Attacks on the Press in 1996 - Russia
|Publisher||Committee to Protect Journalists|
|Publication Date||February 1997|
|Cite as||Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1996 - Russia, February 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c5651423.html [accessed 30 April 2016]|
The continuing pattern of anonymous threats, beatings, and murders of Russian journalists – particularly because they are rarely prosecuted or solved – serves as a stark reminder of the vulnerability of the press's newly won freedom. Nevertheless, many reporters, particularly those who work in the provinces, face more mundane forms of pressure.
While many news outlets in the larger cities have carved out a "fourth estate" free of direct government interference, they are still heavily dependent on the state for tax breaks, newsprint, access to printing presses, satellite time, and distribution and sales channels. President Boris Yeltsin decreed in December that media outlets and publishers were exempt from import tariffs on foreign paper and equipment and excused from customs duty on the import and export of their publications. City governments in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other towns bailed out the print media again this year by subsidizing their spiraling production costs and compensating for their plummeting circulation. Ties between editors and journalists schooled in the Soviet media and officials in the Russian government are still so strong as to make the line between the second and fourth "powers" (as they are known in Russia) very fluid. Vertushki, Soviet-era direct phone lines to government offices, are said to remain in the offices of many major print and broadcast editors.
Major media such as the national dailies and the independent television stations have achieved some financial independence through an infusion of investment capital from Russia's top banks and corporations – mainly the "Big Seven" businesses (Most-Bank, Menatep, LogoVAZ, Stolichny Bank, and others) that are close to the Yeltsin government. Although some of the Big Seven initially called on Yeltsin to postpone the July presidential elections, these corporate investors eventually used their media outlets to ensure Yeltsin's victory. Ironically, their partisan use of the media sparked criticisms of bias and unprofessionalism against the very editors and reporters who had sought private investment as a hedge against government pressure.
New, smaller-circulation newspapers without access to such powerful financial backers, attempting to reach communities of reform-minded entrepreneurs, farmers, and young people, face a variety of obstacles, especially in towns where Communist officials retain power.
In Chuvash Republic, financial ministers urged the removal of a noncompliant editor of Biznes-Sreda. Officials in the Republic of Kalmykia manipulated reregistration of Sovetskaya Kalmykia to place government loyalists in control of the paper. And in Bashkortistan, printing houses refused to produce Vecherniy Neftekamsk after the prosecutor accused the paper's editor of insulting the president of that republic.
During the elections, paper-starved provincial newspaper editors were startled when copies of a government-supported anti-Communist paper, Ne Dai Bog! (God Forbid!) flooded mailboxes. Some editors in provincial areas achieve a curious independence by attempting to serve two masters, a local Communist-leaning mayor and a Yeltsin-appointed governor.
Prepublication censorship of the print media has generally become a rarity. The more critical, muckraking newspapers, such as Moskovsky Komsomolets or Obshchaya Gazeta in Moscow, or Nevskoye Vremya or Chas Pik in St. Petersburg, have such relatively small circulations that authorities may not perceive them as a threat. Controversial television programs are the more common targets of the authorities' wrath, visited in the form of cancellation, dismissal of critical executives or editors in state-run television, and the closure of some independent provincial broadcasting stations. In November, the head of the private national channel TV6 canceled two episodes of "The Scandal of the Week," the first concerning ex-presidential bodyguard Alexander Korzhakov, who had been making public charges of campaign funding violations against Yeltsin supporters, and the second about Izvestiya's claim of the alleged dual nationality of Boris Berezovsky, the new deputy of the security council. The show was suspended temporarily in December.
As in many countries making the transition to greater press freedom, Russia's courts are clogged with libel suits that bedevil editors and journalists determined to serve the public's right to know. According to Professor Andrei Richter, the editor of Zakonodatelstvo i Praktika v Smi (Media Law and Practice), there were 2,827 media-related defamation lawsuits in 1995, three times as many as in 1990, most of them from irate government officials or public figures seeking substantial financial retribution for insults to their "honor and dignity" under the Russian civil or penal codes and the press law. According to Obshchaya Gazeta, the media lost such libel suits in more than 60 percent of the cases.
