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Blogger in Tatarstan Sentenced to Six Months for Slandering Ombudsman

posted 26 Jun 2011, 13:51 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 28 Jun 2011, 03:45 ]
9 June 2011

On 9 June 2011 a Justice of the Peace in court district No. 10, Soviet district, Kazan, found Yury Egorov guilty of criminal slander of Rashit Vagizov, the former Human Rights Ombudsman of Tatarstan.

A blogger who resigned from the staff of the Human Rights Ombudsman for Tatarstan in 2007 has been given a suspended prison sentence of six months (with a six-month supervision period) for statements made on the Internet about the activities of Rashit Vagizov, in particular a statement about the dubious, in his view, manner of distribution of pay among the staff. The court also ruled that Egorov’s computer should be destroyed as the means by which he had committed the crime. Yury Egorov is represented by the Agora Human Rights Association.

The blogger did not admit his guilt and said that he will appeal against the verdict. At the trial the state prosecution asked that Yury Egorov be sentenced to a one-year suspended prison sentence with a two-year supervision period, the correspondent of the OpenInform Agency reports.
According to the prosecution, Yury Egorov, “knowingly distributing false information defaming Rashit Vagizov and harming his reputation,” wrote on a web forum that staff of the Tatarstan Human Rights Ombudsman “received the minimum salary…as a result of which the office’s budget saved from 400,000 to 600,000 roubles a year, sums that were then made over to the accountant and the office manager.” However, the materials of the case include 11 financial documents dated from February to July 2007 about bonuses given to the accountant Ludmila Fazlieva and the office manager Musa Ziyatdinov to a total of 355,000 roubles. Each of these documents is identified by a number and letter, for example, No.145a of 2 July 2007 (Fazilieva 15,000 roubles, Ziyatdinov 10,000 roubles), No. 146а of 9 July (Fazlieva – 30,000, Ziyatdinov – 20,000), No. 146b of 9 July (Fazlieva – 20,000, Ziyatdinov – 10,000), No 148a of 10 July (Fazlieva – 20,000, Ziyatdinov-10,000). In this way, in only ten days of July 2007, according to these documents, two staff members of the Tatarstan Human Rights Ombudsman received bonuses totalling 135,000 roubles. Other financial documents relating to the period from February to July also show additional payments totalling 220,000 roubles made to Fazlieva and Ziyatdinov in July 2007.

During the trial Alfiya Kirillova, a former member of staff of the republican prosecutor’s office and of the office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, told the court that relations between Rashit Vagizov and his subordinates were difficult. She said that Vagizov treated people “like garbage” and that his favourite saying was: “What’s fit for the gods is not fit for the plebs.” Kirillova said that at some point in time her relations with her boss spoiled and he forbade her to enter his office, no longer greeted her or talked with her, and as a result she was obliged to resign. Kirillova also said: “He is no human rights ombudsman”. She said that while she was working for Vagizov he did not meet in person with any individuals who came to the office with a human rights complaint.

Rashit Vagizov’s former chief accountant, Gulshat Nasibullina, when questioned in court said that after her appointment Rashit Vagizov had personally proposed that she use a system in accordance with which she would make arrangements to pay herself a bonus and then give the money to him. According to Nasibullina’s testimony, Vagizov told her “that is what was done before”, and that he had many expenses on business trips and had to pay for the travel expenses of academics that he could not officially pay. Nasibullina told the court that after she had twice refused to do this, Vagizov took steps to force her to leave work, and after she had been fired he initiated a criminal case against her.

It will be recalled that Gulshat Nasibullina was charged with theft of 58,848 roubles following an audit of the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman by the Audit Chamber of Tatarstan. Rashit Vagizov himself alleged that after his return from a business trip to the USA in December 2007 Gulshat Nasibullina had taken the above sum from the Office’s account to cover expenses for the trip. However, the cost of this business trip was fully paid to Vagizov by the US Embassy. The defence showed that Nasibullina did not take the money for herself, but gave the money to Vagizov, for which he signed a receipt. During the audit it was found that financial documents showed Rashit Vagizov had received 59,000 roubles in payment for the trip from the account of the Office of the Ombudsman. Handwriting expertise showed that without doubt the signature on the receipt belonged to Vagizov. The case against Gulshat Nasibullina, who was represented by lawyers from the Agora Human Rights Association, was closed.

At first, Rashit Vagizov refused to appear in court, and even sent at statement to the effect that he was being treated for a health problem at a location outside the city, and asked the Justice of the Peace to consider the case against his former staff member Yury Egorov without his participation. However, on 15 April Vagizov was questioned as a victim in the case. He said he had not forced anyone to resign and questions of bonuses for staff had been discussed as a collective. However, according to Irina Khrunova, the lawyer acting for Yury Egorov, from the beginning of the trial many former staff members of the Office of the Ombudsman had given testimony that the opposite had been the case, and a large number of things said by Vagizov proved not to be the case.

Rashit Vagizov said in court that he had given equal bonuses to all staff, and each received according to their merit, and also that he agreed the bonuses with the Tatarstan Treasury. The lawyer Irina Khrunova thereupon put two questions to him: “Why did some staff receive bonuses of 1,500 roubles and others of 100,000 roubles? And what was the procedure by which the bonuses were set, and how could the reference to the Tatarstan Treasury be confirmed?” Rashit Vagizov answered that the difference in bonuses, evidently, was explained by the fact that some of the staff did not do enough work. Moreover, one of the bonuses of 100,000 roubles was received by the office manager since he was planning to get married and “we decided to give him a large bonus.” The lawyer for the defendant did not understand why the costs of the wedding of a staff member of the Ombudsman’s Office should be borne by the budget of Tatarstan. So far as the procedure for setting the bonuses were concerned, the former Human Rights Ombudsman of Tatarstan stated that he did not remember with whom exactly he had agreed these questions, everything took place orally, and for that reason he was not able to confirm what was said with any documents.

The lawyer pointed out that the former Ombudsman answered her questions inaccurately, objected loudly, and complained that he was being forced to remember things that had happened long ago. He called the clarifications “cheap tricks” and “insinuations”, saying that he had working for many years as a public prosecutor and had taken part in trials as a prosecutor and therefore “it was not possible to confuse him.” Rashit Vagizov also described the words of the blogger and his former subordinate Yury Egorov as “complete slander.” Rashit Vagizov was not able to explain what specifically was slanderous in the texts published on the Internet, referring to the fact that he could not remember.

The verdict handed down by the Justice of the Peace will be appealed in Kazan’s Sovetsky district court.

The orders in question can be viewed here.