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'For Now We Stay Silent' -- Top Revelations From Hacked Russian Media Regulator

Aleksandr Zharov, the head of Russia's state agency for media oversight, didn't want to vacation in Crimea. "This is a catastrophe," he said. "I don't know what to do."
Aleksandr Zharov, the head of Russia's state agency for media oversight, didn't want to vacation in Crimea. "This is a catastrophe," he said. "I don't know what to do."

Anonymous International, a group of Russian hackers also known as Shaltai Boltai (Humpty Dumpty), has broken into the e-mail account of Aleksandr Zharov, the head of Russia' state agency for media oversight.

The leaked e-mails illustrate the government's tightening grip on the Russian media -- and reveal Zharov's frustration about Kremlin instructions to vacation in Russia.

Here are some of the main revelations:

Roskomnadzor vets content on Ekho Moskvy

The top radio station is seen as one of the few remaining platforms for free speech in Russia, despite state-controlled broadcasting company Gazprom-Media owning a controlling stake.

Mikhail Dyomin
Mikhail Dyomin

The leaked e-mails, however, show that the radio's newly appointed general director, Mikhail Dyomin, directly asks Roskomnadzor to approve some articles ahead of their publication.

"Please have a look at the following material," Dyomin says in a message dated February 2, 2015, and addressed to Zharov. "Do you have any comments or complaints about it?"

Dyomin's message also hints that Yevgenia Albats, a prominent journalist and longtime Kremlin critic, may stop appearing "on Ekho in the near future."

In another message dated February 24, Dyomin forwards Zharov a request to post a promotional video clip for an upcoming March 1 opposition rally in Moscow on Ekho Moskvy's website.

Roskomnadzor admits dressing-down of Dozhd was 'contrived'

The television station Dozhd TV received a letter of criticism from Roskomnadzor after running a poll in January 2014 that asked whether Leningrad should have been surrendered to Nazi Germany in World War II to save lives.

The poll sparked controversy and prompted Russia's major cable providers to drop Dozhd, a move widely denounced as part of a broader clampdown on independent media. The channel was also evicted from its Moscow studio in October.

Anonymous International published an e-mail from Vadim Subbotin, the head of Roskomnadzor's department for information technologies and mass communications, in which he admits that the letter of warning to Dozhd was "severely far-fetched, contrived."

The e-mail was addressed to Maksim Ksenov, the deputy head of Roskomnadzor.

Roskomnadzor chose to 'stay silent' on reporter's detention at Greenpeace protest

In October 2013, Roskomnadzor looked into the case of Denis Sinyakov, a Russian photographer arrested along with 29 others during a Greenpeace protest over oil drilling in the Arctic.

Photographer Denis Sinyakov in custody in November 2013
Photographer Denis Sinyakov in custody in November 2013

All 30 people were charged with piracy. The charges were eventually dropped.

According to Anonymous International, Roskomnadzor's Ksenov tasked his subordinates with "drafting a position on this issue" after the presidential human rights council described Sinyakov's arrest as a "violation of the law on media."

Ksenov appears to have received conflicting assessments, with one Roskomnadzor official backing Sinyakov's arrest and another stressing that Sinyakov "was not pirating but taking pictures."

Ksenov ended the debate with the following instruction: "For now we stay silent."

Russia is a holiday 'catastrophe'

Following the annexation of Crimea, Russian authorities barred many top officials from vacationing abroad and encouraged them to spend their holidays on the Black Sea peninsula instead. The restrictions applied to Roskomnadzor's leadership.

Many of Zharov's leaked e-mails relate to his attempts to organize an affordable holiday in Russia for himself and his family.

Zharov wrote to Pavel Ulyanov, the energy business director at Russian aluminum giant Rusal, to ask for help in securing a 30 percent discount at a spa hotel in Sochi.

Despite being promised the requested discount, Zharov vents his frustration about having to vacation in Russia.

"Prices for anything decent are at least 2-3 times higher than high-quality hotels in Europe," he writes to Ulyanov. "This is a catastrophe. I don't know what to do."

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    Lyubov Chizhova

    Lyubov Chizhova is a correspondent for RFE/RL's Russian Service.

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    Mark Krutov

    Mark Krutov is a correspondent for RFE/RL's Russian Service and one of the leading investigative journalists in Russia. He has been instrumental in the production of dozens of in-depth reports, exposing corruption among Russia's political elite and revealing the murky operations behind Kremlin-led secret services. Krutov joined RFE/RL in 2003 and has extensive experience as both a correspondent and a TV host.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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