18 July 2003, Volume
OSCE AND MEDIA COMPANIES PROPOSE EDITORIAL INDEPENDENCE PRINCIPLES.
On 16 July, the OSCE representative on freedom of the media, Freimut Duve, and several media companies proposed a set of principles to guarantee the editorial independence of media in Central and Eastern Europe and the former USSR that are acquired by Western media groups. The principles outlined by Duve include: the need for ownership structures to be fully transparent; establishment of codes of conduct on the relationship between journalists and the board of directors; upholding democratic values and publicly acknowledging the media's political affiliation. Germany's WAZ-Gruppe and Orkla Media AS of Norway have signed on to these principles and the OSCE representative plans to start discussions with other media companies in this regard (see http://www.osce.org/news). CC
EMBATTLED TELEVISION STATION RENEWS BID TO REGAIN BROADCAST FREQUENCY.
The independent Armenian television station A1+ renewed its application on 14 July for its broadcast frequency in a new tender, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. According to Mesrop Movsesian, the head of A1+, the National Commission for Television and Radio is preparing to review proposals from seven private television stations that are competing for five broadcasting frequencies in the current tender. A1+ was forced to cease broadcasting in April 2002 after losing a tender for the frequency on which it broadcast. The frequency once used by A1+ was awarded to Armenia TV, which is owned by a U.S. Armenian businessman who strongly supported President Robert Kocharian in the recent presidential ballot. An earlier attempt to regain a frequency failed last month after commission Chairman Grigor Amalian rejected a seven-year, $5 million proposal by A1+. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July)
COUNCIL OF EUROPE LEGAL EXPERTS DISCUSS COMPOSITION OF STATE TELEVISION AND RADIO COUNCIL.
The Council of Europe's so-called Ago Group, led by Piero Ercole Ago, met in Baku on 12 July with Azerbaijani Parliament Speaker Murtuz Aleskerov, ANS reported. The delegation reminded senior Azerbaijani officials of their commitment to establish a balanced National State Television and Radio Council. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July)
PRESS-FREEDOM WATCHDOG CONDEMNS SUPPRESSION OF MEDIA.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has condemned the Belarusian authorities' recent decisions to shut down Russia's NTV television offices in Minsk and to deny the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) and Internews Network extensions of their accreditations, Belapan reported on 15 July. "Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's concerted campaign against critical voices has reached catastrophic proportions," CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said in a written statement. "Lukashenka and his bureaucrats should realize that their actions will only yield international criticism. He and his administration must stop hounding the independent press immediately." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July)JOURNALISTS PUBLISH UNDER RUSSIAN NEWSPAPER'S MASTHEAD.
A print run of the "Belarus Special Edition," published by Russia's "Novaya gazeta" and carrying stories by journalists from the suspended "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta," has been brought to Minsk, "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" Editor in Chief Svyatlana Kalinkina told Belapan on 15 July. The idea of sending Belarusian stories to the Moscow-based "Novaya gazeta" for printing originated with Russia's Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, Kalinkina said. "If 'Novaya gazeta' encounters problems in Belarus, there are many other Russian publications, including those printed in Belarus, that have already offered help," she added. Two recent attempts by "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" journalists to publish under rivals' mastheads in Belarus have failed. Belarusian authorities suspended the publication of "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" for three months for allegedly defaming the president. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July)PROTESTANTS ACCUSE STATE-RUN MEDIA OF 'SMEAR CAMPAIGN.'
Around 5,000 Evangelical Christians gathered in Minsk on 13 July to protest the Belarusian government's attitude regarding Protestant communities, Belapan reported on 14 July. The gathering was prompted by a "smear campaign" against Evangelical Christians in state-run media, according to Protestant leaders, who equated the situation with repression in 1937 Byelorussia under Josef Stalin. "Certain journalists accuse Protestants of murders, [and] call them 'satanic vermin' and 'enemies of the people,'" Bishops Syarhey Khomich, Syarhey Tsvor, and Alyaksandr Sakovich charged. The rally adopted a petition to Belarusian President Lukashenka saying Evangelical Christians will defend their constitutional right to freedom of conscience and religion by all the legal means at their disposal. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July)PRINTERS REJECT INDEPENDENT WEEKLY.
