The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press; however, 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 declined to cover 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 criticized 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 and print 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 May 30, a court in Cheboksary found activist Dmitriy Karuyev guilty of hooliganism for spitting on a portrait of President Putin during a solitary May 6 protest of the presidential inauguration. He was jailed for 15 days.
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 or by progovernment oligarchs.
In the period preceding the March 4 presidential elections, international observers criticized the unequal access to the media, particularly television, for candidates in elections; these critics noted that, as in previous elections, presidential candidate and then prime minister Putin 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 media regulations. The Press Ministry of the Moscow region, according to Glasnost Defense Fund and odintsovo.info, sent messages to journalists covering pro-Putin rallies to instruct them to show the general goodwill atmosphere of the gathering and to report that citizens came voluntarily.
Violence and Harassment: On December 5, a television news anchor for state-run Vesti KBR, Kazbek Gekkiyev, was killed with a shot to the head in the North Caucasus republic of Kabardino-Balkaria. The Investigative Committee reported that the killers wanted to warn other journalists not to report on fighting between authorities and rebels. At the end of December, investigators named two suspects. In June Investigative Committee head Aleksandr Bastrykin informed the press that the perpetrator of the 2009 killing of journalist Natalia Estemirova was believed to be hiding in Belgium. Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin also said that Estemirova’s case had been transferred from investigator Colonel Igor Sobol, who had been in charge of the investigation from the beginning, to a new investigator due to the former’s “excessive workload.” The case remained unsolved at year’s end.
On December 14, the former police colonel and head of surveillance at Moscow’s main Internal Affairs Directorate, Dmitriy Pavlyuchenkov, was found guilty of organizing the 2006 murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya by tracking her movements and providing a gun to the killer. He was ordered to pay three million rubles ($98,814) to Politkovskaya’s family and was sentenced to 11 years in prison as part of a plea bargain in which he named five other suspects to be tried separately at a later date. The named suspects included Lom-Ali Gaitukayev, who allegedly organized Politkovskaya’s killing by hiring a criminal gang of three brothers--Rustam, Ibragim and Dzhabrail Makhmudov--and former police officer Sergey Khadzhikurbanov, who allegedly provided logistical support for the killing. The identity of the person who ordered Politkovskaya’s killing remained unknown, and human rights activists expressed doubt about the thoroughness of the investigation.
There was no new information regarding investigations into the 2004 killing of journalist Paul Klebnikov.
Glasnost Defense Fund reported 94 attacks on journalists during the year, four attacks on media offices, and 153 detentions by law enforcement.
In June Novaya Gazeta’s deputy editor Sergey Sokolov reported that Investigation Committee head Bastrykin took him to a secluded forested area and threatened to kill him due to his inquiries into the committee’s investigations. The International Federation of Journalists, the European Federation of Journalists, and the Russian Union of Journalists called for an investigation. On the day following Sokolov’s report, Bastrykin offered a public apology to Sokolov and to Novaya Gazeta, characterizing his own behavior in the incident as an “emotional breakdown.”
On April 5, Novaya Gazeta journalist Yelena Milashina, well known for her investigations of human rights abuses in the North Caucasus and her reporting on corruption in the Federal Narcotics Control Agency, was attacked by unknown assailants near her home in Moscow. She was kicked and punched in the head; the beating resulted in hematomas, a lost tooth, and a concussion. Although two suspects were arrested following a delayed investigation, Milashina and another eyewitness maintained the subjects arrested were not the perpetrators.
On May 12, the Petrozavodsk City Court charged blogger and activist Maxim Yefimov with inciting hatred against the Russian Orthodox Church after he criticized Russian Orthodox priests on his blog. The city court ordered he be placed in a hospital for mentally disabled persons. The Karelia Supreme Court subsequently overturned the city court’s decision to force a psychiatric evaluation. Yefimov fled the country and remained wanted on charges of inciting hatred at year’s end.
