Updated Daily. Russia’s most outrageous ultranationalist has reached new lows at a press conference today. Russia’s leading social network entrepreneur reports that authorities have ordered him to turn over the personal data of groups related to the EuroMaidan protests and opposition leader Alexey Navalny; he has refused. Navalny also faces a lawsuit by a pro-Putin politician claiming he has violated the terms of his parole by continuing his blog. Ten thousand Russians rallied for press freedom last weekend. Memorial Human Rights Center, the leading human rights group of Russia, and three other rights groups faced trial to determine whether they will be defined as a “foreign agent” and face closure. Meanwhile, bloggers face new challenges as conservative legislators seek to equate them with journalists in media outlets under the restrictive Russian press law.
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April 18, 2014
0606 GMT: An abusive and sexist outburst by eccentric Russian ultranationalist MP Vladimir Zhirinovsky which we translated yesterday has been widely discussed on Twitter and other social media. Miriam Elder of Buzzfeed has picked it up and Coubified the worst moments in the video.
RFE/RL reports that Sergei Naryshkin, the speaker of the State Duma, has condemned Zhirinovsky’s behavior as offensive:
“A spokeswoman for Sergei Naryshkin, Yevgenia Chugunova, told reporters on April 18 that the Duma speaker wanted to apologize to journalists for Zhirinovsky’s actions.”
That’s a little less robust than Naryshkin himself stepping out with his own press conference — and it sounds like his answer came only after reporters’ prodding.
But he did ask for the ethics commission of the Duma to investigate the incident, lenta.ru reports, citing ITAR-TASS. The date for the meeting of the Commission on Questions of Deputy Ethics hasn’t been set yet, but the deputy chairman, Andrei Andreyev, told reporters:
“I believe that the commission will request an explanation on the part of Vladimir Volfovich [Zhirinovsky] and he can provide his point of view both in writing and in person.”
Yelena Martyanova, a journalist for Kommersant FM, reports that reporters have filed an appeal with Naryshkin:
Журналисты парламентского пула написали обращение Нарышкину по поводу выходки Жириновского pic.twitter.com/MPoKAQuo6J
— Elena Martyanova (@Martyasha) April 18, 2014
Translation: @Martyasha Journalists of the parliamentary pool have written an appeal to Naryshkin regarding Zhirinovsky’s outrage.
The tweet links to an appeal for a hearing by the ethics commission, with the transcript of the offensive interchange.
April 18, 2014
1822 GMT: Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the ultranationalist head of the ill-named Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) is attracting hundreds of thousands of viewers again today with footage of his shockingly sexist statements at a press conference, where he attacks a pregnant reporter, then pushes some young males at the event on several female reporters, urging them to rape the women. Zhirinovsky is known for his rants and outrages, but this performance at the Russian parliament tops them all. Inform 24 has uploaded the video of the press conference and included a Russian transcript. The Interpreter has translated it in full adding some lines from the video:
“Woman reporter: Should we introduce sanctions in response? [to the prohibition on the entry of Russian males to Ukraine.]
Zhirinovsky: What? Quickly then. No, we shouldn’t. You’re all blood-thirsty. There will be a film about you, ‘The Furies of Maidan,’ f**k. You all have uterine delirium, you women of Maidan. If it weren’t for this uterine delirium, there wouldn’t be any Maidan. Look at that fool Iryna Faraon. She’s spouting hatred toward Russians. You think she hates Russians? She adores them! But it’s uterine delirium. She doesn’t have a lover, she doesn’t have a husband, she doesn’t have anything, f**k. She’s got a beast sitting between the legs, and out through her tongue, her foolish tongue, this whirlwind bursts out. Just like you, standing there.
What sanctions?! But we should be nice, affection is needed! Where are those little idiots of yours. Get over here. You, get over here, too, you journalist. Get over here! Get over here. Come on. I’ll pronounce the word, and you run up, and start raping her hard.
