Back in February, the Russian weekly New Times published a story about an elite detachment of the Russian Interior Ministry’s OMON security forces that allegedly forces migrant workers to work without pay, effectively as slaves. The ministry was incensed and denied the accusations, blaming the magazine for shoddy journalism. The magazine stood by the article, which was based on the testimony by a former OMON officer from the detachment in question.
On April 5, the Tverskoy Court in Moscow sanctioned a search and seizure of the New Times editorial office in connection with police accusations of libel. The police attempted to carry out the seizure this past Wednesday, but Editor-in-Chief Yevgeniya Albats refused to hand over any documents, maintaining that the seizure is illegal while the magazine awaits a hearing to contest the decision in the Moscow City Court.
In response to the failed search, the international journalism watchdog Reports Without Borders and the Russian Union of Journalists have issued press releases condemning the court decision and actions by the police. Both are reproduced below.
Russian Union of Journalists
April 16, 2010
The Russian Union of Journalists expresses its extreme anxiety with the attempt to seize documents from the editorial offices of the New Times. The court decision allowing investigators to seize interview notes that contain references to sources of information constitutes a gross violation of source confidentiality as guaranteed by media legislation and the Russian criminal code. We hope that higher courts will rectify this mistake, or the impending plenum of the Russian Supreme Court will explain that the court can free an editorial office from its duty to keep journalistic sources confidential only in connection with an ongoing case; that is to say, after the case has been brought to court, and not simply by the request of investigators or interrogators.
We cannot disregard this dangerous precedent since it risks becoming common practice, thus burying the possibility for a trusting relationship between journalists and their sources. Source confidentiality is a safeguard for the constitutional right of citizens to obtain complete and objective information.
Secretariat of the Russian Union of Journalists
Translated by theOtherRussia.org.
Reports Without Borders
Police try to search Moscow weekly for sources to story about elite unit
April 14, 2010
Reporters Without Borders condemns today’s abortive attempt by the Moscow police to search the premises of the Moscow-based independent weekly The New Times/Novoye Vremya in execution of a court order that is the subject of an appeal by the weekly.
Moscow’s Tverskoi district court issued the search order on 5 April in response to a libel action by the elite Omon police and the General Directorate for Internal Affairs (GUVD) under article 129 of the criminal code over a 1 February story in The New Times headlined “Omon Slaves” about alleged corrupt practices within the elite unit.
Reporters Without Borders stresses its complete support for the magazine and its staff, who have the courage to do proper investigative reporting into matters of general interest, an activity that is at the core of real journalism.
“We share the view of The New Times editor Yevgenia Albats that the protection of journalists’ sources is an essential element of press freedom and that investigative journalism cannot exist without it,” Reporters Without Borders said.
No search can legally be carried out in response to the court order until the weekly’s appeal has been heard, and The New Times deputy editor Ilya Barabanov told Reporters Without Borders that the search order was illegal under articles 41 and 49 of the media law.
Based on information provided by unidentified sources with Omon, The New Times story accused the elite unit of selling its protection services to businessmen and even criminal organisations. It drew an immediate denial from Omon followed by the libel action.
The Moscow City Court is set to hear the New Times’ complaint on April 28, and we will be following the course of events as they continue to develop.