21 June 2011
Photo: journalists Oleg Kashin & Aleksandr Morozov © OIA
On 21 June 2011 the Khamovniki Court in Moscow announced the verdict in the case brought by Vasily Yakemenko, head of the Federal Youth Agency Rosmolodyozh, against Oleg Kashin, Aleksandr Morozov, and the newspaper Novye Izvestia. The court dismissed the official's charges against the journalists
The court concluded that it was not possible to prove that an “assertion of a fact had taken place”. Oleg Kashin had merely expressed his opinion and personal judgment in his correspondence with Aleksandr Morozov, which is a right guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Consequently, in citing Kashin's statements Morozov and Novye Izvestia did not break the law. Oleg Kashin and Aleksandr Morozov were represented in court by the Agora Human Rights Association.
According to a courtroom report filed by a correspondent of the Open Information Agency, the court rejected Yakemenko's demand that Kashin refute his statements as well as denying compensation for moral damage. It is worth noting that the head of the Federal Youth Agency did not make a personal appearance in court. It is not known whether his lawyers intend to appeal the Khamovniki Court decision.
Vasily Yakemenko had demanded a total of 1.4 million roubles compensation for statements Kashin had made in correspondence in LiveJournal with Alexander Morozov, that he had no doubt about the “Yakemenko version” of the assault on him, as quoted by Novye Izvestia.
At the trial Oleg Kashin stated: “The hypothesis that members of pro-Kremlin youth movements may have been involved in the assault against me arose from the well-established reputation of these movements, based on regular media reports on their members' aggressive activities. I cannot assert that all these reports are true. However, the general information available about these youth movements undoubtedly helps to generate similar ideas. My assumption is that the assault on me was a 'direct action' and a clear breach of the law.”
Ramil Akhmetgaliev, a legal analyst with the Agora Human Rights Association, who represented Kashin and Morozov in court, commented: “In my view, the victory in this case affects not only Oleg Kashin and Alexander Morozov but rather all journalists working in Russia. The Khamovniki Court's decision has in effect answered two key questions for journalists: one that pertains to journalists' safety and the other to their right to freedom of expression.”
Lately there has been a marked tendency to reopen the discussion on the role of journalists in society and on their right to express their views. For example, the head of Memorial Human Rights Centre Oleg Orlov has recently been acquitted of slandering Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has recently submitted much discussed amendments to the Criminal Code that propose decriminalizing the offences of slander and defamation. The State Duma has rejected a draft bill proposed by some MPs to limit freedom of expression on the Internet and to introduce stricter censorship of websites.
This is clearly a democratic tendency, and the present court decision might be a further landmark on this road. In essence, the judge has confirmed that the journalist Kashin has the right to express his personal view and judgement, and that the official Yakemenko does not have the right to prohibit him from doing so.
It is to be hoped that nothing will prevent the court decision from coming into force.