that Zhuravsky’s recall of the bill was “not accidental”.

“He did take into account my own opinion, as well as that of his fellow party activists, about the draft law,” the president said. “Now he wants to correct a mistake he made personally. As regards parliament, the deputies may have failed to fully understand the document’s content by the time they had to vote on it.”

The Ukrainian authorities pay due attention to the draft laws related to the country’s fulfilment of its obligations to the Council of Europe, Yanukovich said. “We in Ukraine must adopt European standards in all areas of life,” he concluded.

Criminal liability for defamation was cancelled in Ukraine in the early 2000s, Lenta.ru said. Criminal code amendments toughening liability for this kind of offence were passed by the Supreme Rada after the first reading on 18 September. In line with them, circulation of a priori false information damaging another person’s honour, dignity or business reputation would be punishable by a fine of up to US $10,500, or correctional labour, or imprisonment for up to five years.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on 30 July signed into law the return into the country’s criminal code of an article envisaging criminal liability for defamation. The law was published on the same day and came into full legal force on 10 August.

Public activists and journalists see this as a threat to freedom of expression.

[Grani.ru report, 26 September]



The Glasnost Defence Foundation has received a message from journalist Polina Zherebtsova, who is compelled to seek asylum in Finland. The message read as follows:

“Reading in the Internet your 2012 report on attacks against journalists, I was surprised not to find my name on that list.

“I decided to request political asylum for myself and my family abroad because my work as a journalist and writer in Russia exposed me to threats against my family and me. Back at the time when I worked in the media in the Chechen Republic, I was under constant pressure from law enforcement agencies which intimidated and directly threatened me, saying, “If you continue publishing data about law-enforcement operations, you’re a dead woman.”

“After my diaries were published last year, I repeatedly received threatening phone calls from unknown persons; several web publications condemned my literary activities; and I became the target of a violent attack near my home in autumn 2011.

“Compelled to move from one place to another, I had suspended my independent investigation for some time – and no more threats had followed until 2010, when my diaries were published in the Moscow-based Bolshoi Gorod magazine. Shortly after that I barely survived an attack in a lift: a man tied up a noose around my neck but chance witnesses scared him off. Then those threatening phone calls and written messages came. On 16 November 2011, several unknown men attacked me near my home, telling me I was a disgrace to Russia and that they wouldn’t allow me to publish any more of my books. They threatened to kill my mother, my husband and finally myself unless I stopped writing about the wars in Chechnya.

“The latest attack against me occurred in Moscow on 17 January this year: a man in a white Lada car snatched a packet with sketches and articles from my hand, and quickly drove away. Hit by a car door, I fell on the ground; my husband, who was beside me, didn’t even have the time to react. By the way, he, too, had been attacked near his office in autumn 2011. My mother found threatening messages in her mailbox.”

Polina Zherebtsova contributed in different years to the newspapers Molodyozhnaya Smena, Vesti Respubliki, Stolitsa Plus, Groznensky Rabochiy, Narod I Vlast, Dagestanskiye Vesti, Stavropolskaya Pravda and Gums; the magazines Vainakh (Our People), Stellad (Rainbow), Lam (News Bulletin), Znamya (Banner) and Bolshoi Gorod (Big City). At present, she contributes to the web publications Grani.ru and Slon.ru, the newspaper The Helsinki News, and the Boston-based Krugozor magazine.


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.

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 Monitoring 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:
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