IFJ Backs Russian Journalists Taking Fight for Press Freedom to Strasbourg

Journalists and human rights campaigners in Russia this week launched a case at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg over the failure of the government of Vladimir Putin to tackle corruption involving mafia networks, powerful industrialists and government bureaucrats who are waging a vicious campaign against investigative journalism.

The International Federation of Journalists is backing the case and says it will support efforts by its affiliate the Russian Union of Journalists and independent media to expose intimidation and threats that have forced some journalists to leave the country and have created an atmosphere of intimidation and fear over the reporting of Russia’s most powerful political and corporate elite.

“We will do everything we can to help colleagues whose lives are threatened by ruthless elements that want to close down any scrutiny of their activities,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary.

The Strasbourg case has been launched by journalists working with the Society Against Terror and Corruption (SATCOR), a Moscow group created in 2002 by journalists, lawyers and human rights activists to expose the penetration of crime into Russia’s state structures.

Their research and investigations of criminal and corrupt activities including money laundering have provided an invaluable supply of material for Russian and foreign journalists but has provoked a backlash of legal harassment and intimidation.

One key exposure is the role of a corrupt clan centered on former President of the Russian Federation Boris Yeltsin. The clan, nicknamed “the Family” included Valentin Yumashev, former head of the President’s Administration, his wife Tatyana Dyachenko (Yeltsin’s daughter), businessman Boris Berezovsky, former Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Security Council, and Roman Abramovich, Governor of Russia’s Chukotka Region. Another person close to the group is Israeli businessman Mikhail Chernoy, who is facing money-laundering charges in Israel.

Journalists who have exposed corruption and mafia assassinations of public figures and businessmen are now under intense pressure. Aluminium magnate Oleg Deripaska has launched a libel action with the support of the Khakass Republic he controls against journalist Veniamin Striga for libel.

Reporters say Khakass police grossly violated state law because criminal proceedings were started in Khakassia, and not in Moscow where Striga lived and where the offending material was placed on a web-site. As a result Striga is at the mercy of biased Khakass investigators and judges, and created a threat of reprisals during pretrial detention.

Striga, who has now left Russia, says contacts of his were beaten up by investigators from Khakassia who travelled 5,000 kilometres to Moscow to follow the case. Supporters say the police investigation was an obvious cover-up for criminal elements. After an attempt to kidnap him Striga made numerous appeals in vain to Russia’s Prosecutor General and Internal Affairs Ministry.

“This case highlights the profound crisis facing journalists throughout Russia where independent journalism has become all but impossible given the ferocious intimidation by criminal oligarchs and corrupt officials,” said White. “It is a profound crisis for democracy that should be condemned by the European Courts.

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries