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Friday, November 16, 2007

Novaya Gazeta Shuts Down in Samara

The Washington Post reports:

The newspaper Novaya Gazeta, one of the last outposts of critical journalism in Russia, suspended publication of its regional edition in the southern city of Samara on Monday after prosecutors opened a criminal case against its editor, alleging that his publication used unlicensed software. The case is part of a larger assault on independent news media, advocacy organizations and political activists, according to government critics. But it is one that is specifically tailored to deflect foreign criticism. In multiple police raids against such groups, authorities are ostensibly targeting the alleged use of counterfeit software. Western governments and companies have long urged action against the widespread piracy in Russia. "Our law enforcement finally realized that computers are very important tools for their opponents, and they have decided to take away these tools by doing something close to the West's agenda," said Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama research institute in Moscow. "I suppose you could say it's very clever."

In the past 10 months, police in at least five Russian cities have raided the offices of media outlets, political parties and private advocacy groups and seized computers allegedly containing illegal software, paralyzing the work of the organizations. Often, authorities demand that employees submit to questioning and order them not to leave town until legal action is completed. According to some estimates, the piracy rate for all kinds of intellectual property in Russia is as high as 80 percent. The International Intellectual Property Alliance, a U.S. coalition of rights holders, estimates that its members suffered piracy losses of $2 billion in Russia in 2006, according to a letter the coalition recently sent to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. The organization said that progress in enforcing intellectual property rights in Russia has been "insufficient."

Most of the Russian groups targeted by the authorities deny buying counterfeit software or say they used it only unwittingly. They charge that with authorities doing little to challenge the rampant piracy in Russia, including illicit production of disks in defense facilities and other agencies, the raids on their own offices amount to selective enforcement of the law. "This is not a campaign against piracy, it's a campaign against dissent," said Vitaly Yaroshevsky, a deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta in Moscow, who is in charge of the newspaper's regional editions. "The authorities want to destroy an opposition newspaper. It doesn't matter if we send more computers to Samara. It doesn't matter if we show we bought computers legally. It will change nothing." The paper says it believes its software is legal. Russian officials declined to comment on the piracy cases Tuesday, but police and prosecutors had previously told Russian news media that the raids are simply part of a broader crackdown on illegal software and other forms of piracy.

Police have raided businesses that play no political role, but without the sustained effort directed toward groups that are critical of the Kremlin. "It's cynical, but it's also very difficult for us to say anything," said one Western observer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly on the subject. Most of those accused of using unlicensed software appear to have some connection, sometimes quite tentative, to the opposition coalition called Other Russia, which is led by Garry Kasparov, the chess grandmaster and fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin.

Police in Samara, for instance, first raided Golos, a private group that monitors elections, in May, just before Kasparov's organization held what it called the March of Dissent to coincide with a Russian-European Union summit in the city. Ludmila Kuzmina, the head of Golos, said police showed up in her office 90 minutes after she made a statement on the Echo Moskvy radio station saying that she supported the march. Police seized the group's computers and opened an investigation into the alleged use of unlicensed software. Kuzmina had to sign documents agreeing not to leave the city until the investigation, which is still continuing, is completed. "The quality of our work is suffering," Kuzmina said. "I am under pressure all the time. They call me for interrogations. All I do is deal with the police."

Also in May, police in the city of Tula seized a computer at the offices of one of Kasparov's coalition partners at the time, former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov. Private groups and a Novaya Gazeta office in the central Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod were also raided and accused of using illegal software before a March of Dissent in that city in August. Advocacy groups have been accused of the offense in the cities of Volgograd and Syktyvkar, according to Pavel Chikov, head of Agora, a coalition of Russian private groups. "They have suddenly decided it's a great tactic," Chikov said. "They can stop all the activities of a group at a key moment, before a march or during the election period." Last month, police in Samara raided another news media organization, the Internet outlet, which had a reputation for reporting that was critical of the government. Five desktop and two notebook computers were taken for "expert evaluation," said.

The offices of the Samara Novaya Gazeta, a weekly, were first raided by Interior Ministry investigators before Kasparov's rally in May. Police seized financial documents, as well as computers. The paper was one of the few media outlets that had planned to cover the march, according to its editor in chief in Samara, Sergey Kurt-Adzhiyev. Moreover, the editor said, his daughter, Anastasia, 21, was one of the local organizers of the march. The paper had continued to publish since May but Kurt-Adzhiyev said that in the past two months, investigators also began pressuring its distributors and advertisers. Last Thursday, police seized the last of the newspaper's computers in Samara. "They visited all organizations and companies with which I work and told them to terminate all cooperation," said Kurt-Adzhiyev, 50, who is now barred from leaving Samara. "They told them if they didn't agree, they would have problems. I even lost my own personal computer. It became impossible for us to go on." Kurt-Adzhiyev said the paper would now attempt to sell its Moscow edition in Samara, but he said he worried that local newsstands would be reluctant to carry it.

Meanwhile, according to Tatyana Lokshina, head of Demos, a Moscow-based human rights group, activist groups across the country are hastily checking the legality of their software. "Most people are trying to put things in order," she said.


Anonymous said...

It's good to see that Russia is beginning to effectively enforce copyright and intellectual property laws, which the United States has been pestering Russia to do for years. Most of the Russian state agencies and other legitimate and respectable Russian organizations use only legally licensed software products, of course, but many of these rogue "opposition" outfits are true software pirates, who have stolen millions of dollars worth of revenues from the rightful copyright owners. It was high time for a crackdown on these pirates who think they can operate above the law... Just a word of caution for the evildoers out there: don't do the crime if you cannot do the time! Russian law enforcement will smoke you out, cut you off at the pass, and bring you to justice!

La Russophobe said...


Interesting. You have no basis whatsoever to believe that NG is guilty of any copyright infringement, nor do you have any statistical basis to believe that copyright enforcement is increasing in effectiveness, as opposed to selective prosecution for ulterior motives.

Yet you offer pro-Kremlin conclusions. In other words, you're a propagandist.

We wonder: Will you have the same attitude when your own friends and family get arrested? Will it, indeed, be you who turns them in?

Anonymous said...

Meanwhile, according to Tatyana Lokshina, head of Demos, a Moscow-based human rights group, activist groups across the country are hastily checking the legality of their software. "Most people are trying to put things in order," she said.

"Most people"? So something is out of order in these groups then?

You have no basis whatsoever to believe that NG is guilty of any copyright infringement...

My basis comes from the original story posted above "...prosecutors opened a criminal case against [the editor of Novaya Gazeta], alleging that his publication used unlicensed software." Rather, there is "no basis" for the assertion that follows: "The case is part of a larger assault on independent news media, advocacy organizations and political activists, according to government critics."

When police, law enforcement and prosecutors open a criminal case there most certainly is a basis to believe those accused might be guilty of the charges. While it is true that everyone deserves a fair trial, and is innocent until proven guilty, there most certainly is a basis for believing that they just might be guilty of the crimes they are charged with, unless we assume that Russian prosecutors go around charging people for crimes willy-nilly with no basis for such charges.

What lacks a basis is the charge that this clampdown (on illegal software) is somehow motivated for political reasons, or that it is only directed against the opposition of the current president of Russia. If Russian law enforcement puts a net in the water, then they have to take whatever fish come up in that net. Honest prosecutors are bound to follow the trail wherever it leads. Opposition groups should not be singled out for selective enforcement, but neither can they be granted a license to break the law.

I suppose if a member of the opposition gets a parking ticket they will claim the only reason for it is because they are the opposition. But the fact still remains they parked illegally or they didn't.

When we speak about a publication such as a newspaper, we should be aware that such an organization is likely to use a lot of commercial software, other than the run-of-the-mill PC software. They will use software for typesetting, composition and layout, and other publishing-related purposes. This alone would make a publication such as NG more likely than the average person to use illegal software and more likely to get caught doing it, given the recent US-driven crackdown on piracy in Russia.

Again, I will come back to the fact that the people at NG are either guilty or not guilty of the offense they are charged with, and if they are truly innocent they should have no reason for concern. But I don't think you or anyone is even claiming they are innocent. Rather the only claims I am hearing are that this "must be" political persecution, simply because NG often publishes opposition views. But lacking any evidence of this we are not allowed to jump to this conclusion. If we think that way then we must concluding that any person or organization which is part of the opposition can thereby claim immunity from the law. This would open the door to organized criminals using "opposition" groups as fronts for their criminal activities, simply for the immunity from prosecution that it would afford them.

We wonder: Will you have the same attitude when your own friends and family get arrested?

I would hope that no member of my family would break the law. We are talking about criminal charges for using illegal software, not the Gulag. Those who have been charged will get their day in court and a chance to prove their innocence. A fair court will not even allow the political views of the paper to be brought up during trial as such views are not relevant to the charges, either to be used for or against the defendants. The only task for the court is to determine whether they did or did not commit the criminal offenses they are charged with.

It’s ironic when the US Congressman who sponsors anti-gay legislation himself gets caught up in gay activity. Likewise it is also ironic when the US pushes for expanded copyright enforcement in Russia and groups that we might assume the US is sympathetic towards are then caught using illegal software. But are we allowed to assume the US is sympathetic toward any political groups in Russia? My opinion is that it is bad policy for a government to interfere or take sides in foreign politics, because it will hinder future relations if things don’t turn out in the desired way. It would be equally bad if the Russian government, for example, expressed an opinion that they would rather see the Democratic or Republican candidate win a US election. If the other party wins then that already makes that party an opponent of Russia right out of the starting gate. Russia would have reduced itself to scrapping in foreign political fights, and Russia would then lose its ability to deal with whatever government the American people elected. There have been allegations against the current Russian administration that it has engaged in certain anti-democratic practices. But we have no basis to assume that the Russian opposition, should it find itself in power, would behave any better or more democratically. We can see in the case of Georgia, where the new bosses are using the same authoritarian methods that the old bosses used, and even worse, that “opposition” does not automatically mean “democrat”.

No one bothers to deny that Russia's current president Vladimir Putin is wildly popular among the Russian people. They don't bother to deny it because the source of that information is polling, done in Russia both by Russian and western polling organizations (which have been free to operate in Russia for years). Such polls consistently show that Putin is popular with 70-80 percent of Russians. Given such strong support there is no reason why anyone could possibly presume that the outcome of the next election will result in something other than a victory for Putin's party. If the US interferes in Russia's internal politics, and casts its lot in with one of the fractured "opposition" parties, then this is bound to damage US-Russian relations. It would essentially be the same as if Russia was to openly support Ralph Nader or the Labor-Farm Party in the US presidential election. Once people could bring themselves to stop laughing they would realize that this was something Russia ought not to have involved itself in.

I've made the argument for why the US ought not to openly support any political group in Russia or a foreign country. Of course the US realizes that, and it does not openly engage in interfering in the politics of foreign countries. However it does engage in covert interference, through its intelligence agencies, and a variety of western "non governmental organizations", which in reality derive their funding and direction from US intelligence. This has lead to the series of "color revolutions" that we've seen in Ukraine, Georgia, and that we've seen attempted in Russia and the Central Asian republics. But this is only all the more reason for Russia to not let down its guard and to protect its infant democratic institutions from such foreign interference and subversion. The Russian leader who can safely navigate Russia's new democracy through such treacherous shark-infested waters and keep Russia free is for that reason a hero and a patriot. President Putin is Russia's George Washington, and that is why the Russian people love and admire him so.

Anonymous said...

> unless we assume that Russian prosecutors go around charging people for crimes willy-nilly with no basis for such charges

There is no need to assume this: it is a well-known fact that only a pathetic Russian imitation of Dr. Goebbels would deny after the glorious Khodorkovsky case.