The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press; however, in practice government pressure on some media constrained coverage of certain controversial issues, resulting in numerous infringements of these rights.
While the government generally respected citizens’ right to freedom of speech, state-controlled media frequently ignored critical voices with regard to the conduct of federal forces in the North Caucasus, human rights, high-level corruption, and opposition political views. Some regional and local authorities took advantage of procedural violations and vague legislation to detain persons who expressed views critical of the government.
In other cases the government used direct ownership, or ownership by large private companies with government links, to control or influence major national media and regional media outlets, especially television. There were reports of self-censorship in the television media, particularly on issues critical of the government.
Freedom of Speech: The government on several occasions restricted the ability of individuals to criticize the government publicly or privately or discuss matters of general public interest without reprisal. For example, on August 11, the GDF reported that Bui-TV, a private television/radio network in Kostroma Oblast, had been subjected to pressure through frequent inspections, confiscation of equipment, and anonymous phone threats. Journalists at Bui-TV linked this pressure campaign to their professional activities and saw it as municipal authorities’ reaction to criticism.
Freedom of Press: More than 60 percent of the country’s 45,000 registered local newspapers and periodicals were owned directly by the government or by state-owned/state-controlled companies. Approximately 66 percent of the 2,500 television stations, including all six national news channels, were completely or partially owned by the federal and local governments.
In the period preceding the December 4 Duma elections, international observers criticized the unbalanced access to the media, particularly television, for candidates in elections, noting that, as in previous elections, candidates from the ruling party, United Russia, received favored media access. Observers also noted press freedom abuses, including harassment of media outlets, lack of equal access to information, and arbitrary application of rules. Media coverage of major political protests after the December 4 elections were largely covered by the major state-run television stations in a more balanced manner, with many of the protesters given air time to criticize the conduct and integrity of the elections and the government.
On October 31, the Communist Party criticized state television channels for not providing equal airtime, as mandated by election law, to all political parties competing in the Duma elections. A letter sent to the chief executives of three Russian state channels, Channel One, NTV, and Rossiya, did not garner a public response. This came after the Central Election Commission agreed on July 15 to compensate political parties currently holding seats in the parliament for air time that they did not receive in the previous election.
Violence and Harassment: There were conflicting reports on the numbers of journalists killed and attacked during the year. According to the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, four journalists were killed, while the GDF and Kommersant Vlast magazine both reported that six journalists were killed. The GDF also reported that, since the beginning of the year, there had been 39 attacks on journalists, while Kommersant Vlast reported 81 attacks on media representatives and four on media offices, compared with 58 and eight, respectively, in 2010. In November Pavel Gusev, chairman of the Public Chamber’s Committee on Information Policy, reported that 150 journalists were attacked since January. NGOs supporting independent media characterized beatings of journalists by unknown assailants as “routine,” noting that those who pursued investigative stories on corruption and organized crime found themselves at greatest risk. A joint report released in April by the Russian Union of Journalists and the International Federation of Journalists noted a downward trend in the number of journalists murdered in recent years, while the number of attacks increased. The report also described a climate of impunity for those who attack journalists, since very few of these crimes were solved.
On December 14, Khadzhimurad Kamalov, founder of the Dagestani newspaper Chernovik, was shot 14 times and killed outside his office in Makhachkala by a masked man who escaped in a waiting car. Kamalov was critical of security services’ abuses in Dagestan and was working to expose corruption in the republic. In 2009 he had been placed on a “death list” that was distributed throughout Makhachkala. Police opened an investigation into his killing.
On September 9, Memorial and the family of former investigative journalist Nataliya Estemirova, who was abducted and killed in 2009, filed a joint complaint with the ECHR stating that, official pronouncements notwithstanding, neither prosecutors nor investigators had given them any reason to believe that Estemirova’s murder had been solved. On February 26 and September 15, the lead investigator in case announced that authorities knew who killed her and had DNA evidence but were unable to make an arrest. At the time she was killed, Estemirova was working on a documentary on the government’s alleged arson campaign in Chechnya.
On May 31, Rustam Makhmudov, the suspected hit man in the 2006 killing of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, was arrested. He was awaiting trial in Moscow. On August 23, Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov, a former chief of the fourth division of the Moscow City Police Operational Search Department, was arrested and charged with arranging the contract killing of Politkovskaya. According to Novaya Gazeta, Pavlyuchenkov previously was a “secret witness” for the prosecution and was therefore questioned in a “secret procedure.” On September 2, Sergey Khadzhikurbanov, a former police officer with the Moscow Directorate for Combating Organized Crime, was arrested in connection with the killing. On September 3, Lom-Ali Gaytukaev of Chechnya was named as the potential mastermind of Politkovskaya’s killing by Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the Investigative Committee. On October 28, Gaytukaev was charged as an accessory to murder for his role in the killing. Human rights groups contended, however, that the government took no steps to find and prosecute the person who ultimately ordered the killing of Politkovskaya.
There was no new information regarding investigations into the 2004 murder of journalist Paul Klebnikov.
On May 11, the Zamoskvoretskiy Court in Moscow refused to file criminal charges in the beating of Gazeta.ru journalist Aleksandr Artemev, whose arm was allegedly broken by a policeman at a May 2010 rally organized by the “Strategy 31” freedom of assembly movement.
