In headlines now / 10.04.2017

Journalists assaulted covering Krasnodar Kray farmer’s protest

By Oxana Chelysheva On March 28, 2017 two journalists with Moscow office of Liberty Radio were assaulted in the town of Kropotkin of Krasnodar Kray. Sergey Khazov-Kassia and Andrey Kostyanov, both staff journalists with Liberty Radio, had arrived in Kropotkin the day before. They were performing their professional duties having plans to shoot a video reportage on the plans by local farmers to hold a protest “Tractor March”. The journalists were attacked by a group of young men who approached them in A white minivan. They beat up Sergey and Andrey and also stole their equipment and valuables. Sergey Khazov-Kassia tells, “It was clear that the March would not happen because the authorities had pre-emptively started to detain its participants. Actually,  we came to fix that the protest action had already been destroyed. Our plan then was to record what was happening to the farmers who intended to hold a protest as an attempt to draw attention  of Moscow to raiding practices of big agricultural complexes which seized the land they had cultivated for years”. The first protest rally by Krasnodar Kray farmers was held in August last year. 17 farmers drove to Moscow to raise problem of raiding practices by agricultural holdings,  first and foremost, by N.I. Tkachov agrocomplex which is affiliated with Russia’s Minister for Agriculture, Alexander Tkachov, the former governor of Krasnodar Kray. This year the plans to drive to Moscow  had been announced a few months before the tractor protest which was to start on March 28. Approximately, up to a hundred farmers intended to join the protest as the situation with raiding practices have not changed for the better. Sergey Khazov-Kassia  states,  “The organisers of the rally had managed to receive authorization  to drive through all the regions on the way to Moscow. The only region which refused to authorise was Krasnodar Kray, the starting point.  As the authorities got all the details of those who planned to participate, they started to individually harass farmers or even detain them”. Oleg Petrov,  the initiator of the protest, is in biggest trouble as a criminal case has been opened against him on charges of alleged “fraud”. He has been taken under two-month pre-emptive custody. He has gone on hunger strike. Sergey Zemtsov, a local lawyer who was a contact between the farmers and Moscow journalists, has been receiving threats. On February 8, he found a bottle with inflammable mixture inside his car which window was broken. On March 7, there was an attempt to beat him up in the parking lot next to one of supermarkets. He reported both cases to the police. The first time when the police finally questioned Zemtsov on the crimes committed against him was only on March 28, the day when he was meeting Moscow journalists. Alexey Volchenko, also a farmer who intended to join the protest, got 12 days of administrative custody on the grounds that he was one day behind the date on which he was due to pay alimony. Sergey Khazov-Kassia tells that they were witnesses of how farmers were stopped by road police and their cars were sent for technical expertise because “they look like the one which was involved into a road accident this morning”. Farmers were blocked from leaving their households as police cars were manning the gates. In one specific case, a farmer who had to distribute fertiliser in his field, was accompanied there by police cars which then escorted him back. As a result, out of a hundred,  there were a dozen who managed to get the meeting point on the day of the protest. Sergey points out that all those farmers still didn’t manage to drive their tractors. The journalists were rescued by a brave young woman who was filling her car with petrol nearby when she saw the attack developing by the hotel. She drove up and began to honk non-stop. Although Sergey managed to take photos of the white minivan in which attackers were driving, police, he tells, were more eager to “search our room in the hotel rather than search for the minivan”. At that,  when the police came into the journalists’ room, Sergey tells, they immediately pointed to some narrow space between the wall and the TV table in which some of the journalists’ stolen equipment was. Still, Sergey backpack was missing as well as 30 000 rubles (approximately 500 Euros) which were on the journalists when they were assaulted. Khazov-Kassia and Kostyaev had to leave Krasnodar Kray the same day. Andrey Kostyaev has been diagnosed with a broken rib. Sergey tells that the prosecutor’s office has finally opened a criminal case into robbery. However, they refuse to carry an investigation into obstruction of journalists’ legal activities which constitutes a criminal offence under Article 144 of Russia’s Criminal Code.

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