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Media Matters: March 7, 2003

7 March 2003, Volume 3, Number 9
NETWORK READINESS INDEX. According to the "Global Information Technology Report 2002-2003," Estonia ranked 24th out of 82 countries in the Network Readiness Index, BNS reported on 21 February. Finland was in first place, followed by the United States and Singapore. Among other Central and Eastern European countries, the Czech Republic ranked 28th, Hungary 30th, Slovenia 33rd, Latvia 38th, Poland 39th, Slovakia 40th, and Lithuania 46th. ("RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 4 March)

RESEARCH ON KNOWLEDGE SYSTEMS. Research on Knowledge Systems, an initiative of the International Development Research Center, is launching its second annual research competition. This year's theme is "Strengthening Knowledge Policy for Small States: How can small states participate more effectively in local, regional, and global knowledge partnerships?" Among the six areas targeted for consideration is the issue of how small states can participate in issues affecting the health and life-sciences revolution, the digital explosion, the technological trade arena, and/or the reconstruction of their scientific and knowledge infrastructures following conflict and social unrest. The deadline for concept-note submission is 14 March. The competition will award up to seven grants by 6 July. For more information, see CC

VIRTUAL VOLUNTEER WEB-DESIGN PROGRAM. The Virtual Volunteer Web-Design program, sponsored by the World Resources Institute's Digital Dividends and InterConnection, donates websites to Digital Dividend Clearinghouse projects that meet InterConnection's criteria for website donation. InterConnection volunteers will create websites for organizations based in developing countries whose project missions include community social benefits, natural-resource preservation, human rights, or reinvestment of profits in the community. See CC

HERAT PLACES RESTRICTIONS ON MUSIC, MOVIES. The Endowment and Islamic Affairs Department of Herat Province announced on 1 March that, as the people of Herat are Muslims, their "behavior and actions should be in line with Islamic regulations as well." Therefore, the sale of "films that are contrary to the tenets of Islam is prohibited," and the showing of such films in shops and hotels should be avoided, Herat Television reported the same day. The announcement also banned the use of loudspeakers in shops and hotels, the report added. Shops and restaurants often play music for their customers through loudspeakers. Supreme Court Chief Justice Mulla Fazl Hadi Shinwari on 21 January ordered a ban on cable-television broadcasts in Afghanistan, and in February northern Afghanistan's Konduz Province issued a decree banning the distribution and showing of videotapes ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March)

KANDAHAR GETS INTERNET. The local private Itehad Internet Company on 1 March launched Kandahar Province's first Internet service, the Kabul daily "Erada" reported the next day. The service is capable of handling 1,000 connections at a cost of $3 per hour. That cost is to be halved once better lines are set up, the report added. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March)

JOURNALISTS ENCOUNTER OFFICIAL OBSTACLES DURING FIRST ROUND OF ELECTIONS. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on 3 March urged Armenia's election authorities to ensure that the 4 March presidential-election runoff is not marred by incidents similar to those that reporters encountered during the 19 February first round. Goar Vernizian, a reporter for the weekly "Aizhm," claimed she was pushed against the wall of a polling station, and an audiocassette was taken away by unidentified individuals on 19 February, RSF reported. Two Shant television journalists were reportedly assaulted and their videotapes were taken away after they filmed a man stuffing ballots into a ballot box at the same polling station. The same day in Yerevan, a member of the parliamentary commission of voting station No. 356/16 in the Nar-Dos school seized the camera of freelance journalist Susanna Pogosian and injured her hand. The chief of the Echmiadzin Election Commission refused to allow Karina Asatrian, a reporter with the independent television station A1+, and her cameraman, Robert Kharazian, to film. They were reportedly attacked by young men who damaged their camera and chased them out of the polling station. Diana Markosian, another correspondent with A1+, was stopped by local election-commission official Ararat Rshtubi at polling station No. 0391/17 in Yerevan. Two police officers then helped Rshtubi eject Markosian, RSF reported. CC

RUSSIAN-LANGUAGE PAPER DISAPPEARING FROM YEREVAN KIOSKS. The independent Russian-language daily "Golos Armenii" has begun to disappear from newspaper kiosks in Yerevan, the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations reported on 24 February. The newspaper believes that kiosks have stopped stocking the newspaper "for political reasons," the center reported. CC

NTV BROADCASTS NO LONGER REACH YEREVAN. As of 25 February, Russian NTV broadcasts are no longer seen in Yerevan, the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations reported on 24 February. Journalists believe that the Armenian government is responsible for the cutoff. CC

PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES HOLD TELEVISED DEBATE. President Robert Kocharian and opposition candidate Stepan Demirchian participated on 3 March in a two-hour televised debate, the first of its kind during an Armenian presidential poll, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian cited data demonstrating Armenia's economic achievements during his five-year tenure and sought to belittle Demirchian as lacking in-depth knowledge of economic affairs, foreign policy, and constitutional reform. Kocharian also accused Demirchian of being unable to restrain some of his supporters who, Kocharian claimed, resorted to "insults" and "unconstitutional appeals," according to Arminfo, as cited by Groong. Demirchian, for his part, criticized the arrests of more than 100 of his campaign staffers and accused the state-controlled media of "slander and lies" in their coverage of his campaign. Demirchian dodged specific questions about his socioeconomic platform, criticized corruption, and argued that poverty in Armenia can be alleviated only by abolishing the "clan system." He rejected making any concessions to Turkey to improve relations with that country and said that the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic should be represented at negotiations on the Karabakh conflict, according to Arminfo, as cited by Groong. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March)

SUPREME COURT LEAVES JOURNALIST IN JAIL... The Belarusian Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by journalist Pavel Mazheyka to reduce his sentence for defaming President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Belapan reported on 28 February. Mazheyka has been serving his one-year term in an "open-type corrective facility" in Zhlobin (Homel Oblast) since 1 September. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February)

...WHILE ANOTHER JOURNALIST'S SENTENCE IS COMMUTED. A district court in Asipovichy, Mahilyou Oblast, on 4 March commuted the sentence of journalist Mikola Markevich from time in a corrective-labor facility to corrective labor at home, Belapan reported. Markevich, who last year was sentenced to 1 1/2 years' labor for slandering President Lukashenka, has been serving his term in Asipovichy since September. The new verdict means Markevich may return to his home in Hrodna, where he will have to find a job and transfer 15 percent of his earnings to the state for 12 months. "I'm glad to be able to return home. The court's verdict once again highlighted the absurdity of my previous punishment," Markevich said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March)

NEW PUBLICATION ON BELARUSIAN MEDIA. The Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations and the Belarusian Association of Journalists on 5 March released the first issue of a new publication, "Media-ekspert." CC

LOCAL RADIO STATIONS MUST CLOSE. The Communications Regulation Commission (KRS) has decided to annul the licenses of 25 local radio stations throughout Bulgaria, "Sega" reported on 27 February. The decision follows a ruling by the Supreme Administrative Court, according to which the stations' licenses were granted as a result of procedural mistakes. The stations affected by the decision include, among others, Sofia University's Radio Alma Mater. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February)

MEDIA MAGNATE ESCAPES BOMB ATTACK. RSF on 3 March "deplored" an apparent attempt to kill Croatian press magnate Ninoslav Pavic. Pavic heads the country's largest media group, Europa Press Holding (EPH). A bomb planted under his car exploded early on 1 March in front of his Zagreb home. No one was injured. Pavic is now under police protection, but no leads into the bombing have been reported. Two EPH papers, the daily "Jutarnji list" and the weekly "Globus," often feature articles on organized crime. Last year, three "Globus" journalists -- Mark Cigol, Renata Ivanovic, and Gordan Malic -- were attacked or threatened by alleged Croatian crime figures. EPH, of which Pavic is co-owner, is controlled by the German group Westdeutscher Allgemeine Zeitung. CC

LOWER HOUSE APPROVES COMPREHENSIVE BAN ON TOBACCO ADVERTISING. The Czech lower house on 27 February approved a law banning tobacco advertising in all mass media, as well as on billboards and other public places, AP reported. Tobacco advertising is to be limited to stores selling cigarettes and specialized publications. The bill still must face scrutiny in the Senate. A similar draft law was approved by the Chamber of Deputies in April but was later rejected by the upper house, which deemed it too far-reaching. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February)

MEDIA TYCOON FACES MORE CHARGES. Police on 27 February added three more crimes to the list of charges against commercial-television director and recently elected Senator Vladimir Zelezny, CTK reported. The move brings the number of charges against Zelezny to six. The TV Nova director was elected to the Senate as an independent in November, but the upper house stripped him of his parliamentary immunity in January. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February)

ETA NEWS AGENCY FILES FOR BANKRUPTCY. The owners of the ETA news agency, which declared bankruptcy on 31 January, filed a bankruptcy petition with the Tallinn City Court on 13 February, BNS reported the next day. According to unofficial sources, the agency's debts exceed 100,000 euros ($108,000). Kalev Magi was appointed as trustee in the bankruptcy proceeding, with a preliminary hearing scheduled for 5 March. ("RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 28 February)

