|JANUARY 28, 2004|
Posted: February 9, 2004
Aleksandr Podrabinek, Prima
The Moscow investigative bureau of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) called Podrabinek, editor-in-chief of the independent news agency Prima, in for questioning. The editor was questioned as a part of an FSB criminal investigation into the book The FSB blows Up Russia, which government authorities say reveals state secrets.
The Prima agency, which frequently covers human rights issues, had ordered 4,400 copies of the book from the Latvian printer Giness in 2003 and was planning to distribute them to bookstores in the Russian capital, Moscow.
On December 29, 2003, the FSB intercepted the truck delivering the copies. Police officers pulled the truck over in the outskirts of Moscow and the FSB confiscated all 4,400 books, claiming they contained "anti-state propaganda," the independent Moscow radio station Ekho Moskvy reported.
According to local press reports, the book, written by former FSB officer Aleksandr Litvinenko and émigré-historian Yuri Feltshinky, contains circumstantial evidence suggesting that the FSB orchestrated a series of apartment bombings in Moscow and the southern city of Volgodonsk. The Kremlin blamed the bombings on Chechen rebels in an alleged attempt to bolster Vladimir Putin’s image as a law-and-order candidate ahead of the March 2000 presidential elections.
At the January 28 questioning, FSB officers asked Podrabinek about the book’s printer and Prima’s contract with the company for transporting the books. Podrabinek refused to answer the questions because, he said, they had no bearing on the criminal inquiry into revealing state secrets. "The details they [FSB] asked me had nothing to do with the stated purpose of the investigation," Podrabinek told CPJ in a telephone interview on February 3.
FSB officials accused Podrabinek of obstructing the investigation by refusing to answer their questions but have not yet pressed criminal charges against him. As of yet, there are no defendants in the case and the books remain impounded "so that the state secret would not be distributed any further," senior FSB investigator Aleksandr Soyma said, according to the independent Russian daily Izvestiya.
JANUARY 29, 2004
Posted: February 9, 2004
Vadim Saranov, Versiya
On January 29, Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) agents raided the premises of the independent Moscow weekly Versiya, seizing the remaining copies of the September 2003 edition. The issue contained an article titled "Na dne" (At the bottom) by journalist Saranov that the FSB claimed had revealed state secrets. The article reported on technical characteristics of new, special-task submarines, one of which was operating near the nuclear submarine Kursk when it sank in August 2000.
Versiya National Security Editor Andrey Soldatov told CPJ in a telephone interview on February 3 that the article in question was based on publicly available information. In a telephone interview on February 4, Saranov confirmed that he had not used confidential sources, and that "anybody else who wanted that kind of information would have been able to get it." Versiya Editor-in-Chief Anna Bakshitskaya said the staff believes that the FSB raid came in retaliation for articles written by Saranov in the last 18 months that exposed corruption and theft in the Russian navy, the independent Moscow radio station Ekho Moskvy reported.
Versiya is known for exposing government corruption. The January raid on the newspaper’s office was the third such action against the weekly in three years. A September 2000 FSB raid was prompted by an August 2000 article about the sinking of Kursk. In November 2002, the FSB raided the paper’s offices after it published an investigation into the activities of Russian security services during the October 2002 Nord-Ost theater hostage crisis in Moscow, during which more than 100 people died after the government used nerve gas to disarm Chechen rebels who were holding civilians hostage.
The FSB raids have not led to any prosecutions or convictions because of a lack of evidence against the publication. However, staff believes that the raids are a form of ongoing harassment and intimidation, Soldatov said.
FEBRUARY 2, 2004
Posted: February 3, 2004
Yelena Tregubova, freelance
At about 2 p.m., an explosion shook the downtown Moscow apartment of Tregubova, an independent journalist who recently published a controversial best-selling book criticizing the Kremlin.
A package was left outside the door to Tregubova's apartment and exploded as she was leaving to meet a friend. Tregubova's apartment door was damaged, but neither she nor anybody else was injured. Police and emergency workers arrived at the scene immediately, according to local reports. Police have currently classified the incident as an act of hooliganism, the independent Moscow radio station Ekho Moskvy reported.
Tregubova told Ekho Moskvy that several days ago she received a call on her cell phone from a man who identified himself as an employee of Sheremetyevo International Airport, outside Moscow. The man told Tregubova that a parcel arrived for her at the airport and asked for her home address for delivery purposes.
"I decided not to give my address and asked the man what phone number he was calling from," Tregubova said. "At that moment the connection was cut off, and nobody called me back.... I guess I finally received my delivery."
Tregubova was a member of the Kremlin press pool and reported for the independent Moscow dailies Kommersant, Izvestiya, and Russkyi Telegraf between 1997 and 2001, under Boris Yeltsin's and Vladimir Putin's presidencies. Her political best-seller, Tales of a Kremlin Digger, was published in late October 2003 and criticized the Putin Administration for muzzling the press in Russia.
In November, Nikolay Senkevich, general director of the state-controlled national television channel NTV, cancelled the European broadcast of an interview with Tregubova on the weekly news program "Namedni." According to the Interfax news agency, Mikhail Fedotov, of the Russian Union of Journalists, called Senkevich's decision as "an act of political censorship."
FEBRUARY 12, 2004
Posted: March 2, 2004
Rebecca Santana, Cox Newspapers
Ruslan Soltakhanov, freelance
Santana and Soltakhanova fixer and driver for Western journalists working in Chechnyatraveled in Chechnya from February 8 to 11. Santana was reporting on refugees and the disappearance of civilians and profiling the lives of students.
On February 12, Russian authorities questioned Santana at the airport in Mineralnye Vodya town about 125 miles (200 kilometers) northwest of the Chechen capital, Groznyas she was preparing to board a flight back to Moscow, Santana told CPJ.
The authorities, who refused to identify themselves, confiscated her notebooks, mobile phone, camera, undeveloped film, and personal data assistant. Local police identified the authorities as members of the Federal Security Service (FSB). The belongings were returned to her in Moscow on February 13, with her film developed, Santana said.
According to Santana, on the day she was questioned, four or five unidentified men in civilian clothes abducted Soltakhanov from his home in the town of Mozdok, just west of Chechnya in North Ossetia.
Several hours later, the individuals returned, searched the house, confiscated some documents, and showed his wife, Madina Soltakhanova, two hand grenades they claimed they had found in the house, said local press reports. She told Santana that no grenades or ammunition were in the house prior to the search.
Santana said that Soltakhanov’s detention was "undoubtedly connected with the fact that he had been working with me and designed as an attempt to punish him for his actions."
APRIL 30, 2004
Posted: May 12, 2004
Mukhamed Berdiyev, RFE/RL
Mukhamed Berdiyev, a correspondent for the Turkmen Service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), was beaten by unknown assailants in his apartment in Moscow. He was discovered lying unconscious three days later by the apartment's landlord, who had come to collect the monthly rent.
CPJ spoke with Mukhamed's son, Shanazar Berdiyev, who recounted what his father had told him about the incident. Early in the evening of April 30, Mukhamed, who immigrated to Russia from Turkmenistan in 1995 after he and his family were repeatedly harassed by Turkmen authorities, received a phone call from a man claiming to have just returned from Turkmenistan with letters from Mukhamed's friends. The man asked for Mukhamed's address and, when Mukhamed gave it to him, said he would bring them shortly.
An hour later, three unknown men came to Mukhamed's apartment and, when he opened the door, stormed in and began beating him without explanation. Following the attack, the assailants cut the phone line and electricity in the apartment and broke the journalist's computer.
