February 2012 through the eyes of Glasnost Defence Foundation

5 March 2012

By John Crowfoot

The incidents included in the past two weeks’ monitoring by the Glasnost Defence Foundation were taken from national and local news sources and from reports by GDF correspondents in the regions. By shifting the focus away from Moscow the monitors offer a useful reminder that other elections taking place on Sunday are also the pretext for censorship, violence and other improper forms of influence and intimidation (JC).

26, Sunday

Awkward questions leave journalist with concussion (Volga)

Togliatti journalist Sergei Krasilnikov ended up with concussion, following a press conference in the Samara Region’s second city with a candidate in forthcoming election of a new mayor.

One of the candidate’s supporters, a deputy from the city duma (council) Alexander Gremin, took exception to Krasilnikov’s questions and as soon as the meeting ended he came over and punched the “Tolyatinskoe obozrenie” (Togliatti Review) journalist several times. As the attack continued Krasilnikov shouted “Keep filming!” to a cameraman from one of the city’s TV companies. Soon the police arrived to stop the fight.

24, Friday

Police confiscate copies of newspaper exposing police corruption (Central)

Police confiscated twenty copies of “Moi gorod – Kostroma” from one of the shopping centres in the Central Russian city after the newspaper published an article about corruption in the city branch of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The police had received an anonymous tip-off that copies of the banned publication were to be found at a room for customers in the car-wash.

Newspaper alleged to carry items opposing candidate (Central)

Copies of “Zhizn v Yaroslavle” (Life in Yaroslavl) distributed in the town contain, according to some, material opposing to one of the candidates in the coming mayoral elections. Twelve people handing out the paper were detained in various city districts, said the region’s police chief, and more than 3,000 copies of “Zhizn v Yaroslavle” were seized. The local electoral commission is now examining the newspaper to see if it has broken the law on elections.

Police begin investigation of attack on opposition journalist (Siberia)

In Taishet (Irkutsk Region) the police have begun investigating an attack on opposition journalist Andrei Lakhovsky, a local contributor to the Babr.ru website. A foreign make of car drew up alongside Lakhovsky on the street, two men got out and started to beat him without saying a word.

This is not the first time the journalist has received a beating. In September 2005, when he was chief editor of the “Vostochno-Sibirskaya gazeta” (East Siberian newspaper), Lakhovsky was attacked as he left a taxi. The assailants seized his mobile phone, coat and trainers, making no reference to the elections then taking place. Police investigated and concluded this was an ordinary street crime. They charged no one.

22, Wednesday

Two Molotov cocktails thrown into Yabloko office (Siberia)

Unknown assailants threw two bottles of inflammable liquid into the office of the local Yabloko party in Minusinsk (Krasnoyarsk Region). The offices of the independent “Nadezhda i my” (Hope and Us) newspaper, which supports Yabloko, are located in the same premises. The police are considering whether to bring charges. The party links the attack to the coming municipal elections on 4 March.

Rights centre head and chief editor detained in Gelendzhik (South)

Vladimir Ivanov, head of the Gelendzhik human rights centre, and Valery Semergei, chief editor of the “Imeyu pravo” (I have the right) newspaper have been detained in the Krasnodar Region. Police suspect them of trying to extort two million roubles from a building contractor and say the men were caught, taking money from him. Valery Semergei’s wife says that her husband, Vladimir Ivanov and another member of the rights defence centre were approached by a neighbour of the new multi-storey apartment building. They went to discuss the issue with the builder and fell victim to an entrapment.

Armed attack on radio station staff was “petty hooliganism” (Siberia)

The Omsk Region Court ruled that an attack by a young man armed with a knife on staff at Radio Record in Omsk did not represent a serious danger to the public. The court heard how the 24-year-old had pestered DJ Nina Smiley with indecent text messages sent to the office phone. When she told him she had reported his actions to the police he grabbed a knife and came to the studios.

18, Saturday

First nano-rally held in Tomsk (Siberia)

The city’s first nano-rally has taken place. Officially it was a picket and the participants, as elsewhere at such events, were mainly toys. The humans taking part were members of the local branch of Solidarity who held placards with anti-Putin slogans. At the end of the demonstration local internet journalist Stanislav Mikryukov, known for his sharply-worded publications about the authorities unseemly activities, was arrested.

