In 2001 the policy of taking over the major private Russian media, orchestrated by the state through its energy companies, achieved the goals set the year before. On
18 July 2001 Vladimir Putin declared, "Russia pays the closest possible attention to the news sector because of the instability of the political system", then added on 1 September, "if this or that body or news medium tries to serve the unique interests of oligarchs whose fortunes have been made from obscure operations, that no longer has anything to do with freedom of the press". In April the state-run company, Gazprom, took control of the NTV network, flagship of the Media-Most group and only independent network received throughout the territory of the Russian Federation. In August the Media-Most group filed for bankruptcy after the group’s two main written press titles, Segodnia and Itogui, were forced to close by the new majority shareholders. In like manner beginning in September the powerful petrol company, Lukoil, began working for the bankruptcy of television channel, TV6, where in May Boris Berezovski had welcomed the journalists of NTV and some of their programmes. Since their arrival the channel had captured fourth place in audience share, was attracting numerous advertisers and demonstrated that it was especially critical of those in power. Once the Media-most group had been dismantled, Gazprom announced in October that it wanted to divest itself of all its shares in the media sector. Gazprom-Media’s director general, Alfred Kokh, who had headed the take-over of Media-Most, was fired from his job. In Chechnya new working restrictions were imposed on the press and succeeded in shackling all freedom of information, already reduced by very cumbersome accreditation procedures. Starting in July accredited journalists were forbidden to move about in Chechnya without being escorted by an officer of the press service of the Ministry of the Interior. By October not one single independent journalist remained in Chechnya.
The press saw other restrictions imposed on it in the wake of 11 September, in particular access to public buildings and courthouses. On 20 December deputies voted for an amendment to the law on the media, banning "terrorist propaganda" in the media and on the Internet. There was an increase in the measures taken against the independent press and the private audiovisual media. On 18 October deputies in the Duma voted for a new amendment greatly limiting advertising on television and radio. Moreover the suppression of exoneration from sales tax for newspaper publishers, starting on 1 January 2002, will lead to the sharp price hikes of papers and the closure of many others and reinforce control of the regional press by local authorities through public grants.
The new prison sentence handed down to journalist Grigory Pasko at the end of the year and his immediate incarceration toll like warning bells to the Russian press that might be tempted to write about topics considered sensitive by the civil and military authorities.
In the various autonomous republics of the Russian Federation the authorities silenced all criticism as elections approached. In the great northern region of Yakutsk, for example, or in Northern Ossetia, President Aleksandr Zasokhov, up for re-election, had all the issues of an opposition newspaper seized. The President of the Kalmuk Republic, Kirsan Iliumjinov, one of the thirty-nine predators of press freedom denounced by Reporters Without Borders, does not tolerate the slightest criticism.
Three journalists killed
On 20 July 2001 Dmitry Ermakov, reporter for the Chernomorskij Kurier and the Krasnodar Izvestia, was found dead after falling from the fourth floor of his residence in the Krasnodar region. The local bureau of the Department of the Interior called it a suicide and closed the case. Journalists on the Chernomorskij Kurier say that just the day before, Dmitry Ermakov told them that he had discovered "unique documents" compromising local authorities in criminal affairs.
On 18 September Eduard Markevich, publisher of the regional newspaper, Novyy Reft, was murdered in his Reftinskiy home in the Sverdlosk region. Very critical of the local authorities, this media professional had already been a repeat victim of pressure. Unidentified assailants had broken into his home in 1998 and beaten him severely. In 2000 he was arrested, accused of libel by the public prosecutor and detained for ten days for an article casting doubt on Reftinskiy’s deputy public prosecutor. In May 2001 the Russian Attorney General, Vladimir Ustinov, acknowledged the "violation of Eduard Markevich’s constitutional rights" and reprimanded the local prosecutor.
On 5 November Elina Voronova, journalist for Rus radio and television, was killed in front of her home in the town of Kostroma.