PARLIAMENT APPROVES TRUNCATED TELEVISION BOARD... A conflict between the two opposition formations led to the approval by the Hungarian parliament on 3 March of a truncated board of trustees for public broadcaster Hungarian Television (MTV), Hungarian media reported. FIDESZ and the Democratic Forum were unable to agree on the division among parties of the seats on the board earmarked for the opposition, and FIDESZ representatives walked out in protest after parliament rejected a proposal that it vote only on candidates put forward by the ruling coalition and not on those of the Democratic Forum. The legislation stipulates that each parliamentary group should designate an equal number of members to the board. The Democratic Forum insisted that it be allocated two members, like the other three parliamentary factions, and parliament finally approved a board based on a three-party consensus between the Socialists, the Free Democrats, and the Democratic Forum. The Democratic Forum rejected FIDESZ accusations that it concluded a deal with the ruling parties behind its back. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March)

...BUT TENSIONS CONTINUE. The Democratic Forum will decide before next week whom to nominate for the two remaining posts on the MTV board of trustees, "Vilaggazdasag" and "Nepszabadsag" reported on 5 March. Meanwhile, FIDESZ requested that the Democratic Forum, its ally in the opposition, recall its nominees and restart interparty consultations. The board must comprise eight members, with the ruling coalition and the opposition allowed to nominate an equal number of board members. The opposition parties must now reach agreement between themselves on who will represent them on the board. FIDESZ sought three representatives, while the Democratic Forum nominated two of its own. When parliament speaker Katalin Szili asked the Democratic Forum to nominate the other two opposition posts, FIDESZ walked out of the nomination proceedings in protest without nominating any delegates. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March)

FIVE JOURNALISTS ARRESTED IN FOUR DAYS. Five journalists have been arrested in less than one week, just after a delegation from the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNHCR) left Iran following an investigation into allegedly arbitrary arrests, RSF reported on 4 March. Film-magazine journalists Kambiz Kaheh and Said Mostaghasi were arrested on 26 February. Mohammad Abdi, editor in chief of the monthly "Honar-i Haftom," and Amir Ezati of "Mahnameh-yi Film" were arrested on 28 February, and film and music critic Yasamin Sufi was arrested on 1 March. RSF asked the head of Iran's judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, to release the five journalists and eight others, including Alireza Eshraghi, a journalist in poor health who has been imprisoned since early this year. Four days after his arrest on 18 February, journalist Mohammad Mohsen Sazgara was released after he began a hunger strike. His arrest is believed to have been connected to an article critical of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that appeared on his website ( During the week of 26 February, about 100 journalists signed a letter to Iranian leaders calling for the release of Eshraghi and his colleagues. (RSF, 4 March)

ELECTIONS LEAD TO STRUGGLE FOR TEHRAN DAILY. The pro-reform Interior Ministry is trying to take control of "Hamshahri," the daily newspaper run by the Tehran municipality, the daily "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 4 March. "Hamshahri" is the country's largest-circulation newspaper, and the reported takeover bid might be an effort to prevent the newspaper from becoming a mouthpiece for the conservatives who won the majority of the Tehran municipal-council seats. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March)

PRESIDENT GIVES RARE INTERVIEW TO U.S. BROADCASTER. Saddam Hussein said in a CBS News interview released on the network's website on 24 February that "Iraq does not have missiles that go beyond the proscribed range." Hussein was referring to the recent UN ruling that Iraq's Al-Sumud 2 missile exceeds the 150-kilometer limit set by the UN. The interview was aired on CBS Television on 25 and 26 February. Hussein also told interviewer Dan Rather that he wants a televised debate with U.S. President George W. Bush over the issue of war, saying, "I am conduct a direct dialogue with your president." The Iraqi president added, "As leaders...why don't we use this opportunity?" White House spokesman Ari Fleischer called the invitation "not a serious statement," telling CBS News: "This is not about a debate.... This is about disarmament and complying with the world's instructions to disarm." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February)

TV REPORTER IN QOSTANAI OBLAST CHARGED WITH SLANDER. A municipal court in Qostanai on 28 February accepted criminal slander charges against Kazakhstan Television (KTK) reporter Yurii Khalikov, the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations reported on 24 February. Khalikov is charged with insulting the honor and dignity of local law-enforcement bodies. The general director of Qostanaigaz, Aubakir Taykeshov, also brought a private complaint against Khalikov to the city court's civil collegium on 17 February. Taykeshov claims that his company suffered harm from a KTK report in which Khalikov referred to information from the Rudny city council on allegedly illegal overcharging for inflated gas usage by the city. CC

