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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Annals of the Neo-Soviet Crackdown on Journalism

Here are two shocking reports from the blogosphere regarding the neo-Soviet repression of journalists in Vladimir Putin's Russia:

Part I:
Other Russia on
Anastasia Samotorova

“Now I just want to rest. I’m not finding the fighter’s qualities within myself to go toward a conflict, and I can’t work under such conditions.” Such were the words of Anastasia Samotorova, a journalist commenting on her dismissal from the RBC (RosBusinessConsulting) Daily newspaper. She wrote a notice of resignation of her own hand, although the editorial management was responsible for pushing her out.

“The pressure comes not from the bureaucracy, but from the editorial leadership,” Samotorova noted. “The bureaucrats shut themselves off from the press as expected. But editorial offices are increasing their self-censorship.”

According to the journalist, the paper worked out a special list of “heightened demands” for her. Her department head, Yekaterina Vykhukholeva, told Samotorova, “either you write a notice of resignation of your own free will, of we’ll make conditions unbearable for you.”

“This was especially hurtful, since we’re friends, and we worked together in the past at Profil,” Samotorova said.

Samotorova believes that she was forced out for an article she wrote titled “From the buffet to the toilet,” which was published on November 28th. The piece discusses how the government is becoming more and more closed for the press, and noted a new directive which prohibits civil servants from speaking to the mass-media. The article’s title came from a comment given to Samotorova: “The press has the right to come to the Press Office, and from the buffet to the toilet. What more is needed?”

The reporter had originally even received an award for the article. But shortly thereafter, the head editor came up to her, and “jokingly” said: “Our shareholders want to fire you for this article.” In the coming weeks, Samotorova started to receive impossible assignments. On her way to the airport, for instance, she was told to immediately get commentary from several ministers on the nomination of Dmitri Medvedev as a presidential candidate.

On December 11th, while she was in the far-eastern city of Khabarovsk, she was asked to obtain commentary from Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov. The assignment came at 1 AM local time, and although Samotorova complained that the premier was asleep, she was told that if the piece wasn’t written, she would be dismissed. The journalist managed to take commentary in the morning, but her editors told her that she didn’t complete the assignment in time, and that she could consider it ruined.

Meanwhile, the editorial leadership is refuting Samotorova’s version of events. Her supervisor, Yekaterina Vykhukholeva, told Sobrok@ru: “Anastasia was given no ultimatums. She wasn’t even encouraged to retire. The article, which Anastasia alludes to, was recognized as the best for some time past, and it’s still up on our website. The conflict between the editorial office and journalist is of an occupational nature, and has no political underpinnings. She was simply reminded of the necessity of giving commentary to the information set forth in the articles, which is a required condition of a labor contract. Some of her remarks needed to be sent back for re-working. The owners don’t have any relation to this conflict. We’re not friends, yes, we worked together for a long time. In my opinion, Nastya deliberately went for an exacerbation of the conflict and didn’t send in her article by the deadline. Why I don’t know. We have a good job, and decent wages.”

Anastasia Samotorova was a participant at opposition demonstrations known as Dissenters’ Marches.

Pressure on journalists in Russia has increased sharply in recent years. The same day as Samotorova resigned, another critical journalist, Natalya Morar, was expelled from the country. The independent “Noviy Peterburg” newspaper has also been completely shut down by authorities. According to the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, more than 40 journalists and noted activists have been barred from entering Russia since 2000.

Part II: Other Russia and Robert Amsterdam on Natalia Morari

Konstantin Romodanovsky, the director of Russia’s Federal Migration Service (FMS), was not up to date on the situation with Natalya Morar, a journalist from “The New Times” magazine who was illegally expelled from the country. At a December 18th press-conference in Moscow, Romodanovsky was unprepared to answer reporter’s questions on why Morar was deported.

According to the agency head, the FMS was not responsible or involved in Morar’s expulsion, and does not have authority over such matters. Romodanovsky bowed to other branches of the government, and indicated that such jurisdiction is reserved for the Federal Security Service (FSB). Morar, who was turned away from a Moscow airport on December 16th, held documents issued by the FMS, including official registration papers and permission to work in Russia. She resides and works in Moscow, and received a diploma from Moscow State University. On her way back from a business trip to Israel, Morar was forced to return to her native Moldova.