New information on a journalist killed before 2001
On 26 February 2001 the former Russian Minister of Defence, General Pavel Gtachev, gave testimony as a witness in the murder case of journalist Dmitri Kholodov. Dmitri Kholodov worked for the popular daily, Moskovski Komsomoletz, and was investigating corruption in the Russian army when he was killed in 1994 by the explosion of a booby-trapped briefcase supposedly containing confidential documents he had just taken from a railway station luggage locker. Dmitri Kholodov’s death occurred just before a report detailing his investigation into gun-running organised in Germany by top officials of the Russian army was to be presented to the Russian parliament. The trial opened on 9 November 2000 in Moscow but was immediately postponed until 14 November so that the military court could examine petitions by the six accused, i.e. the former head of intelligence of airborne troops, Colonel Pavel Popovskikh, a major of parachute units, Vladimir Morosov, two of his assistants, Alexandre Soroka and Konstantin Mirzayants, the deputy director of a bodyguard agency, Alexandre Kapuntsov, and a businessman, Konstantin Barkovski. Immediately after Dmitri Kholodov’s murder, the editor-in-chief of Moskovski Komsomoletz, Pavel Gussev, accused the counter-espionage services and the Minister of Defence, General Pavel Gratchev. Gratchev denied any involvement in the journalist’s murder and had already denied asking Pavel Popovskikh, a former colonel in the intelligence services of the airborne troops and arrested in 1998 for the murder, to eliminate the journalist. He did admit however that he had asked his subordinates to "clarify things" with the newspapers investigating the army. On 25 June 2001 the accused denied any responsibility, and the trial was postponed while awaiting the findings of a fourth expert opinion about the explosion.
Two journalists missing
On 17 May 2001 Vladimir Kirsanov, editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper, Kurganskie Vesti, vanished as he arrived at his office. His car was found parked in the paper’s car park. An investigation was opened on 23 May 2001. Vladimir Kirsanov had gathered a lot of information about the Mafia-like activities of the governor of the town of Kurgan (in the Ural region), Bogomolov, who was also president of the local Duma. Vladimir Kirsanov had signed on for the election campaign of a candidate opposed to Bogomolov and had already published excerpts of his investigation’s findings. He had been threatened on numerous occasions. Vladimir Kirsanov had also looked into the failure of the "Zauralsky Business" bank that might have implicated Governor Bogomolov, his brother and their entourage. A deputy of the local Duma named Malakhov, who had initiated the investigation into this affair, also died in mysterious circumstances. When Vladimir Kirsanov’s brother, Eduard, himself a journalist, began looking into his brother’s disappearance, his apartment was burnt and the computer containing the findings of his investigation was destroyed in the fire. The FSB (the secret services), the Ministry of the Interior and the services of the fight against organised crime took part in the investigation of Vladimir Kirsanov’s disappearance.
Sergei Kalinovski, writer for the newspaper, Moskovski Komsomoletz in Smolensk vanished at an indeterminate time. The local prosecutor’s office opened an investigation for kidnapping. Sergei Kalinovski wrote articles implicating Mafia-like groups, especially in the region of Daghestan, and military personnel who received dwellings by fraudulent means. Sergei Kalinovski’s apartment was burnt in March.
A journalist jailed
On 25 December 2001 journalist Grigory Pasko was again found guilty of "high treason" and sentenced to four years in prison. He was incarcerated at once. With his lawyers lodging an appeal with the Supreme Court, the case should be reviewed within the next six months at the latest. Journalist for the navy daily, Boevaya Vakhta, Grigory Pasko was first jailed on 20 November 1997 and held for nearly twenty months for having "gathered state secrets with a view to transmitting them to foreign organisations". Then Boevaya Vakhta’s correspondent on board the Russian oil tanker, TNT 27, he shot footage of the ship’s dumping liquid radioactive waste into the Sea of Japan. The footage was broadcast in Japan by television channel, NHK and raised a storm of protest. Grigory Pasko had also written articles about the pollution caused by the near destitution of the Russian Navy’s nuclear submarines and the involvement of the FSB in the illegal sales of nuclear waste. His first trial was opened behind closed doors on 14 October 1999 before the Vladivostok military tribunal. His lawyers were not allowed to inform the press under threat of being removed from the case. Grigory Pasko was released after serving two-thirds of the three year sentence thanks to an amnesty law for "short-term sentences". With both sides having appealed the first verdict, the case went before the Moscow Supreme Court, which, on 21 November 2000, ruled that the case would be sent back to the Vladivostok military tribunal. The new trial, in which the FSB hoped to have the journalist found guilty again, was postponed twice. On 13 December 2001 the public prosecutor of the Vladivostok military court asked for a nine-year sentence in a high security prison for Grigory Pasko as well as stripping him of his rank of captain and his military honours. It is Reporters Without Borders’s opinion that the information circulated in 1997 by Grigory Pasko was already part of the public domain and could in no way constitute state secrets. Moreover according to articles 41 and 42 of the Russian constitution, the withholding of information relating to the environment or disasters placing human life in danger is punishable. Defence lawyer Alexandre Tkachenko says that "in the twenty coming years journalists will be afraid to raise issues related to protecting the environment or cover problems concerning the military presence in Vladivostok, and that is what [the military authorities] are after". On 28 December the European Union and the United States called upon the Russian justice system to review the sentence handed down to Grigory Pasko.