The Judicial Chamber on Information Disputes (a controversial body within the executive branch of government initiated by Yeltsin and unrelated to the court system whose decisions are not legally binding) continues to examine complaints filed by citizens, public figures, organizations, and media outlets disputing the content of news and commentary or seeking enforcement of regulations under media law. The Chamber dispensed dozens of decisions on libel, hate speech, and ownership, and recommended prosecution in many instances. Some journalists see the chamber as an effective bolster for the sluggish, overwhelmed court system. According to this view, the chamber works to control the noxious expression of dozens of fascistic groups, which have gained access to state printing presses and national air time through the largesse of sympathetic officials and talk show hosts. Moreover, they view the chamber as a potential ally for the liberal newspapers that frequently receive threats from such violence-prone groups. Other commentators regard the chamber's pronouncements as unacceptable intrusions on editorial independence and journalistic freedom, but cooperate when it summons them for testimony to avoid eventually dealing with the courts. The bolder publications, such as Moskovsky Komsomolets, simply ignore the summonses and do not appear to suffer consequences. Most journalists agree that as a creature of the executive branch, the Chamber has no credibility as a neutral arbitrator within their profession or the broader public.
Russian journalists comment that while they may have freedom of the press, they do not have freedom of information, particularly on military, security, and economic matters, both because many topics are classified as state secrets and because government officials are reluctant to go on the record, regardless of the secrecy status of an issue. The Parliament passed the first reading of a draft law on freedom of information that it was still debating at year's end. Reporters are skeptical of such a law's efficacy, because so far its draft has failed to grapple with ministers' discretion to classify many types of information. Some journalists have noted that Russia does not have a tradition of investigative journalism as it is known in the West; rather, reporters are recipients of targeted leaks that serve the purposes of various government agencies. In some instances, such as the Yerofeyev case (see case summary below), they serve as pawns in skirmishes between warring agencies, often ending up as the scapegoats of vindictive officials.
Oleg Slabynko, Russian Television Channel 2, KILLED
Slabynko, a producer of the news programs"Moment of Truth" and "Forgotten Names" on Russian Television Channel 2 and a general manager of the advertising agency Time Moves Forward, was shot to death by two men in the doorway of his Moscow apartment late at night. Before showing up at his home, the assassins had called Slabynko to make sure he was there. The next day, CPJ urged Russian authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into the murder and bring to justice those responsible. A month later, the office of Russia's general prosecutor responded in a letter stating that a police task force was assigned to the case and that investigations were also under way in the murders of journalists Vladislav Listyev, Dmitry Kholodov and Vadim Alferyev. At year's end the case was still not solved and CPJ was unable to confirm that Slabynko's murder was related to his journalism.
NTV, HARASSED, CENSORED
Executives of NTV, Russia's only independent television news network, received a call from the presidential press service saying that NTV correspondents henceforth would not be allowed to cover events at the Kremlin. The call came after NTV's Feb. 11 broadcast of the second of two interviews with President Boris Yelstin's former press secretary Vyacheslav Kostikov, in which Kostikov spoke very critically of Yeltsin. CPJ urged President Yeltsin to lift the ban immediately. After much publicity, Yeltsin's press secretary Sergei Medvedov denied banning the station from covering events and allowed NTV correspondents access to Kremlin events the following day.
Aleksandre Minkin, Moskovsky Komsomolets, ATTACKED
Minkin, a political columnist for the Russian daily Moskovsky Komsomolets, and his wife were awakened early in the morning by the sound of glass breaking on the balcony of their second-story apartment. As two masked intruders stumbled over wiring from the Minkins' television, Minkin rushed out and called to neighbors to contact the police. By the time police arrived at the scene, the intruders had fled. This is the second time Minkin has been physically attacked: last September, Minkin was assaulted and suffered a broken nose. CPJ urged Russian authorities to investigate the attack on Minkin.
