The Duma isn't safe Meduza publishes a leaked transcript from the Ethics Committee inquiry that exonerated a lawmaker accused of serial sexual harassment
Sergey Fadeichev / TASS
On March 21, the State Duma’s Ethics Committee finally held a closed session to review allegations by multiple women reporters who say Leonid Slutsky, the chairman of the Duma’s International Affairs Committee, sexually harassed them. In late February and early March, three women came forward openly and another two spoke anonymously, saying that Slutsky groped them and made other unwanted sexual advances. One of these journalists even recorded an audio tape of her encounter with Slutsky, where he can reportedly be heard asking her to become his mistress. In the tape, he also refuses to stop touching her between the legs. Despite the evidence and the testimonies of two of the journalists, the Ethics Committee ruled abruptly that it sees no “violations of behavioral norms” in Leonid Slutsky’s actions. Though the inquiry was closed to the public, Meduza obtained an audio recording of the proceedings attended by journalists Daria Zhuk and Farida Rustamova, whom the committee questioned about Slutsky’s behavior. Instead of learning more about the deputy’s harassment, the committee members used the inquiry to interrogate the two women, treating them as floozy agents in a plot to derail Russia’s presidential election. Meduza published a Russian-language transcript of the leaked recording here. Below, you’ll find several excerpts translated into English.
What happened after the Ethics Committee exonerated Slutsky?
More than a dozen Russian news outlets recalled their correspondents from the parliament, announcing that the committee’s decision means their reporters are no longer safe there. In response, State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said that all media outlets supporting the correspondent ban will immediately lose their parliamentary accreditation. The television station Dozhd confirmed on Thursday that its reporters are now banned from entering the parliament building.
So far, the outlets that have joined the Duma boycott are RBC, Dozhd, RTVI, Ekho Moskvy, Republic, Pravo.ru, Lenta.ru, Kommersant, Novaya Gazeta, Govorit Moskva, Znak, Sekret Firmy, and Bumaga. The newspaper Vedomosti also says its reporters will now refuse to work with Slutsky or any of the members of the Duma's Ethics Committee.
The Kremlin refuses to say peep.
On March 22, a day after the State Duma refused to censure Slutsky, reporters asked Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov to respond to the Ethics Committee's decision. He refused. Four times. Journalists from four different publications — Kommersant, Kommersant FM, Meduza, and Bloomberg asked Vladimir Putin's press secretary to comment on the story. Each time, he said the issue doesn't concern the president.
Read Meduza's editorial
Highlights from the Ethics Committee's interrogation of Dozhd producer Daria Zhuk and Russian BBC correspondent Farida Rustamova
- Committee members acknowledged that the Slutsky case has wider social significance
- Committee members were intensely suspicious of the fact that Zhuk and Rustamova didn't come forward immediately
- The committee didn't want to hear the ugly details of Slutsky's harassment
- Committee members implied that Zhuk and Rustamova were acting in concert to disrupt Russia's presidential election
- A Chechen lawmaker said Zhuk and Rustamova were aiding the “enemy media”
- Rustamova says other Duma deputies warned her against coming forward
- A committee member grilled Rustamova on what she really expected from the inquiry, telling her that Slutsky's seat in the Duma wasn't in danger
- A committee member told Rustamova that she may have invited Slutsky's advances by behaving unprofessionally and “intrusively”
- The committee's chairman concluded by apologizing for all the insulting questions
“The importance of these proceedings”
Otari Arshba: “[...] I want to remind all my colleagues that this is a conversation. It’s not an interrogation, it’s not a survey, and it’s not a court hearing. We’ve encountered this circumstance for the first time in the State Duma, and I think [for the first time] in the whole country. And that’s why the importance of these proceedings lies in the fact that we must discuss all these matters judiciously within legal boundaries. [...]”
Why wait four years?
Daria Zhuk: “I was on a business trip in St. Petersburg. It was late February , and that evening I saw the news on Dozhd’s website about how Duma deputy Zhirinovsky had been in our studio, where he’d been asked a question by Dozhd’s parliamentary correspondent about two women who say Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Leonid Slutsky sexually harassed them. When I saw this, I… I simply sat there for a long time, watching this news, knowing that it was the same deputy with whom I’d experienced the exact same… Well not the exact same, but a very similar situation, four years ago. I spent some time wondering if I should speak up, and later I decided that of course I should tell my colleague [Dozhd’s parliamentary correspondent, Liza Antonova].”
No details, please
Otari Arshba: “Thank you, Daria. I’ve asked the members of the committee not to press you on the details of the matter.”
Yaroslav Nilov: “It’s a delicate and unpleasant issue.”
Otari Arshba: “I don’t think we need to be asking whether he kissed you on the right cheek or the left cheek, or whether he kissed you at all. At the same time, Ms. Zhuk, I want to tell you that your passionate statement carries no factual weight. [...]”
What did Slutsky do to Rustamova?
