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Attacks on the Press 2002: Russia

Russian president Vladimir Putin, along with his coterie of conservative former intelligence officials, pressed ahead in 2002 to impose his vision of a "dictatorship of the law" in Russia to create a "managed democracy." Putin's goal of an obedient and patriotic press meant that the Kremlin continued using various branches of the state apparatus to rein in the independent media.

Overall, the independent press continued to provide a certain plurality of views, but direct criticism of the president or other senior officials has become more restrained and less frequent than it was under President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s. And while Putin's administration has demonstrated some sensitivity to international public opinion, this has only resulted in a shift from blatant pressures to more subtle and covert tactics. For example, instead of daylight raids by armed tax police, media outlets now are more likely to be targeted with politically motivated lawsuits and hostile corporate takeovers. Meanwhile, the murder, imprisonment, and harassment of independent journalists throughout Russia's provinces continued in 2002.

The most brazen Kremlin efforts at media management occurred in late October, when a group of heavily armed Chechen rebels seized a Moscow theater where some 700 people were attending a performance of the musical "Nord-Ost." The rebels demanded that Russian troops pull out of the war-torn region of Chechnya in southern Russia. As local journalists scrambled to cover the crisis, the Kremlin cracked down with information controls and threats to curb coverage.

During the crisis, which began on October 23 and ended on the morning of October 26, Russia's Media Ministry temporarily closed the private Moscow television station Moskoviya for allegedly promoting terrorism in their coverage of the siege. And while Anna Politkovskaya, a war correspondent for the independent Moscow-based newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was attempting to negotiate the hostages' releases, the Media Ministry forced the independent Moscow-based Ekho Moskvy radio station to remove from its Web site the text of a telephone interview with a hostage-taker. After Putin ordered the Federal Security Service (FSB) to use a narcotic gas and storm the theater--a move that resulted in the deaths of all the rebels and more than 120 hostages--the ministry issued a warning to the government-run Moscow daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta for publishing the photograph of the body of a woman killed by the hostage-takers.

Even after government troops stormed the theater, effectively ending the crisis, the Kremlin set its sights on a number of media outlets whose coverage had displeased officials. Kremlin chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin and press secretary Aleksandr Gromov unsuccessfully pressured the television station NTV to fire its host and deputy head of news, Savik Shuster, for broadcasting an interview with anguished relatives of some of the hostages, according to network sources. Russian embassies throughout Europe also went on the offensive, criticizing German ARD television, Czech Television, and the Turkish media for their critical coverage of the crisis.

In November, both houses of Parliament approved amendments to the Law on the Struggle with Terrorism and the Law on Mass Media, which Parliament was considering at the time of the crisis. The amendments banned the media from printing or broadcasting information that justifies extremist activities and resistance to counterterrorist operations, hinders counterterrorist operations, or reveals anti-terrorist tactics.

In a rare display of solidarity, the managers of state and independent media, as well as two competing journalist associations, issued a joint appeal calling on Putin not to sign the amendments. The group said that the provisions were too broad and could potentially be used to ban all discussion of the war in Chechnya and to prevent the media from reporting critically on government responses to crises. CPJ also sent a letter to the president. On November 25, Putin vetoed the amendments and sent them back to Parliament for revision. While the media welcomed the veto, journalists remained concerned about what new legal restrictions for reporting on crises would follow.

The hostage crisis put the spotlight on the plight of Chechens and their ongoing war for independence, which have become nearly impossible for the media to cover. The Kremlin maintained its information embargo on the region, restricting the ability of Russian and foreign correspondents to report independently on the war's devastation. Journalists were required to travel with elaborate police escorts, which, along with the fear of being kidnapped by Chechen rebels, made it difficult to meet and interview citizens.

Novaya Gazeta's Politkovskaya covertly visited Chechnya to investigate allegations of human rights violations in February but was followed by FSB officers, arrested by Russian soldiers, detained on a military base for one night, and threatened by military officials in retaliation for her work. In October, Putin, angry with the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's (RFE/RL) increased coverage of the conflict in Chechnya, revoked a special broadcast agreement with RFE/RL, making the station vulnerable to potential legal and regulatory harassment.

