15 March 2002, Volume
COURT UPHOLDS SLANDER SUIT FOR REPRINT.
Armenia's Economic Court found in favor of HSBC Armenia bank in a slander suit against the Golos and Redaktsiya Yerkir companies. The court found that part of an unverified Noyan Tapan news agency report -- later published by the "Golos Armenii" and "Yerkir" papers -- was untrue. The newspapers were ordered to retract the report and pay fines of 8,000 drams each. Observers say the ruling is unprecedented in international legal practice because the report was originally disseminated by another media outlet and the story was not refuted in court. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Weekly Report," 4-10 March)
ACCESS BARRED TO CHECHEN WEBSITES.
Azerbaijani authorities have ordered all of Azerbaijan's Internet providers to close access to any Chechen websites, Turan reported on 11 March, quoting a statement released by the editors of the Chechen Internet periodical "Kavkazskii vestnik." The editors added that they plan to seek political asylum in any country that guarantees freedom of speech and the rights and safety of Chechen journalists. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March)TV STATION AGAIN FILES FOR LICENSE.
The director of the Balaken district's DM TV company, Mustafa Debirov, has appealed for a license. His TV station is the country's only local outlet that does not have a broadcast license. If his application is rejected, Debirov has declared that he will go on a hunger strike. Balaken residents have collected 550 signatures in support of the station. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Weekly Report," 4-10 March)
KGB LEADER WARNS OF NEW 'INFORMATION ATTACK.'
Addressing a news conference on 13 March, Major General Stsyapan Sukharenka, the first deputy chief of the Belarusian KGB, denied that Belarus has traded in weapons and military equipment and thus bypassed UN sanctions, Belapan reported. Sukharenka called recent accusations against Belarus of illegal arms trade a "well-planned campaign" aimed at "breaking the Belarusian leadership's will to pursue independent foreign and home policies." He said Belarus' KGB has asked for corroboration of those accusations from "various international organizations and the media outlets that spread those rumors, and even from the [U.S. Central Intelligence Agency]," adding that "nobody could say anything intelligible." Sukharenka predicted to journalists that the "next information attack against Belarus will be charging our country with drug transit into Europe" and said preparations for this "attack" have already begun. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March)JOURNALIST'S KIDNAPPERS SENTENCED TO LIFE IMPRISONMENT.
A panel of Minsk Oblast Court judges sentenced Valery Ihnatovich and Maksim Malik, who were convicted of kidnapping Belarusian journalist Dzmitry Zavadski, to life imprisonment on 14 March, Belapan reported. Apart from the abduction of Zavadski, the court found Ihnatovich and Malik, former members of Belarus' elite Almaz police unit, guilty of one count of murder and several counts of armed assault and robbery. Two other defendants, Alyaksey Huz and Syarhey Savushkin, were found guilty of complicity in the crimes of Ihnatovich and Malik and sentenced to 25 and 12 years, respectively. The trial, which was held behind closed doors, did not give any clue as to what happened to Zavadski after he disappeared. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March)
WEEKLY FEARS CLOSURE...
Victor Ivancic, the deputy editor of the independent weekly "Feral Tribune," told dpa in Zagreb on 12 March that his journalists are working without pay and face an uncertain future following the weekly's loss of two lawsuits. "Feral," as it is known, has to pay $25,000 in damages after losing both cases, which were in the courts for several years. Although it is no longer exclusively a satirical publication, "Feral" is best known for its merciless satirical writing during the administration of the late President Franjo Tudjman, who died at the end of 1999. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March)...WHILE PRESIDENT SUPPORTS IT...
In Zagreb on 9 March, Croatian President Stipe Mesic bought two books as part of a fundraising effort for "Feral Tribune," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March)...AND JOURNALISTS' GROUP CALLS FOR INTERNATIONAL CONDEMNATION.
On 11 March, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) called for a review of the legal regime that has brought "Feral Tribune" to the "brink of extinction." The newspaper was found guilty of "moral damage" and publishing "cosmopolitan opinions and views." "The laws that have been used are archaic, intolerant, and should be rendered obsolete in any modern democracy...and should be condemned internationally," said Aidan White, IFJ general secretary. In May 2000, the Constitutional Court ruled against the penal code article under which the prosecution was made possible. "This law should be taken off the statute books," said Aidan White. (International Federation of Journalists, 11 March)
INTERIOR MINISTER THREATENS TO SUE DAILY.
Stanislav Gross threatened on 11 March to sue the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" for libel if it continues to publish "false or half-truth[-ful] information" about the business activities of his wife, CTK reported. Gross said the allegations are part of a campaign against him. The daily wrote the same day that Gross's wife received an Audi automobile for her personal use at a time when her husband was convincing the government to purchase Audis for ministers. Gross said the decision of the government was "under preparation" before he joined it in April 2000 and that the car was given by Audi to Sarka Grossova "for just a few days," and not for several months as is alleged. The daily recently reported that Grossova has business links to an agency that raised funds for the ruling Social Democratic Party at the same time it was bidding in privatization tenders. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March)SENATE APPROVES DECLASSIFICATION OF SECRET POLICE FILES.