On December 22, the Altai Republic’s Supreme Court reportedly upheld the acquittal of Sergey Mikhaylov on 2010 charges of instigating interethnic strife and insulting a government official and cancelled Mikhaylov’s criminal conviction of libel for defaming Governor Alexander Berdnikov. However, the court upheld Berdnikov’s civil claim and ordered Mikhaylov to pay Berdnikov 200,000 rubles (approximately $6,200) in moral damages.
There was no new information regarding investigations into the 2010 beating of journalist Arkadiy Lander. No arrests were made in the 2010 beating of journalist Oleg Kashin.
On November 17, parliament passed a law establishing sentencing guidelines of six years in prison or five years of forced labor for threats and violence against journalists. Human rights groups welcomed the legislation.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government continued to use legislation and decrees to curtail media freedom. The law provides an expansive definition of extremism and gives law enforcement officials broad authority to suspend media outlets that do not comply with the law’s restrictions. The Ministry of Justice continued to expand its list of “extremist” materials to include more than 1,000 items, up from 700 in 2010. Among the items on the list are the following: a picture of Winnie the Pooh wearing a swastika; a flag with a cross; the Web site Samizdat, which was similar to Wikipedia and had more than 500,000 subscribers; and literature of peaceful religious groups, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
By law authorities have the right to close any organization, including media outlets, that a court determines to be “extremist.” The organization in question cannot challenge the court’s decision.
Officials or unidentified individuals sometimes used force or took other extralegal measures to prevent the circulation of publications critical of government officials. The GDF reported that there were 50 attempts by officials to seize or prevent distribution of publications, compared with 23 in 2010. On July 14, approximately 90 percent of the July 4 issues of Kommersant Vlast magazine were removed from newsstands in St. Petersburg, reportedly following an unofficial order from city government officials upset over unfavorable coverage of then governor Valentina Matviyenko. No copies of the magazine were removed from newsstands elsewhere. The St. Petersburg Human Rights Council issued a statement asking the city prosecutor’s office to investigate.
On August 2, the entire print production (40,000 copies) of Izvestia Kaliningrada was seized by the Road Safety Inspection Agency and the Regional Center for Combating Extremism. The head of the Regional Center for Combating Extremism, Aleksander Shelyakov, stated that he acted because he had received a tip that the publication contained extremist information. That particular issue of Izvestia Kaliningrada, published on the eve of President Medvedev’s visit to Kaliningrad, contained an open letter to Medvedev calling for the regional government’s removal on the grounds that several of its members were implicated in corruption. Reporters Without Borders considered the confiscation of the print run to be an attempt by regional leaders to silence the media.
The federal government also took measures to censor opposition parties. After the St. Petersburg municipal elections in July, the government either bought up or prevented the distribution of several editions of newspapers that included critical comments on the conduct of the elections.
Government officials often influenced content on television, insisting that certain opposition figures, for example, not be shown. There were regular meetings between government officials responsible for communications strategy and the heads of state-run television to review past television coverage and decide on future television coverage of most political and social issues. The GDF reported there were 52 attempts to censor the media during the year, compared with 29 in 2010.
On October 30, NTV planned to broadcast a story about abductions in Chechnya, including the work of human rights defenders in the Islam Umarpashayev case; however, the piece was taken off the air after it was shown in the Far East and the Urals and replaced by 10 minutes of commercials. A television interview with anticorruption blogger Aleksey Navalniy was not allowed to be shown in the summer after reported intervention by a number of officials, although a later critical interview was permitted in November.
Libel Laws/National Security: Officials at all levels used their authority, sometimes publicly, to restrict the effectiveness of journalists who criticized them, including taking legal action for alleged slander or libel.
On November 22, parliament passed a law decriminalizing libel, although at year’s end President Medvedev had yet to sign the bill into law.
On June 14, authorities acquitted Oleg Orlov, head of Memorial, of slander charges. Orlov was on trial for accusing Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov of complicity in the 2009 killing of human rights activist and journalist Natalya Estemirova. Human rights advocates and international observers criticized the prosecution of Orlov as an infringement of free speech. On June 24, Kadyrov appealed the decision; on August 8, Judge Andrey Lutov began hearings on the appeal in the Khamovniki District Court of Moscow, and the case remained pending at year’s end.
On June 21, Judge Igor Kananovich of Moscow’s Khamovniki Court acquitted Oleg Kashin of defamation against Nashi founder and head of the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs, Vassily Yakemenko. On June 22, Yakemenko filed an appeal with the Khamovniki District Court in Moscow. Yakemenko’s appeal of the acquittal failed on technical grounds.
Publishing Restrictions: According to the GDF and other NGOs, authorities used the media’s widespread dependence on the government for transmission facilities, access to property, and printing and distribution services to discourage critical reporting. They reported that approximately 90 percent of print media organizations relied on state-controlled entities for paper, printing, or distribution services, and many television stations were forced to rely on the government (in particular, regional state property management committees) for access to the airwaves and office space. The GDF also reported that officials continued to manipulate the price of printing at state-controlled publishing houses to apply pressure on private media rivals.
According to the GDF and other NGOs, authorities continued to engage in selective investigations into intellectual property rights violations (i.e., use of pirated software) to confiscate computers and pressure opposition media across the country.