DUVANOV CASE HARMS KAZAKHSTAN'S INTERNATIONAL REPUTATION. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) on 3 March warned that Kazakhstan's attempts to win international media support for its campaign to strengthen the country's image abroad -- including its hosting in April of the Eurasia Media Forum in Almaty with invited guests from the international media -- could be damaged by the case of jailed journalist Sergei Duvanov, who was convicted in January on charges of statutory rape. The IFJ, however, claims that Duvanov's arrest and subsequent trial might have been politically motivated because of his criticism of the authorities, including President Nursultan Nazarbaev. Duvanov received a 3 1/2-year prison term in January, after an investigation and a trial that were full of irregularities, according to international press-freedom groups and independent observers. The IFJ called on the Kazakh judiciary to conduct a fair trial when Duvanov's case is reconsidered on 11 March. CC

EDITOR DETAINED FOR FORCED MEDICAL EXAMINATION... The detention of an independent monitor of last month's referendum on a new constitution shed more light on the murky world of government pressure on the press and nongovernmental organizations in Kyrgyzstan. Edil Baysalov, editor of the weekly paper "Demokrat" and leader of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, said he was detained on 28 February by military authorities and kept at a military hospital outside of Bishkek. His forced hospitalization came on the eve of a roundtable titled "Freedom of Assembly in the Kyrgyz Republic" convened by Freedom House, a U.S.-based organization promoting democracy and free and fair elections, at which Baysalov was to give a report on the right to hold public rallies. In a letter to a military commander, a copy of which was given to local reporters, Baysalov describes how he was summoned to the draft board, despite obtaining an exemption from military service as recently as 29 January because of his severe astigmatism. Baysalov said he was held at the military commission although he told officials that he was scheduled to speak at the roundtable. He considers his detention an "unlawful deprivation of liberty dictated by political motives." ("RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies," 5 March)

...AND RELEASED FOLLOWING PROTESTS... After several opposition figures and journalists visited Baysalov at the hospital, officials relented and said they would release him. However, he then opted to remain in the hospital for an eye examination and official confirmation of his draft exemption on health grounds, "Moya stolitsa-novosti" reported on 4 March. A Freedom House representative subsequently read a message from Baysalov at the roundtable, at which government representatives were also present, in which Baysalov said his detention was part of a larger government effort to intimidate and silence him that began three weeks before the referendum with his first summons to the draft board and a medical examination in the presence of three colonels. ("RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies," 5 March)

...WHILE ROUNDTABLE WAITS TO HEAR FROM HIM. Roundtable participants had been hoping to hear what Baysalov would say about his organization's monitoring of the referendum on the new constitution. "Slovo Kyrgyzstana," the leading official newspaper, reported last week that another nongovernmental organization, the Assembly of Peoples of Kyrgyzstan, and other pro-government civic organizations had inaccurately claimed that 60 percent of the coalition's participants did not find any violations during the referendum, despite the detection of numerous problems by both international and independent local observers. Kyrgyz referendum monitors found themselves under great pressure by both government officials and pro-government NGOs, as well as media attempting to glean their findings and put a positive spin on the plebiscite, which was launched hastily by President Askar Akaev in a bid to consolidate public support for his rule at a time of increasing grassroots opposition. ("RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies," 5 March)

WAS BAYSALOV'S DETENTION MEANT TO DISRUPT ROUNDTABLE? In a statement condemning Baysalov's detention, the Association of Electronic Mass Media of Central Asia said they believe the summons to the draft despite an existing exemption was timed to disrupt the roundtable sponsored by Freedom House and characterized the incident as an "unfriendly move" by the government toward the U.S. organization, which has a project defending human rights advocates in Kyrgyzstan. ("RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies," 5 March)

PARLIAMENT APPROVES WATERED-DOWN TELERADIO MOLDOVA BILL. The Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) majority in parliament on 28 February approved a significantly amended version of a bill on transforming Teleradio Moldova into a public company, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The Braghis Alliance, whose draft bill was approved by the government on 12 February, walked out in protest after a parliamentary committee restored provisions to the bill that would ensure governmental control of Teleradio Moldova. As approved by parliament, the bill stipulates that the 15-member Board of Observers, whose mandate runs for five years, will have two members appointed by the parliament (one of whom will be appointed by the opposition), two by the president, two by the government, two by organizations representing national minorities, and one each by the Supreme Magistracy Council, Teleradio Moldova, the National Federation of Trade Unions, the Solidarity Trade Union Confederation, the unions of creative artists, the mass media, and the government-dominated Veterans Organization. PCM majority leader Victor Stepaniuc said the new bill will probably "not satisfy everybody on the [Parliamentary Assembly of the] Council of Europe, but formally fulfills the council's recommendations." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March)