Mukhamed was discovered in critical condition by his landlord on May 4. The landlord notified Shanazar, who arrived immediately and called an ambulance. According to the doctor, Mukhamed suffered from two broken ribs, a severe brain concussion, partial loss of sight, a vast hematoma, and numerous bruises. He spent two days in a Moscow hospital but requested to be treated at home because of poor hospital conditions, Shanazar told CPJ. Mukhamed is currently at his son's apartment, but his vision remains impaired and he moves with difficulty.
The Berdiyevs have been previously targeted. One day before the April 30 assault on Mukhamed, unknown individuals broke into Shanazar's Moscow apartment and ransacked it. "Nothing was taken," he told CPJ, "but everything was lying around in a complete disorder."
On July 29, 2003, Mukhamed was attacked and beaten unconscious in Moscow by two unknown assailants on the street while walking home. The beating came after an article appeared on the information site www.Centrasia.ru advising President Niyazov's "ill-wisher," Mukhamed Berdiyev, to stop criticizing the Turkmen government and "return to normal life."
Shanazar was attacked at his doorstep on September 2, 2003, when an unidentified man in a police uniform came from behind and hit him hard on the head. Shanazar fell on the floor but managed to roll on his back and see his attacker before losing consciousness. The assailant warned him: "This better be the last time I see you."
MAY 9, 2004
Posted: May 10, 2004
Adlan Khasanov, Reuters
Khasanov, a cameraman working for the British news agency Reuters, was killed by a bomb in Russia’s southern republic of Chechnya, according to local and international press reports.
The powerful bomb exploded at approximately 10:35 a.m. in the Dynamo Stadium in the Chechen capital of Grozny, where Khasanov was covering the annual Victory Day parade, which celebrates the Soviet Union’s 1945 victory over Nazi Germany.
The 33-year-old cameraman sustained serious head injuries from the blast and was taken to a local hospital, Reuters reported. One of Khasanov’s three brothers told Reuters yesterday that the cameraman’s body had been returned to his family and would be buried in Grozny on May 10.
The bomb planted in the stadium killed at least six people, including Chechnya’s pro-Moscow president, Akhmad Kadyrov. The bomb was placed in a concrete pillar under the VIP section of the stadium, suggesting that Kadyrov and other senior Chechen and Russian officials were targeted.
Late in the afternoon on May 9, Chechen police detained five suspects in Grozny allegedly linked to the blast, according to local press reports.
Khasanov had worked as a cameraman and photographer for the Moscow bureau of Reuters since the 1990s.
He covered the second Chechen warlaunched by Russian forces in late 1999and at times spent days trekking through the mountains into neighboring Georgia to deliver video footage to Reuters, according to Reuters.
MAY 14, 2004
Posted: June 4, 2004
Grigory Pasko, freelance
Russian Federal Security Services (FSB) failed to approve an application for a foreign passport for journalist Pasko. It is standard procedure in Russia that the FSB clear applications for foreign passports before they are processed.
If his foreign passport is not issued immediately, Pasko will be unable to attend an international meeting of freedom of expression groups in Baku, Azerbaijan, in mid-June. The Toronto-based International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) will hold the meeting beginning June 14.
"I would very much like to attend the IFEX conference, but without a [foreign] passport, I am stranded here," Pasko told CPJ.
Pasko filed an application for a foreign passport with the Interior Ministry Department's Southeastern Administrative District on April 14. Under Russian law, the application should have been processed within a month. However, passport authorities told Pasko that the FSB has failed to process the request.
Pasko was convicted of treason and sentenced to four years in prison on December 25, 2001, for intending to leak classified information to Japanese news outlets about the Russian Pacific Fleet's dumping of nuclear waste in the Sea of Japan. The journalist was released on parole based on good behavior in January 2003 after having served two-thirds of his sentence.
In July 2003, authorities denied Pasko's application for a foreign passport on the grounds that he was released from prison before serving his full sentence.
MAY 31, 2004
Posted: June 2, 2004
Leonid Parfyonov, NTV
The popular news program "Namedni" (Recently) on the television channel NTV was canceled under government pressure. Parfyonov, anchor of the show, was also fired, according to local and international reports.
