Many observers reported a further setback for democracy in the Russian Federation in 2003. The year ended with the election, on 7 December of a federal Duma dominated by the party of Vladimir Putin, Edinaya Rossiya, followed by the communist party and two nationalist parties, the opposition having been totally wiped out. During the election campaign the authorities made wide use of administrative resources to serve their interests. From August onwards, the Kremlin resumed its grip of the polling institute VTsIOM. The state channels RTR and public ORT openly backed the pro-Kremlin party.
In June, the Council of the Federation adopted amendments to electoral law that, due to their failure to provide a precise definition of electoral propaganda, prevented free election coverage by the media. A few days before the start of the official campaign these amendments were ruled anti-constitutional.
In some regions with few democratic credentials, the authorities did not trouble themselves about using legal means to harass the opposition or independent media.
In the republic of Bashkiria, the independent press was reduced to virtually nothing by the yearend. At the beginning of autumn and few weeks before the election of the pro-Russian administrator, Akhmat Kadyrov to the presidency in Chechnya, the situation worsened still further in this war-torn Caucasus region, with a forced takeover by interior ministry troops of the Chechen radio/television and the eight newspapers still published in Grozny. On 4 July, Ali Astamirov, correspondent for Agence France-Presse in Ingushetia and Chechyna was kidnapped by armed men in Nazran, capital of Ingushetia. As of 1st January 2004, the identity of his kidnappers was still unknown and nobody knew where the journalist was being held nor his state of health.
In January, the military journalist Grigory Pasko, who was serving a sentence of four years in a penal colony in the Far East, was freed for good conduct having served two-thirds of his sentence. Convicted of high treason, he had for a long time investigated ecological problems caused by the dismantling of the Pacific fleet. As a result of several cases, the authorities continued in 2003, to consider environmental questions as a taboo subject.
In August, another journalist, German Galkin, based in Cheliabinsk in the Urals, was sentenced to one year of hard labour for defamation of two deputy governors but released on appeal. Under Article 130 of the criminal code, insult is still punishable by a sentence of up to one year hard labour and libel (Article 129) by a jail term of up to three years.
Five journalists killed
Five journalists were killed in 2003, but as at 1st January 2004, it was not possible to say whether their deaths were linked to their professional work.
On 18 April 2003, Dmitri Shvets, 37, joint owner, deputy managing director and founder of the local television channel TV-21, was gunned down by three shots fired at him as he got out of his car outside his media offices in northeastern Murmansk. His killer managed to escape, dropping his weapon near the body. In founding TV-21 in 1990, Shvets gave birth to the region’s first independent television channel. He acquired a major political role in the region, mainly thanks to TV-21. Shortly before he was murdered, it had broadcast several programmes critical of the mayor of Murmansk and candidates to the 2004 municipal elections. Journalists at TV-21 said they have received verbal threats, particularly from one of the candidates for mayor, Andrei Gorchkov. He had warned journalists that he would take legal action against them if they broadcast an interview that he did not like. Following a complaint from the local journalists’ union, on 14 March, the prosecutor-general got involved in the case. Shvets was political advisor to regional governor Yuri Evdokimov. A well-known businessman in Murmansk, he also owned several shops and was joint owner of a night-club.
Yuri Shshekochikhin, deputy editor of the independent daily Novaya Gazeta and deputy for the opposition party Yabloko, died in a Moscow hospital on 2 July eight days after being admitted in a coma. The precise cause of his death is unknown. He could have been poisoned. The journalist, who was investigating corruption at the highest level of government and also covered Chechnya had been threatened several times. As of 1st January 2004, there was no evidence to show that he was murdered.
On 18 July, Alikhan Guliev was shot dead by two bullets in the back fired by an unidentified gunmen as he entered his apartment in the north of Moscow. An investigation was launched. Guliev, who worked occasionally for television channel TV Tsenter and the daily Kommersant, had been covering the conflict in Chechnya since his arrival in the capital in 2002. He previously worked in Ingushetia, where he worked for the Ingushetia public GTRK channel and for the weekly Severny Kavkaz. During the 16 April 2002 presidential elections in Ingushetia, the journalist made a complaint as a private citizen for violation of election law against Khamsat Guseriev, the interior minister and candidate supported by the former president, Ruslan Aushev. Shortly afterwards, on 27 March 2002, unidentified gunmen shot at his vehicle. His complaint led to the candidate being ruled as ineligible, the Supreme Court ruling on 5 April that Guseriev should have resigned from his ministerial post if he wanted to campaign for election. The journalist had also accused him in an article published in December 2001 in Severny Kavkaz, of having used public funds for his campaign. To escape threats against him after the elections, won by a Putin protégé Murat Ziazikov, the journalist decided to leave to live in Moscow.