The Senate on 8 March, by a vote of 42 to 11 with nine abstentions, approved a bill allowing access to previously classified communist secret-police files, international agencies reported. The Chamber of Deputies approved the bill last month, and the legislation will be enacted following its signing on 14 March by President Vaclav Havel. Czech citizens have been able to access their own files since 1996 but not the files of other people. The new legislation excludes from access only files of foreign nationals and those containing information that could endanger national security or the lives of others. The bill stipulates that a new Institute for the Documentation of the Totalitarian Regime will oversee access to the files and ensure the transparency of the process. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March)
WILL PROMINENT OFFICIAL'S SUICIDE AFFECT THE PRESS?
The suicide of National Security Council Secretary Nugzar Sadzhaya in February may have significant consequences for the media, reports the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations. Journalists and others fear that the authorities may use the circumstances of the suicide as a pretext for the persecution of independent journalists. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze has said the suicide was the result of a moral terror campaign mounted by the media against government officials. Some journalists believe this statement may reveal an intention to speed up the adoption of new and more stringent media legislation. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Monthly Report," February)
BUDAPEST MAYOR INVITES RFE/RL TO RELOCATE TO HIS CITY.
Budapest Mayor Gabor Demszky told journalists at RFE/RL headquarters in Prague on 8 March that he wishes RFE/RL would move to his city. Demszky said this would set a good example for the freedom of the press, which he said is endangered in his country by the ruling coalition. He also said he owes his present position to RFE/RL, which made his name known to the Hungarian public when he was an anticommunist dissident. Demszky attended a meeting in Prague of mayors from the capital cities of EU candidate countries. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March)POLITICAL RIVALS CONTINUE TO 'DEBATE OVER THE [TV] DEBATE'...
Peter Medgyessy, the Socialist Party's (MSZP) candidate for premier, said on 11 March that he is willing to debate Premier Viktor Orban on any date except Orban's proposed 5 and 19 April, Hungarian media reported. Medgyessy said he accepts Orban's proposal that the televised debate be held at the University of Economics, provided that the encounter is televised not only by the state-run MTV television but also by commercial stations. The ruling FIDESZ continues to insist on the dates proposed by Orban. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March)...AS EXTREME LEFTISTS EXPAND FAST TO PROTEST STATE TV ELECTION COVERAGE...
Ten parliamentary candidates of the far-left Workers' Party aspiring to represent their formation in the next legislature joined the hunger strike declared recently by the party's deputy chairman, Attila Vajnai, Hungarian media and AP reported. Vajnai is protesting the state-run MTV network's plan for covering the electoral campaign, saying it discriminates against his formation. Vajnai was briefly hospitalized on 10 March and released home after a checkup. The Workers' Party has never managed to gain parliamentary representation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March)...AND NATIONAL ELECTION OFFICE REJECTS SZDSZ COMPLAINT.
The National Election Office (OVB) on 13 March rejected a complaint by the Free Democratic Party (SZDSZ) against the state-television MTV network's blueprint for covering the electoral campaign, saying the decision on how to cover the campaign is beyond the OVB's prerogatives, Hungarian media reported. The Socialist's representative in the OVB, Gyorgy Szoboszlai, supported the SZDSZ, saying that coverage must be based on the principle of "equal opportunity to all," and that MTV's plan is "obviously in breach of the law." Opponents of the blueprint were outvoted, however, by the other parties' representatives in the OVB. MTV and Hungarian Radio executives were invited to the OVB meeting, but did not attend. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March)JOURNALIST RESPONDS TO 'WASHINGTON POST' ARTICLE.
In a response to the article published by columnist Jackson Diehl in "The Washington Post" earlier this month, journalist Balint Vazsonyi on 12 March came to the defense of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, calling Diehl's criticism of the premier "unfair," Hungarian media reported. Vazsonyi said Diehl does not read Hungarian newspapers, is not a specialist on Hungary, and gets his information from "biased sources." He explained that Orban's use of the term "eletter," which Diehl interprets as the Hungarian equivalent of the Nazi "Lebensraum" (living space) was merely a "reference to the environment." Vazsonyi said that in using the term, Orban had in mind economic cooperation with the 3 million ethnic Hungarians who live beyond the country's borders, and thus it was not an "irredentist" idiom. Vazsonyi alleged that Diehl likely grew used to former U.S. President Bill Clinton's support for socialists around the world during his eight-year term in office. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March)
CLOSED TRIAL OF 73-YEAR-OLD JOURNALIST CONDEMNED...
On 3 March, the world's largest journalists' group, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), condemned the Iranian judiciary for launching closed and unannounced court proceedings the previous day against a 73-year-old Iranian journalist, Siamak Pourzand. Pourzand has been denied access to lawyers and medical assistance during four months of incommunicado detention. According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, the Iranian authorities have given no reason for the journalist's detention. On 8 March, Pourzand briefly telephoned his youngest daughter in Washington, D.C. She said he asked that his family treat him as if he were dead and confirmed that his trial had started. Pourzand heads the Artistic and Cultural Complex in Tehran and has also worked as a cultural commentator for several reformist newspapers that have since been closed by the authorities. (International Federation of Journalists, 13 March)...AND SEEN AS PART OF ANTI-PRESS CAMPAIGN.