In May 105 deputies of the State Duma, drawn from all the main parties, supported a motion calling on the Investigative Committee to display greater vigor in its pursuit of those behind the 2011 killing of a prominent Dagestani journalist and public figure, Khadzhimurad Kamalov. At year’s end no arrests had been made in the case.
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 1,589 items as of December 31.
By law authorities have the right to close any organization that a court determines to be extremist, including media outlets. The organization in question cannot challenge the court’s decision. The Federal Service for Oversight of Communication and Information Technology (Roskomnadzor) routinely issued warnings to newspapers and Internet sources suspected of publishing extremist materials. Two warnings in one year were enough to file a closure lawsuit. Human rights groups reported the real impact of this practice was hidden because journalists and editors, although never prosecuted directly, tended to self-censor their articles. During the year the antiextremism law was used to censor the free expression of opinion by the political opposition, independent media outlets, and religious minorities and to intimidate these entities into self-censorship.
On December 6, a court in Nizhniy Novgorod held a hearing to ban a book by Stanislav Dmitriyevskiy, head of the human rights organization Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, that asserted top Russian officials should be held accountable for war crimes in Chechnya. Human Rights Watch’s Hugh Williamson said efforts to ban the book have no basis in international human rights law and appeared aimed at punishing Dmitriyevskiy for his human rights work.
Officials or unidentified individuals sometimes used force or took other extralegal measures to prevent the circulation of publications critical of government officials. The Glasnost Defense Foundation (GDF) reported that there were 23 attempts by officials to seize or prevent distribution of publications. There were multiple reports authorities prevented the distribution of independent and opposition publications and leaflets before the elections. On January 25, in Ufa, police seized the entire print run of the opposition newspaper, The Voice of Ufa. Police said the materials were insulting to presidential candidate Putin and sent the material to linguistic experts to evaluate whether the content was extremist. In February authorities in the city of Pervouralsk temporarily forbade the sale of independent newspapers Novaya Yezhenedelnaya Gazeta and Vecherny Pervouralsk Svobodny without official explanation. Editors believed the ban was related to their unflattering coverage of President Putin.
Government officials often influenced content on television, sometimes insisting that certain opposition figures not appear in television programs. There were regular meetings between government officials responsible for communications strategy and the heads of state-run television channels to review past television coverage and decide on future coverage of political and social issues.
During the year the government took new steps to directly or indirectly control the editorial boards of major media outlets. On February 14, Gazprom-Media demanded the early resignation of the Ekho Moskvy radio board of directors and a change in the board’s composition. The changes came after then prime minister Putin publicly criticized Ekho Moskvy editor in chief Aleksey Venediktov for “pouring diarrhea on my head from morning until night.”
The GDF reported there were 46 attempts to censor the media during the year, compared with 52 in 2011. On February 6, on the First Channel’s weekly live talk show Pozner, host Vladimir Pozner interviewed Russian television personality Tina Kandelaki. Their discussion on whether or not Pozner would be allowed to interview opposition leader Aleksey Navalny was watched by viewers in the far eastern part the country, eight time zones ahead of Moscow. However, viewers in European Russia were shown a shortened version of the interview that excluded the conversation about Navalny.
Libel Laws/National Security: Officials at all levels used their authority, sometimes publicly, to restrict the work of journalists who criticized them, including taking legal action for alleged slander or libel.
On July 13, the Duma passed a law recriminalizing and increasing the sanctions for libel, which had been decriminalized in 2011. The new law allows for imprisonment for up to five years and a fine for moral damages up to 500,000 rubles ($16,469) for defamation.
On April 3, a Kemerovo court convicted blogger Dmitri Shipilov of “insulting a state official in public” and sentenced him to 11 months of community service, with 10 percent of his earnings garnished. Shipilov wrote two blog posts in November 2011 that lampooned the region’s governor, Aman Tuleyev.