Belarusian printing houses have refused to print "Salidarnasts," a weekly founded by the Belarusian Independent Trade Union to succeed the suspended "Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta," Editor in Chief Alyaksandr Starykevich told Belapan on 14 July. He accused the government of forbidding printers from producing the weekly. "We are trying to find some way out, but we have limited opportunities," Starykevich said. "Predprinimatelskaya Gazeta," another attempt to fill the "Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta" niche, ran aground after Belarusian police confiscated an issue that had been printed in Russia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July)
NEW NATIONWIDE PRIVATE TV STATION LICENSED.
The state Communications Regulation Commission (KRS) on 14 July issued a license for a third nationwide television station to the Greek-owned Nova Televiziya, mediapool.bg reported. Two other bidders for the license -- the Czech-owned Nova Holding and the Bulgarian TV 2 -- announced that they will challenge the KRS's decision in Bulgarian courts. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July)
JOURNALISTS' ORGANIZATIONS LEAD INTERNATIONAL PROTESTS OVER DEATH OF PHOTOJOURNALIST IN CUSTODY...
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression joined the International Federation of Journalists, the World Association of Newspapers, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Reporters Without Borders are leading an international protest over the death of Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, who died in an Iranian hospital after suffering a brain hemorrhage allegedly after being beaten while in police custody. The journalists' organizations called for an immediate independent investigation, including an autopsy. CC...CANADIAN PHOTOJOURNALIST'S SON DEMANDS RETURN OF REMAINS FROM IRAN...
Stephan Hachemi, the son of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, is demanding the return of his mother's remains from Iran, Toronto's "National Post" reported on 14 July. Kazemi died in an Iranian military hospital on 11 July, apparently of injuries suffered while under interrogation by the authorities, who arrested her on 23 June. "I have a right to get her body back," Hachemi said. "That is what she wanted, to be in Canada, not in Iran." He added that independent medical experts in Canada can determine the actual cause of death. He has filed a formal request with the Iranian Embassy in Ottawa for repatriation of the body to Canada. Canadian diplomats cited by the "National Post" said Kazemi's mother in Shiraz is authorized to determine what will be done with the remains, while Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Reynald Doiron said Canadian authorities are likely to drop their efforts to repatriate the body due to the mother's alleged authority over disposition of the body. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July)...WHILE IRANIAN MINISTRY EXPRESSES CONDOLENCES...
Iran's Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry, which is responsible for press accreditation, sent a message of condolence on 14 July to Kazemi's Shiraz-based relatives, IRNA reported on 15 July. In the message to the family, Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ahmad Masjid-Jamei promised that the matter will be investigated thoroughly. Officials from the ministry's Fars Province office visited the Kazemi family home on 14 July. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July)...TEHRAN: CANADIAN PHOTOJOURNALIST'S DEATH RESULTED FROM A 'BLOW...'
Iran's vice president for legal and parliamentary affairs, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, said after the 16 July cabinet meeting that Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi "died from a brain hemorrhage resulting from a blow," ISNA reported. Kazemi died in detention on 11 July following her arrest by security forces on 23 June. Abtahi's statement appears to confirm speculation that Kazemi died from injuries sustained from a beating while in detention. Health Minister Masud Pezeshkian said after the same meeting that there was no evidence of injuries to Kazemi's face, IRNA reported. Asked if a Canadian medical team would be allowed to conduct an autopsy, Pezeshkian said, "I think we are educated enough to investigate this issue ourselves." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July)TEHRAN BURIES CANADIAN PHOTOJOURNALIST...
Seyyed Sadeq Kharrazi, Iran's ambassador to France, told a delegation from Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on 16 July that the body of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi was buried on 13 or 14 July, RSF announced on 16 July. Kharrazi said he does not know the precise location of the burial site. If reports of the burial are true, this would seem to contradict a report that a committee formed on the instructions of President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami on 15 July blocked the burial of Kazemi until the completion of an investigation into her death. Kazemi's mother requested that the coroner's office transfer her remains to Shiraz. According to another 15 July IRNA report, the coroner's office has sent Kazemi's autopsy report to the presidential cabinet and the judge presiding over the case. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July)...AND LEGISLATURE LOOKS INTO HER DEATH.