Eight journalists arrested
On 20 February 2001 Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist for the Russian daily, Novaya Gazeta, and a specialist on Chechnya, was arrested by Russian soldiers in the Vedeno region of southern of Chechnya. She was accused of having "violated the accreditation procedures and the rules enforced by the military command", according to the Russian forces spokesman in Chechnya, Konstantin Kukharenko. The journalist was transferred to the Russian command in Khankala, near Grozny, then expelled from Chechnya. Anna Politkovskaya was one of the rare Russian journalists working in Chechnya independently of the military command. On several occasions she had revealed cases of torture in the country.
On 21 March 2001 Olga Kitova, correspondent of the Moscow daily, Obshchaya Gazeta, reporter for the regional newspaper of Belgorod, Belgorodskaya Pravda, and deputy in the regional Duma, was arrested for not having responded to a summons by the public prosecutor accusing her of "interfering in a criminal investigation" and "calumny and libel" following a series of articles on the progress of a rape case appearing in the daily, Belgogradskaya Pravda. She denounced the legal errors and corruption among the local authorities in the Belgorod region. After receiving the summons she had written to the public prosecutor reminding him that as a deputy, she could not be questioned or arrested without approval by the regional parliament. When arrested, she was struck by police officers and suffered a heart attack. She was taken to hospital where the staff observed bruises and other wounds to her head and arms. On 22 May Olga Kitova was again arrested for "calumny" and "violence against the police". She was put in temporary isolation (IVS) at the local police station and once again suffered a heart attack. She was hospitalised in a room guarded by two policemen who systematically forbade her to receive calls or visits, including from her lawyer in private. On 16 July the regional Duma lifted her parliamentary immunity. Her trial opened on 18 December. At the end of the month she was found guilty and received a two-and-a-half year suspended sentence and a fine.
On 5 July Tajik journalist Dododjon Atovulloyev, editor-in-chief of the Tajik opposition newspaper, Charogy Ruz, published in Moscow, was arrested at Cheremetievo 2 Airport in Moscow. He had spent a few months in Europe and had left Hamburg, Germany, in the middle of the day and was transiting by the Moscow airport towards Tashkent in Uzbekistan where he was going to attend a meeting. An order of extradition had been lodged with the Russian government in April by the Tajik authorities. He was accused of "libel against the person of the President of the Republic" and "incitement to national, racial and religious hatred". In fact the journalist was the target of hatred by several Tajik leaders, including the mayor of Dushambe, Makhmadsayid Ubaydulloyev, whom he had accused of involvement in corruption. The journalist had received threats before his arrival in Russia, and several of his family still in Tajikistan had been arrested then released after fifteen days of detention. After the intervention of several governments and human rights organisations with the Russian authorities, the Russian Attorney General, Vladimir Ustiyurt, announced on
11 July that he was rejecting the journalist’s extradition. Atovulloyev was freed on 12 July.
On 11 July Moscow’s anti-riot police arrested Maxim Marmur, Russian photographer of the Associated Press agency while he was covering the arrest of six exiled Tibetans who were trying to unfurl a banner in front of the congress building, where the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was meeting, to protest Peking’s candidacy as host for the 2008 Olympic Games. The photographer was released the next day. On 13 July the Russian police arrested some fifteen demonstrators in front of the same building, including the journalist Alexandre Podriabinek, managing editor of the newspaper, Khronika-Express, and two representatives of Reporters Without Borders, Alexandre Lévy and Vincent Brossel.
