Novaya Gazeta wins Kursk sub case

Novaya Gazeta wins Kursk sub case

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Russia must compensate journalists who were sued for reporting on the Kursk nuclear submarine disaster in 2000.

The case was won by the notorious Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s independent newspaper, which is often critical of the Kremlin.

Moscow must now pay the investigative paper €3,388 and €2,170 to correspondent Yelena Milashina.

The Russian Northern Fleet’s nuclear-powered submarine sank in the Barents Sea on August 12, 2000.

In 2005 Novaya Gazeta alleged that there had been failure by the military to properly investigate the deaths of 118 sailors.

The newspaper is partly owned by ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and former KGB spy Alexander Lebedev, whose family control the Evening Standard in London.

The court ruled that by suing the reporters, Moscow’s defence ministry had violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, safeguarding freedom of expression.

It said Russia’s courts failed to appreciate the “important role of the free press in democratic society”.

The ECHR said that “they had acted in accordance with the ethics of journalism and Ms Milashina had applied the diligence expected of a responsible journalist reporting on a matter of public interest”.

The paper had disputed the conclusion of a naval forensic inspector, Viktor Kolkutin, who said 23 sailors died eight hours after explosions which had instantly killed most of the crew.

Novaya Gazeta alleged that the crew members were alive for longer and subsequent rescue attempts had been botched.

The 23 survivors were in the rear compartment and some of them wrote notes describing the events before the rescue team of Norwegian and British divers reached them a week later when they were all dead.

The paper alleged that the report meant there was no punishment of Northern Fleet officers for criminal negligence.

The naval probe found that two explosions had incapacitated the submarine after fuel spilled from a torpedo during a naval exercise.

Another witness reported that dull repeated knocking apparently heard from the sunken submarine was not a call for help from the survivors but some other unidentified noise from a ship floating above.

It was thought to be an SOS signal in Morse code.

In 2005 a Moscow court made the paper and Milashina pay 57,000 roubles (US$985 at today’s exchange rate) in fines for defamation over the criticism of the statements of military “experts”.

Russian submarines are still active in the Barents Sea. Picture credit: Wikimedia

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