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Media Matters: August 8, 2003


8 August 2003, Volume 3, Number 30
ARMENIA
U.S. ENVOY EXPRESSES SUPPORT FOR EMBATTLED TV STATION. U.S. Ambassador John Ordway told journalists in Yerevan on 5 August that Washington was "disappointed" by the decision last month not to award the independent television station A1+ a frequency to enable it to resume broadcasting, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. "A1+ made a very valuable contribution to political debate and discussion by providing a much broader forum for the expression of views -- particularly views by the political opposition -- than the rest of the broadcast media," Ordway said. The Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have also criticized the National Commission on Television and Radio's decision not to award a frequency to A1+. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August)

AZERBAIJAN
INTELLIGENTSIA APPEALS TO INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY. In a statement released in Baku on 30 July, Amal, a group representing the Azerbaijani intelligentsia, accused the country's authorities of deliberately exacerbating domestic political tensions in order to create a pretext for police and military intervention in politics with the aim of neutralizing "influential opposition presidential candidates Ayaz Mutalibov and Rasul Guliev," Turan and zerkalo.az reported on 30 and 31 July, respectively. The Central Election Commission has, however, refused to register either Guliev or Mutalibov as a candidate for the 15 October presidential election. Amal called on the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the U.S. State Department to take unspecified urgent measures to stabilize the situation in Azerbaijan. Amal Chairman Halid Alimirzoev attributed the recent detentions of journalists and opposition activists to the power vacuum that has emerged as a result of President Heidar Aliev's incapacitation. He said police in rural areas are pressuring opposition sympathizers, threatening to steal their cattle and burn their crops. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July)

INTERIOR MINISTER DEPLORES DETENTION OF JOURNALISTS. Meeting on 30 July in Baku with Aflatun Amashov, chairman of the Press Council, and Arif Aliev, head of the Yeni Nesil journalists' union, Interior Minister Ramil Usubov expressed regret over the illegal detention on 26 July of a number of prominent journalists, including his two interlocutors, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2003). Conceding that the detentions could have been ordered by a senior official, Usubov pledged to investigate the incident and punish those responsible. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July)

AUTHORITIES, OPPOSITION DECLARE TRUCE IN 'MEDIA WAR.' Azerbaijan's new Press Council mediated three hours of talks on 31 July between representatives of the Azerbaijani authorities and the leaders of four major opposition parties, zerkalo.az reported the following day. The authorities were represented by ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party executive secretary Ali Akhmedov and presidential administration official Ali Hasanov. The two sides agreed to refrain, beginning on 1 August, from publication of any materials that could further exacerbate political tensions, or that violate ethical norms. Press Council Chairman Aflatun Amashev, one of the mediators, noted that such an agreement was urgently needed to preclude a resort to "medieval methods" in the standoff between the government and opposition press. His colleague Arif Aliyev of the journalists union Yeni Nesil argued that the lack of official information about President Aliev's health does not justify the publication of libelous or insulting speculation. Despite the agreement, the opposition dailies "Yeni Musavat," "Azadlig," and "Hurriyet" published on the front page of their 1 August editions speculation that the president is dead, citing reports from avrasyaturk.com, Turan reported on 1 August. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August)

BELARUS
COURT UPHOLDS BAN ON PUBLISHER'S ACTIVITIES. On 1 August, the Belarus Supreme Economic Court upheld a previous court decision to deprive Romuald Ulan, founder of the paper "Novaya gazeta Smorgoni" of his right to engage in economic activities. The court ruled that Ulan had committed "numerous violations of the law" in 2002, the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES) noted in its 28 July-3 August weekly report. On 3 February, the Grodno regional court banned Ulan from practicing business, upholding a suit filed by the Smorgon regional executive committee which alleged that Ulan had frequently violated the fire code and labor legislation, CJES reported. CC

DIRECTOR OF PRINTING HOUSE FIRED. According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists on 28 July, Alyaksandr Ladyata, director of the Simon Budny printing house, was dismissed from his position. The association said that Ladyata lost his job because in mid-July the house printed an edition of the paper "Mestnaya gazeta," which contained materials from the banned paper "Belarusskaya delovaya gazeta." The CJES noted in its 28 July-3 August weekly report that the editor of "Mestnaya gazeta" said that printing houses in the Hrodno and Brest regions, including Simon Budny, have been ordered by the presidential administration to stop working with his paper. CC