On 8 March, the IFJ renewed its support for the efforts of the Iranian Association of Journalists, an IFJ affiliate, whose members have been in the forefront of campaigns for a democratic and open society in which freedom of expression is respected. According to the IFJ, the prosecution of Siamak Pourzand is a continuation of a pattern of repression which has intensified since February 2000 parliamentary elections. Since then, independent newspapers have been closed down and leading editors and journalists have been jailed, reports the IFJ. (International Federation of Journalists, 13 March)
CLAMPDOWN ON REGIONAL BROADCASTERS FOR FAILURE TO HEED LANGUAGE LAW.
During the month of February, Kazakhstan officials filed at least 10 court suits against regional electronic media that fail to air at least half of their programming in the Kazakh language, as required by law. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Monthly Report," February).PRESIDENT INTERVENES ON BEHALF OF INDEPENDENT TV STATION...
During talks in Astana late on 7 March, President Nursultan Nazarbaev instructed Transport and Communications Minister Ablay Myrzakhmetov to find a way of reversing the court decision of 5 March ordering the suspension for six months of broadcasts by Almaty's TAN TV channel, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. According to his press secretary, Nazarbaev has received numerous letters from residents of the former capital asking him to intervene to lift the suspension. TAN TV's staff claims the court decision was politically motivated, noting that it was one of only a very few media outlets that provided coverage of the mass opposition meeting in Almaty in January. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March)...AND SPELLS OUT LIMITS TO MEDIA FREEDOM...
Addressing the opening session of the first congress of journalists of Kazakhstan in Astana on 12 March, President Nazarbaev warned that if they fail to exercise good judgment and self-restraint, writers and journalists risk jeopardizing "all that we have achieved since independence," RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The media must not become a tool in the political struggle, Interfax quoted him as saying. Nazarbaev referred to the media campaigns which, he claimed, set in motion the disintegration of the USSR and Yugoslavia. He also warned the political opposition against heeding the blandishments of "emissaries from across the ocean" who, he predicted, will "not support you [but will] just laugh at you and abandon you." In a seeming contradiction in terms, Nazarbaev also proposed that journalists establish what he termed a public independent council that would be granted the status of a national agency affiliated with the head of state, and which would advise on media-related issues, Interfax reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March)...AS TAN TV IS GRANTED TEMPORARY REPRIEVE.
According to the Journalists' Trade Union (Baku), as of 9 March, the Kazakhstan Ministry of Transportation and Communications granted the Almaty-based television company TAN temporary broadcasting rights. However, the station is still required to address a number of problems by 7 April. According to sources in Almaty, Mukhtar Ablazov, one of the station's main co-owners, stated that the decision to again allow broadcasts was due to pressure on the government by national and international organisations, as well as the country's media. "The reason why the station's license was [suspended] is the government's politically motivated ambitions. We broadcast different political views," Ablazov explained. (Journalists' Trade Union (Baku), 14 March)
BAD GRADES FOR MEDIA.
Provisional Media Commissioner Anna Di Lellio said in Prishtina that objective and independent coverage remains a distant goal in Kosova, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 11 March. She noted that the print media often run stories that sharply criticize individuals without offering proof. Di Lellio made her remarks just prior to her commission's handing over its work to a new Independent Media Commission, which will be run by local people. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March)
PARLIAMENT DEPUTY'S SUPPORTERS DEMAND TELEVISED TRIAL.
On 12 March, the second day after the resumption of his trial, Azimbek Beknazarov rejected the charges against him of dereliction of duty, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Beknazarov is accused of failing to bring criminal charges in 1995 against an investigator who killed a man in self-defense. Meanwhile, some 1,800 of Beknazarov's supporters met in Djalalabad Oblast on 12 March and adopted a seven-point appeal to the Kyrgyz leadership. They want the trial to be televised nationwide, along with Beknazarov's acquittal and release. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March)MORE LIBEL SUITS AGAINST OPPOSITION PAPER.
Bishkek's Pervomaisky district court imposed a 10,000 soms (about $210) fine on the opposition "Res Publica" newspaper for libeling Sardalbek Botaliev, who had earlier won a case against it. Two other court cases against the newspaper are underway, with a former collaborator of the Kyrgyz Human Rights Committee, Aleksandr Yeliseyev, the plaintiff in both of them. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Weekly Report," 4-10 March)
BIG BROTHER FINED FOR VIOLENCE AND SEX.
National Radio and Television Broadcasting Council head Juliusz Braun has imposed a fine of 300,000 zlotys ($72,200) on the TVN private television network for showing violent and erotic scenes before 11 p.m. local time on its "Big Brother" program, PAP reported on 13 March. "The program constitutes promotion of violence. The concept of the program is a ruthless battle, including violence.... Not only does the program show erotic scenes, but also commentaries that indicate that such behavior is correct and normal," Braun said in justifying the punishment. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March)
PROTESTING JOURNALISTS AT TELERADIO PUNISHED BY MANAGEMENT.