Christ has risen! Truly He has risen! Christ has risen! Truly He has risen. Go and kiss her! Kiss her! Hug her! Kiss her! Grab her! And grab the second one, kiss her! And you, too, go kiss her!
Christ has risen! Don’t have these beasts stand here.
Woman reporter: What are you ranting about here? She’s pregnant! That’s offensive!
Zhirinovsky: Pregnant women shouldn’t be standing here, she should go home. No pregnant women here! If you’re pregnant, go home! You had better take care of the child. We have enough healthy ones! And you, what are you doing, you lesbian?! Why are you interfering and defending her? Get out of here! Get out of here!
Reporter: You shouldn’t be rude to me. We’re press.
Zhirinovsky: I’m not being rude! Get out of here, get out. What publication?
Zhirinovsky: You will lose your job at Interfax. That’s it. Are there any other questions? So they’re going around on Maidan, and here — pregnant, drug addicts and all the rest. We need healthy people. Pregnant women should not go to work! You should sit home and take care of the child. Get it?! That’s it. And enough of these lesbian girlfriends! Enough! Kick them out! You get out! You demon lesbians! Furies! Are there any questions? That’s it, good-bye!”
April 17, 2014
1606 GMT: A Moscow court has postponed a hearing into one of the lawsuits bedeviling opposition leader Alexey Navalny, this one on charges of libel filed by Alexei Lisovenko, a conservative deputy of the city legislature, TV Rain reported. Navalny discounted accusations that he had violated the terms of his house arrest, which included a ban on Internet access.
Lisovenko complained that Navalny appeared to continue blogging while under house arrest, and claimed Navalny had accused him of being a drug addict, making “a number of other threats and insults.” Navalny denies the claims. Lisovenko, a systems engineer representing the ruling United Russia party, has advocated new laws for “digital sovereignty,” requiring all servers of foreign social networks to be located on Russian soil.
This week, Russia state media was also filled with a sensational story that Navalny had allegedly hidden an expensive apartment from his statement of assets during the Moscow mayoral elections. His wife Yuliya Navalnaya denied the charges, supplying documentation that showed the apartment on Michurin Avenue belongs to her mother, TV Rain reported.
— Alexey Navalny (@navalny) April 16, 2014
Translation: @navalny We will find out about the Life News “investigation” and then look at the documents which they are referencing.
1549 GMT: President Vladimir Putin appeared on a televised call-in show last night where more than two million Russians submitted questions, Russia media reported.
But he could only take a few, and one that he was sure not to miss came from none other than Edward Snowden, who submitted a video question, the Washington Post and RT.com reported.
“Mr. Snowden you are a former agent, a spy,” Putin greeted him. “I used to work for an intelligence service. We can talk one professional language.” Snowden was quick to equate the US and Russia in his question to Putin:
“‘Does Russia spy on its own citizens the way the United States has done?’ asked Snowden, who revealed an array of secret National Security Agency surveillance programs.
Oh no, Putin said, Russian eavesdropping is strictly controlled by the law. ‘You have to get court permission to stalk a particular person,’ he said. ‘Certainly, we do not take liberty of such a vast scale, an uncontrolled scale. Hopefully, we will never take this liberty. Besides, we do not have the hardware and money the United States has,’ he said.
‘Thank God, our special services are strictly controlled by the state and society and their activity is regulated by law,’ Putin said.”
Snowden’s question comes just as the director of Russia’s most popular social network, VKontakte, has been ordered to turn over the personal data of all the members of EuroMaidan, the Ukrainian protest movement, and Rospil, the group of anti-corruption blogger Alexey Navalny. He has refused, and has been maneuvered out of his shares in the company as a result.
Navalny and other opposition leaders have had their private conversations and meetings recorded by the FSB and aired in tendentious ways on Russian state television. Recent Russian state television exposes of Western diplomats discussing events in Ukraine are also believed to be the work of Russian intelligence.
