Daily Archives: April 4, 2008

April 4, 2008 — Contents

THURSDAY APRIL 4 CONTENTS

(1) EDITORIAL: An Open Letter to Anton Nossik

(2) Live Journal Under Siege

(3) Annals of Murder Inc.

(4) Asylum for Tregubova

(5) Russian Tennis Player Beats Himself . . . Literally

EDITORIAL: An Open Letter to Anton Nossik

EDITORIAL

Dear Mr. Nossik

On March 20th, our publisher Kim Zigfeld wrote in her Russian politics column on the Pajamas Media blog that a blogger named Savva Terentyev was under attack by the Kremlin for daring to post critical comments about the Russian police on a Live Journal blog operated by a Russian reporter. Here’s part of her column:

Anton Nosik, the most powerful figure in Russia’s blogosphere and director of livejournal.com’s chief administrator in Russia, was reported to have told the Russian newspaper Kommersant (”the Merchant”) that the [Terentyev] case was “absurd.” Nosik stated: “The ignorance of local judges often plays a role in the outcome of cases connected to the internet. I hope that with many journalists present, the judge will look at the essence of the case and not simply hand down a guilty verdict.” Nosik later said: “The people who launched the criminal case are trying in this way to portray police-turned-crooks as a social group that enjoys protection from Russian legislation. It seems to me that it ought be us who are protected by the law, not crooks.” Within a few months, it was being reported that the Live Journal hosting service itself was under attack in a hostile takeover by Kremlin-friendly businessmen, similar what had already been seen at Russia’s major television stations and newspapers.

Seeing how, as Kim wrote in the column, the charges Terentyev faces “could result in a $12,000 fine being levied against the blogger” and since “in a country where the average wage is $4 per hour, that amounts to a penalty of 18 months’ wages,” and since “if Terentyev is unable to pay the fine, he’ll be sentenced to labor” and since “on top of that, he could get up to two years in prison,” if we were speaking to the Russian press, we might have chosen a different word than “absurd” to describe the situation. We doubt that if you were facing two years in a Russian prison, you’d find it merely “absurd.”

We’re also quite disappointed to see you lay so much stress on the role of “local” authorities in this matter. Even if you don’t believe that the Kremlin directly ordered this attack, surely you must admit that if the Kremlin ordered it to stop, it would do so instantly. Yet, you didn’t find even a few words to condemn the Kremlin. Of course, that might be because you’re afraid for your own skin if you did, which is a reasonable consideration — though somewhat disappointing in a leading media figure such as your estimable self.

In a comment on Kim’s post, you apparently (if this was an impersonation, we apologize) took exception to the last sentence in the paragraph quoted above. You wrote:

I am the Anton Nossik, quoted above from Kommersant daily, and I happen to work for the Moscow-based Sup company that owns LiveJournal Inc. since December 3rd, 2007. There had been no attack whatsoever, and no hostile takeover. Here’s what actually happened.

Your link led to a blog post published by Live Journal administrators themselves about the takeover. As Kim noted in her response to you, it’s somewhat disappointing that you would rely on the Live Journal’s administrators themselves for the “true” facts about the takeover. Surely you don’t mean to suggest that if the administrators were Kremlin collaborators, they’d freely admit it, do you? Personally, we’d find a suggestion like that pretty insulting to our intelligence. Kim pointed out that many third-party sources have condemned the takeover, sources such as Russian analyst Yevgeny Morozov, writing in the International Herald Tribune and the Other Russia opposition political coalition.

And then, as we report today, there are the Live Journal bloggers themselves, who recently staged a content strike to protest the increasingly oppressive conditions they are forced to confront under the new system. Other Russia reports that yet another ZheZhe blogger is now facing investigation and possible prosecution just like Terentyev.

You didn’t respond to Kim’s reply on the Pajamas blog, so we’d like to offer you some further provocation to do so. Frankly, as things stand now, we find ourselves disgusted by your wishy-washy bromide regarding Mr. Terentyev and his plight. We don’t see much in the Global Voices post about the content strike to indicate that you are right there with them on the front lines, which almost makes us think you might be helping to sweep the whole issue under the carpet. And when we review your blog, we really don’t see too many indications of tough-minded criticism of the Kremlin’s well-documented crackdown on freedom of expression in Russia, certainly not what we’d expect from someone in your lofty position in the national media. Seems like an awful lot of fluff and, in fact, sometimes we kind of almost think you sound like a Kremlin shill.

So, like, what’s the deal here Anton? Are you part of the solution, or part of the problem? Are you really telling us that the change in ownership at ZheZhe, and all these recent developments, are absolutely benign as far as both the Live Journal and the Kremlin are concerned, and only the fault of a few misguided local officials?

We’d like to know.

ZheZhe, Under Fire

Other Russia reports:

Prosecutors in the northern Russian city of Vologda have mounted an investigation into the blog of a local opposition leader. Ivan Belyaev, who heads the local branch of the United Civil Front party, told the Sobkor@ru news agency that the investigators are looking for a pretense to charge him under a law against inciting hatred and enmity.