Jamileh Kadivar, the rapporteur for the legislature's Article 90 committee, which deals with complaints about the government, said on 16 July that the committee looked into the case of Zahra Kazemi prior to her death, IRNA reported. Kadivar said Kazemi's family sent a letter to the committee and that, in turn, committee Chairman Hussein Ansari-Rad wrote to Tehran Justice Department chief Abbas-Ali Alizadeh. The committee's letter was reportedly dated 10 July, one day before Kazemi's death, and Alizadeh's response was dated 15 July. Tehran parliamentary representative Elahe Kulyai said on 15 July that the legislature is trying to clarify the circumstances of Kazemi's death, IRNA reported. Kulyai said that when people who have official permission from the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry are prevented from disseminating news and informing the public, it undermines the Iranian state's credibility and "leads foreigners to escalate their pressures and attacks on us." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July)TWO JOURNALISTS REAPPEAR...
Payman Pakmehr, formerly a correspondent for the banned daily "Nasim-i Sabah" and the banned weekly "Ahrar-i Tabriz," returned to his home on 4 July, 48 hours after being attacked and kidnapped by unidentified individuals, according to a 10 July Reporters Without Borders (RSF) announcement. Pakmehr disappeared shortly after reporting on a gathering at Babak Castle, near the East Azerbaijan Province town of Kelidar, for the annual commemoration of Babak Khorramdin, one of the first popular Persian leaders to oppose the imposition of Islamic and Arabic rule. Meanwhile, Tabriz journalist Ensafali Hedayat returned home on 12 July, RSF reported. He was detained by vigilantes while reporting on disturbances at the campus of Tabriz University in mid-June and had not been heard from since that time ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 July)...BUT OTHERS ARE JAILED...
Issa Saharkhiz, the managing director of "Aftab" monthly, was imprisoned on 15 July after appearing before a court in Tehran to face a complaint on a publication in August-September 2002, ISNA reported. Bail was set at 150 million rials (about $18,750). Iraj Rastegar, the managing director of the weekly "Tavana" -- temporarily banned two years ago -- received a court summons on 13 July and, when he appeared the next day, he was sent to Evin Prison, ISNA reported on 14 July. Vahid Pur-Ostad and Hussein Bastani, editorial-board members of "Yas-i No," were detained on 12 July when they responded to a court summons, as was another board member, Said Razavi-Faqih, on 10 July, according to Reporters Without Borders on 12 July. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July)...AND AUTHORS INTERROGATED.
Habibullah Davaran and Farhad Behbehani, authors of the banned book titled "Memoirs of Prison," were interrogated at the Tehran Revolutionary Court, "Yas-i No" reported on 14 July. They were summoned to answer questions about the book, which deals with their imprisonment in the early 1980s. Omid-I Farda publishing house's director, Davud Alibabai, said in a fax to "Yas-i No" that the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry had authorized and censored the book already, and he asked if the judiciary recognized the authority of the ministry. If it does not, Alibabai said, then this should be announced so that publishers no longer have to bother getting permits. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July)TEHRAN'S INTERFERENCE WITH WEBSITES PROVOKES ANGRY REACTION.
Iran's Post, Telegraph, and Telephone Ministry announced that the blocking of the websites persianblog.com and blogspot.com, a hosting site for personal-publication websites, was caused by a private company's mistake, "Yas-i No" reported on 14 July. The ministry added that it has ordered the company, Pars Online, to lift the filters and be more careful in the future. As noted in iraniangirl.blogspot.com about the blocking of the sites, "They always knew that Iranian weblogs can be their first enemy [and] they couldn't stand so many pages in the Internet without their control written by Iranians [and] were always searching for a way; at last they did the worst [and] blocked all of them!" Meanwhile, students at Amir Kabir University have threatened to take legal action against President Mohammad Khatami's government for blocking Iranians' access to their website (www.akunews.org), dpa reported on 14 July. The students' letter noted, "We regret that access to many pornographic sites are easier than that of an acknowledged and registered students group." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July)UN RAPPORTEUR ON FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION TO VISIT IRAN.
At the invitation of the government, the United Nations Special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Ambeyi Ligabo, will visit Iran from 17-27 July. During his visit, he will meet with senior government officials and judges, UN representatives, and civil organizations, including journalists and academics. The purpose of his visit is to gather information on threats, physical violence, and harassment of journalists and writers. Ligabo, a Kenyan, was appointed special rapporteur on 26 August 2002. CC
GOVERNING COUNCIL CRITICIZES ARAB SATELLITE TV STATIONS FOR LACK OF SUPPORT.