Editor of the regional daily Toliattinskoye Obosrenie, Alexei Sidorov, was stabbed in the car park of his apartment building in Togliatti, Samara region on 9 October. The journalist, who was 31, died shortly afterwards in the arms of his wife. The murder weapon was a "zatochka", a home-made knife typically made in prison from a piece of metal. Sidorov had succeeded Valery Ivanov, after his murder in similar circumstances on 29 April 2002. He had set up a partnership with the auto-makers AvtoVaz, economic powerhouse of the region, which backed the newspaper financially. Before becoming editor he was an investigative journalist for Toliattinskoye Obosrenie. Just a few weeks before his death, he had resumed research into the criminal underworld, but neither the newspaper nor his wife knew exactly what he was working on. Between 15 and 17 October, several contradictory official statements were put out about the arrest of one or more suspects. The chief suspect under arrest was named on 18 October. Held since 12 October, Evgeny Mayninguer, a welder from Togliatti, was accused of having killed the journalist after a row. The accused reportedly asked the journalist, whose path he crossed by chance to lend him some money to buy Vodka. A row break out when the journalist refused and the accused man supposedly stabbed him several times before fleeing and throwing away the murder weapon.
Two others suspects were reportedly arrested but their identities were not revealed. Mayninguer, who initially confessed but then retracted at the beginning of November, said that police had put pressure on him to force a confession. The lawyer for the family, Karen Nersisyan, believed that the authorities insisted on Mayninger’s guilt to spare themselves the trouble of having to find the real motives for the murder. Nersisyan said he had been prevented by police from questioning two witnesses who confirmed the suspect’s alibi.
The editorial team at Toliattinskoye Obosrenie believed the murder was linked to Sidorov’s journalistic work and did not accept the version of a random murder. The day after the killing, the newspaper carried an article exploring four hypotheses. The first two related to articles published in June and July 2003: One related to a conflict between a criminal Igor Fillipov and a Samara businessman, Vladimir Zaharchenko; the other was linked to a criminal gang controlled by local hoodlum Igor Sirotenko. Fillipov might have wanted revenge because the newspaper reported his attempted attack against his adversary and that some of his property disappeared after police questioned him. As for Sirotenko, he had threatened to lodge a complaint following an article published about him and demanded an apology. The two criminals could also have got together to eliminate the journalist. The third hypothesis was that Sidorov could have had important information, such as the hiding place of wanted criminal, Alexander Belyakin. Finally, Toliattinskoye Obosrenie thought the murder could be linked to the ownership of the newspaper, which had turned down a purchase bid.
During a reconstrution on 17 October, the daily’s journalists noted that the accused man made a mistake in identifying the scene of the crime. Moreover his family made several statements to the effect that the accused was not generally aggressive and that he had only left home on that day around 10pm, by which time the murder had already been committed. The journalist’s colleagues were convinced that Sidorov was not the kind of man to engage in the kind of quarrel described by the investigators.
On 25 December, Petr Babenko, editor of the weekly Liskinskaya Gazeta, was found dead with 15 knife wounds in a forest near the town of Liosk, Voronezh region, close to the Ukrainian border. On the evening of 24 December, the journalist had left work to meet "someone important", his wife said. An investigation was launched.
New information about a journalist killed in 1994
The Supreme Court on 27 May 2003 quashed a 26 June 2002 acquittal of six people previously convicted of murdering Dmitri Kholodov, of the daily Moskovsky Komsomolets. The military collegium of the Supreme court ruled that the lower court had not taken into account all the facts of the prosecution case. The journalist, who had been investigating corruption in the Russian Army, was killed in October 1994 by an exploding briefcase that had been supposed to contain official documents. The newspaper’s editor immediately pointed the finger at the defence ministry’s counter-espionage services and the defence minister, General Pavel Grachev. But no direct proof was found to implicate the minister directly. The trial opened in November 2000. The six accused were former intelligence chief of airborne troops, Colonel Pavel Popovskikh, parachute unit commander, Vladimir Morosov, two of his deputies, Alexander Soroka et Konstantin Mirzaiants, deputy head of a security agency providing body guards, Alexander Kapuntsov, and a former officer turned businessman, Konstantin Barkovski.
One journalist missing
The prosecutor’s office in the Sovetski neighbourhood of Tula (300 km from Moscow) opened an investigation on 14 April 2003 into the disappearance of Alexander Vorobiev, head of the cable channel TVAltair, who went missing on 7 April. The journalist reportedly left home in his car and never returned.
Two journalists imprisoned
The Kalininsky district court in Cheliabinsk, Urals on 15 August 2003 sentenced German Galkin, publisher of the weekly Rabochaia Gazeta to one year of hard labour. Galkin, also deputy editor of the daily Vecherny Cheliabinsk and president of the local branch of the opposition Russian Liberal Party, was sentenced for defamation of two regional administration heads in Cheliabinsk. The journalist was arrested and detained while heading for Ekaterinbourg, in the Urals. Deputy governor Andrei Kosilov lodged a complaint in June 2002, following three articles carried by Rabochaia Gazeta that accused the governor, Piotr Sumin and his colleagues of financial wrongdoing. ("The real Sumin", published 16 April 2002, "Governmental patience", published on 8 February 2002, and "On Sumin’s state of health", 12 February 2002). On 11 November, the complainants asked the court to ease the journalist’s sentence. Galkin was released on 13 November after the regional court Cheliabinsk replaced his sentence with one of six months in prison but suspended.