On Thursday March 27th, Belyaev was called into the office of the prosecutor and asked to give a written explanation “on the matter of online activities.” Belyaev explained that the investigating officer, Denis Yanushevich, showed him print-outs of several of his recent online journal entries, intermixed with entries that had never appeared on his blog. One of these entries has been used as grounds to launch the case.

Belyaev refused to give a written statement, falling back on a law against self-incrimination. He has agreed to return to speak with prosecutors in the near future, after he has a chance to consult with an attorney.

Global Voices reports:

Yet again, LJ users are in distress. Unlike the previous times, however (more on that here and here, as well as here and here), the current situation involves both the Russian-language and the English-language segments of LiveJournal.

It all began when LiveJournal’s owner Sup (”an international online media company […] founded […] with Russian seed capital”) announced that no account created after March 12, 2008, could be turned into a free-of-charge and ad-free Basic Account.

Sixty-eight pages of comments (5,000 of them, the maximum number allowed) on a March 13 item (part explanatory, part conciliating) posted by theljstaff on the LJ News page is a good example of just how overwhelming the English-language bloggers’ response has been.

Many more posts and comments on the unpopular changes can be found in the LJ Speaks and No Opt In, No Ads LJ communities (both in English). An informative post on Sup’s other ill-received initiative – “censorship of popular interests” – was posted on InsaneJournal, an alternative platform, by Stewardess, here.

Cancellation of Basic Accounts seems to have brought the English-language and the Russian-language LJ bloggers closer together. (The initial lack of common ground was highlighted in the comments section to this post on Sup’s acquisition of LiveJournal back in Dec. 2007.)

On March 16, U.S.-based LJ user beckyzoole announced her decision to go on “content strike” and called to other bloggers to join her:

The one-day content strike is on for this Friday, March 21, from midnight GMT to midnight GMT. For 24 hours, we will not post or comment to LJ. Not in our own journals, not in communities. Not publicly, privately, or under friends-lock. This is a protest that will have long-lasting effects, showing up forever in the daily posting statistics. This is a protest that will not harm LJ in the long run, as leaving LJ might do. This is a protest that will demonstrate the power of community, as all users unite to support Basic users and the concept of adfree space. This is a protest that will educate the new owners that LJ is driven by user-created content. […]

On March 17, she further explained the goals of this initiative:

[…] We are holding the Content Strike because all of us, Paid, Permanent and Plus users as well as Basic, want to demonstrate our solidarity as a Community of Users. We do not consider Basic users to be freeloaders, we consider them to be valuable content-providers and Friends. […]

On March 18, Russian LJ user corpuscula posted a translation of LJ user beckyzoole‘s appeal and asked her readers to “Spread the Word!” The word did spread, and a number of posts about the upcoming strike made it into the Yandex Blog portal’s Top 30. LJ user samoleg (Oleg Kuvaev, best-known for his cartoon creation, Masyanya) is one of the Russian LJ users on strike today. In the entry announcing his decision to join the silent protest, there’s a drawing of Masyanya holding up a sign that reads (RUS): “LJ is all of us!”

Another blogger who supports the one-day boycott, LJ user rimona (Rimma Polyak), wrote this (RUS):

[…] We don’t come to LJ as if it’s a store, we – the LJ bloggers – are creating it by writing our blogs here. Sup is nothing without us. LJ is the bloggers, not Sup. […]

Some Russian-language bloggers have chosen to take a more radical path, proposed (RUS) by LJ user lleo (Leonid Kaganov), who is highly critical of LJ user beckyzoole‘s initiative:

[…] The American thinks that the whole world will support her. In fact, 3 percent will join in. Sup will notice a 3-percent drop in traffic. And then what? […]

On March 21, I’ll go to this page:

http://www.livejournal.com/accountstatus.bml

and will change my status to “deleted.” That is, I’ll delete my journal. A wonderful form will appear on the screen then: ay, oy, […] let us know what has made you delete your journal, and what we have to do to improve our service? In this line I’ll write: “Return Basic Accounts.” That’s the real statistics that Sup is going to get. It is well-known that deleting a journal this way is pure formality, because it is possible to restore the journal in a second in the next 30 days, losing absolutely nothing. And so the following day, I’ll go back to that page and change status to “active” (or not, I’ll think abut it). But while my journal stays in the “deleted” mode for a day, it will not only keep me from writing in it (or comment on its behalf), but everyone around will also see that my journal has been deleted. Because this (unlike “outraged silence”) is highly conspicuous and effectual. And if we want to do a protest flash mob, this is the only way to do it. […]

If you try accessing LJ user lleo‘s blog now, you’ll will not succeed: it has indeed been deleted.

LJ user corpuscula, the one who broadcast LJ user beckyzoole‘s silent protest appeal to the Russian-language bloggers, seems to have temporarily deleted her blog, too.

Annals of Murder Inc.