During 2002, the Kremlin continued to consolidate the media under the state's authority and that of powerful businesses with links to Putin. In June, Putin appointed FSB lieutenant general Aleksandr Zdanovich, who has criticized coverage of the Chechen war, to the post of senior deputy chairman of the All-Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting, where he will oversee the state-run RTR national television network.

Meanwhile, Kremlin allies continued their campaign against the independent national television channel TV-6, owned by exiled media tycoon and Putin opponent Boris Berezovsky. In a complicated financial maneuver on which many observers saw the Kremlin's fingerprints, the Presidium of the Highest Arbitration Court issued a ruling on January 11 upholding the liquidation of the Moscow Independent Broadcasting Company, TV-6's parent company.

On March 27, the Federal Tender Commission awarded TV-6's broadcasting license to a partnership of journalists led by NTV's former director, Yevgeny Kiselyov, who was ousted from NTV when Gazprom, the state gas monopoly, took control of the station. (Media-Most Holding Company, which was owned by exiled media magnate and Putin opponent Vladimir Gusinsky, had controlled NTV.) The new entity, renamed TVS, is overseen by two Kremlin loyalists--former prime minister and senior KGB official Yevgeny Primakov and the influential industrial lobbyist Arkady Volsky. However, Kiselyov and his team have managed to retain significant editorial autonomy and produce fairly critical news reports at TVS.

Novaya Gazeta, which specializes in investigative journalism, including high-profile cases of government corruption, also continued to face politically motivated lawsuits and physical attacks in retaliation for its reporting. The newspaper faced closure in late February when Moscow's Basmanny District Court awarded libel damages of 45 million rubles (US$1.45 million) to a judge from the Krasnodar District Court and the financial institution Mezhprombank. In June, however, the bank waived the damage awards, allowing the newspaper to continue publishing. On March 11, Novaya Gazeta correspondent Sergei Zolovkin, who had received death threats for his reporting on organized crime and official corruption in the Krasnodar Region, was the target of an assassination attempt in the southwestern city of Sochi.

In early March, CPJ sent a delegation to Vladivostok and Moscow to meet with military journalist Grigory Pasko, who was sentenced to four years in prison on December 25, 2001. Pasko, who had been reporting for the Russian military newspaper Boyevaya Vakhta (Battle Watch) on environmental damage caused by the Russian navy, was convicted of "treason in the form of espionage" for "intending" to give classified documents to Japanese news outlets. The CPJ delegation met with Pasko supporters and government officials to discuss the journalist's case but was prevented from visiting Pasko himself. Although Pasko's lawyers appealed, the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court upheld the ruling on June 25. But on January 23, 2003, Pasko was released on parole for good behavior after serving two-thirds of his sentence.

Harassment of journalists remains commonplace in Russia's provinces, where powerful local leaders and businessmen are often extremely thin-skinned about any critical reporting. When two journalists attended Putin's annual press conference in Moscow on June 24, for example, and posed questions about corruption in their regions, both faced retaliation from local authorities. Dina Oyun, an editor for the Tuva Online Web site, asked Putin about voting fraud in the Siberian republic of Tuva. Subsequently, the head of the local election commission asked the local prosecutor's office to investigate her allegations and prosecute her for spreading allegedly false information. Aleksei Vasilivetsky, a journalist for the newspaper Nyaryana Vynder in the northern Nenets Autonomous District, asked Putin about local corruption investigations. The following week, Vasilivetsky's paper, under pressure from local officials, fired Olga Cheburina, the paper's editor-in-chief.

State surveillance of the Internet continued via regulations requiring Russian Internet service providers to install monitoring devices that route all online traffic through servers controlled by local law enforcement agencies.

Journalists in Russia also face violent attacks in retribution for their work, and during 2002, three journalists were killed there because of their journalism. Meanwhile, in a reflection of the rampant crime and violence that prevails in Russian society, CPJ documented 14 other cases of journalists who were killed for reasons unrelated to their reporting.