On Sunday, May 30, Parfyonov was scheduled to air an interview with the widow of slain Chechen separatist leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, who was killed by a car bomb explosion in the Persian Gulf country of Qatar last February. Two Russian intelligence service agents are currently on trial for his murder in Qatar's capital, Doha.
Parfyonov told the Moscow daily Kommersant on Monday, May 31, that the interview with Yandarbiyeva was cut at the last minute from the Sunday evening broadcast of "Namedni" in the European part Russia. The journalist also told the daily that NTV made the cut at the request of the Russian intelligence services. The interview with Yandarbiyeva had already been aired Sunday afternoon in Russia's far eastern provinces, during prime time.
Kommersant also published the letter ordering the segment to be lifted, which was written by NTV Deputy General Director Alexander Gerasimov.
After Parfyonov's interview in Kommersant, the journalist's show was canceled, and he was fired. NTV officials said today that Parfyonov was dismissed for breaching his contract and violating corporate policy.
In 2001, the state gas monopoly Gazprom took over NTV, which had until that point been critical of government policies, particularly the war in Chechnya. After that, the channel has begun to emphasize positive news and focus heavily on Russian President Vladimir Putin's meetings with his Cabinet and international leaders. Also in 2001, NTV's then owner, exiled media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky, was charged with fraud, tax evasion, and financial mismanagement.
Parfyonov's news show "Namedni" was one of the few programs that offered an alternative view on Russia's current affairs. This is not the first time that NTV management has canceled a "Namedni" segment just before airtime. In November 2003, NTV's general director canceled the European broadcast of an interview with Yelena Tregubova, a former Kremlin reporter and author of a controversial memoir Tales of a Kremlin Digger, which criticized Putin's administration for muzzling the press in Russia.
JUNE 18, 2004
Posted: June 22, 2004
Tagib Abdusalamov, GTRK "Dagestan"
Abdusalamov, director of the Dagestani bureau of the Russian state radio and television company GTRK, was shot and wounded by unknown assailants, according to local and international reports. Abdusalamov is in critical condition at the hospital in Dagestan's capital, Makhachkala. It was unclear whether the attack was related to Abdusalamov's journalistic work.
Abdusalamov was shot at around 3 p.m. when he was leaving a downtown café in Makhachkala. The bullet penetrated the journalist's diaphragm, only inches from his heart. A sniper may have fired the shot, the Itar-Tass news agency reported. The local prosecutor's office is exploring possible reasons for the assassination attempt, including Abdusamadov's professional work, according to the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.
Abdusalamov, 34, has been the director of GTRK "Dagestan," Dagestan's biggest broadcast company, since February 2002.
JULY 9, 2004
Updated: October 5, 2004
Paul Klebnikov, Forbes
Klebnikov, editor of Forbes Russia and an investigative reporter, was gunned down when he left his Moscow office at about 10 p.m.
Authorities in Moscow described the case as a contract murder and said they believe that Klebnikov was killed because of his work, according to international news reports. Klebnikov, 41, a U.S. journalist of Russian descent, was struck by four 9 mm bullets fired from a passing car.
Klebnikov was at least the 15th journalist in Russia to be killed in connection with his work since President Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, according to CPJ research. Eleven were slain in contract-style murders. No one has been brought to justice in any of these cases.
A special crimes unit is investigating Klebnikov's murder, Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov said.
On September 28, Moscow police said they arrested two Chechen men suspected in the murder. Police Chief Vladimir Pronin said the men had been wanted in connection with a kidnapping case. Three pistols were confiscated during the arrest, and preliminary findings indicated one might have been used in the Klebnikov slaying. But the suspects denied involvement in the murder, and police later backed off their initial assertion.
