July 31, 2006
Posted: August 25, 2006
Fakt i Kompromat
HARASSED, LEGAL ACTION
Seven federal prison guards filed a civil defamation suit against the weekly opposition newspaper Fakt i Kompromat in the southern Russian city of Astrakhan. The paper recently published two articles titled, “Who manages the prisons and jails of Astrakhan?” and “The truth about Astrakhan prisons and their leaders,” Fakt i Kompromat editor-in-chief and co-founder Gleb Ivanov told CPJ.
According to local press reports, these articles exposed corruption and financial crimes committed by correction officers as well as guard abuse of prisoners and other human rights violations.
After the articles were published, the Astrakhan Prosecutor’s Office conducted its own investigation, which confirmed many of the facts presented in the articles, local press reported.
In retaliation for these articles, the leaders of the Federal Correction Service in Astrakhan filed a criminal defamation suit against paper’s staff, according to local press reports.
When the prosecutor’s office rejected the criminal case against the paper’s staff, the plaintiffs filed a civil defamation suit against the newspaper, which the prosecutors accepted. The plaintiffs are seeking 3.5 million rubles (US$130,000) in damages, Ivanov told CPJ.
Ivanov also told CPJ that he doubts the paper will be judged fairly as the vice-chairperson of the Astrakhan Regional Court, where the case will be tried, is the wife of one of the plaintiffs.
Two other civil cases have been filed against the newspaper.
In 2005, Zhanna Batashova, director of a local department store, won a civil suit against the paper and was awarded 30,000 rubles (US$1,125.) The editors are appealing the decision. Batashova filed the suit after the paper published a critical analysis of the store’s financial management, staff members told CPJ.
Tagir Abitov, a former corrections manager, filed a civil suit against the paper after it published articles criticizing prison management. He said he lost his job after the paper’s publication. The court awarded him 60,000 (US$2,250) rubles in December 2004. The paper appealed the decision in May 2005. This appeal has not been considered yet.
Ivanov told CPJ that the authorities have been trying to shut down the paper for some time. Since the paper’s first issue on December 10, 2002, public officials have filed 13 civil defamation lawsuits against it. Of the 13, six cases were granted and the paper was forced to pay fines, five were rejected, and two were withdrawn by the plaintiffs. Ivanov told CPJ that Mrs. Senektutova, the widow of former deputy mayor of security Stanislav Senektutov, withdrew the claim that the paper defamed her late husband, after she realized the officials were using her case for political goals. In the other instance, Dr. Viktor Yushkov, head of the oncology hospital in Astrakhan, withdrew his claim of slander after he and Ivanov reached a peaceful resolution.
Local government officials have also tried to fine the paper for tax evasion. Tax officials require Terskov to pay 70,000 rubles (US$ 2,614) in unpaid tax. Maksim Terskov, co-founder of the paper, denied the debt and said he was being punished for the paper’s critical reporting, local press reported. Terskov filed a counter-claim to this case on October 18, 2005, but on June 6, 2006 the court dismissed this appeal.