One journalist was released in 2003.
On 23 January, Grigory Pasko, journalist for the ecological magazine Ekologiya i pravo and ex correspondent for military newspaper Boevaya Vakhta, was conditionally released from prison. The court in Ussuriisk, in Russia’s Far East, reduced his sentence for good behaviour, a right to which all prisoners are eligible after serving two-thirds of their sentence. A Moscow court on 12 August rejected an appeal, made by the journalist after the authorities refused to give him an international passport that he applied for in March. On 24 July the Lublinski court in Moscow justified its refusal by the fact that Pasko, who was on conditional release was not eligible to travel abroad before the 25 April 2004, at the end of his sentence.
The journalist’s lawyer, Ivan Pavlov, said the decision was illegal since the court in Ussuriisk had made no mention of depriving him of his rights. He was jailed for 20 months between 1997 and 1999, before even being tried, then sentenced in 2001 to four years in prison for espionage and high treason. He was also found guilty of illegally attending a meeting of the Naval chief of staff to obtained classified information to send to Japanese media. Pasko undertook long-term investigations and wrote hundreds of articles on the pollution caused by the virtual abandonment of Russian military nuclear submarines, with the complicity of the FSB (ex-KGB). He made public footage of the Russian fleet tipping liquid radioactive waste into the Sea of Japan. These images, shown on Japanese NHK, television, prompted a strong international reaction.
Two journalists kidnapped
Ali Astamirov, correspondent in Ingushetia for Agence France-Presse (AFP) was abducted at gunpoint by three armed men on 4 July 2003 bundling him into a white car with no number plate in Nazran, Ingushetia. On 6 July the Nazran prosecutor’s office said it had opened an investigation into his disappearance Astamirov, a Chechen national, had worked with AFP for more than a year and covered events in Ingushetia and Chechnya. In the months before his abduction he had received several anonymous telephone threats and had moved house because of safety fears. As at 1st January 2004, nothing was known about who kidnapped the journalist, the reasons for it nor of his state of health.
On 7 August, Issa Ibaiev, production editor and cameraman for Chechen public television was kidnapped overnight by masked men. He was free on 13 August. No information was available about the reasons for the kidnapping nor the circumstances of his release.
Twelve journalists arrested
Militiamen arrested journalists, Irina Astakhova and Artem Taubin, of the weekly Stavropolski Meridian on 12 March 2003 in Stavropol, Volga region and questioned them about their sources of information. Taubin was afterwards hospitalised because of illtreatment during questioning.
On 13 February, Rawil Tokhwetullin, correspondent for Itar-Tass agency in Ufa, Bashkiria republic, was arrested and held by two police officers who threatened to detain him in custody. The journalist said his arrest could have been linked to a report of his on complaints from a town resident that government motorcades were regularly blocking traffic.
Correspondent Zamid Ayubov of pro-Russian newspaper Vosrozhdeniye Tchetchnyi was arrested by Russian soldiers in the Chechen capital of Grozny on 16 February while investigating night patrols in the city. The journalist, who showed his press card and his ID to prove that he was a Grozny resident, was beaten and detained overnight.
Police forced the door of the editorial office of Krasnaya armya radio on 6 May in Noyabrsk, autonomous region of Yamalo-Nenets, and arrested all the journalists present. Editor Sergey Zubanov was injured trying to escape through the window. The only radio to have criticised outgoing mayor, Yuri Link, during municipal elections on 4 May the radio was officially accused of illegally broadcasting on another radio’s frequency and of calling for illegal demonstrations.
On 17 April, Sophie Bontemps and her crew from the French programme "Thalassa" put out by the channel France 3, were arrested in the Primorie region while filming next to a disused factory to which access had been banned in Chasma Bay. Their tapes were seized and crew had to pay a fine.
Police arrested photographer Valeri Ivanovich Zabolotsky, of the daily Krasnoyarsky Rabochy, on 6 September while he was covering celebrations marking the 375th anniversary of the town of Krasnoiarsk. They were angry that he had photographed representatives of the security forces. They took his photo, as if he were a criminal, before releasing him.
Journalist Oleg Golubev of the weekly Argumenti i Fakti Prikamiye was arrested along with his driver on 16 September in the Perm region of the Urals. They were held for more than four hours after the journalist took photos of the destruction of SS-25 missiles in the Kirov factory. Police demanded that they explain their presence, insisting that gunshots had been heard not far away at the same time. They searched their vehicle, seized photographic equipment and refused to let the journalist phone his newspaper or a lawyer. Golubev had been preparing a report after residents complained about the lack of information on the ecological repercussions of the destruction of the missiles. Disciplinary action was taken against the police officers.
Journalist Alexander Stetsun and cameraman Alexander Salianchuk, of regional television TAU (Urals televison agency), were taken to a police station on 3 December while covering a demonstration by residents of Ekaterinburg, Urals, complaining about the filthiness of the city and who protested by releasing rats in the mayor’s office. Police seized their film tapes to use as evidence against demonstrators.