Aleksandre Krutov, Moskovskiye Novosti, ATTACKED
Krutov, a correspondent in the Volga region city of Saratov for the Russian weekly Moskovskiye Novosti, was beaten by two men. Krutov's Moscow-based editor, Mikhail Shevelov, confirmed reports that the men approached Krutov in Saratov's central district in the evening and struck him more than 10 times on the head with metal pipes. Shevelov reported that Krutov has recovered and is back at work, but he had no information about possible motives for the attack. However, a Feb. 23 NTV news broadcast suggested that the attack may have been linked to an article Krutov wrote in Moskovskiye Novosti's Feb. 4-11 issue. The article, titled "The Chechen Syndrome in the Volga Region," exposed the ways in which local Saratov government leaders have exploited ethnic issues to advance their political and business aims.
Felix Solovyov, Free-lancer, KILLED
Solovyov, a free-lance photojournalist who contributed to the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen in central Moscow. The Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported that police found two pistols with silencers and eight cartridges at the scene of the murder. In 1994, Solovyov's picture portfolio on mafia groups in Moscow was published in Bild am Sonntag and two other newspapers in Germany. A Bild am Sonntag journalist said that Solovyov was an occasional contributor and that it did not believe his murder was related to the 1994 publication of the portfolio but could be related to other subjects he had photographed. Bild am Sonntag also said that Solovyov had discussed story ideas with the newspaper in a trip to Germany two weeks before his death. CPJ urged Russian authorities to open an immediate investigation into Solovyov's death and bring to justice those responsible.
Viktor Pimenov, Vaynakh, KILLED
Pimenov, a cameraman for Vaynakh, the Chechen television station controlled by pro-Moscow forces, was killed in Grozny, Chechnya's capital. The Russian state news service Itar-Tass reported that Pimenov was shot in the back by a sniper hiding on the roof of a 16-floor building on Lenin Street. Pimenov was filming the aftermath of the Chechen insurgents' raid on Grozny, which lasted from March 6 to March 9. During the raid Russian military officials had prevented all journalists from entering Grozny.
Nadezhda Chaikova, Obshchaya Gazeta, KILLED
Chaikova, a correspondent with the daily Obshchaya Gazeta, was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen. Residents of the Chechen village of Gekhi discovered her body on March 30 near a sewage pipe on the outskirts of town. According to a report from the Chechen prosecutor, the villagers then buried Chaikova in a corner of their local cemetery. On April 11, Chaikova's body was exhumed and identified by Obshchaya Gazeta colleagues. Photos taken before her burial and a forensic examination of her body after exhumation suggest that she was battered, blindfolded, forced into a kneeling position and shot in the back of the head. Chaikova had been on assignment in Chechnya since March 6 and was last seen by colleagues in Sernovodsk on or about March 20. She was reported to have left Samashki with refugees on March 21. Chaikova, who had frequently travelled to Chechnya and the surrounding regions, was known for her hard-hitting coverage of the war and issues such as the use of special 'filtration' prison camps by Russian authorities to control the population. CPJ urged the Yeltsin government to launch a federal investigation into the matter, but to date no investigation has been opened. In a follow-up conversation on June 11, Chaikova's colleagues at Obshchaya Gazeta reiterated to CPJ that the federal Russian prosecutor's office still has not opened an investigation into her death and that the local Chechen village prosecutor who originally took up the case could not go far because of limited resources. The editors of Obshchaya Gazeta have mounted their own investigation and discovered that Chaikova was known to have videotaped the destroyed village of Samashki. They learned that she was attempting to transmit the film out of Chechnya and was also reported to have been seen with a television cameraman in a Chechen village on March 24.
Ali Tekin, Selam, IMPRISONED, LEGAL ACTION
Talip Ozdemir, Selam, IMPRISONED, LEGAL ACTION
Tekin, managing editor of the Turkish Islamic weekly Selam, and Ozdemir, an Ankara representative for the weekly, were given the maximum possible sentence of three years in prison for attempting to enter Chechnya illegally from Azerbaijan via Dagestan, in violation of Article 83 of the Russian Penal Code. They had been detained since Nov. 2, 1995, when Russian border guards arrested them at the Chechen border with Dagestan and accused them of not holding the proper visas. After appeals from their lawyer and CPJ, an appeals court on July 5, 1996, overturned the sentence, acquitted the journalists of charges of 'border and custom violation' because they were considered to be 'journalists on duty, ' and released them.