Forbes launched its Russian-language edition in April, attracting significant attention a month later when it published a list of Russia's wealthiest people. The magazine reported that Moscow had 33 billionaires, more than any other city in the world. Many billionaires are trying to keep a low profile because President Vladimir Putin is using the country's courts, prosecutors, and security services to rein in Russian oligarchs and strengthen the state's role in the economy.
Klebnikov had also written a number of books and articles that angered his subjects. Among other topics, he wrote about organized crime in Chechnya.
JULY 17, 2004
Posted: July 21, 2004
Pail Peloian, Armyanski Pereulok
The body of Armenian journalist Peloian was found on the side of a highway outside Russia's capital, Moscow, on July 17, according to local and international press reports.
Peloian had been severely beaten and stabbed multiple times and had a cracked skull and bruised face.
The police found money, documents, and a passport on the body, suggesting that the cause of death was not robbery. Moscow prosecutors have initiated a murder investigation.
Peloian had worked for Armyanski Pereulok (Armenian Lane), a Moscow-based Russian-language magazine that focused on Armenian arts and literature.
Armyanski Pereulok published its last issue in early 2003, and the magazine's editor, Valentin Filoian, said he does not think that the murder was related to Peloian's journalism, The Associated Press reported.
CPJ continues to investigate this case to determine whether Peloian was killed for his work as a journalist.
JULY 28, 2004
Posted: July 29, 2004
Timur Aliev, Chechenskoye Obshchestvo
Aliev, editor of the independent weekly Chechenskoye Obshchestvo (Chechen Society), which is based in Ingushetia's capital, Nazran, told CPJ that officials from the Interior Ministry's Organized Crime Directorate called him into their office in Nazran in the morning and questioned him about the newspaper's recent reporting on human rights abuses committed by Chechnya's pro-Moscow authorities, as well as by Russian soldiers and security forces operating in Chechnya.
"First they wanted me to say I'll shut the paper down, and when I refused, they said they would get a decree to close the paper," Aliev told CPJ.
On July 29, the director of the state-run printer in Nazran, Poligrafkombinat, told Aliev that police also called him in, and that the company could no longer print Chechenskoye Obshchestvo.
Murat Zurabov, a press officer for the Interior Ministry in Nazran, confirmed to CPJ in a telephone interview that Aliev had been called in to "speak" with Interior Ministry officials. He denied any pressure on Aliev or Poligrafkombinat and said he knew of no efforts to close the paper.
According to local press reports and Aliev, the Chechen Interior Ministry recently sent a letter to the Ingushetia Interior Ministry asking Ingushetian authorities to close Chechenskoye Obshchestvo. However, Ruslan Atsaev, the press officer for the Chechen Interior Ministry, told CPJ that his ministry had not requested the closure. "It's possible the letter came from some other government institution in Chechnya, but I would have known if the Interior Ministry had requested this," Atsaev told CPJ.
Aliev told CPJ he was unsure that his newspaper could continue publishing because of the harassment.
This is not the first time that Chechenskoye Obshchestvowhich was founded in Nazran a year ago because of poor security conditions in Chechnyahas been targeted for its coverage of the conflict in Chechnya.
In April, the Media Ministry in Chechnya issued an official warning to the weekly for its reporting on the February 13 assassination of Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, a Qatar-based fund-raiser for Chechen rebels, according to the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, a Moscow-based press freedom organization.
The assassination became an international embarrassment for the Kremlin when authorities in Qatar arrested and convicted two Russian agents for planting the car bomb that killed Yandarbiyev.
SEPTEMBER 2, 2004
Posted: September 7, 2004
Andrei Babitsky, RFE/RL
HARASSED, LEGAL ACTION, IMPRISONED
Yana Dlugy, Agence France-Presse
According to local press reports, police at Vnukovo Airport in Moscow detained Babitsky, a correspondent for the Russian Service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), in the morning on suspicion of carrying explosives. None were found and he was released. Then two young men approached him and tried to start a fight with him, according to radio station Ekho Moskvy. As a result, airport police detained him again, along with the two men.