0313 GMT: Pavel Durov, the Russian entrepreneur and general director of the popular Russian social network VKontakte, made two startling posts today on his VKontakte page. Durov is back after leaving the company he founded on April 1 over various maneuvers among share-holders that he said hampered his freedom. Several days later, he claimed it was all an April Fool’s joke and agreed to return — but was immediately plunged into a lawsuit over shares.
In the first post, for the first time Durov reveals that on 13 December 2013, the FSB demanded that VKontakte turn over the personal information of the organizers of the Euromaidan groups on VK:
“Our answer was and remains a categorical refusal — the jurisdiction of Russia does not extend to Ukrainian users of VKontakte. Turning over the personal data of Ukrainians to Russian auhtorities would not only be a violation of the law, but betrayal of all those millions of residents of Ukraine who trusted us.
In the process, I have had to sacrifice a lot. In particular, I sold my share in VKontakte, since its presence could prevent me from making the correct decisions. But I don’t regret anything — protection of people’s personal data is worth it and much more. Since December 2013, I don’t have any property, but I have something more important — a clean conscience and ideals which I am prepared to defend.”
In the second post, Durov says:
“On 13 March 2014, the Prosecutor’s office demanded that I close the anti-corruption group of Aleksei Navalny under threat of the blocking of VKontakte. But I didn’t close the group in December 2011, and of course, did not close it now.
In recent weeks, pressure has been put on me from various sides. Through all kinds of methods I have managed to win more than a month, but now the time has come to say — neither I nor my company intend to exercise political censorship. We will not remove either the anti-corruptional community of Navalny, nor hundreds of other communities whose blocking is being demanded of us. Freedom to disseminate information is an inalienable right of post-industrial society. It is a right without which the existence of VKontakte makes no sense.”
Durov posted a picture of a dog in a hoodie, reminiscent of the symbol of a dog used for VKontakte. He also attached a file label labelled “rospil.tiff” which contains a letter from the Prosecutor’s Office dated 13 March 2014 demanding that he close rospil, which is the group related to opposition blogger Alexey Navalny’s anti-corruption web site rospil.info.
April 16, 2014
1852 GMT: Grigory Pasko, Russian environmentalist and former political prisoner, draws attention on his Facebook page to a political figure in Moscow’s city legislature who is increasingly making her voice heard for the Putinist cause.
Ludmila Stebenkova is the chair of the Commission on Health Care and Protection of Public Health of the Moscow City Duma, a member of the United Party of Russia, and a member of the board of directors of the Moscow Mortgage Agency of the Commercial Bank. Before her election she was known for her demands to prosecute the Russian trance group TaTu and Blestyashchiye and the TV show Dom-2, and also for abstinence campaigns and blocking the program to distribute clean needles for harm reduction among drug users.
In a recent column at RBC, Stebenkova said:
“The fact is, in the opinion of specialists not only of our city AIDs center and simply the majority of doctors, ‘safe sex’ in the form in which it is purveyed to our public by international humanitarian organizations just doesn’t exist. This is a myth which enables these organizations to garner (only by official figures) more than $40 million last year, and twice as much this year. The bulk of these funds is directed at advertising condoms which is supposedly the only means of preventing HIV infection.”
While admitting that condoms are the most reliable mechanical barriers, Stebenkova believes it was a mistake to involve condom manufacturers in the campaign, as they are the main financial contributors; they will therefore be reluctant to admit the poor quality of their products that leads to breakage and possible infection. There’s too much reliance on condoms to stop disease from spreading, believes Stebenkova; she would like to see a far more reliable method — abstinence — get more promotion. Stebenkova hopes her idea for a social media campaign “There’s No Such Thing as Safe Sex!” will now become an alternative to a campaign to use condoms — an idea that has provoked protests by those who have worked hard in Russia to stop the spread of HIV.