Nina Yefimova, Vozrozhdeniye, KILLED
Yefimova, a reporter for the local Russian-language newspaper Vozrozhdeniye (Revival) in the Chechen capital of Grozny, was found dead from a pistol shot to the back of her head. According to the state news agency ITAR-TASS, Yefimova and her mother were abducted from their apartment on the outskirts of Grozny on the night of May 8. Yefimova's body was discovered the morning of May 9 in Grozny's Leninsky District, and her mother was found that night in a deserted canned food factory in the city. A local law enforcement official, who declined to give reporters his name, claimed that Yefimova's murder was committed 'for private reasons.' But journalists in Grozny and Moscow believe that her murder was related to stories she had published about crime in Chechnya. CPJ urged President Boris Yeltsin to launch an immediate investigation into the case and prosecute those responsible for the murders.
Viktor Mikhailov, Zabaikalsky Rabochy, KILLED
Mikhailov, a crime reporter for the daily newspaper Zabaikalsky Rabochy in southeastern Siberia, was killed by unknown assailants in broad daylight in the city center of Chita. His mutilated body was identified the following day. Reports say Mikhailov had been covering crime and the work of law enforcement agencies at the time of his death. CPJ has urged Russian authorities to conduct a thorough investigation of the murder.
Valery Yerofeyev, Vremya-Iks, HARASSED, LEGAL ACTION
Yerofeyev, a former editor in chief of the Samara city newspaper Vremya-Iks, went on trial in Samara. He was charged with "pandering," or procuring the services of prostitutes, and with "producing pornography" under Article 226 of the Russian Penal Code. Yerofeyev had been in prison since Sept. 25, 1995, when he was arrested on vacation in the Ukrainian city of Simferopol. On July 29, 1996, a Samara judge released Yerofeyev after sentencing him to 10 months in prison, the same amount of time he had already served in pretrial detention. The case began in the spring of 1995, when Yerofeyev published a series called "People on Sidewalks" in Vremya-Iks. The series claimed that high-ranking police officers were accepting bribes from owners of so-called massage parlors, allegedly fronts for brothels. Yerofeyev was first arrested on June 7, 1995, and detained for three days on suspicion of "procuring a prostitute." He was beaten while in police custody and warned by police officers to discontinue the series of articles. He proceeded with the series, however, and in September 1995, a special Samara police squad was sent to Simferopol to extradite him. His attorney and the Samara chapter of the Journalists' Union filed petitions with the prosecutor's office to have Yerofeyev released on bail, but those petitions were denied. In June 1996, and again in July, CPJ wrote to local and federal officials in Russia, including President Boris Yeltsin, urging them to release Yerofeyev and calling for an investigation of his prosecution and the conduct of police officers involved in the case. The Interior Ministry told CPJ it was looking into the matter.
Yulia Kalinina, Moskovsky Komsomolets, THREATENED, HARASSED, LEGAL ACTION
Kalinina, a reporter for the daily Moskovsky Komsomolets, received a summons to the Judicial Chamber for Information Disputes regarding allegations that she had libeled officials in the Ministry of Construction. The charges stem from a free-lance article Kalinina had written for the Russian weekly Itogi, alleging that state construction officials had accepted bribes to rebuild homes in Chechnya. The Judicial Chamber found her allegations to be unsupported and sent her case to the prosecutor's office, recommending that she be investigated. Kalinina has stood by her story and refused to reveal her sources. Kalinina has received anonymous, threatening letters and phone calls since she began covering the war in Chechnya and corruption in the Russian military. In the letters and phone calls Kalinina has been accused of supporting the Chechen rebels, and has been threatened with rape and other violent assaults. After Kalinina published a free-lance story on military corruption in the Russian weekly Obshchaya Gazeta, on May 13, the calls and letters became more frequent. Kalinina's apartment was broken into and searched on May 24. She went into hiding for two weeks after the break-in.
