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Analysis & Opinion
13.09.10 Private Eye
By Svetlana Kononova

The Tverskoi District Court of Moscow has rejected a defamation suit filed by the pro-Kremlin youth political movement “Nashi” against Ilya Yashin, a leader of the Solidarity opposition group. This development opens a new chapter in the ongoing battle surrounding “kompromat” videos aiming to slander opposition politicians and journalists.

In March this year video clips purporting to depict Ilya Yashin, Dmitry Oreshkin, an independent liberal political analyst, and Mikhail Fishman, editor in chief of Russian Newsweek, giving bribes to traffic police began to appear on the blogs of Nashi members. The three implicated in the clips said the videos were fake, and were cobbled together using recordings of their speech. They denied paying bribes to police and called the clips a provocation.

The event has not captured the public’s attention probably because of the subject matter. It is hard to imagine a conversation with traffic police about paying a fine becoming breaking news in Russia. In April, Internet users were treated to new, hotter footage. A clip posted on YouTube, again by an unknown user, showed three prominent Kremlin critics –satirist Viktor Shenderovich, writer and leader of the forbidden opposition National Bolshevik Party Eduard Limonov, and the leader of the Movement Against Illegal Migration Alexander Potkin – having sex with Katya Gerasimova, a model who is suspected of working for the secret services.

The video, which was also posted on the blogs of Nashi members, is doctored and uses heavy editing to capture the hidden camera’s victims in an unfavorable light. Subsequently, Ilya Yashin revealed on his blog that he too had gone on a date with Gerasimova and her friend Nastya, and that a similar video was likely to appear on the Internet. His suspicions have not yet proved true.

Those implicated in the scandal responded to the videos in different ways. Shenderovich described Katya as “dull as your whole sad Gestapo.” Limonov suggested that next time secret cameras should be put in lavatories to keep the public up-to-date on the private life of opposition politicians. Yashin lodged a complaint with the Prosecutor General’s Office and demanded that those responsible for the videos be found, since they had collected and distributed private information without the permission of the people involved, which is illegal.

He stressed that First Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration Vladislav Surkov, who is credited with founding Nashi, and Chairman of the State Committee for Youth and ideological leader of Nashi Vasily Yakemenko should be investigated.

Speaking to the Vremya Novostei newspaper, Yashin additionally accused “people close to Nashi” of being involved in producing scandalous videos. In response, Nashi accused Yashin of defamation and demanded 500,000 rubles ($16,186) in compensation for damages. Although the Moscow court has dismissed the suit, the conflict continues to simmer. “Ilya Yashin said in court that his statement was addressed not to our movement but to some other movement with the same name. Therefore the court refrained from initiating proceedings. But we will appeal for a review of the judgment,” said Kristina Potupchik, a spokesperson for Nashi.

But Yashin is convinced that his opponents cannot win. “It is no secret that Moscow courts are not very non-judgmental when it comes to the opposition. But despite even that, Nashi could not prove anything and lost a suit to me and my lawyer Vadim Prokhorov. They can review the judgment, but they have no chances of winning.”

Yashin explained why he thinks Nashi made the videos: “The Nashi movement has behaved aggressively toward its political opponents since the first days of its existence. These guys specialize in fighting the opposition and critics of the Kremlin. Moreover, they have been caught in the act of making provocations before. For example, in 2007, when I was being interviewed on Pushkin Square in Moscow, I was accosted by some transvestite. Later he was identified as a Nashi member from Ryazan. Therefore it would be logical to suppose that Yakemenko’s foster children might be accessories to the latest provocations. Furthermore, his brother leaked details to journalists which were not in the scandalous videos.”

But Nashi deny their involvement. “We do not know who could have made these clips,” Potupchik said. “Maybe somebody who knew about the habits of these people caught them and recorded the videos. But the characters of the clips should blame themselves. There is nothing improper about the members of Nashi posting these videos on their blogs. Moreover, we should inform the public about these kinds of things.”

While legal action regarding the article published in the Vremya Novostei newspaper has ended, Yashin’s lawsuit filed at the Prosecutor General’s Office seems to have been put on hold. “It seems that the Prosecutor’s Office does not want to process this lawsuit. My petition is ‘wandering’ from one room to another. I have received several official responses, but the law-enforcement authorities still have not made any effort to find the provocation’s paymasters and those who carried it out. On the other hand, my proposal for initiating a case was not turned down. It seems that a policy decision to hold back my lawsuit has been made,” Yashin said.

According to the Union of Journalists of Russia, more than 3,500 lawsuits are initiated against the media in Russia annually. Experts say that one reason for this is that plaintiffs do not need to pay duties when filing a lawsuit against a media outlet, which is available to everyone. But in fact, it imposes a high level of media control.

Freedom House, an independent watchdog that supports democratic change, monitors freedom and advocates for democracy and human rights, put Russia in its list of “Not Free Countries” in 2009 because of pressure on the media and opposition. “Russia remained one of the most dangerous countries in the world for the media due to widespread lawlessness that allows politicians, security agents, and criminals to silence journalists by any means,” a statement by Freedom House said.

At the same time, privacy rights in Russia are often violated. According to the Privacy International rights organization, Russia ranks in 45th place on its list of 47 countries in terms of private life protection. The survey researched many aspects of privacy protection in different countries, such as policy on data protection, the law, wiretapping on phones, espionage, etc.

But Russia’s worst problem is the state’s general policy toward protecting the private lives of individuals and the unsatisfactory work of law-enforcement authorities in this field, experts believe. Few lawsuits filed in Russia on grounds of privacy violation have been successful. “Maybe one day prosecutors will finally decide to process my lawsuit properly. The political situation in the country is unstable, nobody knows what will happen tomorrow,” Yashin said.
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