Romodanovsky was unwilling to comment on the decision of his colleagues, but did not defend the FSB’s move. He told journalists: “Surely you can read between the lines and listen between the words.” The Russian embassy in Moldova was also unaware of any official reason for deporting Morar. Like Romodanovsky, they learned about the incident from the mass-media, and commented that all of Morar’s papers were in order. The journalist’s colleagues believe that she was pushed out for her investigative writing in the magazine, which put a magnifying glass to corruption among Russia’s bureaucracy and elite. Her most recent article described a “slush fund” used by the Kremlin to fund and control most of the political parties involved in the December 2nd State Duma elections.

The Other Russia released a statement denouncing the expulsion, and called on the Prosecutor General’s Office as well as the Central Electoral Commission to launch an investigation.

Robert Amsterdam posts an interview of Morari, shown above, by hero journalist Grigori Pasko. The Committee to Protect Journalists has condemned Putin's action, and has reported that Morari
had investigated complex money-laundering schemes involving government officials who funneled large sums of money out of the country. That month, she received a warning from sources close to the FSB who told her: "There is no need to end your life with an article -- someone might simply wait for you at the entrance to your apartment building and they will not find a killer afterward." Morar did not call the police but she told her colleagues what had happened and stayed away from her home for a week to be safe. On December 10, The New Times ran her report on covert funds generated and distributed by the presidential administration before the December 2 parliamentary elections. While investigating that story, she received another warning that she “could receive a bullet” if she didn’t stop her work. “I think my last article was a final drop in the Kremlin’s cup,” she said.

Russia is now living in times when nobody – and I emphasize: NOBODY! – can be sure that some little stinker of a petty official will not prohibit him or her from entering the country or from leaving it. That’s how it was under Stalin and Brezhnev. And that’s how it’s become under Putin.

A sign of the times: the closer we come to the presidential so-called elections, the more shamelessly, the more arrogantly, the more cynically, and the more lawlessly does the power treat people it regards as unwanted.

In principle, probably, every single independent journalist is internally prepared that he or she might not be let out of the country, not be allowed to enter the country, be thrown in jail, be thrown in a psychiatric hospital, or be murdered in the entrance to his or her home. The variety of kinds of state “love” for those who think differently, as we can see, is not that great. But it is effective, like in Stalinist times: if it has been said by the president that those who “jackalize” need to be “soaked in the toilet”, that means they need to be “soaked”… (And whoever refuses will be “soaked” himself).

Happy days are here again. Democracy? Capitalism? No sir – it’s just plain, ordinary KGB totalitarianism.

Journalist Natalia Morari wrote good articles. I hope she’ll continue to write them. There is no doubt that it was precisely her articles that served as the motive for the decision by the FSB, in essence, to deport her beyond the Russian pale.

Natalia Morari wrote a great deal about corruption in the Russian special services: some of them, in the words of the journalist, “release” compromising information about their rivals in the struggle for power. This autumn, the journalist wrote about the extortion and bribery of which top officers of the FSB are being accused.

Likewise emanating from her pen is an article which talks about the involvement of the authorities in the contract milling of Central Bank of Russia employee Andrei Kozlov, who was trying to shut down channels for money laundering outside Russia. The journalist wrote that Kozlov was hampering Russian government officials’ legalization of unlawful incomes in Austria.

Natalia Morari is a citizen of Moldova, but in recent times – during the course of six years – she has resided in Russia. She went to college there. And then she started working at the magazine The New Times.

The short version of what happened at Domodedovo airport is as follows: On 16 December together with other journalists she returned from Israel, where she had gone on assignment, however upon arrival at Domodedovo they would not let her into the country, citing some kind of letter from the FSB. Please note: Natalia had all of her documents, registrations, permissions, and sundry other papers in good order.

The foreign press called the ouster of Natalia Morari from Russia a new turn in the offensive against independent mass media in Russia.

Natalia is now in Chişinău, where I telephoned her and had the following conversation.

GRIGORY PASKO: Natasha, good day! So were official papers found in the Russian embassy in Chişinău that would shed light on your deportation?

NATALIA MORARI: No, they were not found. So far, I have not received official notification from the Russian authorities with an explanation of the reasons for the prohibition on entry. And the editorial board of our magazine also hasn’t received any.

With whom did you meet at the embassy and what was told to you there?

I met with one of the employees. At the embassy, as it turned out, they were quite surprised, nobody knew anything about my expulsion. They didn’t have any papers on this account. I asked when I would receive a reply to my inquiry to the name of the ambassador. They answered me that they would send their inquiry to Russia.

How do you appraise what has happened? Your colleague Ilya Barabanov reported in the press that entry into Russia was prohibited to you by order of the central apparat of the FSB on the basis of the federal law “On the procedure of exit from the RF and entry into the RF”. A border guard in the rank of lieutenant-colonel refused to introduce himself and advised turning for clarifications to the Lubyanka. A representative of the border service made reference to one of the articles of the law, in which is said that entry into Russia is not permitted a foreign citizen if “this is necessary for the purposes of providing for the defence capability or security of the state, or public order, or the protection of the health of the population”, as well as if “a decision has been adopted in relation to the foreign citizen on the undesirability of sojourn (residence) in the Russian Federation”.

Yes, I am familiar with Article 27 of this law. There is indeed a line there about the security of the state…

…But there is nothing about undesirability of sojourn. Probably they mixed it up with other laws or instructions of theirs.

…Whatever the case may be, it is obvious that all this can be associated only with my publications, with journalistic investigations: about money laundering, about corruption, about schemes for financing elections, about offshore zones… In articles I named concrete surnames: Bortnikov’s, Sobyanin’s, Surkov’s… (Alexander Bortnikov – deputy director of the FSB of the RF, member of the board of directors of «Sovkomflot»; Sergey Sobyanin – head of the administration of the president of the RF; Vladislav Surkov – Sobyanin’s deputy, assistant to the president—G.P.).

What do you think – is the FSB in the given instance acting independently or is there a corresponding instruction from higher up?

I think that certain employees of the FSB are acting independently in the hope that this will advance their careers. There is a trend – to pursue the unwanted, independent journalists, human rights advocates, businessmen… Having caught on to this trend, bureaucrats of various agencies are trying to get noticed. There are many such… unwanted ones. And we are undesirable for the current power of Russia.

How were you met by the border guards of Moldova?

They were greatly surprised not by the fact that I had been sent out of Russia, but because all of my documents were in order, and I had not violated any laws. Right at the ramp from the airplane they arranged an interrogation for me. By the way, in contrast to the Russian embassy, they had received some kind of papers from the Russian side.

Is all of this a sign that the Russian power is afraid of independent journalists?

I think they’re afraid. After all, in the event if other people come to power in the country, then it can not be ruled out that they will hold today’s leaders liable for all the lawlessness that’s going on now. They’re going to have to answer for YUKOS, and for the jailed Khodorkovsky, and for Gutseriyev, and for the persecution of journalists… They’re afraid of these facts coming out even now. And any independent opinion – a journalist’s, a human rights advocate’s, a businessman’s – they evaluate as a personal threat to themselves.

Has the power in Russia become more aggressive?

Yes, no question about it. Expulsion from the country isn’t the worst thing at all. The alternatives – camp, a psychiatric hospital… And at the same time they, the representatives of the power, are actually trying to tell us that they’re generous and liberal. I think that closer to the elections, the situation will get worse still, while incidents such as the one that took place with me will be repeated.

Good luck to you, Natasha! We hope for your return to Russia.


The Federal Migrational Service (FMS) doesn’t have anything to do with the deportation of the journalist of the publication The New Times, citizen of Moldavia [sic] Natalia Morari, declared the director of the FMS of Russia, Konstantin Romodanovsky, at a press conference at «Interfax».

“I do not have in my possession information about who deported her and adopted the corresponding decision”, declared Romodanovsky. “The Migrational Service does not work on the border, we work inside the country”, added the FMS head.

To a request to comment on the actions of the corresponding services in relation to the journalist, Romodanovsky said: “It is incorrect for me to answer for other agencies”.

Deputy editor-in-chief of The New Times Yevgenia Albats told about what other publications by Natalia Morari might have evoked dissatisfaction on the part of the power.

Secretary-General of the Union of Journalists of Russia Igor Yakovenko called the prohibition of entry onto the territory of Russia to Natalia Morari a “political lynching”. Yakovenko noted that the Union of Journalists of Russia will endeavor to undertake all possible measures in order to achieve the return of Morari to Russia.

President of the Foundation «In defense of glasnost» Alexey Simonov likewise calls the deportation of the journalist Natalia Morari unlawful. As Simonov himself declared in an interview of a radio station, he is counting on the support of the «International Federation of Journalists».

Absolutely impermissible is what Secretary-General of the «International Federation of Journalists» Aidan White called what happened with Natalia Morari. In his words, Russia should not count on being perceived of as a democratic state if it allows itself such actions.

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