On 18 December, Azkar Fazlyev, of Retro radio in the Bashkiria republic was arrested in Moscow, on the grounds of alleged non-payment of a 42,000-roubles loan. He was released the following day. Retro, that opposed President of Bashkiria, Murtaza Rakhimov, reelected on 21 December, had been closed during the year. The radio considered that the journalist was being victimised because of the radio’s stance towards the Bashkir authorities.
Radio journalist Evgenia Ten of Ekho Moskvy, was detained by the FSB on 19 December while covering a demonstration by ecologist activists in front of the presidential administration offices in Moscow. She was released soon afterwards but her recordings were confiscated.
Twenty-four journalists physically attacked
On 10 January 2003 in St Petersburg, Dmitri and Lada Motrich, of the news website kandidat.ru, were brutally beaten by three unidentified assailants who stole their bags, mobile phones and papers. The site, which regularly carries political news, receives frequent threats.
Olga Egorova, of the tri-weekly Pokoleniye in Orel, southwest of Moscow, was attacked by a thug who beat her on the head with a lump of metal on 28 January. She put the attack down to a recent articles she had written about a criminal group that had taken control of a town market.
Four unidentified assailants on 6 March attacked Ruslan Linkov, editor of website kandidat.ru, near his St Petersburg home. The journalist managed to get away from them and to call the militia. Two journalists from the same site were beaten up in January.
On 13 March, Alexander Krutov, of the regional weekly Bogatei, was brutally beaten by three men in front of his home in the southern town of Saratov. He believed the attack linked to an investigation he was about to publish that was likely to be embarrassing to the local prosecutor’s office.
Television journalist Olga Kobzeva, of the regional office of public television channel GTRK DON-TR, was attacked by an unidentified assailant with a piece of glass near her home in Rostov-on-the-Don, in southern Russia. Her colleagues put the attack down to a report she had done on illegal privatisation of buildings that had been broadcast a few days earlier. Anonymous callers had threatened her and demanded a correction.
Two assailants attacked and stole a bag containing her contacts book from Galina Simkina of the newspaper Kubanskie Vesti on 29 March in Apcheron, Krasnodar region. On 25 March, the daily Rossiskaia Gazeta had published one of her articles that challenged the official version of the death of police officers and hunters in the mountains.
On 1st April in Tumen, western Siberia, Alexander Besdelov, editor of the independent daily Monitor, was struck in the face by a thug as he got out of his car near his home. Local journalists believed the attack linked to several articles criticising financial interest groups in the region.
Cameraman Ilya Kuznetsov and his driver Oleg Bogatov, of 21 Kanal television were set upon and beaten by thugs next to a building housing militia in Novocherkassk, Rostov-on-the Don region on 29 April. The two men, who had just filmed a meeting between the channel’s former owner, Georgi Varfolomeev and a leader of the militia responsible for fighting organised crime, had their film snatched by their assailants. The editorial staff thought the incident linked to a conflict between the former and new owners of the channel.
On 19 May, in the Sverdlovsk region, Urals, Alexander Stetsun, a journalist specialising in politics and corruption among officials, for the regional TAU television agency in the Urals, was stabbed in the back with a sharp object by an unidentified assailant. On 29 May, the website Inform.ecologie received an anonymous message that the attack had been ordered by a deputy in the local assembly as a warning to the editor Innokenti Sheremet.
Two men sprayed gas at Oleg Rakovich, head of privately-owned television channel ATN at Ekaterinburg, Urals on 30 July. They also beat him without attempting to steal from him. The journalist said he believed it an attack planned by someone seeking to put pressure on the media ahead of elections to the post of governor.
Again at Ekaterinburg on 7 August, thugs beat up Anna Tretiakova, editor of the television news agency Notchoi Patroul, and her husband at the entrance to their home, without stealing anything. They attackers warned the journalist: "Don’t interfere with things that are not your business." Tretiakovo, who covers crime in the region, linked the attack to her work. She said she had received several anonymous telephone threats over the previous 12 months.
Sergey Matveeva, journalist on the local opposition weekly C Vami in Almeteusk, Tatarstan was attacked by thugs on 18 August and taken to a forest where they continued beating him for several hours. The journalist was, at the request of his editor, investigating corrupt officials in the city, including the minister of trade, against whom the prosecutor’s office had begun investigating.
Television news presenter Xenia Kartseva, on the privately owned ATN channel was beaten up by thugs near her home in Ekaterinburg, Urals on 18 September. Colleagues considered the attack linked to her journalistic work.
Four men beat up George Alexandrov of the weekly Argumenti i Fakti in Moscow bar on 2 October on the pretext that he was talking too loudly. His colleagues did not rule out the attack being linked to his work, because he was investigating corruption cases in the capital and was taking a particular interest in the police, illegal payments for parking spots and bribes to car inspectors.
Television journalists Anna Laryukhina and Evgeny Nikolaev, of local channel Telekom TV, were attacked by market traders in Vozlsky, Volgograd region on 27 October. The traders were angry at a report the journalists were doing exposing scams going on there. One of the attackers snatched and broke the camera.