The Teleradio Moldova Management has suspended journalist Dinu Rusnac from presenting the daily Russian-language newscast on television on grounds that the television's "artistic council" has not approved him for that position, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Rusnac, who is a member of the strike committee at Teleradio Moldova, had presented the news in Russian for 1 1/2 years with no prior objection from the council. Journalist Larisa Manole, a leading member of the strike committee, was sanctioned with a "stern warning" for an alleged "technical fault" and dismissed as head of the announcers' pool. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March)
REGIONAL JOURNALIST KILLED.
A journalist with the Taganrog-based "Nashe Vremya" newspaper, Natalya Skryl, has died as the result of massive head injuries, Russian agencies reported on 11 March. Local police have ruled out robbery as a possible motive, since a large amount of cash and gold jewelry were not taken, according to ITAR-TASS. "Nashe Vremya" Editor in Chief Vera Yuzhanskaya believes Skryl's murder was related to her professional activities. She was recently working on a story about the struggle for control of one of Rostov Oblast's largest enterprises, according to RIA-Novosti. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March)ANOTHER ATTACK ON A 'NOVAYA GAZETA' JOURNALIST...
Sergei Zolovkin, a "Novaya gazeta" reporter based in Sochi, survived an attempt on his life on 11 March, Russian agencies reported the next day. A resident of Abkhazia of Armenian descent fired a pistol at Zolovkin at his home, narrowly missing him, according to ITAR-TASS. Zolovkin then managed to detain the man until police arrived. According to lenta.ru, this is not the first attempt to murder Zolovkin or family members. Zolovkin has received telephone threats demanding that he cease his journalistic investigations. Zolovkin most recently published an article about corruption in Krasnodar Krai. His wife's brother is currently in the hospital after an attack by unknown assailants. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March)...WHICH FACES MORE PRESSURE...
"Novaya gazeta" Editor in Chief Dmitrii Muratov reported that the publication has recently lost two lawsuits, the combined judgments for which total $1.5 million, Interfax reported. Muratov said, "I think there is not one newspaper in the country that could pay such a sum. It is intended not as a punishment but as [an order] to destroy." Muratov noted that in one of the cases lost by the newspaper, the author of the article in question was Sergei Zolovkin, who recently survived an assassination attempt. Last month, other journalists with the weekly who ran into trouble were State Duma deputy (Yabloko) and investigative journalist Yurii Shchekochikin and North Caucasus specialist Anna Politkovskaya. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March)...AND APPEALS FINE...
On 12 March, "Novaya gazeta" appealed a massive court-ordered fine for alleged slander. On 22 February, a district court in Moscow ordered it to pay 30 million rubles ($964,617) in damages and interest to Mr. Chernov, who is chairman of the tribunal in the city of Krasnodar in southwestern Russia. Chernov had filed a slander suit against the paper after it published an article accusing him of corruption. (Reporters without Borders, 12 March)...BUT IS LEERY OF AD ON PROTEST ON CHECHNYA?
According to the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, in early March the advertising department of "Novaya gazeta" refused to publish a paid announcement about an event called "A Two-Day World Hunger Strike in Defense of Chechnya" submitted by the Transnational Radical Party. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Weekly Report," 4-10 March)TWO CHECHEN JOURNALISTS DISAPPEAR.
Chechen television reporter Kh. Terkebaev was reportedly detained by OMON special police troopers in the village of Mesker-Yurt in Chechnya's Shali district. Before the second Chechen war, Terkebaev had been the anchorman for the "Presidential Road" program on Chechen TV and an active supporter of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. However, for the last two years, Terkebaev has not been employed or engaged in fighting. His relatives have mounted a search for the missing journalist. The Chechen procuracy has meanwhile opened a criminal case into the disappearance of Iles Magomedov, the director of private TV company Grozny. He was regarded as an active supporter of the pro-Moscow republican administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov. His relatives reported that Magomedov was last seen driving through a checkpoint on the Argun road on 22 February. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Weekly Report," 4-10 March)NIZHNII NOVGOROD PAPER FACES COURT ACTION...
The Nizhnii Novgorod Election Commission plans to ask prosecutors to open a case against the paper "Leninskaya Smena Plyus." Two registered candidates running for the oblast legislature complained that the paper engaged in what they called "counter-propaganda." If the prosecutor's office finds that the paper committed an offense against the Oblast Legislature Elections Law, a fine of 200 to 500 minimum monthly wages may be imposed on the editorial board. If the Volga branch of the Press Ministry also finds that the paper violated regulations, the paper may have its license withdrawn. The paper received a similar warning during the 2001 governor's race. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Weekly Report," 4-10 March)...AS ONE OF ITS REPORTERS IS CONVICTED OF SLANDER.
"Leninskaya Smena Plyus" reporter A. Kobezsky was sentenced to a 2 1/2-year prison term for slandering Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast's former vice governor, A. Serikov. Kobezsky also has to pay the former governor a fine of 10,000 rubles to offset moral damage he has sustained. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Weekly Report," 4-10 March)ST. PETERSBURG EDITOR GETS SUSPENDED SENTENCE.
A court in St. Petersburg handed down a two-year suspended sentence to A. Andreyev, editor in chief of the weekly "Novii Peterburg" for slander of the city's prosecutor, I. Sydoruk, and Chief Federal Inspector N. Vinnichenko. Andreyev intends to appeal the sentence in the Supreme Court and, if necessary, in the European Court of Human Rights. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Weekly Report," 4-10 March)SAMARA EX-DEPUTY OFFENDED BY THE TRUTH.