BULGARIA
ECONOMY MINISTER UPBEAT ABOUT TELECOM PRIVATIZATION... Commenting on the decision of the Supreme Administrative Court to push back the privatization of the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTK) to an earlier stage, Transport and Communication Minister Nikolay Vasilev said on 30 July that the sale is in the national interest and that it does not matter which of the two competitors -- the Vienna-based Viva Ventures or the Turkish consortium Koc Holding/Turk Telecom -- buys the company, mediapool.bg reported. Vasilev added that it is now up to the supervisory council of the State Privatization Agency to decide how to proceed with the privatization ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July)

...BUT ROW CONTINUES. Speaking at a press conference in Sofia on 5 August, Ali Koc of the Turkish consortium Koc Holding/Turk Telecom said the consortium will respect any decision by the state Privatization Agency, as his company has long-term interests in Bulgaria, novinite.com reported. The Supreme Administrative Court recently ruled that the Privatization Agency's decision to sign a letter of intent with the Turkish consortium on the sale of the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTK) violated privatization regulations. Koc charged, however, that the second bidder for BTK, the Vienna-based Viva Ventures, lacks the financial means to make the required investment, mediapool.bg reported. He added that representatives of Viva Ventures are trying to influence media reports about the privatization ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August)

CROATIA
ARTICLE 19: CRIMINAL CODE DEFAMATION PROVISIONS FLAWED. On 6 August, ARTICLE 19, the London-based campaigners for freedom of expression, published an analysis of the Croatian Criminal Code's defamation provisions, recently amended by the government and approved by parliament. While previous Criminal Code amendments imposed serious and unwarranted restrictions on freedom of expression, the recent changes aggravate this already flawed system, the report said. The new changes remove possible recourses available to those charged with criminal defamation and extend the scope of the offence to protect members of the judiciary. ARTICLE 19 said that it believes criminal defamation provisions represent a breach of international law, particularly freedom of expression. Croatia's criminal defamation laws are inconsistent with international legal standards and represent a setback in the development of democracy in Croatia, according to the report. For further information and a copy of the analysis, contact Julia Apostle, Legal Officer, ARTICLE 19, Julia@article19.org or europe@article19.org. CC

DAILY PUBLISHES 20,000TH ISSUE. On 2 August, the Zagreb daily "Vjesnik" published its 20,000th issue since its founding in 1940, dpa reported. The paper has always been "close" to the government of the day and has been unable to shake the image of being a stodgy government mouthpiece. "Vjesnik" alone among the major Croatian dailies rejects a tabloid format and sensationalist reporting. Its circulation is just 6,000-8,000 despite several changes in management and redesigns over the years aimed at expanding its readership. "Vjesnik" has kept its broadsheet format and stresses that every country in the world needs at least one truly serious newspaper. It is one of several surviving former Yugoslav dailies founded during World War II, including Sarajevo's "Oslobodjenje," Skopje's "Nova Makedonija," Podgorica's "Pobjeda," and Ljubljana's "Delo." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August)

IRAN
SUPREME COURT JUDGE SKEPTICAL ABOUT INVESTIGATION OF CANADIAN PHOTOJOURNALIST'S DEATH... Supreme Court Judge Mohammad Sadeq Al-i Ishaq spoke out about the death of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, who died of a cerebral hemorrhage on 11 July after the authorities detained her on 23 June. Al-i Ishaq said in a 26 July interview with ISNA that it is unacceptable that, 25 years after the Islamic revolution, certain events still occur that require the creation of a special committee to uncover the truth, and even then there is the fear that there might not be any results. The judge said it should be easy to identify the people involved in the case, because it is clear where Kazemi was held. He said the people responsible for Kazemi's death must be punished. In a reference to the 1998 murders of dissidents by Intelligence and Security Ministry personnel, he added, "It is hoped that this file will not have the same fate as some other files, such as that of the serial murders." Al-i Ishaq also seemed skeptical about the judiciary's ability to deal with the case competently. Speaking about judiciary personnel, he said, "I would like to point out that in the judiciary there are a number of high-ranking judicial officials who have no experience in legal matters." "Although they are at a high level of learning, that by itself is not sufficient," he added. "A person who has not performed any legal tasks and has no judicial experience will not be able to be a successful manager in the judicial system." ("RFE/RL Iran Report", 4 August)