On June 26, the Moscow Circuit Military Court acquitted six suspects--including five former military officers and the deputy head of a private security firm--accused in the October 1994 murder of Dmitry Kholodov, an investigative reporter for the Moscow-based independent newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets. Kholodov wrote extensively about corruption in the Russian military and was killed when he opened a booby-trapped briefcase that he had been told contained secret documents exposing corruption at the military's highest levels. Journalists became outraged when the judge ruled that the evidence to convict the suspects was inconclusive, despite the fact that some of them had confessed to parts of the crime and that Defense Minister Pavel Grachev had admitted to asking subordinates to "sort things out" with journalists who reported critically on the military. (Grachev maintained that he wasn't implying murder.) This case highlighted the widespread violence against journalists and the culture of impunity that the inaction of the Kremlin and regional leaders fosters in Russia.



Date unknown

Sergei Kalinovsky, Moskovsky Komsomolets--Smolensk


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January 11

TV-6


The Presidium of the Highest Arbitration Court upheld the liquidation of the Moscow Independent Broadcasting Company (MNVK), parent company of Russia's only independent, nationwide television channel, TV-6.

The suit was originally lodged in September 2001 by the pension fund of LUKoil-Garant, a minority shareholder in TV-6. LUKoil-Garant is a subsidiary of the giant LUKoil Corporation, which owns 15 percent of TV-6. The Russian industrial magnate Boris Berezovsky, who is a bitter opponent of President Vladimir Putin, owns 75 percent of the station, either outright or through other companies that he controls.

Originally, the Moscow Arbitration Court ruled to close MNVK, citing an obscure Russian law that prohibits companies from running a deficit for more than two years. TV-6 appealed, and though a Moscow appellate court upheld the liquidation in November 2001, another appeal from TV-6 led to a ruling in the station's favor on December 29, 2001. However, on January 1, 2002, the Russian Parliament repealed a law that allowed shareholders to liquidate their own companies, thus eliminating the legal basis for proceedings against TV-6.

But on January 4, the deputy chairman of the Highest Arbitration Court, Eduard Remov, filed a protest with the Presidium of the Highest Arbitration Court, which upheld the television company's liquidation. The Arbitration Court rejected TV-6's argument against liquidation. Instead, Judge Remov argued that since the original ruling came while the shareholder liquidation law was still in force, LUKoil's claim was valid and should be upheld.

Press Minister Mikhail Lesin ordered TV-6 off the air at midnight on January 22, 2002. The tender for TV-6 frequency was set for late March 2002. On March 27, the Federal Licensing Commission unanimously awarded the tender for TV-6 broadcasting frequency to Media-Sotsium, a partnership between businessmen, politicians, and a team of journalists headed by Yevgeny Kiselyov, former director of television channel NTV. The new station was dubbed TVS.

Kiselyov and his team went back on the air as TVS on June 1 and have managed to retain significant editorial autonomy and fairly critical news reporting.

February 28

Marina Popova, Moskovsky Komsomolets vo Vladivostoke


Popova, a correspondent for the popular Vladivostok daily Moskovsky Komsomolets vo Vladivostoke, was brutally assaulted in the middle of the afternoon by two unknown assailants while she was walking through the courtyard of a children's hospital in the city. The attackers knocked the journalist to the ground and smashed her head against the pavement. They fled the scene when someone scared them off.

Although the assailants took Popova's purse, they did not take other valuables, such as a gold watch or two other bags. She suffered head injuries, including a contusion and a concussion, as a result of the attack.

The journalist and her colleagues believe that the attack is directly linked to her investigative journalism. Specifically, Popova attributes the assault to an article she wrote in the February 28, 2002, issue of Moskovsky Komsomolets vo Vladivostoke alleging that some local police officers were protecting local brothels. Local police launched an investigation into the incident, but no progress had been reported by year's end. Popova recovered from the attack and returned to work.