The U.S.-backed Governing Council of Iraq held its inaugural meeting in Baghdad on 13 July, international news agencies reported. The 25-member council, which will wield executive and legislative powers in an interim phase before a new government is formed, is seen as the first step toward democratic Iraqi self-rule in the wake of the U.S.-led operation to oust former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The council members openly criticized the Arab League, Arab states, and their satellite networks during the 13 July press conference for their apparent support for the deposed Hussein regime, Al-Jazeera reported. Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum told reporters that Arab satellite channels "betrayed [Iraqis] and did not stand by us," adding, "These channels are awaiting Saddam's return." Nasir al-Chadirji, secretary-general of the Movement of National Democrats, added: "I have an appeal for Al-Jazeera and other Arab satellite channels. I tell them: Enough incitement for the Iraqi people to carry out acts of violence against the coalition troops." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July)
IPI: DRAFT MEDIA LAW DEEPLY FLAWED.
A proposed media law introduced by the Kazakh government contains provisions that can only lead one to view the draft law as an attempt to control and intimidate the media, warns the International Press Institute (IPI). According to the 14 July IPI report, the draft media law is flawed and should be reviewed by local journalists and international organizations. The report also stated that "the government of Kazakhstan needs to work harder at incorporating international standards on freedom of the press and of expression, particularly regarding the proper definitions of press freedom, limitations on this right, secrecy laws, journalists' confidentiality, censorship, freedom of information, and media activities during elections." The proposed media law, IPI believes, would give authorities the right to fire journalists and editors, to bar owners from establishing media organizations, and to shield politicians from public scrutiny. For the full report, see http://www.freemedia.at/kazakhstanreport.htm CC
POLICE OFFICIAL SAYS HIZB UT-TAHRIR BECOMING MORE ACTIVE IN BISHKEK.
The head of Bishkek's Internal Affairs Office, Keneshbek Duishebaev, asserted on 10 July that the level of activity of the banned Muslim extremist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir has increased in the Kyrgyz capital in the first half of 2003, akipress.org reported the same day. He told journalists that in 2002, only two people were detained in Bishkek for distributing Hizb ut-Tahrir publications, and 201 leaflets and 101 brochures were confiscated from them, but that so far in 2003 only eight people have been detained for distributing leaflets on seven separate occasions, and more than 400 copies of the leaflets have been confiscated and handed over to the National Security Service for further investigation. The leaflets, which are usually distributed in bazaars, minibazaars, and apartment houses, call for the removal of the secular state and its replacement by a medieval-style caliphate. The Kyrgyz authorities regard this as a call to overthrow the constitution, a crime under Kyrgyz law. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July)
NEW TELERADIO MOLDOVA DIRECTOR ELECTED.
Artur Efremov was elected the new director of the state-owned Teleradio Moldova, BASA-Press reported. Efremov, 32, followed Ion Gonta as chairman and was elected based on the recently adopted audiovisual law. Between 1999 and 2000, Efremov served as chief editor of the ORT-Moldova television station's information service. There were nine candidates for the post, including Gonta. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July)
NGOS PROTEST VIOLATION OF LAW ON ACCESS TO INFORMATION.
Five nongovernmental organizations on 10 July addressed a protest to Prosecutor-General Tanase Joita concerning an alleged violation of the law on access to public information, Mediafax reported. According to the NGOs, the mayor and the local council of Selimbar in Sibiu County violated the law by raising the fee for copying documents from 1,500 lei (some $0.05) to 100,000 lei per page. According to the law, adopted in 2001, access to public information is free. The protesters argue that the cost of copying documents "cannot be transformed into a pretext for annulling that free access." Former Selimbar Mayor Doru Sandru was asked to pay 22.6 million lei for copying requested documents. The local council raised the fees following Sandru's request for the documents. The NGOs asked Joita to investigate. ("RFE/RL Newsline, 11 July)
BUSINESS LEADER LAMENTS STATE OF NATIONAL MEDIA.
The Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP) has decided to leave Media-Sotsium, the noncommercial partnership that participated in a tender for the broadcasting rights of TV-6, RSPP President Arkadii Volskii told Ekho Moskvy on 10 July. Volskii said he has taken the closure of TVS to heart and has "still not completely gotten over the night when [it] was taken off the air." "This is not the way to work in a democratic country," he said. Volskii said that another media outlet might soon experience the same fate as TVS. Meanwhile, Ekho Moskvy on 10 July posted on its Internet site direct video feeds from its Moscow studios, lenta.ru reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July)MAN ON THE STREET INDIFFERENT TO RUSSIA'S UPCOMING ELECTIONS.