“Did you ask his permission to record?”
Farida Rustamova: “[...] During our conversation, my recorder was running, because I’d come for an official comment.”
Otari Arshba: “Did you ask his permission? To turn on your recorder?”
Farida Rustamova: “I didn’t say, ‘And now I’m going to turn on my recorder.’ I just had the recorder in my hand. I told him, ‘I need a comment from you,’ and so on. During the conversation, Mr. Slutsky made it clear that he understood that I was recording.”
“What was the purpose of waiting?”
Nikolai Ivanov: “[...] What was the purpose of waiting a whole year? Why not stand up at the time? Why not make this public then? As much as a year passed, and others waited even longer. What is the reason for this time gap? Tell us, please.”
Farida Rustamova: “[...] I’ll tell you that, a year ago, when this happened to me, of course I consulted people working at the State Duma and with a few deputies. I asked them for advice. I talked to Duma correspondents who have worked here since 1993. I spoke lawyers, and I met with my own editors.”
A woman’s voice: “Can you name any names?”
Farida Rustamova: “I would not like to name them now. They have not authorized me to give their names.”
Raisa Karmazina: “What kind of consultations could you have had? You’ll excuse me, please. I’ve been around for a while. What consultations could there have been? If you were offended, as you say… If there had been insults… If he put his hand somewhere… Why didn’t you raise the issue immediately?”
Farida Rustamova: “I’m answering the question…”
Raisa Karmazina: “A year passed, and now you’re remembering whose hand went where…”
Several men’s voices: “Ms. Karmazina, try to be calmer and not so emotional. You asked your question. Now let Farida Rustamova answer.”
Farida Rustamova: “Well, it was because I didn’t know what I could do in this situation, given that, at that moment, in the second that it happened… people are different. For instance, nothing like this had ever happened to me before, and I behaved as I did, and I blamed myself for not screaming at him. Maybe I should have started throwing things at him, and so on. But now I don’t blame myself for this, because I understand that… You know, when such harassment [occurs], when it takes place without my consent and against my wishes…”
A man’s voice: “If it’s with your consent, it’s not harassment.” [laughter]
Raisa Karmazina: “Yes, that’s mutual desire.”
Farida Rustamova: “If an act is committed against me and against my wishes, then that’s a form of violence. And… I finally realized over time that it’s probably good that I didn’t start hitting… or doing something else to deputy Slutsky. You know, when a predator attacks you, it’s better to play dead. As for… why I waited a year: I didn’t plan to come forward with the facts [of what happened], because I spent a year studying the law, and I realized that there are no articles against harassment in the criminal or administrative codes. There’s nothing against it. Nothing.”
A man’s voice: “There’s Article 133…”
What does the law say about harassment in Russia?
Farida Rustamova: “Article 133 is about attempted rape, really. It’s forcing someone to commit sexual acts. That deputy Slutsky touched me… I’m not accusing him of such a grave or serious crime. There’s simply nothing in the law about this. For me, this was in the past, and I’d endured it. Then what happened in late February… When Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the head of LDPR, gave his interview to Dozhd… My colleagues, knowing what had happened [to me], they asked him this question. This wasn’t my doing. I can’t answer for Dozhd’s work. And that’s how this story surfaced. My colleagues decided that they would just… Well, as far as I know… I don’t know the details of how Dozhd operates, or what was going on there at this moment. They decided that, since the issue had been raised on the air, they should write a report about it. Because it would have been stupid to raise the issue and then… Well that's what I’ve heard from colleagues, so I don’t know…”
Otari Arshba: “Thank you, Farida.”
Farida Rustamova: “Well I wasn’t finished…”
Otari Arshba: “Well I was finished. Can we move on? We’re clear on these aspects. We have other questions.”
A likely coincidence...
Alexander Karelin: “Tell us: you say you had no intention of coming forward with all this… of creating a media storm. But why did all this coincide with the presidential campaign? There wasn’t any kind of synchronization? The whole thing is so well orchestrated…”
Daria Zhuk: “I can answer. I’ve already explained… When I started my story, I already mentioned how exactly it was and how it happened. State Duma deputy Vladimir Zhirinovsky was going to be our guest on [the show] “Hard Day’s Night,” and my colleagues were thinking about questions, and preparing (I only learned about this after it all happened), and thinking about what they could ask him. And several of my colleagues who were preparing for this show knew about all this, and they decided that it would be a great opportunity to ask if the State Duma knows or if he knows personally that this kind of thing has been going on for many years. Nobody planned to turn this into a special report or campaign, but of course the very fact that this question had been aired and that a State Duma deputy had answered it… Afterwards, we published a small report about it… And then, of course, everyone started responding.”