TV STATION TO GO UP FOR SALE ON EVE OF ELECTIONS. The board of directors of Unified Energy Systems (EES) decided on 28 February to sell the company's almost 70 percent stake in REN-TV, Russian news agencies reported. According to Interfax, an EES spokesman said the decision is consistent with "the company's policies of pulling out of its non-core assets." EES obtained the share in REN-TV from LUKoil in 2000 for about $100 million, according to "Gazeta" on 3 March, however, speculated that EES's decision might be part of a deal made with presidential chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin in exchange for the administration's support for a package of electrical-sector reforms currently being discussed in the Duma. Citing an unnamed Kremlin source, the daily wrote that "on the eve of the elections, the Kremlin wants one way or another to take control of all the major television channels." The paper predicted that control of the channel will pass to a person more loyal to the Kremlin than EES CEO Anatolii Chubais. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March)

PRO-KREMLIN PARTY OFFICIAL TAKES OVER GAZPROM INFORMATION-POLICY DEPARTMENT... Aleksandr Bespalov, chairman of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia's General Council and its Central Executive Committee, has been named head of Gazprom's information-policy department, RosBalt reported on 27 February. This post was vacated when Aleksandr Dybal became head of Gazprom-Media last month. According to, Bespalov was one of President Vladimir Putin's colleagues at the St. Petersburg regional office of the KGB. If that report is true, then Bespalov is the third former intelligence officer from St. Petersburg to join the national-gas concern in recent weeks. Bespalov has also served as a senator in the Federation Council (Penza) since June 2002. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February)

...AND GAINS CONTROL OVER COMPANY'S ADVERTISING BUDGET... "Gazeta" reported on 28 February that as the head of Gazprom's information-policy department, Bespalov will have control over the company's $100 million advertising budget, as well as over its media holdings, including NTV. Bespalov also has every chance of gaining access to the gas concern's "election budget," which, according to the daily, is even larger than that set aside for advertising. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March)

...AS GAS CONCERN WANTS JORDAN OUT SOONER RATHER THAN LATER. Ekho Moskvy reported on 3 March that it has received a letter from its largest shareholder, Gazprom, asking that the radio station terminate the powers of its board of directors, which was elected ahead of schedule last summer. Former Gazprom-Media head Boris Jordan still holds the post of chairman of the radio's board of directors, even though he was dismissed as head of Gazprom-Media and as NTV's general director in January. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March)

GROUP TAKES ONE-THIRD OF INDEPENDENT MEDIA. Prof-Media -- the media-holding arm of oligarch Vladimir Potanin's Interros media holding which publishes "Izvestiya," "Komsomolskaya pravda," "Sovietskii sport," and others -- has acquired a 35 percent stake in Independent Media, the company that publishes "The Moscow Times," "Vedomosti," and Russian versions of magazines such as "Cosmopolitan" and "Good Housekeeping," "The Moscow Times" and other Russian media reported on 4 March. The price of the purchase was not reported, but is estimated to be between $10 million and $35 million. The Norwegian media group A-pressen owns stakes in several of Prof-Media's holdings. The move was described as a "strategic partnership," and its first joint project is reported to be the publication of a sports weekly. Citing media analysts, "The Moscow Times" reported that "as long as Prof-Media remains a minority shareholder in Independent Media, the alliance does not pose a direct threat to the editorial integrity" of "Vedomosti" or "The Moscow Times." Independent Media CEO Derk Sauer lauded Prof-Media for not interfering with the editorial policies of its publications, but RFE/RL Moscow correspondent and media analyst Yelena Rykovtseva pointed out, "We all see that 'Izvestiya' and 'Komsomolskaya pravda' sometimes look more pro-state than state-owned media." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March)

FORMER SARATOV OBLAST CULTURE MINISTER SENTENCED. The Saratov Oblast Court on 21 February sentenced former oblast Culture Minister Yurii Grishchenko to two years' imprisonment and deprived him of the right to serve in state or local government for one year, reported the same day. Grishchenko was convicted of taking $1,000 and 20,000 rubles ($633) in bribes from the director of the Anshlag-94 concert agency, Yulia Sherstyuk. At the trial, Grishchenko partially admitted his guilt, saying the money was intended to compensate him for articles in the local media. CC

PAPER NOTES THAT NUMBER OF HEROES OF RUSSIA FROM CHECHEN CONFLICT CLASSIFIED. "Novaya gazeta" reported on 4 March that only 58 Hero of the Soviet Union awards were given during the entire nine-year Soviet war in Afghanistan, according to the Association of Heroes of the Soviet Union and Russia. The association reported that the number of Hero of Russia awards given in connection with the military operation in Chechnya is a state secret, but estimated that 90 percent of those honors are bestowed posthumously. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March)