On 29 October, Lilya Gorokhova of state television Yamal in the autonomous region of Yamalo-Nenets, was beaten by thugs at the entry to her building in the Salekhard, injuring her slightly. She thought the attack could have a connection with an interview she conducted on 23 October, with businessman Leonid Semenov, which he had not been happy with.
Mikhail Komarov, deputy editor of the weekly Novaya Gazeta Riazan in Riazan, south-east of Moscow, was struck several times outside his home by thugs who made no attempt to rob him. His colleagues consider it possible the 3 November assault was due to his work. He had just won a defamation case taken against him by local businessman Sergey Kuznetsov.
In the evening of the 10 November, Otto Latsis, deputy managing editor of a liberal daily Russky Kurier, was hit over the head by unidentified attackers and admitted to hospital unconscious. He had no recollection of the attack. At first colleagues saw no link with his work, but began to think differently two months later. The journalist’s business cards and his address book were stolen but not his money. The assailants had struck blows like professionals, seemingly knowing where to hit to trigger amnesia. Latsis was attacked at entrance to his building, which could mean that they had been waiting for him. Police considered ordinary crime the most likely cause. The journalist was working on corruption and the arrest of oligarch Khodorkovsky and had published an article that criticised the stance on Latvia of Dmitri Rogozin, one of the leaders of the populist party Rodina.
Viktor Balakin, of the weekly Orlovskaya Pravda in Orlov, Rostov region, was beaten on 2 December by communist party voters at a party press conference and one of the local officials Vladimir Khakhichev, the moment he got up and began to ask to a question. His assailants then bundled him out of the room. The journalist believed he was attacked because of articles in which he took a critical position against the communists.
On 23 December, Vladislav Ivanov of the newspaper Uralsky Rabochy, was brutally beaten at the entrance to his building in Ekaterinburg, Urals. The newspaper considered it was linked to his work, his most recent articles had dealt with links between the authorities and the criminal underworld. Threats have been made against the newspaper on a daily basis over the previous weeks and the journalist had also been personally threatened. Investigations were focused on this lead.
A journalist threatened
Editor Vitali Lejanin, of the municipal daily Ioshkar-Ola, in the capital of the Mari-El republic, received an anonymous death threat by phone. The daily often exposes free expression problems in the region.
Harassment and obstruction
German writer Günter Wallraff was expelled on arrival at Moscow airport on 7 January 2003. The journalist, accompanied by former German work minister, Norbert Blum and the head of the relief organisation Cap Anamur, Rupert Neudeck, was on his way to report on human rights violations in Chechnya. Immediately on arrival at the airport he was taken to a representative of the foreign ministry, who cancelled his tourist visa. Prevented from contacting his embassy in Moscow, the journalist was sent back to Germany. The Russian foreign ministry concluded from a Wallraff interview carried by the Stern on 2 January that the journalist "expected to find evidence of human rights violations in Chechnya and to launch a new anti-Russian campaign in the German media."
Journalists, Gleb Gurlin and Konstantin Chutii, were given three-and-a-half-year and three-year suspended prison sentences on 16 January after publishing an investigation into drug sales in Kaluga, south of Moscow in the weekly Kaluzhsky Perekrestok.
The website of the Chechen Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (CNO) savechechnya.org was closed on 21 January for producing "anti-Russian propaganda". The site posts information about the humanitarian and political situation in Chechnya and campaigns against the war in the Caucasus republic.
Overnight on 22-23 January a grenade was thrown at the headquarters of the Svobodnoe TV television channel in Balakova, Volga region, destroying part of the satellite transmission equipment. The editorial staff attributed the attack to its political positions during recent local elections and ahead of legislative elections in December 2003.
Management of national public radio/television VGTRK said on 18 February that the authorities in the Mari-El republic had used a combination of harassment and threats to try to block transmission of a report on the Italian-Russian company Marital. The report broadcast on 16 February showed how these local authorities, owners of 50% of the firm, had cheated the Italian joint owner, Gianfranco Bogino.
Majority shareholder Oleg Mitvol, of the opposition daily Noviye Izvestia, on 25 February suspended publication of the newspaper until April. The newspaper had failed to appear on 21 February due to an editorial staff protest after managing director and editor Igor Golembiovsky, was relieved of his job as managing director by the owner the evening before, officially because of financial problems. Noviye Izvestia reappeared in June.
Lawyer Stanislas Makelov, representing journalist Anna Politkosvkaya, a Caucasus specialist, said on 4 March that legal action was being dropped against Sergey Lapin, a member of the Russian military who had threatened her. In 2001, the journalist on the independent bi-weekly Novaya Gazeta went into temporary exile in Austria after receiving threatening emails saying that Lapin was planning revenge for an article in which she accused him of crimes against civilians in Chechnya.
Raiders broke into the offices of the newspaper Nevskaya zaria in Vsevoljsk, St. Petersburg region on 4 April, destroying computer equipment and documents. This followed publication of an independent ecological expert’s report that said the city administration was allegedly protecting the interests of major aluminium companies.