In November a law that broadens the definition of high treason came into effect. Under the law anyone possessing information deemed secret can be jailed for 20 years, even if the information was not passed into foreign hands. The previous law defined high treason as espionage or other assistance to a foreign state damaging to the country’s external security. The new legislation broadens the definition of assistance to include financial, material, and technical assistance and excludes the word “external.”
Publishing Restrictions: According to the GDF and other NGOs, authorities used the media’s widespread dependence on the government for access to property, 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, and distribution services and that many television stations were forced to rely on the government 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 pressure private media rivals.
The Internet and radio were more free and independent than print media and television. Despite increasing attempts by the government to monitor and control the Internet, it remained a space for free expression. Threats to Internet freedom included physical attacks on bloggers; politically motivated prosecutions of bloggers for “extremism,” libel, or other crimes; blocking of specific sites by national and local service providers; distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on sites of opposition groups or independent media; and attempts by security services and some regional authorities to regulate content. The Internet was widely available to citizens in all parts of the country, although connection speeds varied by region. According to Internet World Stats, 44.3 percent of the population had Internet access.
On July 31, a law went into effect that creates a new federal blacklist of Internet sites. The law’s stated aim is to protect children from offensive information on the Internet. Under the law the state mass communications watchdog agency Roskomnadzor requires Internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to Web pages that the agency finds offensive. This includes information that is already prohibited, such as items on the Federal List of Extremist Materials, but also holds blog owners responsible for the content in the comments section of their pages. The Pirate Party of Russia, an unofficial political party that monitored the blacklist, reported that 96 percent of the blocked sites (approximately 2,200) did not have illegal content.
In many regions, including Stavropol, Khabarovsk, Rostov, Ulan-Ude, St. Petersburg, Astrakhan, Saratov, and Omsk, local prosecutors’ offices and courts ordered ISPs to block content on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. During the year select bloggers were prosecuted for content they published online. Maxim Yefimov was charged with extremism after publishing an article on his blog in December 2011 entitled “Russia is Tired of Priests,” which sharply criticized the Russian Orthodox Church. During the investigation authorities demanded that Yefimov submit to psychiatric evaluation. Fearing forced psychiatric incarceration, Yefimov left the country, after which the government added him to the Interpol wanted list on July 31.
On July 23, the Leninskiy District Court in Ufa, Bashkortostan, concluded extremism and ethnicity-based hatred proceedings against five Ufa opposition bloggers. The accused, whose posts dating back to 2008 criticized the regime of the former president of Bashkortostan, Murtaza Rakhimov, received suspended sentences of one to four years. They denied the accusations and appealed the judgment. Bashkortostan opposition leaders believed the case to be politically motivated.
In the period surrounding the March presidential elections and President Putin’s inauguration, independent media and civil society groups experienced severe DDoS attacks on their sites that impaired the public’s ability to obtain and share information about important political developments, such as demonstrations. Sites that were repeatedly targeted included the radio station Ekho Moskvy, the newspapers Novaya Gazeta and Kommersant, independent election monitoring organization Golos, the Internet television station Dozhd, and live-event broadcaster UStream.
During the October 19-21 online election for the Opposition Coordination Council, DDoS attacks prevented persons from voting. The extent of the attacks caused organizers to extend the voting period.
The government continued to employ a “system for operational investigative measures,” which requires ISPs to install, at their own expense, a device that routes all customer traffic to an FSB terminal. The system enables police to track private e-mail communications, identify Internet users, and monitor their Internet activity.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
The government generally did not restrict academic freedom. However, there were reports of pressure on teachers, academics, scholars, and students.
In June a St. Petersburg court sentenced two professors at the State Military Mechanical University, Svyatoslav Bobyshev and Yevgeny Afanayev, for treason and espionage. The pair lectured at a university in China in 2009 and were accused of passing classified information and state secrets to Chinese security forces. Human rights groups maintained that the scientists were denied due process of law.