Eduard Khusnutdinov, Vecherny Neftekamsk, LEGAL ACTION
Khusnutdinov, editor in chief of Vecherny Neftekamsk, an independent newspaper formerly distributed in the Russian republic of Bashkortostan but now out of print, was notified by a Neftekamsk prosecutor that he is under criminal investigation for libel of Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov, and could face up to five years in prison. Vecherny Neftekamsk was one of the few private newspapers in Bashkortostan, an autonomous region in the Urals where the media have been heavily controlled by local leaders. Khusnutdinov is currently in Moscow. The accusation reportedly stems from an article titled "No Smoke Without Fire," which alleged corruption in Rakhimov's administration. In the front-page key to the newspaper's stories, a summary of Khusnutdinov's story contained the phrase "bribe-taking in the staff of our hapless president." The article itself, however, dropped the words "in the staff." Khusnutdinov claims the mistake was a typographical error. Khusnutdinov's article was distributed just before the July 3 presidential run-off between Yeltsin and Gennady Zyuganov. Rakhimov supported Yeltsin in his bid for re-election.
Abrek Baikov, Russian State Television (RTR), HARASSED
Yaroslav Malishev, RTR, HARASSED
Vladimir Seltsov, RTR, HARASSED
Andrei Klimov, ITAR-TASS, HARASSED
Andrei Khemelyanin, ITAR-TASS, HARASSED
Sergei Trofimov, ITAR-TASS, HARASSED
Mikhail Sotnikov, Russian Public Television (ORT), HARASSED
Konstantin Tochilin, ORT, HARASSED
Oleg Nikifirov, ORT, HARASSED
Vladimir Trushkovsky, Radio Rossiya, HARASSED
Anatoly Shushevich, Radio Rossiya, HARASSED
Vasily Dyachkov, RIA-Novosti, HARASSED
Correspondent Baikov, cameraman Malishev, and sound engineer Seltsov of RTR; Klimov, Khemelyanin, and Trofimov, correspondents for the Russian government news agency ITAR-TASS; correspondents Sotnikov, Tochilin, and Nikifirov of ORT; correspondent Trushkovsky and sound engineer Shushevich of Radio Rossiya; and Dyachkov of RIA-Novosti were trapped in a hostel inside a government compound in the center of Grozny. The journalists, along with civilians, had taken refuge in the hostel when the compound, which includes the Chechen Interior Ministry, was surrounded by Chechen rebels fighting Russian federal troops. They were trapped for six days. ITAR-TASS on Aug. 9 quoted a Russian official as saying that the journalists had been freed, and Interfax later reported the same news. But the journalists themselves, sending messages by satellite telephone, contradicted those reports. On Aug. 10, CPJ sent an alert urging both Russian and Chechen forces to ensure the journalists' safe release. The group was freed by Russian forces the night of Aug. 11 and was taken to the airport at Khankala, in Chechnya, then flown to Moscow. CPJ confirmed with Radio Rossiya on Aug. 13 that the reporters were unharmed.
Steve Harrigan, CNN, ATTACKED
Sergei Volkov, CNN, ATTACKED
Vladimir Ribalchenko, CNN, ATTACKED
Abdul Gudantov, CNN, ATTACKED
CNN producer/correspondent Harrigan; cameraman Volkov; sound technician Ribalchenko; and driver Gudantov were shot at by a Russian military helicopter on the outskirts of Grozny, the Chechen capital. They had been driving in an armored Land Rover vehicle that was clearly marked with the letters "T.V." on the roof and sides. When they got out of the vehicle at a Russian military checkpoint a Russian helicopter gunship flying overhead began firing at the journalists. The crew scrambled back inside their vehicle and drove away. No one was hurt in the incident.
Andrei Babitskiy, Radio Liberty, ATTACKED
Vladimir Dolin, Spanish State News Agency (EFE), ATTACKED
Erad Faist, Worldwide Television News (WTN), ATTACKED
Sebastian Smith, Agence France-Presse (AFP), ATTACKED
Babitskiy, a reporter for Radio Liberty; Dolin, a correspondent for EFE; Faist, a WTN producer; and Smith, a correspondent for AFP, were traveling in Chechnya in a Land Rover vehicle owned by London-based WTN, when Russian soldiers began firing at the vehicle from a nearby field. WTN told CPJ that the Land Rover was clearly marked as a press vehicle. On their way to Grozny, the journalists were stopped at a checkpoint on the outskirts of the city. A Russian soldier told them to turn back and threatened to destroy their equipment if they did not. When the journalists complied, they were fired at again. A rocket-propelled grenade was then shot at the van, but narrowly missed it. Two hours later, as the crew tried entering Grozny from another side, their vehicle came under fire from Russian helicopter gunships and automatic weapons on the ground. The journalists fled the vehicle to seek shelter in nearby brush. Faist kept his video camera going throughout the attack. The footage, which showed the journalists seeking cover in the woods, where they hid for about 20 minutes while the helicopters continued firing at them from both sides, was broadcast on international television. No one was hurt in the attack, but the car was hit in three places.