On 9 April, several Russian media, including public television channel ORT and of the state RTR, press agency Interfax, radio Ekho Moskvy and the Mediasoyuz journalists’ union signed an "anti-terrorist convention" setting out a code of conduct for the media in emergency situations. The journalists agreed to provide the secret services with information likely to save lives and not to interview terrorists without seeking their permission. They also promised not to publish any information about members of the secret services.
A court in southern Rostov-on-the-Don on 28 April fined editor of the weekly Novaya Gorodskaya Gazeta, Alexander Obertynsky, 350 euros for violating election law. The court ruled that the newspaper did not have the right to reveal that a candidate had been sacked from his job and that the commission had refused to register him as a candidate.
Grenades were thrown in the car park of the company ooo.lik, founder of the daily Lik Kurier, in Ketovo, Volgograd region on 6 May. Several vehicles were destroyed. The editor Yuri Dolgov linked the attack to critical articles on privatisation of property belonging to the region’s municipal council.
Fifty-seven journalists from local Master TV in Yakutsk, Great North, went on strike on 7 May to protest the takeover of the channel by the regional administration.
On 19 May a Moscow court decided to seize copies of the magazine Kompromat in which it revealed that oil company Yukos had been involved in financing the communist party. Before bringing a complaint the company had offered to buy the 10,000 copies for 29,000 euros.
The administration of the city of Pestovo, 200 km south of St. Petersburg, sacked Alexander Vinogradov, editor of the region’s official newspaper on 20 May for carrying an article on Stalinist crimes and criticising the local communist party.
A court in Noyabrsk, autonomous region of Yamalo-Nenets, on 23 May ordered the closure of the newspaper Noyabrskiye Vedomosty that had broken electoral law by carrying articles in favour of a candidate to regional elections.
In mid-May, post office employees in the republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia said they were refusing to disseminate negative news and publications that incited mistrust of the republic’s authorities. On 7 May, the post office was fined 500,000 roubles (13,500 euros) for refusing to distribute three independent weeklies Vozrozhdeniye respubliki, Dzhamaghat and Cherkessk.
Editor Larissa Gdanova and her regional independent weekly Gubernia in Petrozavodsk, Carelia, near the Finnish border, were fined 1,140 euros on 16 June for libelling the Carelia communications minister. The offending article accused one of the minister’s deputies of illegally having the editor of a local newspaper dismissed. In April the Gubernia editorial staff were turned out of their rented premises, a move viewed by the editor as official harassment.
In mid-June, Tatiana Moskvina and Dmitri Tselikina, presenters of a political broadcast for St Petersburg of the state channel RTR, were sacked after criticising Valentina Matvienko, the Kremlin-backed candidate to the post of St. Petersburg governor.
Mystery purchasers scooped up 1,000 copies of the opposition newspaper Noba from news stands in Kabardino-Balkaria, Russian Caucasus, on 17 June, after it published articles critical of the local authorities.
The trial opened on 20 June of Konstantin Sterledev and Konstantin Bakharev, of the regional daily Zvezda in Perm, Urals. They were accused of disclosing a state secret by revealing in an article on 1st October 2002 and headlined "Superagent Artem", that a drug trafficker and former FSB agent sentenced to a long prison term, had been released. On 22 July the journalists were acquitted, a decision upheld by the Supreme Court on 5 November.
Transmission of programmes on the news television channel TVS was suspended on 22 June and replaced by a sports channel following an information ministry decision, officially because of a "financial and management crisis". At the start of June, the channel had been gradually unplugged from the Moscow region cable network after a refusal by shareholders, in dispute over purchase of their shares, to pay an 8 million-dollar debt. On 6 June a businessman close to the Kremlin, Oleg Deripaska had bought 90% of shares in the channel. The journalists, some of whom had not been paid for three months, accused the shareholders of having "allowed it to die" by failing to pay bills and employees’ salaries. Founded on 1st June 2002 after the controversial liquidation of the independent channel TV6, TVS was at the start managed by a consortium of businessmen who had promised the channel would be allowed to remain independent. The team was mostly made up of former bosses from TV6 and NTV, removed after the state-orchestrated takeover of their media by the gas giant Gazprom.
On 25 June, the Council of the Federation adopted a series of amendments to the electoral code allowing a media to be suspended if it broke the code twice. These new measures, presented by president of the central electoral commission, Alexander Veshnyakov, as a way of countering articles being "ordered" by politicians (to praise or denigrate a candidate), banned all "electoral propaganda" during the official campaign. However the term "electoral propaganda" was not clearly defined allowing any information about a candidate to be interpreted as such. A regional court on 23 September convicted Sergey Butman, deputy editor of the radio Ekho Moskvy, of infringing electoral law. In a 26 July broadcast, the journalist had stressed the strong chances of candidate Valentina Matvienko of winning the election for the post of St. Petersburg governor. Following his conviction, Butman laid a complaint before the constitutional court complaining that the June amendments made the work of the media impossible in the pre-electoral period and during the campaign, that officially began 7 November. Some 104 deputies in the Duma and two other journalists, Konstantin Rozhkov, editor of the Kaliningrad newspaper Tsvetlogore and Konstantin Katajan, of the daily Vremya MN, made the same request. On 30 October, the constitutional court decided that some of the new measures were anti-constitutional. It said the clause defining as propaganda "all action by media aiming to incite electors to vote for or against a candidate" allowed a "very broad interpretation of what was propaganda and did not exclude the arbitrary use of this measure" an interpretation that "means violating media freedom".