Alexander Karelin: “Excuse me, please, but I’d prefer… The fact that you all spoke in sync, in a single voice... [...] You realize that, sometimes, people tend to offer up their imagination as if it were their memory. That’s tied to the fact that you saw Zhirinovsky [on the air] and wanted to ask him something… You know as well as we do that Zhirinovsky is on the air frequently. I’m asking a simple question. I’m not asking what prompted you [to come forward], but why precisely did it happen at this moment? Why did this happen precisely at, to put it mildly, such a special and frenzied time, with the presidential elections going on? Why did it happen precisely then, and not a month later, or a month before? The whole thing has a certain harmony, no? Or is it because [the story] resonates so well and so loudly? You’re opinion-packagers, after all.”
Daria Zhuk: “Liza Antonova, my colleague, became aware of two cases, and this was enough to ask [Zhirinovsky] about it.”
Farida Rustamova: “Can I answer, too? May I respond to Mr. Karelin’s question? I… I’m trying to answer with as little emotion as I can, insofar… insofar as I believe that…
Raisa Karmazina: “Yes, nobody is demanding emotions. Answer as well as you can.”
Farida Rustamova: “Look…”
Raisa Karmazina: “It’s as if we were at the theater…”
Farida Rustamova: “May I tell you something? Daria Zhuk and I met for the first time only yesterday. Ekaterina Kotridkadze, who was first to come forward openly and say that something similar happened to her, I’ve never met. I’ve never met her.”
How dare you make Western pawns of this committee!
Shamsail Saraliev: “I have a follow-up question. Why was this issue raised precisely now? Generally, it would be worth getting into this, because we see that all the journalists who have raised this issue are journalists from the Western media. I call them the ‘enemy media’ because they… If we’re talking about free speech… It doesn’t exist anywhere in the world. We see that on Facebook, which blocked [Chechen leader Ramzan] Kadyrov just because there was a decree from above. As such, this has nothing to do with [free speech]. Should we be raising this issue in this way, further promoting the subject, and making it even more public? In fact, nothing happened, as far as I understand, based on what I’ve heard from what’s been said here today. I know Mr. Slutsky personally as a decent man. Because he’s always been with us, in the Chechen Republic, in our most difficult times. And today I’m seeing the State Duma, our chairman, and our committee, which operates so well, just bashed and attacked. Thank you.”
They said she'd be dragged through the mud
Yaroslav Nilov: “[...] When you consulted with people [at the Duma], what did they advise? [...]”
Farida Rustamova: “My colleagues who have worked in the State Duma for many years told me that they didn’t know how to deal with this situation…”
Yaroslav Nilov: “Okay. And what did the deputies say?”
Farida Rustamova: “The deputies, unfortunately, told me that I’d be buried in waves of mud, if I filed a report with the Ethics Committee. And their prediction came true. I will say again that I didn’t plan to make this public. That’s just how it happened.”
“But what do you expect of us?”
Yaroslav Nilov: “[...] What decision are you expecting from us? You write that you’re hoping for a fair inquiry. What plan of action and results do you expect from this committee?”
Farida Rustamova: “Within the framework of the committee’s authority, the question about what Mr. Slutsky… I personally believe that a person who behaves this way with journalists isn’t fit to serve as a deputy in the State Duma.”
Yaroslav Nilov: “Farida, this… Hold on. Now let’s talk without emotion here. Let’s use legal language. You write that you hope for a fair inquiry. Now we’ve gathered, and we’re dealing with this fairly. Tell us, please, what plan of action do you expect? What would the result be? What can the committee do as a result of these proceedings?”
Farida Rustamova: “Listen, I know this committee’s position, and I know it has quite little authority to influence anything.”
Yaroslav Nilov: “And what do you expect from us?”
Farida Rustamova: “You’ve been asked to force Slutsky from the parliament.”
Yaroslav Nilov: “[...] But the committee, as I understand it, can’t do this.”
“I wouldn't call it work”
Irina Rodnina: “[...] We recall (I personally remember very well) when you quite intrusively literally harassed information out of Slutsky in the hallway, after the [Duma’s] meeting [with Marine Le Pen], even though he told you the same thing as everyone else (that there would be no comment, and that the meeting was closed). You don’t think maybe your intrusive behavior provoked a certain reaction? I was a witness here, in the hallway.”
Farida Rustamova: “Ms. Rodnina, with all due respect, what you call intrusiveness is just part of our line of work, unfortunately.”
Irina Rodnina: “I wouldn’t call it work…”
Farida Rustamova: “You’ve never been a journalist.”
Irina Rodnina: “I’ve been meeting with journalists for some time. I assume you’re probably too young even to have been in the Little Octobrists. There are, of course, different kinds [of journalists]. I don’t think [your actions in the hallway] were work. It’s a demeanor — not work.”
Otari Arshba: “Thank you, my respected colleagues. Thank you all. We’ve heard you out. Excuse us, if anything was uncomfortable, or if maybe some of the questions offended you. But we were sincerely ready to hear you out. For us, this was also our first time with this. And I hope it’s the last. I’m sure every member of this committee agrees. Thank you very much.”
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