Early reports said that Babitsky had been detained because he was "a victim of hooliganism," but he was actually charged with "hooliganism" himself and sentenced to five days in jail by a Moscow court on September 3. Before his arrest, the journalist was en route to Beslan, North Ossetia, to cover the hostage crisis at an elementary school where about 40 heavily armed Chechen fighters had seized hostages.
In a separate incident on September 2, another prominent Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, was reportedly poisoned en route to Beslan. She remains hospitalized in stable condition.
Also on Babitsky's flight to Mineralnye Vody was to be Dlugy, a correspondent for the worldwide news agency Agence France-Presse, but she was prevented from boarding the plane, also on suspicions of carrying explosives. She later caught another flight.
According to the Moscow-based Web site Grani.Ru, the two young men who approached Babitsky at the airport asked him to buy them beer, and when he refused, they started harassing him. At that time, airport police detained all three men at the airport police station for disorderly conduct, where they were kept until 5 p.m.
Babitsky said that the two men, who were later identified as airport workers, told him that they were instructed to pick a fight with him, Grani.Ru reported. Babitsky's lawyer, Vladimir Artemov, has appealed the journalist's sentence.
The guilty verdict was based entirely on the testimony of the Vnukovo Airport police officers, even though their accounts differed from those of other witnesses of the incident. Only Babitsky was sentenced; the two men who harassed him were released. Babitsky is currently being held at a temporary detention center on the outskirts of Moscow, RFE/RL reported.
SEPTEMBER 4, 2004
Updated September 10, 2004
Nana Lezhava, Rustavi-2
Levan Tetvadze, Rustavi-2
Police arrested Lezhava, a correspondent for Georgian independent television station Rustavi-2, and Tetvadze, a cameraman for the station, in Beslan in the southern Russian republic of North Ossetia. The two had been covering the Beslan middle school massacre in which hundreds were killed.
According to local reports, they were forced into a car and taken to a local police station, where they were stripped of their personal belongings, mobile phones and broadcasting equipment. The journalists were held incommunicado in the initial hours following their arrest, despite numerous inquiries from the Georgian embassy in Russia, Internews reported.
Lezhava and Tetvadze were charged with crossing into Russian illegally, even though an agreement between Russia and Georgia allowed them to travel without visas as residents of the Kazbegi region, Internews reported.
The journalists were eventually placed in a detention facility in Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia, Zviad Pochkhua, president of the Independent Association of Georgian Journalists told CPJ. Both were later released and returned to Georgia.
On Sept. 9, a medical expert said tests indicated that Lezhava was drugged while in custody, according to The Associated Press. The tests showed traces of tranquilizers, the expert said. The tests were conducted at the request of Rustavi-2, which aired an interview with the journalist in which she said that after drinking coffee in a holding cell, she slept for 24 hours and woke up feeling weak.
SEPTEMBER 6, 2004
Posted: September 9, 2004
Amr Abdul Hamid, Al-Arabiya
Authorities detained Hamid, Moscow bureau chief of the Dubai-based satellite television channel Al-Arabiya, as he was returning to Moscow from Beslan where he had covered the middle school massacre in which hundreds were killed.
Russian authorities arrested him at the Mineralnye Vody airport northwest of Chechnya. Police said officers found a bullet from a machine gun in Hamid's luggage, the independent daily Kommersant said. Al-Arabiya said it was told Hamid would be held for two days.
DECEMBER 17, 2004
Posted: December 17, 2004
Yuri Bagrov, The Associated Press
Bagrov, a reporter who covered the North Caucasus and Chechnya for The Associated Press (AP) until September, was convicted by the Leninsky court in Vladikavkaz, the capital of the southern Russian republic of North Ossetia, on criminal charges of using falsified documents to obtain Russian citizenship. The court fined him 15,000 rubles (US$540).
Bagrov, who is originally from Georgia, told CPJ that authorities invalidated his passport, making him a convicted criminal vulnerable to deportation. Bagrov said that his lawyer, Aleksandr Dzilikhov, will appeal the case to the republic's Supreme Court.
