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Journalists prevented from covering presidential elections, says GDF

(GDF/IFEX) - As had been expected, media reporters had a hard time covering the 4 March presidential elections. They were closely watched by electoral committee members, police officers and unidentified characters; driven from polling stations, detained, bussed to polling stations elsewhere, forbidden to use cameras, required to erase photo images and video footage, attacked, and deprived of their photo and TV equipment.

Most commonly, officials claimed that journalists were "encroaching upon voters' personal data"; "offering resistance to the police"; or "calling to vote against United Russia". Other pretexts cited included "data secrecy"; "there are other reporters at the polling station already"; "there's no one at the station"; or simply "the journalists are hampering electoral committee work".

As a more "exotic" occurrence, a Novaya Gazeta correspondent in Krasnodar was required to present the text of the RF Media Law in addition to his press card. And in St. Petersburg, reporters were asked to show a stamped copy of their charter and a notarized copy of their newspaper's registration certificate - and this despite City Electoral Committee Chairman Alexander Krasnyansky's previous-day announcement that a journalist would be admitted to a polling station at the show of his or her press card or editorial assignment.

Journalists attempting to record different law violations were pressured especially hard.

At one polling station in Vologda, a film crew for the Vologda-Portal news agency was attacked by unidentified persons. Seeing a man being pushed into a police vehicle, the reporters switched the TV camera on and attempted to go through into the station to find out what was happening, journalist Natalia Shekhireva said. "Instead, we were attacked, our cameraman was beaten and his and the photographer's cameras nearly got smashed," she said. "Observers have told us the atmosphere here has been strangely tense since the early morning, so we are trying to figure out what's going on."

At a polling station in Bryansk, Alexander Mikhalenkov of the opposition newspaper Bryanskoye Obozreniye, too, got beaten for video-recording procedural violations. To the law enforcers' merit, the young man in camouflage uniform who attacked the journalist was detained. In Krasnodar, Novaya Gazeta's Yevgeny Titov was pushed off his feet and hauled out of the polling station by electoral committee head Alexander Ragulin and a police officer. In St. Petersburg, Albina Abubakirova, a correspondent for the newspaper Grazhdansky Golos, was beaten by electoral committee members while shooting video sequences of the proceedings.

"Non-violent" detentions and removals of journalists from polling stations occurred in Kirov, Central Russia (Alexander Robotinsky, a freelance reporter for the newspaper Bloknot, a witness of procedural violations, was detained); in Moscow (Moskovskiye Novosti correspondent was turned out for "unauthorised" talking to observers); and in Alagir, North Ossetia (Rostov-based journalist Pyotr Bychkov was detained). Correspondents for the civil rights newspaper Grazhdansky Golos (GG) found themselves treated particularly toughly: its reporter Yuri Cherkasov was taken to the police station in Chelyabinsk, Anton Voronin in Nizhny Novgorod, and Regina Sabirzyanova in Kazan. Other GG reporters were ousted from polling stations in Barnaul, Siberia; Zheleznodorozhny, Moscow Region; and St. Petersburg.

The use of photo and video cameras was forbidden throughout Russia, but duty policemen in Bryansk displayed "extra vigilance", banning the cameras not only inside but also near the polling stations.

In St. Petersburg, electoral law violations were witnessed by representatives of at least 15 media outlets, including the newspapers Kommersant v Peterburge, Grazhdansky Golos, Moy Rayon, and Komsomolskaya Pravda; the web journals, Russkiy Reporter and; the web radio station Rupor; the Internet portal Gorod; the regional newspaper Koltushi; Seans magazine; the Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat; and the Communist party newspaper Piterskaya Pravda and Yabloko party newspaper Yabloko Rossii, the Lenizdat web portal reported adding that "this is by far not an exhaustive list of the media that found themselves pressured".

As we see, the vote was marked by a high degree of activity, and it seemed the authorities did have something - evidently, quite a lot - to hide from public eyes. . .

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