Russia Update: Volkov Calls ‘Politicized’ Prosecutor’s Attempt to Charge Him With ‘Media Obstruction’

October 13, 2015
Leonid Volkov (far right) with two independent candidates in Novosibirsk in August 2015, during a hunger strike to protest refusal of authorities to register opposition candidates.

Leonid Volkov, an opposition activist who organized independent monitoring of local elections and protested government harassment of alternative candidates is now facing a trumped-up case of “obstructing the media” for refusing to give an interview to pro-Kremlin TV channel LifeNews.

Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

The previous issue is here.

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Russian Bailiffs Seize Navalny’s Property Late at Night in Trumped-Up Yves Rocher Case

As we reported last week, Russian authorities had announced their intent to come this week to seize property from opposition leader Alexey Navalny as payment for damages in a trumped-up court case related to the French company Yves Rocher designed to deter his anti-corruption work.

Navalny tweeted an hour ago that the police had arrived late at night Moscow time, although they had been expected yesterday.

Translation: And help to distribute please. This is an unpleasant situation, when they especially come at night, when there are children, they intrude.

Translation: Seizure of property at night. Apparently I constituted a threat to the life of citizens.

Translation: I said to them: you couldn’t come at any other time when the lawyer is present and the children aren’t at home? “No, we want to come right now.”

As we reported, court bailiffs are seizing property as damages to pay 1.5 million rubles ($23,794), the remainder of a  4.5-million assessment ($72,845) to compensate the French company Yves Roches in a supposed fraud case against Navalny and his brother, Oleg, involving mail-order services provided through their company.

Navalny was handed a 2.5-year suspended sentence in the case, and his brother was sent to labor colony for 2.5 years.. Navalny had already paid 3 million rubles ($48,563) of the fee to avoid further prosecution but his lawyers had asked for an extension as he did not have the funds.  Yves Rocher itself has not pressed any claims against the Navalny brothers.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Opposition Activist Volkov Calls ‘Politicized’ Prosecutor’s Attempt to Charge Him With ‘Media Obstruction’
Opposition activist Leonid Volkov, who organized independent  monitoring in recent local elections and protested harassment of alternative candidates is now himself facing  criminal charges in retaliation for his activity, reports.

Translation: opposition member Leonid Volkov (@leonidvolkov) will be charged under a rare article of the Criminal Code.

Investigators claim Volkov “obstructed the activity of journalists of LifeNews” an offense that could face up to six years of labor camp. The charge — rarely used — was conceived in the perestroika era when reformers were concerned about government efforts to suppress the media, notably after the Chernobyl accident and about atrocities in Chechnya. Now the tables are being turned on the opposition.

LifeNews reporter Aleksandr Postupinsky filed a complaint with the prosecutor in August claiming that in July 2015 in Novosibirsk, Volkov had allegedly grabbed his hand and told him not to film the Parnas party’s branch in Novosibirsk which was taking part in local elections.

Volkov denied that any physical force was used but said he simply did not want to give an interview to LifeNews. LifeNews is a pro-Kremlin channel with close relations to intelligence and police. It has often served as an arm of the government’s harassment of the opposition by intrusively filming their activities and showing up at police searches of their homes and offices. On the eve of the local elections, NTV — a government channel which is also used as a tool of harassment — aired a propaganda show attacking the opposition, claiming falsely one candidate was arrested with a large amount of cash.

The charges against Volkov are the latest in a string of attempts by authorities to discourage opposition from taking part in provincial elections. During the campaign, Volkov staged a hunger strike to protest the failure of authorities to register
independent candidates and the jailing of one candidate, Pivovarov. He
was then falsely accused of election fraud for reporting to authorities the efforts of some provocateurs to plant false signatures on his party’s list to get on the ballot.

The Novosibirsk prosecutor has already completed the investigation in the obstruction case and Volkov is due to fly to Novosibirsk next week for the indictment. He has already filed an objection to the case, noting that there is no medical evidence showing use of force, and that there was also evidence submitted that the reporter’s microphone was worn and had been repaired before, but an implication that Volkov had damaged it.

Volkov said the case was politically motivated, and the prosecutor had not demonstrated any premeditation on his part to hinder journalistic activity. He noted that the offense was intended to be used, for example, in a case of a politician bent on covering up corruption, who would thwart a reporter’s expose by intimidation. In that sense, the article has not been used in Russia.

Translation: I will recall that materials of the case completely refute the press release of “general” Markin: I didn’t break the microphone or his hand, either.