CHECHEN JOURNALIST BEATEN AND DETAINED. Zamid Ayubov, a 40-year-old Chechen journalist for the local pro-Russian administration's thrice-weekly "Vozrozhdeniye Chechni," was reportedly beaten and detained by Interior Ministry forces in the Chechen capital Grozny on 16 February, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported on 28 February. Ayubov was assaulted when he approached an Interior Ministry unit and identified himself as a journalist researching an article about Interior Ministry units conducting night patrols in Grozny, according to RFE/RL. A CPJ source in Grozny verified that Ayubov suffered multiple severe bruises after the troops threw him to the ground and beat and kicked him in the ribs and back for about three minutes. The journalist was then arrested and detained overnight without charge, although he presented his press credentials and a Grozny residence document. Ayubov was released the next morning and has filed a complaint at the Military Prosecutor's Office in Grozny. CC

MEDIA MINISTRY WARNS PAPER OVER CHECHEN INTERVIEW... The CPJ on 5 March expressed concern about an official warning issued by the Russian Media Ministry on 26 February to the Moscow-based communist, ultranationalist weekly "Zavtra." This warning, which followed the publication of an interview with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's envoy Akhmed Zakaev, is part of the government's ongoing effort to control coverage of the conflict in Chechnya. Deputy Media Minister Valerii Sirazhenko sent an official warning to the weekly stating that the "material published by the newspaper incites ethnic hatred and justifies extremist activity" in violation of the laws on mass media and combating terrorism," Interfax reported. "Zavtra" Editor in Chief Aleksandr Prokhanov interviewed Zakaev in London and published a transcript in two February issues of "Zavtra." CC

...AND STATES ITS REASONS. Under Russian law, if a newspaper receives two warnings, the Media Ministry can ask for a court order to close it down. In the "Zavtra" interview, Zakaev strongly criticized the Kremlin, alleging that it seeks to portray Chechens as international terrorists and has tried to silence him, the CPJ reported. An unnamed Media Ministry spokesman told in a 27 February interview that the ministry was concerned by "the tone of the conversation." He said that Zakaev's comments that "Chechens live on their own soil, while Russians are occupiers...bears a negative attitude toward Russians." The spokesman also said that "more than once" the conflict was described "as opposition between Russians and Chechens" and that "this incites hatred between peoples." The Kremlin is currently seeking Zakaev's extradition from Great Britain for his alleged involvement in the killings of some 300 Russian soldiers in Chechnya. Some Moscow-based media analysts believe the "Zavtra" warning might be a prelude to closing down this newspaper known for its criticism of President Putin ahead of December Duma elections and the March 2004 presidential election. CPJ notes that other Moscow-based newspapers have published interviews with Zakaev without receiving official warnings. "Kommersant-Daily" printed an interview with Zakaev on 5 December with no repercussions, as did the twice-weekly "Novaya gazeta" on 11 March and on 9 December. CC

YOUNG CHECHEN NEWSCASTER ON NTV. For young Aset Vatsueva, her new job as a newscaster on NTV's "Strana i mir" (The Country and the World) program is a small Chechen victory, AFP reported on 4 March. In Moscow, veteran NTV journalist Leonid Parfenov invited Vatsueva to present "Strana i mir." Parfenov told AFP that his invitation to the young reporter was a way of overcoming negative ethnic stereotypes. Her first program, which aired in late October, focused on the Chechen women who were part of the group who held 800 Moscow theatergoers hostage for three days in October. Many television viewers accused Vatsueva of sympathizing with the hostage takers. "After the hostage taking, the police arrested my 20-year-old brother, Apti, and accused him of links to the abductors. The NTV leadership had to step in so they would let him go," Vatsueva told AFP. CC

PROSECUTOR DROPS CHARGES AGAINST SUSPECT ACCUSED OF THREATENING JOURNALIST. A Russian officer charged with issuing death threats against Anna Politkovskaya, a reporter with the Moscow-based twice-weekly newspaper "Novaya gazeta," was cleared on 4 March, the CPJ reported the next day. Politkovskaya is a leading investigative reporter who has written about human rights abuses committed by the Russian military in Chechnya. The prosecutor's office in the Siberian city of Nizhnevartovsk dropped the criminal charge against Sergei Lapin, a Russian officer nicknamed "Kadet," after evidence emerged that another person, who died last year, issued the threats and signed Lapin's nickname to them. Politkovskaya's lawyer, Stanislav Markelov, plans to appeal the decision. Politkovskaya began receiving threats via e-mail after "Novaya gazeta" published an article on 10 September 2001 entitled "The Disappeared People," in which she charged that Lapin committed atrocities against civilians in Chechnya. She specifically cited Lapin's alleged role in the disappearance of Zelimkhan Murdalov, a resident of Grozny. The e-mails said that Lapin was coming to Moscow seeking revenge for the article. Early last year, Lapin was arrested in connection with the Murdalov case. However, on 31 May, the Pyatigorsk City Court released him from pretrial detention on the grounds that he did not pose a danger to society and could await trial in his home city of Nizhnevartovsk. According to a letter from the Nizhnevartovsk prosecutor's office that was published in "Novaya gazeta" on 5 September 2002, Lapin was charged with issuing death threats against Politkovskaya in late July 2002, but remained at large. CC