On 12 July 2001 Ilia Arkhipov, journalist at Echo of Moscow Radio, was arrested in Red Square while covering a meeting against the importation of nuclear waste.
On 26 November journalists Irina Volkova and Pavel Stepanov were arrested as part of the wave of searches of the independent media conducted by the authorities of the Yakutsk Republic prior to the republic’s elections of 23 December.
Six journalists attacked
On 11 January 2001 Fyodor Penkin, editor-in-chief of the local newspaper of the town of Kimry, Volzhskoye Vremya, was at home when several shots came crashing through one of his windows. The day before he had published a series of articles on the involvement of the town’s forces of law and order in drug trafficking.
On 20 January 2001 Svetlana Savenok, correspondent of the newspaper, Smolenskie Novosti, was pinned to the ground and hit violently in the head by three men. She is convinced that the mugging was directly linked to her publishing articles criticising the supply of energy.
On 22 January Andrei Mirmaovich, editor-in-chief of the local supplement of the newspaper, Argumenty i Fakti, in the town of Khabarovsk was beaten unconscious by two unidentified assailants near his home. They had demanded he show them his identity papers after claiming they were military police. Nothing was taken from his home. Andrei Mirmovich had announced that he had documents for an article what would, if published, "upset certain people".
On 2 October Alexei Frolov, editor-in-chief of Novaia Gazeta in Riasan, was almost poisoned at home by an unidentified gas. On several occasions his paper had pointed the finger at criminal elements and the governor’s team.
On 11 November Vladimir Voropayev, editor-in-chief of the radio and television company in the town of Khabarovsk, was beaten up by three unidentified individuals while returning home. After shouting out his name and job, the assailants stopped hitting him, said they belonged to the police
and claimed they had taken him for someone else.
On 3 November Ildar Zhandaryov, popular journalist for the independent television channel, TV6, was beaten by unidentified assailants in the stairway of his building. The assailants hit him, gagged him and tied him up, taking the keys to his apartment where they stole everything of value. Before running away, they told the journalist that he and his programme "were getting on the nerves" of several people and that they were acting on "orders". Idar Zhandaryov presents the programme, "Bez Protokol", one of the most popular talk shows on Russian television, and a programme about the cinema, "Interesnoye Kino". This attack on one of the channel’s most popular journalists coincided with the pressure put on channel TV6 by the Russian justice system. The police opened an investigation.
A journalist threatened
On 9 October 2001 Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist specialising in the Chechen problem for the Russian daily, Novoya Gazeta, announced that she was forced into leaving Moscow for Vienna, Austria, following death threats due to her reporting, in particular an article talking about the fact that a military helicopter with General Anatoli Psdniakov on board was shot down on 17 September. In the article Anna Politkovskaya stated that the general, at the head of a commission investigating the general staff, was intending to reveal information embarrassing for the military command and that the helicopter was probably shot down by the Russian military.
Pressure and obstruction
Early in 2001 Boris Berezovski’s shares in the capital of semi-public television channel, ORT, were bought up by the petroleum group, Sibneft, a public company, effectively putting the TV network under state control. The former television network of the Soviet Union, partially privatised in 1993, showed itself to be especially critical towards President Putin at the time of the Kursk submarine affair. In August 2000 Boris Berezovski denounced the state’s determination to take over control of the ORT and announced his decision to entrust the management of his share of the network (49%) to a group of people attached to the channel’s independence.
On 10 January the Attorney General ordered the headquarters of the media group, Media-most, searched. On 16 January Anton Titov, director of Media-Most’s financial department, was taken in as a witness in the "Guzinski affair", then placed under arrest. The boss of Media-Most, Vladimir Guzinksi, had been blackmailed, and the Russian Minister of information and the Gazprom group were involved. Jailed in June 2000 for "fraudulent privatisation", Vladimir Guzinski had been freed and the charges against him immediately dropped following his signing a secret agreement with Gazprom and initialled by the Minister of Information, Mikhail Lessin, guaranteeing the dropping of all legal proceedings against the transfer of the press group to the state-owned company. Exposing this agreement, he was then charged with "large-scale swindle". Fleeing to Spain, he was kept under house arrest until the Spanish justice system processed the request for extradition lodged against him by the Russian general prosecutor’s office. On 9 July 2001 the international warrant for his arrest was rejected by Interpol since its "clearly political nature" was in contradiction with the organisation’s by-laws.