...AS IRAN'S INVESTIGATION INTO DEATH CONTINUES... Justice Minister Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ismail Shushtari told reporters after a 30 July cabinet meeting that the investigation into the case of Kazemi has so far yielded no results, Fars News Agency reported. "The case is still being investigated, and no particular person has confessed to being the main culprit, and it has not produced results yet," he said. Shushtari said he has not seen Kazemi's corpse and cannot respond to reports that the body bore bruises. Health, Treatment, and Medical Education Minister Masud Pezeshkian told reporters how the bruises had got there, according to another dispatch from Fars. Pezeshkian said that injections a patient usually gets in intensive care can cause bruising at the injection site. "The bruises that Zahra Kazemi's mother mentioned relate to the effects of the injections, and this is a totally technical and specialist opinion," Pezeshkian said. "A film of the body is available and all the stages of the autopsy are on film, and, if anyone makes a claim of this kind, we are ready to show them the film." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July)

...WHILE VICE PRESIDENT HINTS AT MURDER... Iranian Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Ali Abtahi told reporters after the 30 July cabinet meeting that it is increasingly likely that Kazemi's hemorrhage was caused by a blow to the head, dpa and Reuters reported. Abtahi had made the same assertion previously. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July)

...AND BEREAVED MOTHER ALLEGES OFFICIAL INTIMIDATION... Ezat Kazemi, the mother of Kazemi, said in an interview that appeared in the 30 July "Yas-i No" daily that she was coerced into having her daughter buried in Shiraz, Reuters reported. Kazemi said she initially signed a document at the Canadian Embassy saying she wants her daughter's remains to be returned to Canada. But during her stay at a friend's house in Tehran, unidentified personnel paid nightly visits, she is quoted as saying. "Every day, four or five people came and talked to the owner of the house [where I was staying], and they created problems for them, and I was obliged to accept her burial in Iran," Kazemi said, according to Reuters. "I had no other choice. I didn't have money, I was alone, and I had no other place to go.... They wanted the burial to take place as soon as possible. They wanted to get rid of it [the body]." Kazemi said she wants her daughter's killer to be found and executed. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July)

...AS OTTAWA WELCOMES PROGRESS IN CASE. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham said on 30 July that the inquiry into the death of Kazemi seems to be progressing, "The Globe and Mail" reported on 31 July. Graham also welcomed Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Ali Abtahi's statement about the suspicious circumstances of Kazemi's death as a sign that reformists in the Iranian government want to get to the truth. Graham repeated his government's demand that Kazemi's remains be returned to Canada. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 August)

IRAN RELEASES TWO DETAINEES IN CANADIAN JOURNALIST CASE. The Tehran Public Prosecutor's Office said in a 4 August fax that two female prison guards who were detained during the investigation into the death of Kazemi have been released on bail, IRNA reported. Only three other people have been detained during the investigation, and they are being held for further questioning. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August)

IRAN SCRAPS SATELLITE DEAL WITH RUSSIA. Rajab Safarov, general director of the Center for Contemporary Iranian Studies and the head of the iran.ru news agency, said on 29 July that Iran has decided against purchasing a communications satellite from Russia, the Ekho Moskvy radio station reported. The Russian Foreign Ministry first recommended purchasing the satellite, known as Zohreh, from a state-run company called Aviaeksport, while Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov recommended the Intersputnik company to the Iranians. This behavior surprised the Iranians, according to Safarov, leading to the cancellation of the deal. "Iran is a leader of the Islamic world, and losing the Iranian market is a serious blow to Russia's interests," he said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August)