Recently at a meeting with voters, Stebenkova called those who ask difficult questions about her conservatives campaigns, “Maidan activists who want a revolution.”
Not all officials agree with Stebenkova; the Russian government did not object to the distribution of condoms by the International Olympics Committee in Sochi.
1850 GMT: Putin is continuing to turn the forcible annexation of the Crimea into a patriotic extravaganza:
Медали "За возвращение Крыма" уже и сенаторам раздают. Интересно, сколько всего награжденных будет pic.twitter.com/A3j23WPcty
— Ilya Barabanov (@barabanch) April 14, 2014
Translation: @barabanch Medals “For Return of the Crimea” they’re already handing them out to senators. I wonder how many awards there will be.
1846 GMT: Russian prisoners in Nizhegorodskaya Region are now allowed to have cats as pets.
— Pavel Chikov (@pchikov) April 16, 2014
Translation: @pchikov In Nizh Region, convicts are allowed to keep cats. One per unit. With a dog-tag, showing its name and the unit number. via @U2_Keen
1837 GMT: The prosecutor has dropped charges of “hooliganism” against Pyotr Pavlensky, the aktionist artist who nailed his scrotum to the cobblestones of Red Square to protest public apathy to oppression, fontanka.ru reported, citing a report from human rights defender Dinar Idrisov.
Уголовное дело Павленского. "500 страниц на доказательство искусства", – комментирует своё фото Петр. pic.twitter.com/d4oFbV660C
— Pavel Chikov (@pchikov) April 16, 2014
Translation: @pchikov Pavlensky’s criminal case; 500 pages for evidence of art; this is how Pyotr comments on his photo.
Pavlensky, who also sewed his mouth shut on another occasion to protest lack of media freedom, staged his painful performance art on 10 November 2013 hoping to disrupt the “apathy, political indifference and fatalism of modern Russian society.” He comes from a long line of such direct-action political artists in Russia, and like some of them, was put in a psychiatric hospital for examination for a time and then found sane and released.
Citing openinform.ru, human rights lawyer Pavel Chikov indicated that as part of the investigation, prosecutors sought linguistic and artistic evaluations of Pavlensky’s action. They turned to Andrei Kovalev, a prominent government art consultant from the Lomonosov Moscow State University for an analysis. Kovalev said the performance, which Pavlensky had titled “Fixation,” had to be seen “as a work of modern art” in the genre of “political aktionism” and that his method was “distinguished by a combination of provocativeness and a deliberative relationship to the formal visual material.” Pavlensky’s attorney, Ramil Akhmetaliev, insisted that his client’s act had to be seen as a work of art, and that subjective criteria such as “liking” or “not liking” were not sufficient to prosecute a criminal case.
Pavlensky now has the right to demand an apology from the prosecutor for unlawful criminal prosecution and compensation for moral damages.
0319 GMT: Moskovsky Komsomolets published an article by Pavel Khrennikov 14 April which purports to expose the origins of the “the little green men,” as Ukrainian have dubbed the unidentified uniformed soldiers who took over the Crimea and now are storming various government buildings in the south-east of Ukraine, accompanied by local pro-Russian activists. It turns out these troops were hiding in plain sight. Khrennikov unearthed a program on the state TV channel Rossiya 24 shown last year that talks openly about a new special forces (spetsnaz) division of the Russian Ministry of Defense designed specifically to fight “in neighboring countries.”
The Interpreter has translated the article:
“It has been determined that the unidentified soldiers from the Crimea are strangely reminiscent of fighters of a new Russian Defense Mnistry spetsnaz. These divisions, in existence about a year, were created especially to fulfill combat assignments outside Russia’s borders.
According to media reports, last spring there was an official announcement of the creation of such special operations forces. At that time, Rossiya 24 aired a program on the training of these units. The show notes in particular that the new division is intended for operations in adjacent countries.