Russian society has no particular interest in the 7 December State Duma elections, Center for Political Technology General Director Igor Bunin said at a 10 July roundtable on the elections, RosBalt reported. Bunin attributed this lack of interest to the Russian authorities' monopolization of the mass media and society's distrust of the authorities in general. "The State Duma elections will not be ideological -- this will be a war of brands," he said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July)OMSK RACE BEGINS WITH LAWSUIT.
Omsk Governor Leonid Polezhaev officially informed the oblast's Election Commission on 14 July that he plans to participate in the region's 7 September gubernatorial election, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 15 July. He also filed a defamation lawsuit against his probable competitor in that race, Communist State Duma Deputy Leonid Maevskii. An unidentified source in the oblast's Communist Party branch told the daily that Maevskii does not have a lot of money to conduct his campaign. One way to further reduce his campaign coffers, the daily suggested, would be to force him to wage legal battles. Polezhaev is currently seeking "moral damages" from Maevskii for an article in a local newspaper in which the legislator drew a conclusion about Polezhaev's "closeness to criminal activities." Polezhaev is seeking 200,000 rubles ($6,600) from Maevskii and 100,000 rubles from the author of the article. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July)SVERDLOVSK FINANCE OFFICIAL GONE FISHING...
Anton Bakov, a legislator in the Sverdlovsk Oblast legislature, told reporters in Yekaterinburg on 10 July that he does not believe that the recent death of oblast Finance Minister Vladimir Chervyakov was accidental, regions.ru reported. The body of Chervyakov, 45, was found on the banks of Lake Chusovskoe on the evening of 7 July. Chervyakov had been participating in a fishing festival, RosBalt reported on 8 July. According to Bakov, Chervyakov had long been collecting documents that could be of interest to "this and that organ." Bakov said Chervyakov gave him documents in Moscow pertaining to the oblast television station's cofounders, both of whom were sentenced to multiple years in prison as a result of the documents' exposure. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July)...FOLLOWING YEARS OF DOCUMENT COLLECTION.
"Examining these documents, you will understand why Chervyakov spoke about the unbearable atmosphere that surrounded his work and why he was depressed," Bakov told regions.ru. Meanwhile, UralBiznesKonsalting reported on 8 July that the Prosecutor's Office of the Ural Federal District has already established that Chervyakov died of a heart attack. An additional medical exam is under way, but the office reported that "in all likelihood, the reason for the death of Chervyakov is not of a criminal nature." Bakov is a longtime foe of Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel, who is seeking a third term in gubernatorial elections on 7 September. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July)PRO-KREMLIN JOURNALIST WINS CASE FILED BY LAWYER FOR HOSTAGE-CRISIS VICTIMS.
A Moscow district court has rejected a defamation claim filed by Igor Trunov, a lawyer representing some of the victims of the October 2002 operation to rescue hostages being held by Chechen fighters in a Moscow theater, lenta.ru reported on 14 July. Trunov alleged that ORT commentator Mikhail Leontev defamed him by saying on the state-run channel that Trunov "is a marauder making a career on blood." Trunov's clients were suing the state for compensation following the hostage-rescue operation, in which 122 hostages died from the effects of a sleeping gas that security agents pumped into the theater to immobilize the hostage takers. In its verdict, the court said that Leontev was simply expressing his own opinion and that, according to the Russian Constitution, no one can be deprived of the right to their opinions. Leontev is well known for his strongly anti-Western commentaries and is one of the coordinators of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party's campaign for the 7 December State Duma elections. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July)TVS WORKERS LOSE ACCESS TO OSTANKINO.
TVS workers were denied access to the Ostankino television center in Moscow on 11 July, Ekho Moskvy reported. TVS Editor in Chief Yevgenii Kiselev said that no reason has been given for why security personnel at the center were told to bar TVS employees from entering the building. According to Kiselev, the station has no other office besides the one in Ostankino and all of its documents are there. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July)DETAILS EMERGE ABOUT CASE OF 'VERSIYA' EDITOR.