March 9

Natalya Skryl, Nashe Vremya


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March 11

Sergei Zolovkin, Novaya Gazeta


Zolovkin, a correspondent for the daily Novaya Gazeta, was the target of an assassination attempt in the southwestern city of Sochi. At around 10 p.m., Zolovkin and his wife had parked their car outside their apartment building and were walking to the building entrance when an unidentified gunman fired at the journalist. Zolovkin wielded his gas pistol, a nonlethal weapon that many Russians carry for self-defense, and fired it twice, missing both times. The gunman fired once more (both bullets missed) and then ran away.

After Zolovkin gave chase, a passing police patrol arrested the gunman, Artur Minasian, who later confessed to the shooting and was sentenced in September to 10 years in prison. Investigators were not able to determine if Minasian had acted alone. However, Zolovkin and his colleagues believe that the attempted murder was connected to his professional activities, and that those who masterminded the shooting have not been caught. Prior to the attack, the journalist had received several death threats stemming from his reporting on organized crime and official corruption in the Krasnodar Region. Shortly after the shooting, Zolovkin went into hiding, where he remained at year's end.

March 29

Igor Zotov, Nezavisimaya Gazeta


Zotov, deputy editor-in-chief of the Moscow independent daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta, was charged with criminal libel. The case against Zotov is ostensibly based on a November 27, 2001, article alleging that three Moscow judges accepted bribes from the lawyers of Anatoly Bykov, a prominent businessman from the Krasnoyarsk Region who was on trial for attempted murder.

As the editor responsible for that day's edition of the newspaper, Zotov is accused of libeling Moscow City Court chairperson Olga Yegorova and two federal judges from Moscow's Meshchansky Intermunicipal Court. Zotov faces up to four years in prison if convicted.

The article cited anonymous sources in the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB, and other law enforcement bodies to support its claims about the three judges. On April 4, 2002, Nezavisimaya Gazeta¶published a letter from Krasnoyarsk governor Aleksandr Lebed to an undisclosed federal authority in Moscow containing similar allegations of judicial misconduct in the Bykov case.

On December 5, 2001, Nezavisimaya Gazeta published a letter from the businessman's attorneys repudiating the November 2001 article's allegations. According to Russia's Law on Mass Media, publishing such a letter constitutes a retraction. However, the three judges accused of bribery never contacted the newspaper seeking a retraction, according to a December 29, 2001, editorial in Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

In December 2001, the Moscow Prosecutor's Office launched a criminal libel investigation against Nezavisimaya Gazeta. However, local sources believe that the case against Zotov may have nothing to do with the stories about the judges. The charges were brought against Zotov shortly after the newspaper published his March 7, 2002, article on a film backed by Boris Berezovsky, a bitter rival of Russian president Vladimir Putin, that blamed the FSB for apartment building bombings throughout Russia in 1999. The Russian government contends that Chechen rebels perpetrated these attacks.

By year's end, the case against Zotov remained open, but prosecutors had not actively pursued it.

April 10

Igor Rodionov, Moskovsky Komsomolets na Altaye


Rodionov, editor of the daily Moskovsky Komsomolets na Altaye, was assaulted by three unknown assailants in the Siberian city of Barnaul between 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. as he was leaving his apartment. The attackers beat and stabbed him but did not take his cell phone, money, documents, or other valuables, making robbery an unlikely motive. He was rushed to the local city hospital, where he underwent surgery.

Rodionov's colleagues believe his assault may be connected to his work. Moskovsky Komsomolets na Altaye is well known for its investigative journalism and coverage of influential local figures. Newspaper staff met with the regional prosecutor, who plans to monitor the investigation personally. No progress on the inquiry had been reported by year's end.

April 12

Yan Svider, Vozrozhdeniye Respubliki


Svider, a journalist with the opposition newspaper Vozrozhdeniye Respubliki, was attacked by two unknown assailants in the city of Cherkessk, in the southern Karachaevo-Cherkessiya Republic. Svider was assaulted in the entranceway of his apartment building while he was on his way to work. The region's deputy prosecutor told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti that the assailants beat the 55-year-old journalist with metal rods. He was hospitalized for a head injury and broken arms and legs.