In March the state company Gazprom took possession of the Sem Dnei publishing house of the Media-most group, which published the daily, Segodnia, and the weekly, Itogui, forcing the two publications to close down. An influential political daily with a 55,000-copy circulation to all of Russia’s major cities, Segodnia was especially critical of the Russian government, first under the presidency of Boris Yeltsin, then Vladimir Putin. It was no longer printed after 1 May. The news magazine, Itogui, announced that it would also have to leave the group to preserve its editorial independence. On 6 August, Sergei Parkhomenko, former editor-in-chief of the weekly, Itogui, and Mikhail Berger, former editor-in-chief of the daily, Sogodnia, both dismissed in April after Gazprom’s acquisition of Sem Dnei, announced their intention to publish two new weeklies, Ejednevni Journal ("Weekly Review") and Delovaya Kronika ("Business Chronicle").
On 12 March the administrative of the Chechen republic, Ahmad Kadyrov, sued the newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, in Moscow. Ahmad Kadyrov demanded 1.573 million roubles (47,700 euros) in damages for "libel" following an article on 19 February by Andrey Belykh on the situation in Chechnya.
On 13 April a Molotov cocktail was thrown at Dimitri Biryulov’s car. He was the director of Sem Dnei, the publishing house of the Media-Most group. The Sem Dnei publishing house and the publications Segodnia and Itogui that it published were just then undergoing fearsome pressure while the Media-Most group was being taken over by the state-owned Gazprom company. Dimitri Biryulov was not hurt.
In the night of 13 to 14 April the new managerial team of NTV forced their way into the offices of the network with the help of special troops from the Ministry of the Interior (OMON). The journalists opposed to the appointment of the new managerial team were prevented from entering the offices and received their dismissals. The day before the new managers, appointed by the Gazprom company, demanded editorial and financial control of the network.
On 24 April the court of arbitration in Moscow revoked the licence of the radio station, Sport-FM, belonging to the Media-Most group. This annulment followed a complaint lodged against the Ministry of Information that had granted the licence in January 2000. The court considered that the conditions under which the licence was granted had not been respected by the Ministry.
On 4 May a Moscow court formally handed control of the television channel, NTV, to the petrol giant, Gazprom, of which the state is the major shareholder. The Media-Most group had to transfer 19 per cent of NTV’s capital, blocked by the court because of debts accrued by the network to the petroleum company, and 25 per cent of its shares to about twenty other companies, including radio station, Echo of Moscow, and the television channel, TNT.
On 23 May there was a new search at the headquarters of the Media-Most press group as part of the suit against Vladimir Guzinski for "swindle" and "money laundering".
On 21 June Viktor Sukhanov, editor-in-chief of the weekly, Concurent, in Vladivostok was sued by the Vladivostok public prosecutor following the publication of articles targeting the prosecutor’s office and the consequences of certain procedures on the region’s economic situation.
On 28 June a warrant for the arrest of Badry Patarkatsishvili, manager of television channel TV6, a haven for the journalists fired from NTV, was issued. He was accused of complicity in the escape of Nikolay Gklushkov, former executive of Aeroflot and an associate of Boris Berezovski’s, accused of misappropriating funds.
On 2 July the public prosecutor’s office seized 14 per cent of the shares of radio station Echo of Moscow which should have been transferred to the journalists by the head of the Media-Most group, Vladimir Guzinski. The seizure came at the behest of the state-owned Gazprom company which already holds 25 per cent of Echo of Moscow’s shares, the main media outlet of the group that has remained independent. On 4 July Gazprom sold 9.5 per cent of the shares to Yuri Fedutinov, the station’s general director, which conferred the control of Echo of Moscow on the journalists. On 4 July a Moscow court ruled on appeal that the 25 per cent of the station’s shares belonged to Gazprom. The journalists announced their intention to refer the case to the European Court of Human Rights.
On 1 August persons unknown broke into Victor Tereskhin’s residence while he was sleeping and stole his computer, two notebooks of notes, videos and cameras. Victor Tereskhin, a journalist, was covering the trial of journalist Grigory Pasko for the paper, Index. The next morning the military authorities found no trace of fingerprints.