"Versiya" Editor in Chief Rustam Arifjanov stepped down from his post on 14 July after the monthly lost a libel suit filed by Alfa Group co-owners Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven, "Vremya novostei" and gazeta.ru reported on 15 July. Publication of the weekly will continue for another three months, but its future after that is unknown. Fridman and Aven filed suit against the paper and journalist Oleg Lure for two articles published in 1999 and 2000 that alleged that Alfa Group had links to international criminal networks. On 10 July, a Moscow appeals court ruled that the information in "Versiya" was unsubstantiated and ordered the paper to pay 3 million rubles ($99,000) in damages. The court also ordered the paper to pay 170,000 British pounds ($282,000) to the British investigative agency Kroll Associates, ruling that the firm's reputation was also damaged by Lure's articles. The president of Top Secret, the holding that owns "Versiya," Veronika Borovik-Khilchevskaya, said that she accepted Arifjanov's resignation and that Lure, who writes for other publications, left "Versiya" two weeks ago. "Versiya" was founded by investigative journalist Artem Borovik, who died in a mysterious plane crash in 2000. In 2001, the U.S. magazine "U.S. News and World Report," which is a partner in the "Versiya" project, and the American Foreign Press Club, established the Atrem Borovik Award to honor courageous Russian journalists. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15, 16 July)DAILY ASKS WHO WILL PAY FOR UNIVERSAL TELEPHONE SERVICE?
"Vremya-MN" on 12 July discussed the law on communications that was recently signed into law by President Putin. According to the daily, the law requires that even the most remote corner of Russia be connected to at least one telephone and that every village with a population of more than 500 people should have at least one computer with an Internet connection. However, neither the sources for financing this "grandiose" project nor the entities that will implement it have been named. Rostelecom has not confirmed its participation and is refraining from comment. According to the daily, there are more than 50,000 settlements in Russia that do not have telephone connections. Comstar spokeswoman Lyudmila Starikova told the daily that "I can say only one thing: Commercial telecommunications firms will not participate in this." She continued: "Providing equipment to connect 50,000 separate population points is a very expensive pleasure, and someone should pay for it. Today it is only possible to guess who." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July)
OSCE CHAIRMAN DISAPPOINTED BY PARLIAMENTARY VOTE ON BROADCAST AGENCY COUNCIL...
On 16 July, the OSCE chairman in office, Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, expressed disappointment in the results of the previous day's vote by the Serbian Parliament on the Broadcasting Agency Council. He explained that in conformity with the law, the OSCE would have preferred a repeat of the election procedure for the three disputed council members and the two council members who resigned. The vote "casts a shadow" over the legitimacy of the council, according to the OSCE statement. CC...AND OFFERS OSCE ASSISTANCE ON MEDIA REFORMS.
OSCE Chairman-in-Office de Hoop Scheffer said in the 16 July statement, that "the responsible authorities [should] address and implement the much needed media reforms in the country." The minister also said that the OSCE Mission in Serbia and Montenegro and OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Freimut Duve is ready to continue to lend advice on media reforms (see http://www.osce.org/news). CCARTICLE 19: POSITIVE VIEW OF DRAFT LAW ON FREEDOM OF INFORMATION LAW.
The London-based organization Article 19 issued a 14 July statement in which it hailed the Serbian draft freedom of information law "as a very positive step" to advance freedom of expression and information. The draft has many key elements in an effective freedom of information law, including an obligation to publish, a procedure for accessing information, time limits for disclosing information, and an appeals process. Article 19 also noted several areas needing further improvement: a better exemptions regime, a more flexible access regime, and a defined fee schedule. For the complete text, see http://www.article19.org/docimages/1646.doc CCTELECOM PRIVATIZATION INVESTIGATED.
Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic said in Belgrade on 11 July that an investigation has been launched into the 1997 privatization of Serbian Telecom, which he called "the robbery of the century," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic sold 80 percent of the company's shares to Italian Telecom and 20 percent to Greek interests in an apparent effort to fund his 1997 election campaign for the Yugoslav presidency. The Italian buyers reportedly paid at least part of the purchase price into dummy companies run by Milosevic out of Cyprus. The Serbian government bought back the Italians' shares in early 2003. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July)
PRESS GROUP CONDEMNS WIRETAPPING OF NEWSPAPER.
The Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI), in a 14 July letter addressed to Slovak President Rudolf Schuster, condemned the "illegal telephone surveillance at the editorial desk of 'Sme' daily" by the SIS, according to the IPI website (http://www.freemedia.at). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July)
TURKMEN STATE TV GETS NEW HEAD.
