Russia: Local government harasses Vladivostok radio station for airing reports on corruption

September 3, 1999

His Excellency Boris Yeltsin
President of the Russian Federation
Via Fax: 011 7 095 206 5173; 206 6277

Your Excellency,

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply troubled by a recent series of attacks against correspondents from Radio Lemma in Vladivostok, as well as by efforts on the part of regional and municipal authorities to shut down the popular independent radio station.

The attacks started shortly after Radio Lemma began broadcasting investigative reports about Vostoktranslot, the largest refrigerated shipping line in the region. The attacks began on June 29, when three unidentified men assaulted Yuri Stepanov, a Radio Lemma correspondent, near his apartment building. Stepanov was attacked soon after airing his third interview with the company’s former director, Anatoly Milashevich, who accused the regional governor, Yevgeniy Nazdratenko, of sacking him after he refused to donate $2 million to his campaign fund.

Stepanov was walking home at 10:30 p.m. when he was ambushed by the three individuals, who jumped out of a mini-van and began beating him. After he fell to the ground, one of the men kicked him in the chest and stomach, and tried to drag him into the vehicle. Stepanov managed to escape. He was hospitalized briefly, and spent nearly a month recuperating from injuries that included three broken ribs and a cracked skull.

Local authorities have charged Milashevich himself with mishandling the company’s finances as its manager. Station managers told CPJ that only days before Stepanov’s assault, Vladivostok Mayor Yuriy Kopylev ordered Radio Lemma to stop broadcasting interviews with opponents of the local administration. Valeriy Moravyov, the station’s general director, told CPJ that he believes the attacks are part of an effort to silence Radio Lemma. The station is one of the few independent media in the Primorye region, where fear of retaliation has prompted many media outlets to seek prior approval from local officials before running controversial reports.

The attack on Stepanov is part of a clear pattern of attacks and harassment against Radio Lemma. Other recent incidents include:

  • On July 6, two unidentified men forced station director Valeriy Moravyov’s 20-year old daughter into a car while she was walking to work. The two men ordered her to tell her father to “mind his own business,” then released her. The young woman filed a complaint with the local police. Five days later, she received an anonymous phone call at work ordering her to withdraw her complaint, which she refused to do. The police then closed the case themselves, claiming they lacked sufficient evidence to pursue it any further.
  • On July 15, a local building management company shut off the electricity at Radio Lemma’s city-owned studios. Citing unpaid bills, the company ordered all staff to vacate the premises by the end of August. Although power was restored after station managers provided proof that they had paid all the bills, the eviction notice still stood at the end of August.
  • On August 31, the regional commission for the Federal TV and Radio Service (FSRT) issued a formal warning to Radio Lemma that its broadcast license would be revoked if it failed to broadcast 24 hours a day, as specified in the license agreement. The station is on the air daily from 7 a.m. until midnight. Station managers say the agreement does not in fact specify that they must broadcast around the clock. A second warning automatically leads to revocation of the license.
    As a nonpartisan organization of journalists devoted to defending press freedom around the world, CPJ condemns the ongoing campaign of physical attacks, threats and intimidation against Radio Lemma and its staff, who are guilty of nothing more than practicing their profession. These attempts to silence Radio Lemma violate all of Russia’s international obligations to guarantee press freedom. We call on you to investigate these incidents and to punish those responsible. We urge you to use your influence to halt reprisals against Radio Lemma and to guarantee the right of its journalists to practice their profession freely and safely.


    Ann K. Cooper
    Executive Director

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    His Excellency Boris Yeltsin
    President of the Russian Federation
    Via Fax: 011 7 095 206 5173; 206 6277