A Samara city court has begun hearing a libel suit filed by former oblast duma deputy N. Bobrova against the paper "Volzhskaya Kommuna," which was co-founded by the oblast administration. The plaintiff complained about an article titled "Being A Poet Is Fine, But Being A Deputy Is Better" even though she has admitted that the information about her privileges and foreign trips is accurate. She has also filed suit against four other media outlets. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Weekly Report," 4-10 March)YEKATERINBURG MEDIA SUBSIDIES PAVE WAY FOR NEW DUMA CHIEF.
On 4 March, a member of the Yekaterinburg City Duma provided evidence that a major portion of funds earmarked for the local media were instead channeled to finance an election ad campaign for the Our Home Is Our City. As a result, two popular local papers, "Vechernii Yekaterinburg" and "Uralskii Rabochy," kept readers supplied with many articles favorable to Yakov Silin -- who is now the chairman of the City Duma. Another City Duma deputy told the press that he would send information on the funds to the oblast election commission and the Prosecutor's Office. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Weekly Report," 4-10 March)NOVOSIBIRSK TV LAWYERS TO FILE SUIT AGAINST RAILROAD OBSTRUCTIONISM.
Lawyers of the state-run TV and radio company in Novosibirsk are preparing to file suit against the Western Siberian Railroad for alleged violations of the media law. Journalists were not allowed to cover Russian Railways Minister Gennadii Fadeev's recent visit to Novosibirsk. The director of news programs for the state-run broadcast outlet said he believes the railroad harbors ill will toward its journalists after the station ran several programs which were critical of the railroad's track record. Fadeev told reporters that he gave no orders about the Novosibirsk TV team and that the whole affair was a misunderstanding. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Weekly Report," 4-10 March)CUSTOMS OFFICERS SEIZE COPIES OF BEREZOVSKY'S FILM EXPOSE...
State Duma Deputy (independent) Yulii Rybakov said on 9 March that upon his arrival from Moscow to St Petersburg's Pulkovo Airport, 100 copies he possessed of "Assault on Russia" were confiscated, RosBalt reported. The film was made by embattled oligarch Boris Berezovsky to prove the Federal Security Service's (FSB) role in four apartment building bombings in Russia in the fall of 1999. Rybakov said that his luggage was searched despite his parliamentary immunity. A St. Petersburg customs official said the tapes were seized because Rybakov was illegally bringing in video material in commercial quantities. Meanwhile, former Justice Minister and the Duma Deputy (Union of Rightist Forces) Pavel Krasheninnikov told Ekho Moskvy on 10 March that Duma deputies Rybakov and Sergei Yushenkov could be charged with slander if it is proved that the film they imported to Russia is even partially found to contain false information. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March)...BUT FILM ON APARTMENT BLASTS IS SHOWN.
Attempting to spark an investigation into the September 1999 apartment building bombings that terrified Russia, a small liberal party showed Berezovsky's film on 12 March alleging that the country's security services were behind the blasts. "There are still very many questions to which society has not received answers," Sergei Yushenkov, a legislator from the Liberal Russia movement, said at the premiere, AP reported. "To this day, we don't know who committed these crimes." The bombings were blamed on Chechen rebels and helped catapult then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin into the presidency. The 40-minute film relies on circumstantial evidence that the Federal Security Service (FSB) was behind the blasts and raises questions as to how much Putin knew. It also mixes footage of grieving survivors of the apartment blasts with shots of Putin's inauguration ceremony in March 2000. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March)MEDIA-MOST EXECUTIVE'S CASE SENT BACK FOR ADDITIONAL INVESTIGATION.
A court in Moscow has sent the criminal case against Media-MOST executive Anton Titov back for additional investigation, Interfax reported on 13 March. Prosecutors have accused Titov, together with Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinsky, of swindling a 5 billion ruble credit from Gazprom. Titov will remain in jail. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March)KREMLIN'S UNOFFICIAL WEBSITE, STRANA.RU, COULD EXPAND TO RADIO, TV.
Website strana.ru, the Kremlin's unofficial Internet voice, has 500 employees and branches in nearly all of Russia's 89 regions. Its owners -- a group of undisclosed businesses -- now may expand from the Internet to radio and television, reports "The Washington Post." ("The Washington Post, 12 March)'IZVESTIYA' STAFF THINKS IT WILL PREVAIL IN TRADEMARK STRUGGLE WITH PRESIDENTIAL OFFICE.
V. Kozhin, head of the Russian Federation Presidential Property Office, and the Izvestiya publishing house plan to bring a court action to withdraw from the daily "Izvestiya" its right to use the trademark, Ekho Moskvy radio station reported on 6 March. The Property Office believes the private editorial board has been using federal property illegally. The paper's press secretary told gazeta.ru that the board has a ruling by the Russian Patent Office's which states that the notation "Izvestiya" is a brand to be used throughout Russia by Izvestiya Newspaper Editorial Board Company. In addition, says the "Izvestiya" staff, the Russian Constitutional Court ruled in 1993 that Russian State Duma efforts to nationalize the trademark were in violation of basic law. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Weekly Report," 4-10 March)
HAND GRENADE THROWN INTO HOUSE OF RADIO DIRECTOR.
