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Press Freedom Fading in Post-Communist World

(Washington, DC--March 28, 2002) "The exhilarating prospect of broad press freedoms that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union a decade ago has faded dramatically in much of the post-communist world," according to Alexander Lupis of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) during a briefing yesterday at RFE/RL's Washington office.

As documented in CPJ's annual report on press freedom conditions, entitled "Attacks on the Press 2001," Lupis said that deteriorating conditions in Russia during the last year, along with "the stranglehold authoritarian leaders have imposed on media in Central Asia, the Caucasus, Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova, has put journalists on the defensive across the region."

Lupis stated that actions taken against the independent NTV and TV-6 television networks in Russia that silenced the primary media critics of President Vladimir Putin, "marked the debut of a more refined technique of political action disguised as capitalism." Putin, named one of the CPJ's "Ten Worst Enemies of the Press" in 2001, and his government also imposed censorship on journalists covering the conflict in Chechnya and granted sweeping powers of surveillance to security services.

Lupis noted that, since the September 11 attacks on the United States and the subsequent war on terrorism, journalists covering this story now face additional risks as well as restrictions from governments around the world that have their own reasons to silence independent reporting. For example, he said that some leaders in Central Asia used the war on terrorism as an excuse to further stifle domestic dissent. As for Russia, Lupis quoted the concerns of Alexei Pankin, who wrote in the "Moscow Times" that "here in Russia the authorities are always most eager to borrow from the worst elements of Western experience."

Attacks on journalists claimed seven lives in Europe and Central Asia in 2001, Lupis said, with four of the victims killed due to their coverage of crime and corruption in Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, and Serbia. The scandal surrounding the brutal murder in 2000 of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze earned Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma a place on the CPJ "Ten Worst Enemies of the Press" list, Lupis explained, noting that the disappearance that same year in Belarus of cameraman Dmitry Zavadsky also remains unsolved.