On 3 August a spokesman for Media-Most announced that the group was being placed in receivership.
On 30 August the offices of regional television channel TVK in Lipetsk were invaded by armed men working on behalf of a shareholding company of the station’s, Energuia, which wanted to impose a change in management. According to the station’s manager, Alexandre Lykov, a previous legal ruling had banned Energuia from calling a shareholders’ meeting, necessary for changing the management. Under Alexandre Lykov’s guidance, TVK has been particularly critical of the region’s governor, Oleg Korolev, who is up for re-election in April 2002. The station’s news programmes were not aired on 31 August.
On 28 September the Russian oil company, Lukoil, a 15 per cent shareholder in television channel TV6, through an investment fund, announced it was suing TV6 to close it down for "bad management".
On 16 October the court in the Pervomaiski quarter of Vladivostok found the editor of the newspaper, Novosti, Alexandre Radushkevitch, and journalist Tatiana Oshepkova guilty of "libel" against an officer of the FSB, Alexandre Egorkin, head of investigation in the Grigory Pasko affair. In her article the journalist accused Alexandre Egorkin of having falsified a warrant for searching Grigory Pasko’s apartment. The judge fined the paper and its journalist the respective sums of 6,000 roubles (218 euros) and 2,000 roubles (73 euros). On 20 July 1999 the military court of the Pacific fleet had stated that Alexandre Egorkin had indeed falsified the warrants and had received a reprimand.
On 23 October the Russian petroleum giant, Lukoil, offered to buy channel TV6 from Boris Berzovski. Lukoil was already a minority shareholder in the network (15%). Boris Berezovski claimed that Lukoil had received an order from the government to wrest control of the private network from him. A warrant for his arrest was issued in mid-October. At the end of September, an arbitration court had placed TV6 in judicial receivership following a complaint from Lukoil, Russia’s leading oil company. Reporters from NTV had been hired by TV6.
On 1 December agents of the public prosecutor’s office in the northern region of Yakutsk carried out a search in the home of Alexandre Glotov, owner and founder of the independent weekly, Victoria-Press and two radio stations in the Yakutsk language, Victoria and Victoria-Sakha. The prosecutor’s office justified the search because of the strong increase in the paper’s print-run within a few weeks of the republic’s elections on 23 December. The journalist was placed under house arrest. On 3 December the electoral board of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutsk) fined the local papers, Molodezh, Yakutii, Vybor Naroda and Moskovski komsomolets v Yakutii. On 5 December collaborators of the local prosecutor’s office searched the editorial offices of the newspaper, Resonnance, and on 11 December the copies of the day’s issue of Moskovskii komsomolets v Yakutii were seized. The paper was especially critical about incumbent president Mikhail Nikolayev, running against a candidate who enjoyed the support of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On 20 December the trial opened in Moscow of Klaus-Helge Donath, a German journalist for the newspaper, Tageszeitung, who was being sued by a Russian student for his having used an ironic tone when commenting on the student’s poem dedicated to President Putin. The poem’s author, Mikhail Anishtchenko, demanded 300,000 roubles (11,000 euros) in damages, the revocation of Klaus-Helge Donath’s accreditation and the journalist’s expulsion from Russia.
On 25 December the Russian Supreme court fined the newspaper, Novye izvestiya, and journalist Valerii Yakov the respective sums of 4,000 roubles (145 euros) and 1,000 roubles (36 euros) for slandering the FSB (formerly the KGB) director and for "false information" in articles criticising operations carried out in the northern Caucuses.
On 29 December the Federal Court of Arbitration on appeal overturned the decision to place channel TV6 in receivership, thereby
postponing the station’s fate. The court ordered a new and deeper study of the case. On 4 December the newspaper, Moskovskie Novosti, had written that the head of Lukoil, Vakhit Alekperov, wanted "to take over TV6 not for economic reasons but because he was receiving orders from the Kremlin that was trying to silence the independent network". The article argued that if Lukoil had wanted a media outlet, it would never have sold the very profitable channel, REN-TV.
President Vladimir Putin has been denounced as a predator of press freedom by Reporters Without Borders
The kidnapping Mafia presently operating in Chechnya has been denounced as a predator of press freedom by Reporters Without Borders.