On 5 March, a hand grenade was lobbed into the house of Radio Paracin acting Director Mihajlo Peric in the city of Paracine. The grenade did not explode. Peric told B92 radio that he was awakened at 10:30 p.m. by loud noises coming from his nine-year-old daughter's room. "I went into the room in which my child was sleeping, and noticed that a window was broken and immediately turned the lights on. I started picking up the glass and then I noticed a hand grenade down on the floor, next to the door." Peric said he woke his daughter and took her out the room. He then called police, who arrived 10 minutes later. "The investigation is underway and I hope they've done their job," said Peric. The acting director said it was not the first time he had been threatened or attacked in connection with his work. "The police bodies are informed about everything that has been happening. They know who it was that threatened me. They've had a talk with the person who made the threats, but I wouldn't like to reveal this person's name at this time," he told B92. (ANEM Weekly Update, 2-8 March)NO LIVE TV TIME FOR MILOSEVIC.
State-run television has stopped its live broadcasts of the trial of former President Slobodan Milosevic because the project is too expensive to continue, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 11 March. Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia has protested the decision, saying the government is trying to prevent Milosevic from reaching the Serbian public with his message. Recent polls suggest that most Serbs agree with his position that the Western countries are aggressors and Serbia is a victim. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March)VOJVODINA GETS A GOVERNMENT AND 'INFORMATION IN THE CROATIAN LANGUAGE.'
A new provincial government has been set up in Novi Sad without members of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 12 March. The DSS opposes even the minimal autonomy package recently approved by the Serbian parliament. In related news, the Vojvodina parliament approved a proposal to set up a publishing house called Hrvatska Rijec (Croatian Word) to "provide information for the Croatian minority in their mother tongue...in keeping with Vojvodina's long democratic and tolerant tradition in interethnic relations." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March )
STEPPED-UP PRESSURE ON THE MEDIA IN FEBRUARY.
The month of February saw an increase in attacks on the media in Ukraine, the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations noted. Five journalists were subjected to job-related attacks and reporters and editors were also targeted for legal and judicial persecution. A broadcasting license was withdrawn from the Studio 1+1 TV and radio company. The Kontinent radio station, which relays BBC and Radio Liberty programs, was subjected to further harassment. The Zaporizhzhya television and radio company Khortytsa was taken off the air for a month. Tax police searched the editorial office of the Internet paper "Obkom." Crimea's only Ukrainian-language paper, "Krymska Svetlitsa," was suspended. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Monthly Report," February)OFFICIAL THREATENS SUSPENSION OF BROADCAST OUTLETS THAT VIOLATE ELECTORAL LAW...
In early March, Boris Kholod, chairman of the National Council on TV and Radio Broadcasting, said that numerous foreign electronic media are in violation of electoral law. He added that those broadcasters which purchase air time from Ukrainian media are guilty of the most flagrant violations. Kholod did not rule out the possibility that the activities of these Ukrainian organizations might be suspended. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Weekly Report," 4-10 March)...AND TELEVISION STATION CLOSED.
The State Electric Communication Inspection Office shut down Kanal-5 telecasts in Nikopol, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, after it aired a program with Our Ukraine bloc leader Viktor Yushchenko. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Weekly Report," 4-10 March)PAPERS PLAY ELECTION FAVORITES?
According to the Our Ukraine press service, city and oblast publishers in Nikopol, Dnepropetrovsk Oblast refused to print an issue of "Nikopolskiye Izvestiya" which carried a favorable report on the party's leader, Viktor Yushchenko. In Crimea, Vladimir Pritula, chairman of the Freedom of the Press Monitoring Committee, accused Leonid Grach, chairman of the Crimean legislature -- whose name had been removed from the candidates' list for the upcoming elections -- of using the parliamentary paper "Krymskiye Izvestiya" for his own political and electoral purposes. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Weekly Report," 4-10 March)CONCERN OVER PRESSURE ON JOURNALISTS IN CRIMEA.
The Association of Freelance Crimean Journalists and the Freedom of the Press Monitoring Committee expressed serious concern over official pressure against the directors of TV news shows in the Crimea. The two organizations maintain that two well-known journalists -- Natalya Safikhanova, editor in chief of "Volna" programs in Chernomorskaya TV company, and Yelena Rozhen, editor in chief of "12 Minutes of News" programs in the Krym TV and radio company -- were asked to cooperate with authorities or face involuntary vacation until 31 March. Colleagues believe that these "offers" were efforts to pressure the media. The two journalists' organizations called on law-enforcement agencies to provide security for the two journalists. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Weekly Report," 4-10 March)
SON OF DISSIDENT POET SUBJECT TO ATTACKS.
Alisher Dzhumaev, the son of dissident poet and columnist Yusuf Dzhumaev, who was released from prison on 29 December, has also been subject to attacks. The poet himself cannot leave his home for safety reasons, reports the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Monthly Report," February)JOURNALIST RELEASED.