Let us recall that on 6 March 2013, Valery Gerasimov, chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces announced the creation of a Special Operations Forces. Speaking before the military attaches of foreign governments, he said: ‘The relevant command has been created which is engaged in planning work and fulfilling activities of the plan for training the Armed Forces.’
On 23 March 2013 during a meeting of the Russian Defense Ministry Army General Sergei Shoigu and Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian Army General Valery Gerasimov announced that the Special Operations Forces had been created in the Armed Forces and training was underway for their use. On 29 April 2013, according to reports from news agencies, the Special Operations Forces conducted a tactical special training in the mountains of Kabardino-Balkaria (apparently they are shown in the video).
According to reports from several sources a Center for Special Forces of the Russian Defense Ministry is being created in the town of Kubinka-2 outside of Moscow. About 500 soldiers will serve there. About 700 million rubles is to be spent on building housing for service personnel. The Center will report directly to the Command of the Special Operations Forces created in the RF Defense Ministry.”
Moskovsky Komsomolets accompanies the report with a video uploaded 13 April by user Artyom Drobot of scenes 12 April from the seizure of the police building in Kramatorsk by unidentified armed persons, implying that these could be the Special Operations Forces — the camouflage, balaclavas and weapons appear similar. In the video, a group of uniformed, armed men professionally move to position, fire guns in the air and push past local police to take over the building.
0201 GMT: A widely-discussed Russian propaganda story has taken an even more incredible twist. On 12 April, Paul Gregory of Forbes posted a story titled “Russian TV Propagandists Caught Red-Handed: Same Guy, Three Different People (Spy, Bystander, Heroic Surgeon).” Gregory figured he had caught out the Kremlin disinformation mill when he saw the discrepancies:
“Pity Russian propagandists. They must stage scenes of massive and violent demonstrations in East and South Ukraine. They must patch together actual demonstration footage with images of exploding grenades, intermittent automatic weapon fire, wounded pro-Russian civilians, and menacing Ukrainian extremists, organized, paid for, and directed by sinister outside forces. They must show valiant local civilians opposing the Neo-Nazi and ultra-nationalist juggernaut from Kiev.”
Gregory described the three very different clips of the same man with the same name, Andrei Petkov, lying wounded in a hospital bed. Rossiya 1’s Vesti portrayed Petkov as an ordinary person with a brain concussion and gunfire wounds:
But on NTV he confessed to being a German spy who “bought weapons and hired a squad of fifty European mercenaries to put down both Nikolayev’s civilian protesters against new Ukrainian government and radical neo-Nazi intruders from Kiev.” He ended up being shot by Ukrainian extremists and had to beg for his life.
Then a third channel, NTS Sevastopol interviewed him and found that he was a pediatric surgeon who “saved the lives of over 200 infants” and had returned to his native Nikolayev with funds to help organize protesters against the Kiev government — and got caught up in a gunfight. He was tending to the wounded in a makeshift medical tent when he was shot in the nose and leg.
We took a look at all three videos and concluded that it wasn’t so much that Russian TV stations were trying to portray one guy in one hospital as three different people; rather three different channels, determined to find a provocative angle to the protests in Ukraine to bolster pro-Russian forces had interviewed clearly the same man, but with an unfolding story. Obviously, his claims were increasingly far-fetched, and we had to wonder if he suffered from brain injury.
RFE/RL also took a look — without reference to the Forbes story — and added more detail. NTV was portraying Petkov as a German who brought 500,000 euros to Ukraine to cause trouble, but “got caught up in an attack orchestrated by Ukrainian ultranationalist Right Sector members on peaceful pro-Russian protesters.” In this version, Petkov said he was a Russian pediatrician who had emigrated to Germany 20 years ago but came to act as a “mercenary” against pro-Russian protesters in Ukraine. In the NTV version, Petkov had saved “200 children’s lives”
But then another TV channel, Rossiya 1 said Petkov was a native of Nikolayev, and showed St. George ribbons tied to his bed post, the symbol used by Russian nationalists in Russia and Ukraine. He said an assailant put a gun to his head during a pro-Russian demonstration, and he was saved only when “some girls ran up to us, kicked him, and he left.” In this version, Ukrainian authorities bussed in radicals, and that’s how the peaceful pro-Russian protest camps were broken up. They even showed spent cartridges from the ammunition supposedly used.