IRAQ
JAPANESE JOURNALIST DETAINED BY U.S. TROOPS... Kazutaka Sato, of Japan's Nippon Television Network, was beaten by U.S. soldiers in Baghdad on 27 July and detained for an hour until colleagues came to find him, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on 31 July. He was thrown to the ground and kicked after filming a U.S. Army attack in the city's Al-Mansur district. Five civilians were killed in a raid on a house where deposed President Saddam Hussein was believed to be hiding. Sato's camera was returned to him and he said that "it seems they [U.S. soldiers] had something to hide, perhaps the bodies of civilians." CC

...AS REPORTERS AND MEDIA OUTLETS HINDERED. The "Al-Adala" newspaper, an organ of Iraq's main Shi'ite party, said its Baghdad offices were recently ransacked by U.S. troops, RSF reported on 31 July. Four Turkish journalists -- Yalcin Dogan, Ozdemir Ince, Faruk Balikici, and Ferit Aslan -- were detained for 90 minutes on 26 July by U.S. troops. Although their equipment was later returned, their photographs of soldiers were erased from their digital cameras. Also on 26 July, Al-Jazeera's correspondent in Mosul, Nawaf al-Shahwani, was arrested with his driver and held by U.S. troops until the night of 28 July. His film was confiscated. Iraqi police had briefly detained a four-man Al-Jazeera team on 22 July while they were filming protests against the U.S.-British presence. The station said Iraqi police had arrested the television team at the U.S. Army's request. CC

U.S. OFFICIAL ACCUSES ARAB TV CHANNELS OF INCITING VIOLENCE. Speaking on the U.S. television network Fox on 29 July, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz charged that Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiyah were airing "false and slanted reports that are an incitement to violence" against U.S. troops, RSF reported on 31 July. The two stations have protested against the accusations. CC

PURPORTED HUSSEIN AUDIOTAPE AIRS IN MIDEAST. An audiotape purporting to carry the voice of deposed President Hussein was aired on Al-Arabiyah and Al-Jazeera satellite channels on 1 August. The speaker in the tape urges Iraqis to overcome fear and intimidation and fight to evict the occupiers from Iraq. "Some people lost their sense of balance during the war...and afterwards," the speaker says, according to Reuters. "The sense of balance will not be restored except with those who struggle in the name of the principles that will satisfy the nation, people, and God." The speaker later contends, "Only the actions of the faithful who struggled and fought can evict the invaders." The audiotape is dated 28 July, Reuters reported. CIA officials this week said an audiotape aired on 29 July in which an individual purported to be Hussein mourns the deaths of his sons, Uday and Qusay, is likely authentic. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August)

CENTCOM POSTS RETOUCHED PICTURES OF HUSSEIN. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has issued retouched pictures of deposed President Hussein, according to a 1 August announcement on the CENTCOM website (http://www.centcom.mil). The photographs were issued to coalition forces in an effort to help soldiers identify Hussein, who is the object of a massive U.S.-led manhunt and may have changed his appearance in recent months. The five altered photographs can be viewed on the CENTCOM website. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August)

KAZAKHSTAN
DUVANOV'S LAWYERS APPEAL TO SUPREME COURT. The lawyers of imprisoned opposition journalist Sergei Duvanov told a news conference on 5 August that they have appealed to Kazakhstan's Supreme Court to review the case against their client, the official news agency khabar.kz and other Kazakh media reported the same day. Duvanov was sentenced to a three-and-a-half-year prison term in January 2003 on a charge of raping a minor. He denies the charge and the Kazakh opposition considers the accusation to be politically motivated, in retaliation for Duvanov's investigative journalism, particularly in connection with the "Kazakhgate" bribery scandal. Other courts have refused to review the case. Duvanov's lawyers have said that if the Supreme Court turns down their request, they will appeal to international courts. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August)