POLICE ALLEGEDLY BEAT MOSCOW JOURNALIST. Ekho-TV reporter Yurii Gusakov was reportedly beaten in Moscow on 25 February by police officers who called him a "kike," according to reports by and Ekho Moskvy summarized by the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations. Gusakov said he was attacked in his apartment building by police officers who beat him with clubs and kicked him before taking him to a Moscow police station where the reporter was detained for several hours. He was released after his parents paid 2,000 rubles ($63.4), and he signed an official statement that he had no complaints about his treatment by the police. The local Interior Ministry has launched an investigation of the incident. CC

PASKO BECOMES PARLIAMENTARY AIDE. Grigorii Pasko, the former military journalist who was convicted on charges of espionage for passing information to Japanese television about the environmentally hazardous practices of the Russian Pacific Fleet, has accepted a position as an aide to State Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov (independent), Interfax reported on 3 March. Yushenkov is a co-chairman of the Liberal Russia party. ("RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 5 March)

PRESSURE ON POZAREVAC PRESS PROTESTED. The South East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO) on 5 March expressed its deep concern about recent events in Pozarevac, including a physical attack by local politician Bojan Stamatovic on local Beta news agency reporter Mile Veljkovic on 8 February as she attended a session of the Democratic Party of Serbia and various editorial pressures allegedly applied by Serbian parliamentarian Slavoljub Matic against Radio Boom 93. Matic has told editors and journalists at Radio Boom 93 not to broadcast statements of certain political parties and NGOs. Recently, SEEMO reported, Matic telephoned the director of Radio Boom 93 and criticized him for reporting about the pressure applied on the station. CC

DID FORMER PROSECUTOR-GENERAL SEEK TO CLOSE GONGADZE CASE? The Verkhovna Rada on 4 March asked Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun to investigate whether his predecessor, Mykhaylo Potebenko, abused his position and asked the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) to close its investigation into the death of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, which presumably can be dated to September 2000, UNIAN reported. The motion follows a Piskun interview in the 28 February issue of the weekly "2000," in which he said Potebenko, while serving as prosecutor-general, sent a letter to former SBU Chairman Leonid Derkach ordering him to halt the investigation into Gongadze's disappearance and presumed death. Piskun claimed he has obtained the letter. Potebenko last month requested that the legislature move a vote of no confidence in Piskun. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March)

PROSECUTOR-GENERAL SEEKS RECRIMINALIZATION OF SLANDER. Prosecutor-General Piskun is reportedly upset that slander has been dropped from the new Criminal Code, the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations reported on 1 March. Piskun will reportedly attempt to have slander reinstated in the Criminal Code. CC

ONE NEWSPAPER APPEARS... An independent Uzbek-language newspaper has been launched, reported on 28 February, citing a local Deutsche Welle correspondent. "Mustaqil gazeta" (Independent Newspaper) is owned by businessman Mirolim Mirahmedov, who said that he will take seriously President Islam Karimov's call for the press to be aggressive. Mirahmedov particularly mentioned the bureaucracy and corruption as his paper's targets. The paper's first issue includes stories on alleged corruption at the Tashkent Law Institute and an investigation into a Ferghana Valley court case. An independent newspaper was launched in Uzbekistan in the mid-1990s, but was shut down after the appearance of just a few issues. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February)

...AND ANOTHER IS CLOSED. The newspaper "Milli talim" (National Education), founded in early 2003 by the Uzbek Ministry of Higher and Specialized Secondary Education, is being closed by the ministry, ITAR-TASS and reported on 3 and 4 March, respectively. The publication appeared in Uzbek, Russian, and English. Acting Deputy Minister of Higher and Specialized Secondary Education Rustam Qosimov told a news conference on 3 March that the newspaper is being closed because of "grammatical mistakes." Rustam Kasymov, the newspaper's founder, said the ministry lacks the funds to continue publication and told a Tashkent journalist that some articles were signed by people who had not written them. The paper's editor in chief, Rustam Kasymov, asserted that the authorities fear that honest, independent editors would cast light on the problems of culture and the press in Uzbekistan. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March)


By Catherine Cosman

The impoverished country of Kyrgyzstan used to be called "the Switzerland of Central Asia" by some overly optimistic Westerners. The early days of Kyrgyzstan's President Askar Akaev's rule began in a rather liberal spirit -- at least compared to that of the country's neighbors. As might be expected of the president of the Soviet-era Kyrgyz Academy of Sciences, Akaev has adopted an iron-fist-in-a-velvet-glove approach to the country's media. In 2001, the favored official tactic for keeping the Kyrgyz press pliant was manipulation of the registration process and denial of access for independent papers to the country's sole official printing house. In 2002, scores of government ministers brought libel suits against independent media outlets in an ongoing campaign to try to bring them to heel. In contrast to its neighbors Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan usually adopts more legalistic methods to keep the country's media obedient.