Today, the story took yet another bizarre twist as NTV decided to fight back against charges of participating in Putin’s Big Lie. They admitted they had fallen for a hoax with the Petkov story:
“This week, we and our colleges unwittingly became hostages to a huge hoax. In his interviews with some journalists he [Petkov] described how he had become a victim of Maidan supporters, and in others that he himself was an active supporter of the illegitimate government. The truth is that his life turned out to be entirely prosaic. According to his relatives, Andrei Petkov has long suffered from severe psychiatric disease. Disregarding this fact, Western media managed to accuse Russian journalists of insinuation.”
NTV returned to interview Andrei Petkov and his brother, Vladimir Petkov, who said Andrei suffered from schizophrenia, and showed his medical certificate of disability. Andrei himself then told NTV:
“I don’t deny it, but you see, I had a concussion, I have a disability, I have a gunshot wound in the head, I have a concussion, I can’t sleep. I can’t sleep, I can go without sleep for weeks, and when I don’t sleep, I become delirious.”
So Putin’s propaganda mill has actually accomplished several things now — discredited the new Ukrainian government and its supporters at home and abroad, but also made it seem as if the West is making false charges against Russia media, which bravely admits its mistakes. All Forbes and RFE/RL did was expose the obvious oddness in the man’s increasingly tall tales that NTV or Rossiya 1 or NTS Sevastopol themselves — if they were operating in good faith — should have immediately seen from the outset. The damage is already done, as millions have already seen the broadcasts and spread it through social media, and far fewer are likely to notice the admission of a hoax.
April 15, 2014
2023 GMT: The editors of Parlamentskaya Gazeta report that they were hacked yesterday.
“We would like to bring to your attention that on 13 April at 14:50 the wite ww.pnp.ru suffered a hacker attack. As a result of the installation of spyware, a password to access the administrator’s dashboard was stolen, and then hackers placed information in the name of the Federal Migration Service of the Russian Federation which does not correspond to reality. There was also an attempt to spread this information through social networks.
The site www.pnp.ru was also subjected to a massive DDoS attack for several hours.”
This mean that an article headlined “FMS RF Passes Regulation on Re-Settlement of Crimean Tatars” formerly at this link was in fact disinformation and there was no such article or law.
1714 GMT: Just as a lone parliamentarian was found in the State Duma to vote against the annexation of the Crimea (Ilya Ponomarev), it turns out that a lone judge was found in the Russian Constitutional Court who filed a dissenting opinion to declaring Putin’s oppressive “foreign agents” law as “constitutional, Rights in Russia reported.
In a separate opinion (as it is known in Russian jurisprudence) to the 8 April ruling of the Constitutional Court, Judge Vladimir Yaroslavtsev said:
“[f]reedom of association cannot be fully realized without the possibility of associations freely attracting funds from sources not prohibited by law for the exercising of their activity. It is precisely this active functioning of non-commercial organizations that is an integral part of the functioning of a democratic society.”
The dissenting opinion was published on the web site of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation.
The judge also called out the overbroad notion of “political activity” used in making a determination about an NGO’s status, RAPSI, the legal news service, reported.
1614 GMT: The hearings into the cases of four Russian NGOs regarding their status under Putin’s new “foreign agents” law have been postponed.
— Грани.ру (@GraniTweet) April 15, 2014
Translation: @GraniTweet The trial of #Мемориалсуд [Memorial Trial] has been postponed until 23 May. Evidently, the trials of @golosinfo @public_verdict, and YURIKS are also postponed.