The police who detained Mikryukov, a citizen of Uzbekistan, threatened him with the loss of his right to reside in Russia. Only the intervention of local rights activist Andrei Volkov secured his release on payment of a 2,000 rouble fine.

16, Thursday

Head of TV company refuses to cover elections (Central)

Anton Golitsyn, chief editor at the NTM TV company in Yaroslavl, has written an open letter to the regional authorities, accusing them of deceit and pressurising him and his colleagues. He has refused to cover the elections since the programmes he has made have not been broadcast. “The explanation could not be more simple,” said Golitsyn. “I’m ashamed. You cancel my programmes. You won’t show some of those standing for election. You’ve screwed up the mayoral elections in Yaroslavl.”

14, Tuesday

“Sobchak and the State” taken off air (Moscow)

A new programme about politics on the MTV youth channel has been cancelled without explanation. The presenter Ksenia Sobchak tweeted about the decision not to show the 17 February edition which carries an interview with Alexei Navalny. The pilot programme on 7 February invited notable figures and activists to discuss “Where is Putin taking us?” Among the activists involved were representatives of Solidarity, the Left Front, the Khimki Forest Defence League and the pro-Kremlin Nashi movement. The programme secured high ratings. “I’m a moderate,” Sobchak commented, “I’m no revolutionary ... but when the authorities treat you like this ...”

In November 2011 “NTVshniki”, another programme carrying a report by Sobchak about Putinite youth leader Yakemenko dining in expensive restaurants, was also not shown. Instead Sobchak put the film she had taken on her mobile phone of Yakemenko at the restaurant and published it on Twitter.

Veteran rights activist beaten and robbed (Volga)

Alexander Lashmankin, a correspondent for the local Svoboda news agency, was attacked and robbed of his cell phone by unidentified assailants in Samara. The police have begun a criminal investigation under Article 161 of the Criminal Code (“Robbery”). The attack took place around 6 pm as Lashmankin approached the building where the For Honest Elections organisation was holding a meeting. Colleagues link the attack to Lashmankin’s involvement in the Honest Elections campaign and his human rights activities in the city.

Over the past seven years Lashmankin has been attacked, arrested and threatened. In January 2005 the diminutive journalist and rights activist was beaten by police. The prosecutor’s office investigated the incident but no one was charged. In December 2007 Lashmankin and four other journalists from the Svoboda agency were arrested as they monitored the presidential and local elections in Samara. The journalist was detained again by the police in 2008 on suspicion of “forging his press card”. In April 2010, after repeated threats, someone fired an airgun at the windows of Lashmankin’s apartment.

TV presenters threatened with physical violence (North Caucasus)

Aznor Attayev and Arina Zhilyasova, news presenters on the State Broadcasting Company in Kabardino-Balkaria, have been threatened by the leader of one of the extremist, underground armed groups. A video entitled “Some words of explanation from Amir Abdul-Malik” appeared on the radical Islamist website Djamaat Takbir. The extremists decided to give the two presenters of the “Vesti” news programme a fright after they displayed “too much joy” in reporting the special operations being carried out in the republic against the radicals.

Chief Editor cleared of defamation and insult (Far East)

The Khabarovsk city court has cleared Ludmila Boldyreva, chief editor of the “Tikhookeanskaya zvezda” (Far East Star) newspaper, of defamation and insult. Both offences were decriminalised in December 2011 but the defendant insistent that the case be heard to the end. “I have been a journalist for 25 years and am today in charge of more than one hundred staff,” commented Boldyreva on her decision to continue her defence.

In December 2007 Andrei Nemtsov, a student at the Far Eastern Railroad College, was killed in a fight. The former head of the college, 75-year-old Anatoly Ivanov, was convicted and sentenced to six years in a strict-regime penal colony. A new eye-witness came forward in April 2011, however, and approached the Khabarovsk Region prosecutor with a different version of events. Boldyreva published an article, raising doubts about the fairness of the trial. This outraged the parents of Nemtsov, who brought charges against the editor for defamation and insult.