On August 25, agents from the local FSB branch raided Bagrov's apartment, his office, and his mother's apartment.
FSB agents presented a court order authorizing them to search for weapons, ammunition, drugs, and forgery-related items. They confiscated Bagrov's passport and other personal documents, personal and work computers, computer disks, film, tape recorder and tapes, and his wife's diaries, according to local and international press reports.
Several unidentified men followed him for several days after the raid, Bagrov said.
On October 5, a local prosecutor summoned his wife for questioning. Later that day, Bagrov learned that he had been charged on September 17 with knowingly using forged documents.
Bagrov and some colleagues question the motive for the investigation. The investigation was launched at a politically sensitive time for the Kremlin, several days ahead of Chechnya's August 29 presidential elections when Russian authorities were eager to hide voting irregularities.
Because FSB agents had confiscated Bagrov's travel documents in the August 25 raid, he was unable to travel to Chechnya to report on the elections.
Bagrov has reported for the AP since 1999, writing numerous stories that included closely held casualty figures for Russian military and police forces in Chechnya, information that sometimes differed from the official figures provided by Russian officials.
Bagrov is also known for investigative reporting, including a February 10 story on the radicalization of Chechen rebels and a May 24 story on a wave of mysterious abductions in the southern republic of Ingushetia.
Bagrov has also reported for the Russian Service of the RFE/RL.
October 20, 2004
Posted: January 5, 2005
The Moscow Arbitration Court ruled that Kommersant, Russia’s leading independent business daily, must pay millions in damages for a July article that described long lines of customers withdrawing money at a major bank.
On July 7, 2004, Kommersant published an article titled “Banking crisis takes to the streets,” which described lines of customers making withdrawals at Alfa-Bank’s cash machines during the country’s banking woes last summer. The newspaper published the article a day after Alfa-Bank released a statement on difficulties in the Russian financial market, and two days after other newspapers had reported on financial problems at Alfa-Bank and other banks, local reports said. Alfa-Bank’s management filed a lawsuit against Kommersant claiming its article had hurt the financial market and drove citizens to make large withdrawals from the bank.
“Everything that was printed in the article was true, and Alfa-Bank’s managers know it,” Andrei Vasiliyev, director general of Kommersant Publishing House, told the Russian news agency Interfax in August. Kommersant published a chronology of events leading to the July 7 article, including information from a July 1 Alfa-Bank financial statement indicating an outflow of private deposits from the bank throughout June.
On October 20, 2004, the Moscow Arbitration Court ruled that by publishing the article, Kommersant had violated Article 39 of the Russian media law, which prohibits “falsifying information of public interest and disseminating rumors in the guise of valid statement,” and ordered the newspaper to pay approximately 320.5 million rubles (US$11.5 million) in damages to Alfa-Bank.
On December 27, 2004, a Moscow appeals court reduced the fine to approximately 300 million rubles (US$10.8 million), according to local press reports. Vasiliyev said the newspaper would appeal the decision to higher courts. News accounts described the ruling as unprecedented in its severity.
Russian press freedom activists criticized the ruling against Kommersant as politically motivated. Oleg Panfilov, director of the Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, called it “a political act,” Reuters reported. The Moscow-based Glasnost Defense Foundation characterized the ruling as an attempt to bankrupt the daily, according to the Moscow daily Izvetia (News).
Following the October 20 court verdict, Vasiliyev accused Alfa-Bank owner Mikhail Fridman of trying to bankrupt Kommersant because the newspaper’s owner, exiled tycoon and Kremlin critic Boris Berezovsky, previously refused to sell the publication to him, the English-language Moscow Times reported.
Alfa-Bank’s vice president, Aleksandr Gafin, disputed claims that Alfa-Bank had targeted the newspaper and said the October court decision would teach Russian media a lesson in social responsibility, the private radio station Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow) said.