Vozrozhdeniye Respubliki's editor, Vladimir Panov, and the Prosecutor's Office believe that Svider may have been attacked for his professional work. The newspaper, which began publishing in January 2001, is linked to the Vozrozheniye Respubliki political movement, which opposes Karachaevo-Cherkessiya Republic's president, Vladimir Semyonov.

April 29

Valery Ivanov, Tolyatinskoye Obozreniye


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June 7

Novaya Gazeta


A bailiff from Moscow's Basmanny District Court came to the offices of the newspaper Novaya Gazeta and initiated proceedings for sealing the publication's property, which included conducting an inventory of the property and sequestering it.

The move came after a financial institution, Mezhprombank, sued the publication in the Basmanny Court in early 2002, claiming that one of the institution's business deals had collapsed because of a December 2001 Novaya Gazeta article. The newspaper had reported that Mezhprombank was implicated in a scandal involving Russian money laundering through the Bank of New York.

Novaya Gazeta maintains that its reporting is accurate and contends that documents the paper procured demonstrate that it was not to blame for the collapse of the bank's business deal. Yet the Basmanny Court refused to accept the documents as evidence and, on February 28, ordered Novaya Gazeta to pay 15 million rubles (US$482,310) in damages to the bank.

To prove its innocence, the newspaper sought to open a criminal fraud case against Mezhprombank with the Moscow Prosecutor's Office. However, the case file containing all documents disappeared unexpectedly. According to the newspaper's editor-in-chief, Dmitry Muratov, the Basmanny Court claims it sent the documents to the Prosecutor's Office, which maintains that it never received the documents.

But in late June, Mezhprombank withdrew its claim and the damage award against the paper, reportedly because it did not want to "set a dangerous precedent for freedom of expression," according to the Moscow-based news agency Interfax.

June 9

RTR Television
Vladimir Gerdo, Vechernyaya Moskva
Sergei Chirikov, EPA
Sergei Ponomaryov, Kommersant
Ekho Television



Several journalists were attacked during soccer riots that broke out in the capital, Moscow, after the Russian team lost to the Japanese in a World Cup match. Ekho Television's technical equipment was destroyed, and its van, along with the van of the RTR Television news program "Vesti," was set on fire.

Gerdo, with the Moscow newspaper Vechernyaya Moskva; Chirikov, a photographer for the photo agency EPA; and Ponomaryov, with the leading Moscow daily Kommersant, were attacked and beaten by the soccer fans. The journalists sustained minor injuries, and Ponomaryov's camera was broken. Moscow city authorities arrested and prosecuted several people in connection to the riots.

June 14

German Galkin, Vecherny Chelyabinsk


Galkin, deputy editor of the local newspaper Vecherny Chelyabinsk in the Ural city of Chelyabinsk, was assaulted by two unknown assailants outside his apartment. The journalist suffered minor injuries as a result. Galkin, who is also a correspondent with the Moscow-based daily Kommersant, believes that the attack is connected to his critical coverage of local officials. Police are investigating the incident, but no progress had been reported by year's end.



August 14

Viktor Shamayev, Penzenskaya Pravda, Dlya Sluzhebnogo Polzovaniya


Shamayev, a crime reporter for the daily Penzenskaya Pravda and editor of the newspaper Dlya Sluzhebnogo Polzovaniya, was abducted by several unknown assailants. The journalist was taken to a basement in an unknown building, where he was tied to a stool, beaten, and then told to give up journalism and leave town. He was released and reportedly remains in the town of Arbekov.



September 26

Roddy Scott, Frontline


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October 24

Ekho Moskvy

Moskoviya
Rossiiskaya Gazeta



Media Ministry spokesman Yuri Akinshin warned media outlets not to air statements from a large group of heavily armed Chechen rebels that had seized some 700 people in a Moscow theater on October 23 to demand that Russian troops pull out of the war-tornýregion of Chechnya in southern Russia. The warning came after Moscow-based Ekho Moskvy radio station broadcast a brief interview on October 24 with one of the gunmen in the theater. "If this is repeated," said Akinshin, "we reserve the right to take all proper measures, up to the termination of the activity of those media," the Moscow-based Interfax news agency reported.