KYRGYZSTAN
OMBUDSMAN INTENDS TO SUE NEWSPAPER. Before departing on a UN-sponsored trip to the Czech Republic and Estonia to study the working of ombudsmans' offices in those countries, Kyrgyz Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu told a press conference on 1 August that he intends to sue the newspaper "Agym," akipress.org reported on 4 August. Bakir-uulu said that he had the necessary documents ready to launch the suit, but the "Agym" staff and the publication's editor in chief were all on vacation. The ombudsman's claim that he was defamed arises from an article asserting that he had traveled to an OSCE Parliamentary Assembly session in Rotterdam and a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart in Kyiv at the government's expense, statements that Bakir-uulu says are untrue. He says that his travel was paid for by an international human rights group. Bakir-uulu managed to persuade the pro-government daily "Vecherniy Bishkek" not to publish the article, he said, by threatening that publication with a legal suit. Akipress.org did not mention the date when the article appeared in "Agym." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August)

MACEDONIA
GERMAN MEDIA GROUP PLEDGES INDEPENDENCE OF MACEDONIAN JOURNALISTS. Bodo Hombach, who is one of the directors of the German WAZ media group, has said his company will "provide space" to journalists who seek to cover politics critically, "Utrinski vesnik" and "Dnevnik" reported on 4 August, summing up an interview Hombach gave for Deutsche Welle's Macedonian service. Hombach added that his company is the better alternative for journalists who want to work freely without economic and political pressures. The WAZ media group recently purchased a majority stake in the major Macedonian newspapers "Dnevnik," "Utrinski vesnik," and "Vest." The media group also owns newspapers in Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, and Romania. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August)

MOLDOVA
TELERADIO MOLDOVA BOARD APPOINTS RADIO, TV DIRECTORS. The Teleradio Moldova Board of Observers on 5 August reappointed Ilie Telesco as director of Moldovan Radio and selected film director Sergiu Prodan to be the next director of Moldovan Television, Flux reported. Both are also to serve as vice presidents of Teleradio Moldova. Reacting to the appointments, Moldovan Union of Journalists Chairman Valeriu Saharneanu said the ruling party "continues to maintain its control" over Teleradio Moldova. Saharneanu said both Telesco and Prodan are appointees of the governing Party of Moldovan Communists and were appointed to their positions "to implement orders and make propaganda" for the ruling party. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August)

POLAND
PARLIAMENT REJECTS CONTROVERSIAL MEDIA AMENDMENTS. The Sejm voted 375-2 with five abstentions on 30 July to reject the draft of sweeping new amendments to Poland's media law, PAP reported. Prime Minister Leszek Miller last week asked the speaker of the Sejm to suspend work on the amendments and ordered Culture Minister Waldemar Dabrowski to prepare new drafts. Work on the draft has taken years and given rise to the so-called Rywingate bribery scandal. Prosecutors in Warsaw said last week that there are grounds for suspecting illegal activities during the preparation of the amendments and officially launched an investigation into the case, according to PAP. Tomasz Nalecz, head of the special commission investigating Rywingate, filed the motion with prosecutors to launch the probe. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July)

ROMANIA
U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION LEADER URGES REPEAL OF CRIMINAL SLANDER AND DEFAMATION LAWS. Representative Christopher Smith (Republican, New Jersey), co-chairman of the U.S. Congressional Commission for Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), on 30 July called on Romania's lawmakers to approve the 21 May government-proposed amendments to the Penal Code, according to a press release issued by Smith's office. In his statement, Smith said he has been "heartened by the many positive changes that have taken place in Romania since the fall of [dictator Nicolae] Ceausescu and disappointed by the many squandered opportunities to implement more meaningful reforms." Smith said he has "long urged postcommunist governments to repeal insult and criminal defamation laws." The proposed amendments would eliminate an article in the current code making "insult" punishable by up to two years in prison; make "defamation" punishable by a fine instead of the currently allowed three-year jail sentence; and eliminate an article making "defamation of national symbols" punishable by up to three years' imprisonment. The amendments would also repeal an article making "insult" or "defamation" of public authorities punishable by up to seven years in prison, replacing it with an article in which the scope of the offense is narrowed to threats or violence. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July)

RUSSIA
SOMEONE WANTS TO KILL THE MESSENGER... All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) Director Yurii Levada told reporters in Moscow on 5 August that the leadership of his organization will change in about a month because several unidentified politicians are dissatisfied with the results of the center's research, polit.ru reported. "These results interfere with the prestige of the political parties, but it is not our fault that the public doesn't like everything." Levada told Ekho Moskvy that a new board of directors for the center is currently being formed and will include representatives of the presidential administration and the Labor and Social Affairs and Property Relations ministries. National Strategy Council Deputy General Director Iosif Diskin told apn.ru that VTsIOM's results are always lower for the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party than those of the Public Opinion Foundation. He added that the academic community considers VTsIOM the most objective. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August)