Александр Черкасов, ПЦ Мемориал: самороспускаться не собираемся #мемориалсуд
— Радио Свобода (@SvobodaRadio) April 15, 2014
Translation: @SvobodaRadio Aleksandr Cherkasov, Memorial Human Rights Center: we do not intend to disband ourselves.
0455 GMT: A total of four Russian human rights groups will face a hearing today to determine whether they are to be branded as “foreign agents” engaged in political activity and forced to register as such under the law — or face closure. Russian human rights defender Yuri Dzhibladze posted to his Facebook the schedule of the hearings at the Zamoskoretsky Court, Moscow time:
Memorial Human Rights Center – 10:00
Golos Association – 14:30
YURIKS – Lawyers for Constitutional Rights and Liberties – 16:30
Public Verdict Foundation – 17:30
Judge Yana Shemyakina is presiding.
Activists fear that now that the Constitutional Court has ruled that the “foreign agents” law is in conformity with the constitution, the judge will speedily issue rulings on the groups, and that may be why they have scheduled them all for the same day in what seems like a “conveyor belt.”
Public Verdict was one of the groups, along with the Anti-Discrimination Center of Memorial in St. Petersburg (already declared a “foreign agent” by a court last week) which testified to the UN Committee Against Torture on abusive conditions in Russia’s prisons.
UN officials issued a protest about the designation as “foreign agents” of Russian NGOs who had exercised their right to report on torture in prisons to the UN Committee Against Torture at a session examining Russia’s record — an event which earned the Russian activists the label of “foreign agents.” UN experts were concerned about reprisals after NGOs testified and protested to the Russian delegation last June:
“Committee against Torture Chairperson Claudio Grossman and the Committee’s Rapporteur on Reprisals George Tugushi said they had been informed that extracts from the groups’ submissions to the Committee last November had been cited as a basis for the charges. They have written to the Russian ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Alexey Borodavkin, seeking urgent clarification and reassurances that Memorial, Public Verdict and other NGOs will not face any reprisals ‘as a result of their legitimate activities, including providing information to the Committee against Torture’. The experts reminded the Russian authorities that reprisals would contravene the Convention against Torture, to which Russia is a party. Under the Convention, ‘Steps shall be taken to ensure that the complainant and witnesses are protected against all ill-treatment or intimidation as a consequence of his complaint or any evidence given’, Mr Grossman and Mr Tugushi noted.
The action by prosecutors against Memorial and Public Verdict was, they wrote, ‘part of the worrying shift in the legislative environment governing the enjoyment of the freedoms of assembly, association, speech and information”. They recalled that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay last year expressed concern about legislative amendments in the Russian Federation.
On 14 May 2013, three UN independent human rights rapporteurs highlighted the ‘obstructive, intimidating and stigmatizing effects” of the law on non-commercial organizations (NCOs), which were being subjected to an ‘unprecedented wave of inspections.'”
A video made by the human rights group Front Line Defenders and posted in November 2013 explains the “foreign agents” law and features some of the people now attempting to appeal the label.
April 14, 2014
1731 GMT: Last week Vladimir Vasilyev, leader of the United Russian ruling party faction in the State Duma, supported a proposal to equate popular blogs with mass media, Lenta.ru and ITAR TASS reported:
“A person who addresses essentially a large number of people through his blog today must understand that he bears responsibility. No one can behave irresponsibly, especially if a person is doing everything in order to be a public figure.”
Deputies Andrei Lugovoy and Vadim Dengin of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (led by the illiberal Vladimir Zhirinovsky) announced plans to submit such draft legislation to the Duma.
While at first it seems as if the draft law might be similar to libel laws in Western democracies under which a blogger would be as liable as a journalist in mainstream media, in fact in the Russian context the move is designed to force bloggers with large audiences to register under the restrictive press law as mass media outlets — which could merely prove a means of outlawing them.