In just one month -- December 2002 -- the independent paper "Moya stolitsa-novosti," which frequently writes about corruption, was the target of 13 lawsuits filed by the prime minister, the interior minister, and other leading Kyrgyz officials and businessmen. The paper's editor, Aleksandr Kim, told RFE/RL on 9 January that the lawsuits against "Moya stolitsa-novosti" were politically motivated and orchestrated by the government. On 5 February, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) called on the Kyrgyz authorities to stop using the legal system as a weapon against the independent media.

The year 2002 was marked by a growing lack of public confidence in the legitimacy of Akaev's government, largely due to the crisis stemming from the imprisonment of parliamentarian Azimbek Beknazarov, who was critical of a treaty that ceded Kyrgyz territory to China. On 17 March, Beknazarov's supporters clashed with police in Aksy in southern Kyrgyzstan, resulting in the deaths of seven demonstrators. The government's mishandling of the tragedy -- and the role of the state media in continued efforts to besmirch Beknazarov's reputation -- has led to repeated calls for Akaev's resignation.

Earlier this year, Akaev called for a popular referendum that he won by a large margin, thereby giving him a popular mandate to remain in office until the end of his term in 2005. An opposition website set up to monitor the 2 February referendum was shut down without explanation by its Internet service provider, according to Djypar Djeksheev, leader of the Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan. The website published materials critical of the Kyrgyz government, according to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service.

The official Kyrgyz media has been buffeted by waves of popular anger over Beknazarov's imprisonment and the related deaths of the Aksy protestors. During a 22 May 2002 session of the Kyrgyz Security Council, a decision was made to reform the national Television and Radio Company. A report by the state commission investigating the Aksy events states that one reason for the national protests was the state media's "one-sided coverage" of Beknazarov's arrest. When there were independent media reports that Beknazarov had been beaten in prison, state media journalists interviewed Beknazarov, and he denied these reports. After his release, however, Beknazarov claimed that he had made these denials under pressure.

On 23 May, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev told a parliamentary session that the "government had lost the information battle during the Aksy events, because it had not covered all its aspects." He also said that the state broadcasting company will be supplied with more powerful transmitters and government newspapers will be better distributed so that people will not have to rely on "independent information sources," according to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service.

Akaev has been careful to deny that there are any restrictions on the media in Kyrgyzstan. Yet in late July 2002, Akaev labeled the broadcasts of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service "a threat to the state" and proclaimed that they constitute foreign-financed "information terror," reported. After Akaev's comments, "Eurasia Insight" reported on 16 October that RFE/RL's signal has become more difficult to receive in Kyrgyzstan. Three Kyrgyz journalists who report for RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service were detained by police in 2002. Several reporters for Kyrgyz media outlets have also undergone detentions during the past year, and early this year, Aleksandra Chernykh, a reporter for "Moya stolitsa-novosti," was attacked by two unknown assailants (see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 24 January 2003).

The effort by the Kyrgyz authorities on 28 February to subject opposition leader Edil Baysalov -- who is also editor of the independent weekly newspaper "Demokrat" -- to undergo a forced medical examination might indicate a turn toward more brutal methods of dealing with the country's independent press. The Kyrgyz authorities may have wanted to prevent Baysalov from addressing a roundtable discussing the turnout for the 2 February referendum. According to the 5 March "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies," "Kyrgyz referendum monitors found themselves under great pressure by officials and pro-government NGOs, as well as media attempting to glean their findings and put a positive spin on the national plebiscite, launched hastily by Akaev in a bid to consolidate public support for his rule in the face of increased grassroots challenges" to his legitimacy.

However, popular support for the independent press in Kyrgyzstan on one occasion overturned a court decision in Djalalabad. On 13 May 2002, the Djalalabad Municipal Court violated Kyrgyz law by fining the paper "Kyrgyz-Ruhu" and its reporter when the defendants were not present in the courtroom. The next day, local residents protested the court decision, as well as violations of freedom of speech by blocking access to the country's main highway. Two days later, the court overturned its decision against the paper. This year, 30 Bishkek human rights activists, parliamentarians, and journalists signed a statement on the need to protect freedom of speech in Kyrgyzstan. Such actions, still rare in Central Asia, serve to remind the Kyrgyz government that people in Djalalabad and in the capital Bishkek understand all too well what motives lie behind the government's "courtly" approach to their country's media.