...AS PEOPLE'S PARTY COMPLAINS ABOUT POLLSTERS. In an interview with "Kommersant-Vlast," No. 30, State Duma Deputy and People's Party leader Gennadii Raikov said his party is supported by 5 percent of voters, despite the fact that his party regularly polls less than 1 percent in VTsIOM's surveys. He said his party prefers to work with Igor Bunin of the Center for Political Technology and Center for Strategic Analysis Director Dmitrii Olshanskii. "I hope I'm not being offensive," Raikov said, "but everybody knows that the outcomes of surveys and polls depend on how much you pay sociologists." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August)

CHECHEN PRESS PERSEVERES. According to the Internet agency REGNUM, which monitors the media in Chechnya, several dozen newspapers and journals continued to appear in July. The most popular publications are the newspapers "Groznenskii rabochii" and "Golos Chechenskoi respubliki," which recently resumed publication. According to REGNUM, as cited in a Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES) July bulletin, these two newspapers are carrying on their previous traditions of attempting to honestly inform the local population of current affairs. CC

JOURNALIST ATTACKED IN YEKATERINBURG. Oleg Rakovich, general director of the Yekaterinburg television company ATN and head of the Sverdlovsk Oblast branch of the journalists' organization Mediasoyuz, was attacked in Yekaterinburg on 30 July, the CJES reported in its 28 July-3 August Russia bulletin. Two young men sprayed gas in the reporter's face and then beat him up; the assailants did not attempt to take the journalist's money or documents. Rakovich believes that the attack was organized by someone trying to pressure the media, possibly in connection with the upcoming gubernatorial elections in the Sverdlovsk Oblast. A criminal investigation has been launched, headed by the deputy presidential envoy in the Urals region. The attack on Rakovich is the eighth assault on a journalist in Yekaterinburg in the past three years, according to CJES. CC

POLICE GO AFTER PUBLISHER FOR PRINTING TOO MANY BOOKS. Moscow police have launched a criminal case against Eksmo, a publisher of popular detective and romance novels, Russian media reported on 5 August. According to a police spokesman, the publisher and a related firm called Eksmo-Press are accused of printing extra copies of many of the works it publishes and selling them without paying taxes or royalties. The case began in spring 2002 when police in Rostov Oblast confiscated a large shipment of popular novels, which they eventually traced back to Eksmo. The police source said that it is possible the scam cost the government $2 million-$3 million. According to "Vremya novostei," Eksmo security chief Aleksandr Chernyak filed a complaint with police early in 2002 claiming that one of the investigating officers was trying to extort $600,000 from the firm. The newspaper quoted a police spokesman as saying that the practice of excess print runs is extremely common in the Russian publishing industry. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August)

IN VINO VERITAS? Mikhail Sklyar, the health minister in Sverdlovsk Oblast, announced that due to the influence of the mass media, the number of drunk drivers in the northern Urals has increased by 15 percent-20 percent, according to the 29 July-4 August bulletin, "Russia: The Authorities Versus The Press," issued by the CJES. The minister was cited as saying that this sorry state of affairs is due to the mistaken publication of a Russian Health Ministry directive that induced many people to think that they could drive while "under the influence." CC