The two deputies said bloggers should be obliged to pay taxes on advertising, comply with laws protecting minors and keep to a pre-election “day of silence.” The top bloggers “will be punished for swearing and inciting international conflicts,” says Lenta.ru.
The State Duma reviewed a similar initiative in 2012, but ended up setting the law aside “in light of the passage of other high-profile laws” says Lenta.ru delicately — itself now under new editorial control closer to the Kremlin. Likely this was a reference to the over-broad extremism law and a law forbidding calls for separatism. Another measure being discussed would criminalize “the spread of disinformation harming the state.” Owners could then be brought to court for articles criticizing Putin’s war in Ukraine, for example.
1707 GMT: Tomorrow 15 April there will be a hearing at the Zamoskoretsky District Court in Moscow where Memorial Human Rights Center will continue its appeal of the prosecutor’s notice of “foreign agent” status, Memorial reported on its web site. The prosecutor has claimed that Memorial is violating the law on NGOs and must register as a “foreign agent” or face closure. The trial has been running since November 2013. Memorial’s lawyers had earlier sought to delay a judgement decision until the Constitutional Court of Russia or the European Court of Human Rights could make a determination about the legality of the “foreign agents” law.
Unfortunately, on 8 April, the Russian Constitutional Court determined that the “foreign agents” law is constitutional, which means now the Memorial case will proceed on the merits of the case.
1645 GMT: The headline this morning in Moscow in the best-selling pro-government newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda: Civil War Has Begun in Ukraine
"CIVIL WAR HAS BEGUN IN UKRAINE" = headline in major Russian paper this morning. No clarifying context, of course. pic.twitter.com/SGsoCw1ZeW
— Laura Mills (@lauraphylmills) April 14, 2014
1605 GMT: The Russian opposition and human rights groups organized a “March of Truth” this past Sunday in which about thousands of people took part. Organizers in fact were unable to obtain a permit from city authorities for a march, but were able to hold a stationary rally on Sakharov Avenue. The independent web site snob.ru ran a liveblog. Estimates for the number of participants range from “several thousands” (grani.ru) to 10,000 (AP).
The Russian government has recently blocked controversial websites such as grani.ru, forced others like Ekho Moskvy to remove opposition blogs such as those of Alexey Navalny and Boris Nemtsov to stay in business; and is driving off the air the last independent channel, TV Rain. The news site Lenta.ru suffered the dismissal of their editor-in-chief and resignations of many of their reporters; this demonstrator has his mouth taped with a sign that says “Lenta.PU” instead of Lenta.RU as an indication that Putin has taken over the Russian Internet and media.
— Новости Роисся 0 (@usr_local_share) April 13, 2014
Translation: @usr_local_share The only television which is showing this rally
Rally of the Fifth Colum and National Traitors
Trust Rating in Putin: 146% Truth +451°F
Some observers felt the turn-out was poor, by contrast with a march of 50,000 several weeks ago against the forcible annexation of the Crimea:
— Тот самый Мартин (@martin_camera) April 13, 2014
Translation: @martin_camera Very few people at the #МаршПравды [March of Truth];
Some people did carry signs about Ukraine:
There was discussion about how Russian state TV is inciting violence in Ukraine; this man holds up a sign saying “With such a TV, bloodshed is inevitable.”
And the rally was also an occasion to raise the case of the Bolotnaya Square defendants tried for a demonstration two years ago and sentenced to years of prison:
— Илья Яшин (@IlyaYashin) April 13, 2014
Translation: @IlyaYashin Freedom for Political Prisoners
Among the speakers at the rally was Prof. Andrei Zubov of Moscow State Institute for International Relations, at first fired for his job for criticism of the Crimean annexation, but then reinstated after protests — although his contract ends in six weeks.
Zubov told the crowd that by lying to the Russian people on television, the government was leading the country toward "an abyss."
— Nataliya Vasilyeva (@NatVasilyevaAP) April 13, 2014