Vitaly Shevchenko, Lita-M, MISSING
Andrei Bazvluk, Lita-M, MISSING
Yelena Petrova, Lita-M, MISSING
Shevchenko and Bazvluk, journalists from Lita-M, a small television company in Kharkhov, Ukraine, were reported missing by their colleagues in early September. Fellow correspondents last saw the pair Aug. 11 in Grozny, during heavy fighting between Russian federal troops and Chechen fighters who had seized control of Grozny on Aug. 6. Shevchenko and Bazvluk had traveled from their native Ukraine to Chechnya before warfare resumed in the capital. A third journalist, Yelena Petrova, a senior executive of Lita-M, was also believed to be missing. She did not contact her studio after mid-August, according to a colleague. An anonymous informant called the Kharkhov station on Sept. 13 and claimed that Petrova was being held by agents of the DGB, the former security forces of the separatist Dudayev government, in a bank building in the Achkhoi-Martan district outside of Grozny. CPJ urged Russian authorities to undertake a search for the three journalists. At year's end colleagues had found no trace of them.
Ramzan Khadzhiev, Russian Public Television (ORT), KILLED
Khadzhiev, chief of the Northern Caucasus bureau of Russian Public Television (ORT), was shot dead while attempting to leave Grozny, capital of the secessionist republic of Chechnya, with his wife and young son. Khadzhiev was shot in the head twice after being waved through a Russian military checkpoint. NTV, Russia's only independent television station, and the state-owned television station RTR both broadcast an account by an unidentified man who said he was a passenger in Khadzhiev's car. The man said that Khadzhiev presented his ORT press credentials to Russian soldiers at the checkpoint and was waved through, but then Russian armored vehicles opened fire on the journalist's car, an unmarked Volga. ORT reported a different account, saying that Khadzhiev, an ethnic Chechen, may have been targeted by Chechen rebels because of his support for the current Moscow-installed government in Chechnya. CPJ issued a press release about the murder, saying the Russian government's lack of reaction to the murder of journalists in Chechnya effectively condones further violence against journalists in the future. Khadzhiev was the 10th journalist to be killed in Chechnya since December 1994.
Valeriya Novodvorskaya, Novoye Vremya and Stolitsa, LEGAL ACTION
Trial proceedings against Novodvorskaya, a staff writer for Novoye Vremya and Stolitsa as well as a political activist, began in a Moscow municipal court. She was charged under Article 74 of the Russian Criminal Code for allegedly "inciting interethnic discord" and "disparaging the dignity of the Russian nation." The charges against Novodvorskaya stem from an interview she gave to the Estonian television program "Pikanyaevaryukhm" and from two articles she wrote for the Russian newspaper Novy Vzglyad in 1994. The prosecution asked for 18 months' imprisonment, during which time she would also be banned from journalistic activity. A verdict had been expected on Oct. 22, but the judge delayed, requesting that the prosecution investigate further. CPJ on Oct. 11 wrote to President Boris Yeltsin to express concern about the prosecution of Novodvorskaya. On Dec. 23, after lobbying by Parliament members, the Supreme Court lifted the restraining order on Novodvorskaya and she was permitted to travel outside Moscow. The investigation continued at press time.
Natalya Vasenina, Respublika, MISSING
Vasenina, editor in chief of Respublika, a local Grozny newspaper, was abducted from her home in central Grozny at 2:30 p.m. by two unidentified masked people, who threatened her with firearms and forced her into a car, according to reports by the Russian wire services RIA/Novosti and ITAR/TASS. The account of the abduction reportedly came from a well-informed source close to the Moscow-backed Chechen government of Doku Zavgayev. Respublika, one of the most popular Russian-language youth periodicals in Chechnya, is described as "centrist" in opinion, which means that it was not critical of the Zavgayev government.