Oleg Sarapulov, a freelance journalist and deputy executive director of the Union of Independent Journalists of Uzbekistan (UIJU), was detained on 6 March by Uzbek militia who claimed that he was homeless. On 13 March, UIJU reported that Sarapulov was released. According to the UIJU, Sarapulov said that he was mistreated while he was in detention. (Journalists' Trade Union, Baku, 14 March)
IMMINENT BOOK BURNING REPORTED IN WASHINGTON...
A collection of some 2 million books in the Russian language are slated to be burned because Washington, D.C.-based bookseller Victor Kamkin Inc. has been unable to find anyone to buy or take its inventory, "Izvestiya" reported on 10 March. The store is going bankrupt and has accumulated a $200,000 backlog of unpaid rent, according to "The Washington Post." While neither the Russian Culture Ministry nor any other Russian government department appears to be concerned about the loss of this unique collection, according to the daily, it did find a number of Muscovites who are scandalized at the prospect that the books will be destroyed. Director Aleksandr Mitta told the daily that "this instance in Washington can be considered a new aspect of fascism." Actress Natalya Fateeva said that, "For me, it is difficult to judge the laws of another country, it isn't possible that there is no other way to resolve this problem than destroying these books. Let the owners send the books to us or other countries. In Russia, such things still happen, but in civilized America?" ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March)...BUT THEY ARE RESCUED FROM THE FLAMES.
Yevgenii Kuzmin, the director of the libraries department of the Culture Ministry, told Interfax on 11 March that rumors about the "burning of Russian books" in the U.S. are products of "hysteria initiated by 'The Washington Post'" and fanned by the Russian mass media. According to Kuzmin, the Victor Kamkin Bookstores branch in Rockville, Maryland, is only one of 1,000 stores that sell Russian-language books in the United States, and increased interest in such books has led to tight competition there. The same day, Aleksandr Markovich, the general director of Victor Kamkin Inc., told Ekho Moskvy that the store has been given a three-week reprieve and the remaining books that are not sold will be given to the Library of Congress or to Russian and Jewish communities in the United States. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March)RUSSIAN SATIRIST NOT AMUSED BY 'PLAYBOY.'
When the well-known Russian satirist Mikhail Zhvanetskii opened the January issue of the American magazine "Playboy," he saw his own short story -- but without a headline or his name. Although the magazine's attorneys have admitted their error, they will appeal the Moscow court ruling. It ordered that "Playboy" pay the humorist what the lawyers view as an excessive fine of 7,000 minimum monthly wages. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Weekly Report," 4-10 March)BALTIC RUSSIAN MEDIA LESS EQUAL?
Although Russian-speakers comprise 32 percent of the Estonian population, reports "The Atlantic Monthly," state television broadcasts only 15 minutes a day in Russian. And in Latvia, where 36 percent of the population is Russian-speaking, only 25 percent of airtime is available for Russian-language programs. As a result, observes the monthly, most Baltic Russians see the world via the available Russian broadcast outlets, "a counterproductive and potentially dangerous state of affairs for Baltic governments." In addition, the U.S. monthly reported that Russians in Latvia and Estonia "complained" that "when they do exercise their rights to broadcast or publish in their own language, they often face harassment from the tax authorities and other regulatory bodies." ("The Atlantic Monthly," February)STATUE OF UKRAINIAN NATIONAL POET UNVEILED IN WARSAW.
The heads of the foreign ministries of Poland and Ukraine, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz and Anatoliy Zlenko, unveiled a statue of Ukrainian national poet Taras Shevchenko in Warsaw on 13 March, PAP reported. The statue by Ukrainian sculptor Anatoliy Kushcha stands on the square bearing the poet's name near the former presidential Belweder Palace. A metal plaque on the plinth carries a line from Shevchenko in both Polish and Ukrainian: "Pole, brother, give me your hand, give me a place in your heart, and we will regain our happiness, in the name of Christ, a quiet Eden!" ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March)
KAZAKHSTAN: GOVERNMENT CLAMPS DOWN ON INDEPENDENT MEDIA
By Antoine Blua
The suspension of an independent news weekly and a television station in the Kazakh capital during the first week of March have returned attention to the issue of press freedom in Kazakhstan.
The Almaty-based "Nachnem s Ponedelnika" weekly was handed a three-month suspension on 6 March for what claimants call "technical reasons." The weekly's editor, Mertai Aqsholaqov, explained: "The Bostandyq district court of Almaty made this decision, as they say, due to technical reasons, and the failure of the weekly to show its proper address and the exact number of copies issued weekly. Today we received an official letter from the publishing house saying that it refuses to print our product." But Aqsholaqov said he believes the decision to issue the suspension is politically motivated. On 1 March, "Nachnem s Ponedelnika" held a public interview with Akezhan Kazhegeldin -- the former Kazakh prime minister and a major political opponent of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev's. Kazhegeldin, who is currently living in exile and last year was convicted in absentia on charges of corruption and tax evasion, said during the interview he may return to Kazakhstan in the near future. Some say granting a public forum to one of Nazarbaev's most prominent rivals may be the real reason behind the weekly's suspension.