Ekho Moskvy editor-in-chief Aleksei Venediktov confirmed that the station had received a warning from the Media Ministry but pointed out that "in the view of our lawyers, we have not violated a single provision of Russian law." On October 25, the Media Ministry submitted a request to the Communications Ministry to shut down Ekho Moskvy's Internet site but withdrew the request after the station removed the text of the interview from the site, Russian news reports said.

At the same time, the Media Ministry closed Moskoviya, a Moscow television station, for allegedly promoting terrorism. However, after meeting with the director general of the station, Moskoviya resumed broadcasting the next day. Meanwhile, the Moscow daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta received a warning from the Media Ministry for publishing a photograph of the body of a young woman who was killed by the armed captors on October 23 as she tried to enter the theater where the hostages were being held.

November 1

Versiya

Andrei Soldatov, Versiya
Rustam Arifdzhanov, Versiya



The offices of Versiya, a Moscow-based independent newspaper, were searched, and computer equipment was confiscated by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). The FSB claimed it searched the offices because a May 27 article in paper revealed state secrets.

During the search, Soldatov, who wrote the article, and Arifdzhanov, Versiyaàs editor-in-chief, were summoned to FSB offices for questioning. The journalists signed a standard agreement not to divulge the subjects of the interrogation. Other journalists at the publication were questioned as well.

The newspaper's staff and colleagues link the heightened FSB interest in the newspaper to material it published about the "Nord-Ost" October hostage standoff that contradicted official information. The standoff began on October 23, when a large group of heavily armed Chechen rebels seized some 700 people in a Moscow theater, demanding that Russian troops pull out of the war-torn region of Chechnya in southern Russia.

November 25

Irada Huseynova, Bakinsky Bulvar


Huseynova, a correspondent for the Azerbaijani weekly Bakinsky Bulvar who works for the Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES), was detained in Moscow and faced extradition to Azerbaijan. CJES director Oleg Panfilov told CPJ that Moscow police arrived at CJES offices and detained Huseynova at the request of Azerbaijan's Prosecutor General's Office. In Azerbaijan, she could be sentenced to prison on criminal defamation charges.

On September 4, 2001, Huseynova, along with Elmar Huseynov, founder of Bakinsky Bulvar, and Bella Zakirova, the paper's editor-in-chief, were convicted of civil defamation. The three were fined 80 million manats (US$17,400) each.

Baku mayor Hajibala Abutalibov had sued Bakinsky Bulvar for defamation and sought to close the paper after it published an article by Huseynova criticizing the mayor for closing and demolishing commercial kiosks, a move that left many unemployed. On September 6, 2001, the court forbade publishing houses and distributors from printing and circulating copies of Bakinsky Bulvar.

Following the paper's closure, the court launched criminal cases against Huseynov, Huseynova, and Zakirova. All three were charged with defaming the mayor, an offense punishable by one to three years in prison.

On September 20, 2001, Huseynova requested political asylum in Germany after attending a conference in Warsaw, Poland, according to local press reports. She then moved to Moscow, where she began working as an editor and analyst at CJES. On September 21, 2001, both Huseynov and Zakirova were found guilty of criminal defamation. The court sentenced Huseynov to six months in prison and gave Zakirova a six-month suspended sentence. Azerbaijani president Heydar Aliyev later signed a pardon authorizing Huseynov's release.

Russian authorities released Huseynova on November 27, 2002, and she longer faces extradition to Azerbaijan.

December 20

Oleg Chuguyev, Molodoi Dalnevostochnik
Irina Polnikova, Molodoi Dalnevostochnik



Chuguyev, editor-in-chief of Molodoi Dalnevostochnik newspaper, and his wife, Polnikova, a journalist for the paper, were beaten with metal pipes by two masked men while the journalists were entering their apartment building. The assailants hit Polnikova in the face, then fractured Chuguyev's knee, broke his jaw, and knocked out several of his teeth. Molodoi Dalnevostochnik has consistently featured critical reporting on local politicians, organized crime figures, and neo-Nazis.





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