Journalist Sues Politician Over Arson Claim
Dyachenko is seeking $105,000 for legal expenses and damages, as well as a public apology.
Published: October 12, 2011 (Issue # 1678)
SERGEY CHERNOV / SPT
Protesters hold up a banner and a flare outside the Petrogradsky district administration building back in August.
A local journalist is suing the former head of a district administration for defamation, seeking more than 3 million rubles for legal expenses and damages, as well as a public apology.
Alexei Dyachenko, a journalist with the Internet news site Zaks.ru, was among reporters whom the then Petrogradsky district’s head of administration Konstantin Zheludkov accused via Twitter of setting fire to a bronze monument during a small protest in front of the administration building in August. Zheludkov called the journalists “hooligans” and “vandals.”
The protest was held by The Other Russia political party against controversial “secret” elections in which then City Governor Valentina Matviyenko ran in two municipal districts, including one located in the Petrogradsky district, to obtain the status of a deputy necessary to occupy the position of Speaker of the Federal Council.
President Dmitry Medvedev offered Matviyenko the position, which meant her leaving the seat of St. Petersburg governor, reportedly due to Matviyenko’s lack of popularity with local residents.
Matviyenko announced the elections after the registration of candidates was closed, preventing her opponents from registering as rival candidates, and was reported to have won more than 90 percent of the vote in both districts. Many other violations were reported.
During the protest, held at noon on Aug. 18, three days ahead of the elections, two activists unfurled a banner that read “Your Elections Are a Farce!” and shouted anti-Matviyenko slogans, while a third threw leaflets into the air urging people to vote against Matviyenko and the United Russia party.
One of the activists who was holding the banner lit a flare while a group of reporters watched and took photos.
About 15 minutes after the protest, which lasted about three minutes with no police in sight, six journalists including Dyachenko were stopped by policemen near the entrance to Gorkovskaya metro station, not far from the administration building. Dyachenko said the group had apparently been followed by plainclothes men from the site of the protest.
The officers checked and noted down the reporters’ passports and press IDs. According to Dyachenko, the reporters were released after they called the police press service and their editors. He said the policemen even apologized.
Later, Zheludkov posted a number of tweets on the microblogging service Twitter, accusing the journalists of setting fire to a bronze bust of Peter the Great mounted on a granite pedestal near the building.
“A group of hooligans was detained outside the administration building. Were throwing pieces of paper around and setting fire to the Peter the Great monument. Later turned out to be journalists. Very well-known publications,” he wrote in his first tweet.
Zheludkov went on tweeting throughout the rest of the day, getting in online arguments with reporters and their editors, threatening them and calling them names.
In his tweets, he insisted that he had witnesses and video footage of the alleged arson attempt recorded on surveillance cameras. He also wrote that the journalists were from Fontanka.ru, Delovoi Peterburg, Kommersant and Media SPb.
Media SPb is a holding that runs Zaks.ru as well as a number of other web sites and print publications.
“I called the administration’s press service and said that Zheludkov should either explain why he accused me of being an arsonist, hooligan and vandal, or apologize,” Dyachenko said.
In a later tweet, Zheludkov said he was ready to argue it out in court. He has not made any video footage public.
A St. Petersburg Times reporter present at the protest saw no protesters or reporters approach the bust of Peter the Great — which was about six meters from the site of the protest — or attempt to harm it in any way.
Zheludkov resigned on Sept. 1, the day after new City Governor Georgy Poltavchenko was inaugurated, making a vague comment on his resignation via Twitter. He closed his account days after.
“I filed a lawsuit on Sept. 5, and on Sept. 7 he quit Twitter,” Dyachenko said.
“I suspect he found out about the lawsuit through unofficial channels, and decided to protect himself in such a way. But I had a notarized copy of all his statements by then.”
Zheludkov’s tweets, posted under the now defunct user name @K_Zheludkov, can be found in Google’s cache.
Dyachenko is seeking 3,300,000 rubles ($104,742) for legal expenses and damages, as well as a public apology.
He said Monday that his lawsuit had been accepted by a court, with the first hearing set for Nov. 7.
Zheludkov, who was reported to have got a job with an unnamed federal agency, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.