BBG Watch has learned that longtime Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Russian Service human rights reporter Kristina Gorelik is being supported by Russian human rights leader Lyudmila Alexeeva and other key Russian pro-democracy activists in her lawsuit filed in a Russian court challenging her dismissal by Radio Liberty’s management.
According to Gorelik’s numerous supporters in Moscow, a court appeal in her case was scheduled for tomorrow, October 14, 2015. Lyudmila Alexeeva chairs the Moscow Helsinki Group, a human rights and pro-democracy organization.
Gorelik’s supporters both inside and outside Radio Liberty believe that she had lost her initial case against RFE/RL management last May in a lower court in Moscow because the Russian judge refused to accept various documents from her lawyer, including an independent assessment of her work. The Russian judge also refused to hear any witnesses in her favor. Gorelik’s supporters suspect a maneuver by RFE/RL’s Russian lawyers in Moscow was behind the Russian judge’s decision. The case, if it continues to proceed in Russian courts, may become a major embarrassment for RFE/RL and BBG as it involves a former Radio Liberty human right reporter alleging labor law violations by an American-funded news organization which regularly reports on labor law violations and other human rights abuses in various countries. Foreign journalists employed at RFE/RL headquarters in Prague, the Czech Republic, have also raised claims of discrimination and unfair treatment of foreigners. Two former RFE/RL Prague employees are also suing RFE/RL management alleging labor rights violations and have received support from Czech politicians and human rights organizations. RFE/RL management has so far resisted settling these cases and modifying its employment policies.
Gorelik is a highly respected journalist in pro-democracy circles in Russia. Leading Russian human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeeva (also spelled Alekseyeva) had written a letter to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) protesting Gorelik’s treatment by the management of RFE/RL’s Russian Service. The BBG Board of Governors now headed by Jeff Shell oversees RFE/RL’s operations and provides its funding which comes from U.S. congressional appropriations. Since a few weeks ago, the BBG also has new CEO, former U.S. private media executive John Lansing. RFE/RL has not had a permanent CEO for many months. There have been allegations of various irregularities in the management of RFE/RL and of unhappiness among some Russian Service journalists due to alleged heavy-handed approach of some service managers.
LYUDMILA ALEXEEVA: “We are greatly concerned with the cancelling of Kristina Gorelik’s human rights program ‘A Man Has a Right’ at the Radio Liberty (RL) Russian Service, which she had since from 2003. This is a unique program that fully reflects the RL mission (‘…Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) mission is to promote democratic values and institutions by reporting the news in countries where a free press is by the government or not fully established…’) and continues the tradition of the human rights movement.”
According to Kristina Gorelik’s supporters, Lyudmila Alexeeva’s letter had been sent at the beginning of June in Russian to the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland and in English to BBG board member Leon Aron and RFE/RL acting CEO Nenad Pejic. Sources in Moscow did not know whether Lyudmila Alexeeva has received any responses to her letter.
Lyudmila Alexeeva played a key role in defending dozens of Radio Liberty Russian journalists who had been suddenly fired by a former RFE/RL management in 2012. Thanks to numerous protests from Russian human activists and pro-democracy leaders, including former President Mikhail Gorbachev and former Deputy Prime Minister and Putin’s critic Boris Nemtsov who was later assassinated in Moscow, many of the Radio Liberty journalists dismissed in 2012 were eventually rehired by the new RFE/RL management led by Kevin Klose. Klose had retired from RFE/RL and has not been replaced, which some believe has led to the deterioration of management of the organization.
Kristina Gorelik was also among the Radio Liberty journalists fired in 2012. She and Lyudmila Alexeeva hosted a meeting for three members of the former BBG board who traveled to Moscow to resolve the earlier crisis. Gorelik was among those who were rehired but was later dismissed by the Russian Service management under circumstances which her supporters find highly suspicious.
The Russian Service management claimed that they had received an order from a higher-level manager at RFE/RL to eliminate one journalistic position in Radio Liberty’s Moscow Bureau. Such an order at the time of a massive crackdown on human rights and press freedom in Russia by the Putin government was described by human rights sources in Moscow as inexplicable. The person selected by the Russian Service management for dismissal was Kristina Gorelik, Radio Liberty’s longtime human rights reporter. According to the Russian Service management, Gorelik was dismissed because she allegedly produced fewer news reports than others. Gorelik is challenging this allegation in a Russian court, but according to her supporters, she would like to avoid any controversy. They told BBG Watch that she would like to return to her work as Radio Liberty’s reporter and producer of programs on human rights issues in Russia. She is being supported by Lyudmila Alexeeva, a major human rights leader in Russia, and by other leading pro-democracy activists.
LETTER OF LYUDMILA ALEKSEYEVA, CHAIRMAN OF MOSCOW HELSINKI GROUP
Ladies and gentlemen,
We are greatly concerned with the cancelling of Kristina Gorelik’s human rights program “A Man Has a Right” at the Radio Liberty (RL) Russian Service, which she had since from 2003. This is a unique program that fully reflects the RL mission (“…Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) mission is to promote democratic values and institutions by reporting the news in countries where a free press is by the government or not fully established…”) and continues the tradition of the human rights movement.
In December 2014 the host, Kristina Gorelik, was fired from the Bureau with no serious explanations or motives, and the program was cancelled. In January 2015 human rights defenders sent on this occasion a letter to BBG. We know that the leadership of the RFE/RL Corporation got a suggestion to settle the conflict. The conflict has not been settled.
What is known about Gorelik’s dismissal demonstrates, firstly, a disregard of the entire RL Corporation mission by the Russian service leadership. Secondly, it shows some violations of the country’s laws, in particular the Russian Labor Code, which applies to the Russian service employees working in Moscow. Thirdly, there is credible information that the true reason for Gorelik’s firing was the Russian Service head Irina Lagunina personal dislike.
During the trial at the court of the first instance some serious procedural violations have been detected and Gorelik intends to appeal the decision at a higher court.
There is no substitute for the “A Man Has a Right” in the air and on the website of the RL Russian Service. There is no sufficient coverage of the problems the public organizations cooperating with the American donors are facing with the pressure from the authorities referring to the law of the adverse foreign organizations. The program “A Man Has a Right ” was dealing with these problems in the format of a round table, with some respected experts invited. Now the Russian Service has two programs touching the legal issues and the history of dissent, however they cannot replace “A Man Has a Right” in covering the NGOs current problems and the activity of human rights organizations.
I and other Russian human rights activists have already had an occasion to contact the BBG and the US Congress in regards to the RL Russian Service situation. It happened in November 2012, after the employees’ mass dismissal at the Moscow office and the radio broadcasting cancellation in Russia. After an objective investigation of the dismissal most of the employees were hired back, and the corporation management responsible for the dismissal has been dismissed. However, the same lawyers who were handling the Corporation layoffs in Moscow used the same scheme against Gorelik.
After the return of the dismissed employees the Russian Service has made considerable progress in rebuilding RL’s mission and their online audience. This is particularly important in the new political situation of the information war, which Russia is currently fomenting. The program “A Man Has a Right” had an important role in that battle. Kristina Gorelik with her experience and views on the Russian society problems understands the RL mission and is dedicated to it more than to her own interests. It’s not just my opinion, this is validated by the 2012 Moscow Helsinki Group human right defense prize Kristina Gorelik received for “journalistic activity aimed at promoting human rights values”.
We are confident that if this conflict becomes public, it will cause reputational damage to the RL Russian Service comparable with the damage from the massive layoffs in the Moscow Bureau in September 2012. Achieving negotiated compromise acceptable to both sides seems to us the most rational solution in this situation.
Moscow Helsinki Group Chairman