The Associated Press reports another massive blow to the Putin regime from the world’s only superpower. First the President openly demands NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia, and then the House openly accuses Putin of state-sponsored murder:

The U.S. House of Representatives has endorsed a resolution suggesting that the Russian government might have had a hand in the 2006 radiation poisoning death of former Federal Security Service officer Alexander Litvinenko in London.

The resolution, endorsed Tuesday, asks U.S. President George W. Bush and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to press Russian officials to cooperate with British investigators probing the death Litvinenko, who fled to Britain in 2000 and took British citizenship. He died in November 2006 from radioactive polonium-210 he had ingested.

The resolution is merely an expression of the sense of the U.S. Congress. But it is likely to annoy Russia as Bush prepares to meet with President Vladimir Putin on Sunday in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. U.S.-Russian tensions are high as the U.S. pushes a missile-defense plan for Europe that Russia has opposed.

Democratic congressman Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Tuesday that Litvinenko’s death raises “disturbing questions about how elements of the Russian government appear to deal with their enemies.”

The resolution also calls on Bush and Rice to urge Russian cooperation “to ensure the security of the production, storage, distribution and export of polonium-210 as a material that may become dangerous to large numbers of people if utilized by terrorists.”

Meanwhile, the Moscow Times reports that the Kremlin has formally buried the Staravoitova killing, the first one that occurred after Putin rose to power as head of the KGB:

The Federal Security Service has suspended its investigation into the 1998 murder of liberal State Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova without finding the person who ordered the killing, the slain politician’s former aide said. Ruslan Linkov, who was injured in the attack on Starovoitova, said the FSB’s St. Petersburg branch had notified him that the investigation was being suspended and would only be reopened if new leads appeared or if suspects emerged from hiding, Interfax reported. Linkov expressed outrage that the FSB had closed its investigation without locating former Duma Deputy Mikhail Glushchenko, whom one witness identified in court testimony as the person who ordered Starovoitova’s murder. Glushchenko, who represented the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party in the Duma and is thought to be a leader of the Tambov crime group, reputedly lives abroad. Starovoitova was killed in the stairwell of her apartment building in 1998.

Asylum for Tregubova

The Moscow Times reports:

A Russian journalist who published a tell-all book about her days covering the Kremlin said Wednesday that Britain had granted her political asylum. Yelena Tregubova, 34, said by telephone from London that her life would be in “grave danger” should she return to Russia. “I can’t say much, except that going back to Russia would be a big mistake,” Tregubova said.

She declined to say who might be behind any threats against her.

Published in 2003, Tregubova’s book, “Tales of a Kremlin Digger,” chronicles her experiences covering the Kremlin for several national newspapers from 1997 to 2001. It contains juicy accounts of private episodes, such as a dinner with then-FSB director Vladimir Putin, and criticizes the Kremlin for curbing press freedom after Putin became president.

In February 2004, a small bomb exploded outside Tregubova’s apartment on Pushkin Square, smashing several lampshades and a windowpane in the stairwell. Police said it was an act of hooliganism, though Tregubova said she believed she was the target.

Tregubova said she arrived in London to visit friends in January 2007. During that visit, it became clear that any return to Russia would put her in “mortal danger,” and she has not left Britain since, she said. She said she applied for political asylum with British Home Office, which handles immigration affairs, in April 2007. A British Embassy spokesman said Britain could not comment on individual cases. A Foreign Ministry spokesman declined to comment immediately on Tregubova’s case.

Tregubova covered the late former President Boris Yeltsin and then Putin for Kommersant, Izvestia and Russky Telegraf from 1997 to 2001. In her book, she writes that, shortly after Putin came to power, the Kremlin pool of reporters saw a wave of repressions in which those who did not toe the official line — including herself — lost their accreditation. After the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya in October 2006, Tregubova wrote an open letter to Western leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in which she called on them to demand that Putin stop political murders, human rights abuses and restrictions on the press.

Tregubova joins several other Russian political refugees currently living in Britain, including businessman Boris Berezovsky, Chechen rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev and Marina Litvinenko, wife of former Federal Security Service officer Alexander Litvinenko, who died in 2006 after ingesting radioactive polonium-210.

Tregubova said she was currently writing another book, the details of which she declined to discuss.

Russian Tennis Player Beats Himself – Literally

Reuters reports:

Russia’s Mikhail Youzhny has become an unlikely star on the YouTube Web site after he battered his head with a tennis racket at the Sony Ericsson Open. A video shot by the host broadcaster Fox Sports Network (FSN) showed Youzhny violently whacking his head three times in a row, sending blood streaming down his forehead and nose. The world number 11 was 5-4 down against Nicolas Almagro of Spain in the final set of his third round match on Monday when his frustrations spilled over after he lost a lengthy rally. The clip had received over 700,000 hits on the Web site by Wednesday. Youzhny did not let a little blood get in the way of the match, which he won 7-6 3-6 7-6. The Russian lost his fourth round match to Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia 3-6 6-0 6-3 on Tuesday.