When Valentina Matvienko, the Kremlin’s candidate for the post of St. Petersburg governor had just announced his candidacy, Igor Ignatiev, new head of TRK television announced on 26 June the axing of three political programmes, officially because of poor audience figures. According to the journalists who ran the programmes, Daniel Kotjubinskoy, "Postfaktum", Valery Tatarov "Vikhod v gorad" and Peter Goldeskoy "Inversia", the decision was made to jettison those programmes likely to criticise the candidate.
Police searched the offices of the weekly Moskovsky Komsomolets v Astrakhan in Astrakhan on 14 July and seized computer disks to track down who had written anonymous articles criticising the chairman of the regional court, Jumabai Ramasanov. As at 1st January 2004, the equipment had not been returned.
On 15 July, a court in the capital ordered press group Sovershenno Sekretno to pay 500,000 euros in damages to banking group Alpha over two articles, that appeared in 1999 and in 2002, that in particular accused the group’s managers of drug-trafficking. The amount of damages was the highest ever imposed against a Russian media.
The authorities took away the accreditation of the weekly Komsomolskaya Pravda Don, published in Rostov-on-the-Don on 18 July because they were unhappy at its coverage of the visit the same day of interior minister Boris Gryzlov.
Head of regional administration in central-south Novosibirsk, Viktor Tolokonski, signed an order on 11 August allow searches at offices of media as soon as any news was put out that was critical of the authorities.
From 11-17 August, Svetlana Ivanova of the weekly Zerkalo CP in Sergiev Posad, Moscow region, went on hunger strike to protest at the problems of getting access to official information and of distribution obstacles hampering her paper. On 17 August, another journalist, Vladimir Petserev, replaced her on the fast. The newspaper said that it had been banned from sale on news stands since February and that police regularly detained sellers distributing Zerkalo CP. It also demanded that the authorities stopped putting pressure on advertisers. The newspaper halted the campaign on 17 September, so as not to endanger the hunger-striking journalist’s life, but without any agreement from the regional authorities to discuss the issue with the journalists.
Journalists working for the state media in Chechnya and officials at the Chechen information ministry threatened on 21 August to boycott the work of the pro-Russian administrator, Akhmat Kadyrov, in protest at his threat to dismiss information minister, Bislan Gantamirov. The minister in fact refused publicly to support Kadyrov, who presented himself as a candidate for the 5 October presidential election. On 3 September, the minister of information was removed from his job after voicing support for the candidacy of businessman Hussein Djabrailov. The entire staff of journalists at state radio and television resigned. On 5 September, first day of the election campaign, Chechen interior ministry troops forcibly took control of Grozny television and radio and eight newspapers produced in Chechnya. The Chechen interior ministry said it knew nothing about it.
On 30 September, the electoral commission in Bryansk (close to the borders with Ukraine and Belarus) issued a warning to three weeklies over electoral propaganda based on the new electoral code. To Bryanskii Perekrestok and Bryanskiye Fakti for publishing the results of a poll on national legislative elections on 7 December, without saying who had paid for the poll. To Desnista for publishing an interview with a candidate on the opposition Yabloko list before the official start of campaigning. On 17 November, the commission withdrew these warnings.
The state company GTRK, that broadcasts programmes made by television company MKTV in western Pskov on 23 September cut out part of the news broadcast "Vremya Novostey" without consulting MKTV and giving no explanation. The excised part consisted of a press conference of the regional branch of Vladimir Putin’s Edinaya Rossiya party. The management of MKTV considered it an interference in its editorial policy. On 1st October, GTRK boss in Pskov, Petr Kotov, decided to withdraw the programme "Vremya Novostey" and said that MKTV had broken electoral law several times. A complaint was laid by MKTV for obstruction of journalistic work.
President Vladimir Putin said on 1st October said he planned to call on the media to promote sport, urging the need for new laws to get Russians to lead healthier lives.
The same day, a major Moscow cinema, the Kino-Tsenter refused to show 18 films on the war in Chechnya as part of a documentary film festival. The manager, Vladimir Medvedev, saying, "foreign films tend to be anti-Russian." "We will not show political films, particularly when they involve the Russian government," he added. Yuri Samorudov, head of the Sakharov Centre, where the documentaries were finally shown, thought that the FSB (ex-KGB) must have put pressure on the Kino-Tsenter, because some of the films showed the federal security services in a bad light.
Overnight on 1-2 October, police stopped a vehicle transporting copies of the weekly Molodezhny Kurier in the Orshansk region, republic of Mari-El. The vehicle, its driver and the editor Sergey Shshlegov, were taken to the police station and were only allowed to leave two hours later, after checks that the number of copies corresponded to the newspaper’s official figures.
Security services destroyed film taken by journalist Yelena Yakovleva on 6 October during a scuffle at a meeting to celebrate the election of Valentina Matvienko to the post of St. Petersburg governor. Yakovleva, of the tri-weekly Delovoy Petersburg, had just taken pictures of security agents manhandling her colleague on the daily Kommersant, Sergey Simonov.
Traffic police in Mari-El republic stopped a lorry carrying the latest edition of the weekly Ioshkar Ola on 15 October checking the load and taking the occupants to a police post. Representatives of the interior ministry said that in electoral periods, they have to check the load of trucks carrying newspapers printed in the Kirov region. All the republic of Mari-El’s newspapers are printed there because of pressure from the authorities.
When President Putin visited Perm, Urals on 31 October, the governor’s press service refused to accredit the weekly Zizhn. The authorities said that the newspaper had given away a state secret by announcing the official visit several days in advance. Editor Olga Safroshenko did not manage to find out if the decision was made at local level or came from the Kremlin.
At the beginning of November, the European Court of Human Rights sought an explanation from the Russian courts on the conviction for defamation on 4 October 2002, of Gennady Godlevsky, journalist on the weekly Orlovski Meridian. A regional court had found in favour of specialised anti-drug police, whose violent and corrupt methods the journalist exposed in a March 2001 article.
Overnight on 4-5 November, witnesses saw three unidentified men open the boot of their car, then take out bricks and throw them through the windows of the press club in central-south Novosibirsk. The journalists thought it was an attempt to intimidate them ahead of the opening of the official legislative election campaign on 7 November. Overnight on 9-10 November a petrol bomb was thrown through the press club chairman’s window. The press club called for an investigation to be opened.
Saboteurs tampered with transmitters at the independent Bulgar radio station in Ufa, Bashkiria republic on 5 November. They fled when the journalists arrived at the scene but the radio has had no aerial since. Its editorial staff suspected the authorities of wanting to hinder the work of independent media during the election campaign.
On 7 November, police in Kaliningrad (enclave between Poland and Lithuania) searched the press agency Regnum and the home of a journalist on the weekly Komsomolskaya Pravda v Kaliningrade, Andrei Vypolzov, as part of an investigation to track down those behind an anonymous letter sent 16 October to several media in the Kaliningrad region, that denounced corruption among local police chiefs. On 12 November, the offices of Komsomolskaya Pravda v Kaliningrade were targeted and police carried away computers, preventing the next issue from appearing.
The prosecutor’ office in Bereznika, Perm region, ordered a halt to distribution of the weekly Vibor Parmi on the evening of 10 November at the request of the local electoral commission for breaking the electoral code. The journalists saw the decision as more likely due to a front page article headlined, "The Circus is coming to town", a few days before President Putin’s visit to the region.
On 11 November, the local property ministry in the republic of Bashkiria told the owner of premises rented until 29 December to radio Hit FM to cancel the lease and prevent journalists from getting into the building the next day. The radio continued transmitting to the end of the year, despite the harassment.
Nikolai Senkevich, head of national NTV television decided on 17 November, hours before transmission to the Moscow region, to pull the programme "Namedni", featuring a book about the Kremlin since Vladimir Putin’s period in power, written by journalist Yelena Tregubova. Senkevich said that no-one had forced him to take the decision and that the book was too crude for this programme. The book’s author and the programme’s editor, Andrei Shilov, both saw it as political censorship. The journalists’ union urged the prosecutor-general to open an investigation for interfering with a journalist’s work.
In mid-November, part of the circulation of the weekly Orenburgski Kurier was seized on the order of the regional administration in Orenburg, close to the republic of Bashkiria. The 11 November issue carried a letter from a candidate for legislative elections claiming that the governor, Alexei Chernyshev, was using public funds for his campaign.
Caucasus specialist Anna Politkovskaya, of the Novaya Gazeta was held for one hour by customs at Moscow Cheremetievo 2 airport on 12 November while on her way to Britain to report on the former Chechen deputy prime minister, Akhmed Zakaiev, who was at risk of being extradited to Russia. She was again detained for an hour on her return on 17 November. She saw it as attempted intimidation and demanded an explanation from the special services.
In mid-November, the Duma voted a law on public service laying down that only officials were explicitly authorised, by virtue of their position, to speak to the press and to make official statements.
The municipal channel GIS TV in Sverdlosk, Urals was liquidated and its staff dismissed on the decision of the mayor, Ivan Avdin, on 1st December. In May, the channel’s licence had expired and had not been renewed by the authorities after a broadcast of a report on a miners’ strike. The mayor had also refused to allocate the necessary funds for the purchase of a transmitter. The staff of GIS TV believed the closure was linked to the channel’s editorial independence.
On 4 December, police in Togliatti, Samara region, seized 2,000,000 copies of the weekly Grozhanka, officially because the number transported and the number on the delivery dockets differed by 20 copies. The newspaper said the seizure was in fact because of articles in the number about the astonishingly high standard of living of Alexander Taratynov, candidate to legislative elections for the party of President Putin, Edinaya Rossiya, who represented himself as a worker from Autovaz car factory.