SVYAZINVEST BOARD APPROVES ORACLE DEAL AMID PROTESTS. Nationwide telecom holding Svyazinvest angered minority shareholders when its board of directors voted on 31 July to go ahead with a disputed $153 million deal to supply regional subsidiaries with Oracle's Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), cnews.ru reported on 1 August. Mustcom representatives Stuart J. Paperin and David Geovanis were the only dissenting votes on the nine-member board. Mustcom, a consortium headed by financier George Soros, owns a 25 percent-plus-one-share stake in Svyazinvest; the state controls the remaining 75 percent minus one share. Minority shareholders have fought the Oracle deal since it was announced two months ago, calling it insufficiently transparent and excessively costly. (The $153 million price tag is equal to 80 percent of the holding's total net profit for 2002.) Oleg Rumyantsev, a spokesman for the Investor Protection Association (API), told gazeta.ru on 31 July that the API plans to file suit against the seven board members who voted for the deal. Geovanis seemed resigned after the vote, however, telling "Vedomosti" of 1 August: "There wasn't much hope. The money for the deal has already gone out. It's unlikely anything can be turned back." The board meeting also voted in Communications Minister Leonid Reiman as chairman. Svyazinvest includes seven regional subsidiaries and Rostelecom, the national fixed-line long-distance and international operator. ("RFE/RL Business Watch," 5 August)

UKRAINE
THREE REPORTERS ATTACKED. Independent journalist Vladimir Kucheryayev was killed on 2 August in Kremenchug in the Poltava region. The journalist headed the local office of the Blits-Inform holding company, but his killing is not believed to be related to his professional activities, the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES) noted in its weekly report of 28 July-3 August. Bogdan Yurchuk, a reporter with the Ukrainian Independent Information Agency, was attacked in the city of Lutsk on 31 July. Yurchuk, who suffered a concussion, said he had been attacked by a group of teenagers, according to CJES. In another incident, CJES reported that Igor Zhukov, a local television anchorman, had been attacked by an unknown assailant in the city of Kharkiv on 30 July. Zhukov's television scripts and a notebook disappeared after the attack. Hooliganism charges have been brought against the assailant. CC

CONFERENCES, WORKSHOPS
IFLA OPENS CONFERENCE IN BERLIN. The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) is holding its 69th General Conference from 1-9 August in Berlin. The IFLA Committee on Free Access to Information and Freedom of Expression (FAIFE) is highlighting the effects of the "war on terrorism" on free expression. FAIFE is working to ensure that libraries are recognized at the World Summit on the Information Society. FAIFE is also holding roundtables on freedom of expression on the Internet and the digital divide between rich and poor countries. For more, contact Stuart Hamilton (sha@db.dk) or see http://www.ifla.org/IV/ifla69/index.htm. CC

NEW PUBLICATIONS, WEBSITES
PEN CANADA LAUNCHES WEBSITE FOR IMPUNITY CAMPAIGN. PEN Canada, with the Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of International PEN, has recently launched a new website as part of its year-long campaign on unsolved and unpunished crimes against writers and journalists. Direct actions will be taken throughout the year, culminating in the release of a report on the problem of impunity and public programs during International PEN's World Congress of Writers in Mexico, to be held in November. For updates on the campaign, see http://www.pencanada.ca. CC

NEW REPORT ON IRAQI MEDIA. A report titled "The Iraqi Media Three Months After The War: A New But Fragile Freedom" was published by the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders on 23 July. For further information, e-mail: northernafrica@rsf.org or see http://www.rsf.org. CC

END NOTE
SUSPECT IN GONGADZE MURDER DIES IN POLICE CUSTODY

By Askold Krushelnycky

An independent Ukrainian journalist group, the Institute for Mass Information (IMI), on 5 August reported that a person regarded as a key suspect in a long-running murder case had himself died in police custody.

Ihor Honcharov, an alleged gang leader, had been in custody since his arrest in May on charges of extortion and murder. Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun earlier this year said he believed that Honcharov was linked to the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze.

Gongadze, an outspoken critic of President Leonid Kuchma and government corruption, disappeared in late 1999. His headless corpse was later discovered, triggering one of Ukraine's biggest post-Soviet scandals. Nearly four years later, no one has been charged in the murder. A former bodyguard of Kuchma -- who secretly recorded the president -- released excerpts which implicated Kuchma in Gongadze's disappearance. But Kuchma has steadfastly denied any link to the journalist's disappearance or death.

Ukraine's political opposition and independent journalists -- as well as many Western governments and groups -- had accused state investigators of deliberately blocking the probe because it might implicate senior government officials, possibly including the president. But last year investigators identified 13 members of a criminal gang they said was led by Honcharov and which might have knowledge of the murder.