On 4 March, the Kazakh government issued a six-month broadcasting suspension to the Almaty-based TAN-TV company. [TAN was granted a temporary reprieve on 9 March; see "Kazakhstan" item above.] Its license was suspended for a number of procedural violations, including use of a faulty transmitter, improper registration of equipment, and poor sanitary working conditions. But TAN-TV employees say their shutdown is also politically motivated. The company receives financial support from another opposition figure: Mukhtar Abliyazov of the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan movement and a former minister of trade, energy, and economy. TAN-TV may also have drawn government ire for broadcasting a January gathering of opposition political parties and local non-governmental organizations (NGO). For five hours, television viewers were exposed to wide-ranging criticism of government policy.
Some international organizations consider the week's developments part of a wider clampdown by Nazarbaev on domestic media. Internews Kazakhstan is part of the Internews International Network, an NGO that promotes the development of independent television and radio in emerging democracies. Internews employee Svetlana Dylevskaya told RFE/RL that her organization has voiced "serious" concern regarding "numerous incidents" restricting the freedom of activity of independent and private mass media in Kazakhstan. Dylevskaya said the Kazakh government in February recalled the broadcasting licenses of six television companies (Irbis, STS, Alfa, Channel 43, Channel 29, and TKT). In each case, the state cited violations of Kazakhstan's language and mass-media laws. Dylevskaya said, however, that many press observers claim such technical violations are only used as a pretext. "In each individual case, authorities use various arguments and accuse broadcasters of violating Kazakh legislation. However, journalists and owners of closed stations, media experts, and opposition figures in the country all claim in their speeches that in reality, a campaign of political persecution of media, which to some extent report on democratic opposition in their information programs, was launched in the country," Dylevskaya said. "In addition, decisions of various bodies are being officially used for closing stations, including judicial bodies." Dylevskaya added that Internews Kazakhstan is also concerned by the government's crackdown on the independent press. "From the beginning of the year, newspapers containing critical articles regarding the government have had serious problems," Dylevskaya said. "Publishing houses under the control of the authorities refuse to print newspapers like 'Respublika-delovoye obozreniye,' 'Vremya po -- The Globe" and 'SolDat.'" Dylevskaya said journalists from a number of the suspended television companies and print publications have appealed to the Kazakh parliament, as well as to international organizations, to protect them from state crackdowns. In an address to parliament in early March, journalists from "Irbis" -- a TV channel broadcasting in North Kazakhstan that was among those suspended last month -- said that executive authorities, particularly those in the regions, have been "dictating conditions" for the mass media, introducing censorship, and limiting journalists' ability to receive information.
In a letter addressed to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Ermurat Bapi, the editor in chief of the "SolDat" opposition newspaper, appealed to Washington to expedite the creation of an independent publishing house in Kazakhstan. Marilyn Greene, the executive director of the U.S.-based World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), said the problem of mass media in Kazakhstan is the "permissive spirit of restriction." "There is a very limited amount of freedom to comment freely about the government and about the policies there. One of the big problems we see in Kazakhstan is with the law, one of which forbids any kind of comment that could be seen as critical of the president," Greene said. "In order to avoid punishment under this law, many journalists simply don't approach that topic. And so we see self-censorship and we see a lack of full disclosure or full discussion of issues that are relevant to the public's future and policies." Among the most frequently used justifications for restricting the media, Greene said, are charges of insulting the dignity of public officials and endangering national security. She added that the WPFC is most concerned about one particular article frequently invoked by officials to prevent criticism. "It's [the law] even embodied in the constitution of the country in Article 18, which says everyone should have the right to private life, personal or family secrets, and the protection of honor and dignity," Greene said. "This is a very broad brush which can be used by public officials to prevent any kind of scrutiny of their actions, policies, or activities. And then Article 46 of the constitution is the one that specifically protects the president and his honor and dignity."
According to international organizations, the campaign against independent media in Kazakhstan has recently intensified. The Vienna-based International Press Institute, in its annual World Press Freedom Review released in late February, said the Kazakh press is largely controlled by the government and the situation is worsening. It added the government is expanding its use of the courts to persecute critical media. A month earlier, Kazakhstan's president ordered a crackdown on his growing opposition, prompting fears that the country's independent TV stations could be shut down. After opposition protests were held demanding new elections, Nazarbaev warned they could lead to civil war. At a special cabinet meeting, he then ordered prosecutors to investigate "statements by politicians and the press over the past three months and hold them responsible."
In a statement made public on 1 February, four parliament deputies condemned Nazarbaev's instructions to bring to trial all persons who have criticized the president and his family. They describe those orders as being "in the best traditions of 1937," the year of one of Josef Stalin's most notorious purges. Nazarbaev also ordered the Prosecutor-General's Office to look into how well the republic's television stations are complying with a law that took effect on 1 January requiring 50 percent of prime-time programming to be in the Kazakh language. Television officials strongly protest this law because of the expense of translating programs and fears they will alienate many viewers. Russian is the primary language for many people in Kazakhstan, where a significant Russian minority remains. Few television stations have complied with the new law, but independent journalist Sergei Duvanov recently declared that sanctions are being applied "selectively," tending to come down on independent stations that broadcast programs critical of Nazarbaev's regime.
(Antoine Blua is an RFE/RL correspondent. Merhat Sharipzhan of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service contributed to this report.)