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has reorganized the management of the country's state-television system and has appointed a pediatrician, Gurbansoltan Handurdyeva, to head it, turkmenistan.ru and centrasia.ru reported on 16 July. Perennially dissatisfied with Turkmen television offerings that are "uninteresting" and concentrate overwhelmingly on the doings of the president, Niyazov experimented for about a year with three "independent" television channels, each with its own head but without a single overall manager. This system was supposed to improve performance by means of competition for viewers. Handurdyeva served for a year as deputy prime minister responsible for culture, tourism, and sports before being appointed the overseer of state television. Before that she reportedly worked as a pediatrician for 20 years. In announcing the reorganization at a regular cabinet meeting, Niyazov once again attacked state television as unprofessional and for not contributing to the "upbringing of future generations of Turkmenistanis [a term embracing all citizens regardless of ethnicity] in the spirit of love for their homeland and devotion to the traditions of their ancestors." Niyazov also fined his press secretary, Akmurad Hudaiberdyev, two months' pay for failing to exercise sufficiently strong control over state television. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July)
INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST KILLED IN SUSPICIOUS CAR CRASH...
On 16 July the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called on the Ukrainian government to thoroughly investigate the cause of a 14 July road accident that resulted in the death of Vladimir Efremov, newspaper and TV editor. Efremov's car collided with a truck near the eastern town of Verkhnyodniprovsk. The Interior Ministry's local representative has been named to head the investigation. Efremov, a correspondent for the press freedom organization Institute of Mass Information in Dniepropetrovsk, was editor of the newspapers "Sobor" and "Dniepropetrovsk" and founder of the regional television station TV 11, which supports former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, an opponent of President Leonid Kuchma. Efremov had agreed to testify at Lazarenko's 18 August embezzlement trial in the United States. CC...WHO HAD BEEN SUBJECTED TO THREATS, OFFICIAL PRESSURE.
Efremov, in the official paper "Golos Ukrainy" on 13 October 2001, wrote that he feared he would be killed --- probably in a staged road accident -- due to his work as a journalist. Efremov had been detained for two days in January 1999 in Dniepropetrovsk for alleged irregularities in a 1995 loan agreement involving "Sobor." Efremov claimed he had fully repaid the loan, believing he was arrested because TV 11 had broadcast a New Year's message from Lazarenko rather than from Kuchma. Ukrainian authorities closed Efremov's TV station on 9 March 1999 for alleged technical reasons �- although its broadcast license was valid until 2001 -- and seized its transmitters eight days later. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org or see http://www.rsf.org CCIFJ: LAW THREATENS PROTECTION OF JOURNALISTS' SOURCES...
The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) criticized the Ukrainian parliament for adopting legislation outlawing journalists' right to protect their sources. The 9 July law permits the detention of journalists suspected of revealing state secrets and gives, according to the IFJ, "excessive levels of power" to the Ukrainian secret service. The IFJ says it will protest the new law at the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the European Union. The OSCE representative on media freedom, Freimut Duve, said the new law would have a "chilling effect on the work of journalists, especially those investigating corruption" (see http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/1092/). CC...AND UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT 'EXPLAINS' THE LAW.
The Ukrainian parliament released a statement on the law, saying it "gives special rights to staff of the Ukrainian secret service to arrest journalists who have been investigating issues related to state secrets and who intend to publish this information...the secret service is authorized to demand a written statement from the journalist, explaining the reasons behind this violation of state secrets and confidential information. The secret service is also permitted to carry out a body search and a search of their personal belongings.... The law [would] also...fine journalists who have been arrested for seeking, obtaining, fixing, using and/or imparting information by technical means. The fine would be in the range of 50 to 300 times the monthly salary for the journalist in question and 200 to 500 times the monthly salary for the official source." CC
U.S. URGES BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES TO STOP 'STRANGLING' INDEPENDENT MEDIA...
In a 10 July statement by the U.S. Embassy in Minsk posted on its website (http://www.usis.minsk.by), the United States calls on Belarusian authorities to abandon their campaign of "strangling the struggling independent media in Belarus." The statement was prompted by the Belarusian Foreign Ministry's decision to shut down the Minsk office of the nonprofit International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX). "IREX has implemented a variety of assistance programs in Belarus for a number of years," and the Belarusian government's "own documentation demonstrates its official acceptance of these programs," the statement stressed. The U.S. government "deplores" the move and urges Belarusian authorities to reverse the decision "for the benefit of its citizens, if not in deference to the treaty obligations breached through its accreditation decision," it added. ("RFE/RL Newsline, 11 July)
IRANIAN GOVERNMENT SUPPRESSES NEWS ON '18 TIR' EVENTS
By Bill Samii
The Tehran Governorate-General's director-general for political-security affairs, Ebrahim Rezai-Babadi, said on 10 July that on the previous day a few dozen people were involved in limited disturbances in Kargar Avenue and Tehran Pars, and he claimed that some media exaggerated the extent of the unrest, the Iranian Students News Agency reported (ISNA). If true, then the Iranian government is responsible for the lack of reliable information about the events of "18 Tir" (9 July), the anniversary of the day in 1999 when Iranian security forces and vigilantes stormed the Tehran University campus.