All 13 were apparently former policemen and intelligence officers known as "werewolves" -- the term for former police officials who have turned to crime. Prosecutor-General Piskun said he believed it was likely the so-called "Honcharov band" killed Gongadze. Honcharov was scheduled to give evidence about the case later this month.

But now Honcharov is dead. A Ukrainian police official who did not want to be named confirmed that Honcharov died on 1 August, apparently while being transferred by ambulance from jail to a hospital. He said the cause of death was being investigated. IMI, which works closely with the France-based journalists' defense group Reporters Without Borders, says Honcharov was cremated on 3 August, eliminating any chance of an independent autopsy.

According to IMI, Honcharov had passed a 17-page handwritten letter to the group to be opened in the event of his death. IMI member Alla Lazareva says the organization has frequently reported on the Gongadze case and that is why she thinks Honcharov passed the letter to them.

IMI says in the letter Honcharov claimed to have information about Gongadze's killers, including audio recordings and a confession that he said he had hidden but was willing to reveal to investigators in the presence of independent witnesses. Honcharov also predicted he would be murdered by an official -- whose name he gives -- and that the death would be presented as suicide or illness.

Lazareva says the IMI's first priority now is to establish whether the letter is genuine. "We're not certain yet because we are unable to carry out detailed tests to confirm its authenticity," she says.

To explain why IMI has already published some excerpts from the letter on its website, Lazareva says, "Our position was this -- we obtained this information, we thought that it was of importance to the public and therefore we publicized what we had -- although we blacked out some names, because since there is a presumption of innocence until he is proved to be a criminal, one shouldn't refer to him as such."

She says the IMI "does not have the technical capability to check the authenticity of Honcharov's handwriting. But experts can do this. That's why there are criminologists and specialists at the Prosecutor-General's Office who are obliged by law to carry out this work and to compare Honcharov's handwriting samples taken while he was giving evidence and being kept in jail. They can say whether he wrote this or not."

Lazareva says IMI today handed a copy of the letter to Deputy Chief Prosecutor Viktor Shokin, who was due to question Honcharov later this month. "As far as we know, we are not the only ones that have a copy of this letter. A few other people have copies," Lazareva says. She says the Prosecutor-General's Office has promised to keep IMI informed of developments.

"Perhaps now that the Prosecutor-General's Office is involved, the cause of death will be investigated. At least I hope so," she says. "Because either this person [Honcharov] really did make all these statements, in which case it's a truly horrible story, or it's a fake and therefore, we need to know who did it and why."

But the American author of a book about the Gongadze killing, Jaroslav Koshiw, doubts that investigators will solve the murder. He says that in the past, investigators have named and blamed criminals for Gongadze's death but have subsequently had to admit they were wrong.

"So really, periodically what we're getting from the authorities is a pretend investigation suggesting to the population that they're on top [abreast of developments], that they are looking for the killers and so on -- when really they are not bothering with an investigation," Koshiw says.

Koshiw's book -- "Beheaded: The Killing of a Journalist," is a comprehensive analysis of documents, evidence, and investigations by the Ukrainian authorities as well as journalists into the Gongadze case. Koshiw says he has no doubt that President Kuchma and other high officials are connected to Gongadze's death.

"There is more than ample evidence for a trial of the president and his associates who took part in the kidnapping and then the death of Gongadze," he says.

Koshiw says he believes the accusations against Honcharov were fabricated and the authorities have no desire to get at the truth. He says that if Honcharov was really cremated, that displays either poor judgment or an attempt to prevent the true cause of death being proved.

"It shows to me the tremendous irresponsibility by the authorities, in this case the police, to so quickly cremate somebody who died in mysterious circumstances and who they were suggesting might have been a possible witness," Koshiw says. "They create a bizarre atmosphere that helps rumors."

Koshiw believes the truth about the Gongadze murder will only emerge if Ukraine gets a government that really wants to build a state based on law and order.

The website for the Institute for Mass Information can be found at http://www.imi.org.ua. For Jaroslav Koshiw, it is http://www.artemiapress.co.uk.

Askold Krushelnycky is a Prague-based RFE/RL correspondent.

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