"The Wall Street Journal" reported on 10 July that "thousands of protesters clashed with police and Islamic vigilantes near Tehran University." "The Washington Post" described "leaderless, expectant crowds" outside Tehran University that were facing "riot police, plainclothes security officers on motorbikes, and helicopters circling overhead," and it said police broke up clashes between hard-line vigilantes and bystanders and dispersed other groups with tear gas. In other parts of the city, members of the Basij militia established checkpoints and searched automobiles.
The "Financial Times" reported that "hundreds of people" clashed with about 2,000 riot police and vigilantes, with witnesses saying "police beat and arrested dozens of youths." People chanted against the regime and President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, threw stones and explosives at the police, and honked their car horns. Reuters on 9 July cited an anonymous witness who described sporadic street battles between vigilantes, police, and "pro-democracy youths." The witness claimed the police fought the vigilantes to prevent them from fighting the youths.
Iranian exile media presented a different perspective of events. Channel 1 TV from Los Angeles took calls from Tehran that described clashes between the public and the Basij at Inqilab Square and at Tehran University, concussion grenades, and the use of fire hoses and tear gas. Callers from other parts of Tehran claimed that some demonstrators and Basijis were killed. A rather enthusiastic caller claimed that people would storm a prison to free detained protesters if they were not released by 13 July. Opposition websites described clashes at Laleh Square in Tehran. The websites and television stations described clashes in Ahvaz, Isfahan, and Kurdistan, and in Mashhad Ansar-i Hizbullah vigilantes allegedly used mustard gas against demonstrators, according to www.newsgooya.com. The mustard-gas claim, while very unlikely, shows the extremes to which websites will go in making claims against the regime.
The Baztab website on 10 July described "sporadic demonstrations" at Daneshju Park, Inqilab Square, Kargar Avenue, Keshavarz Boulevard, Laleh Park, and Square One in Tehran Pars, along with others across the country.
These inconsistencies can to some extent be ascribed to Western journalists' reliance on witnesses who seem incapable of making accurate crowd estimates. Given the difficulty in getting and keeping press accreditation, it is possible that the journalists are reluctant to risk irritating the Iranian government. The situation for journalists of Iranian origin, even if they are citizens of other countries and are working for foreign news organizations, is particularly dangerous (see the case of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, above). Some observers might feel that the journalistic standards of the exile media are open to debate, and that some exile media organizations could be pursuing an agenda that is served by spreading stories of mayhem in Iranian streets.
The ultimate responsibility for the absence of reliable and accurate information, however, lies with the Iranian regime, which imposed a news blackout. Domestic Iranian broadcasting has avoided news of the 9 July events. The websites of the news agencies ISNA, Baztab, Mehr, and Fars were not updated during the night of 9-10 July; and although it was updated regularly, the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) carried no news about the unrest. (Mobile-telephone service in parts of Tehran allegedly was also shut down for a time.)
The reformist Iranian print media complained that it was acting on a government directive that forbade reporting about the events of the previous day. A 10 July editorial in "Yas-i No" apologized because it could not mention "a single word about the 9 July anniversary of that regrettable and criminal event." It said, "Every reference to 9 July, except the date of publication, had to be removed because of the imposed restrictions." "Yas-i No" added that the other reformist newspapers had acted similarly on 9 July, whereas hard-line dailies like "Kayhan" and Resalat" had ignored the government directive.
As if in confirmation of the regime's dissimulation about its actions earlier, Ali Talai, an official from the Tehran Governorate-General's political-security affairs directorate, said on 12 July that 250 people were arrested on 18 Tir, ISNA reported. More than 80 of these people have been released, he said, adding that more detainees would be released soon. This would seem to contradict Rezai-Babadi's 10 July statement about the involvement of a few dozen people in limited disturbances.
Bill Samii is the editor of the "RFE/RL Iran Report."