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Media Matters: March 30, 2001


30 March 2001, Volume 1, Number 8
INTERNATIONAL
FEBRUARY MEDIA REPORT ISSUED. On 26 March, the European Institute for the Media issued its February report on the twelve countries of the former Soviet Union. A Russian-language version is also available; contact Ljudmila von Berg, Programme Administrator at madp@eim.org or http://www.ijnet.org/News/CEENIS

ARMENIA
REGIONAL BROADCASTER NOW IN CAPITAL. The private TV/radio company Shant, based in Gyumri, announced on 23 March it will start special news and analytical programs in Yerevan. ("Yerevan Press Club Weekly Newsletter," 17-23 March)

KARABAKH BOSS OPINES ON IMPRISONED JOURNALIST CASE. This week, the father of Karabagh journalist Vahram Aghajanian -- sentenced in April 2000 to a one-year term for slander -- appealed for his release to Karabakh leader Arkady Ghukasian. In response, Ghukasian said that the punishment was "too severe," but that he did not have the legal authority to reverse a court decision. He also pointed out that the OSCE Minsk Group had not requested reconsideration of the case and that such issues were "beyond [their] competence." ("Yerevan Press Club Weekly Newsletter," 17-23 March)

PROSECUTOR REJECTS REQUEST FOR CRIMINAL LIBEL CASE. The Prosecutor's Office in Yerevan refused the National Scout Movement's request to initiate a criminal case for libel against the editor of "Haikakan Zhamanak" daily and journalist Armenak Mikaelian, but suggested that possible civil charges be brought. ("Yerevan Press Club Weekly Newsletter," 17-23 March)

'MEDIA AND DEMOCRACY' IN ARMENIAN. On 20 March the Yerevan Press Club issued "Media and Democracy;" an Armenian translation of a Council of Europe publication, funded by the Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation-Armenia. ("Yerevan Press Club Weekly Newsletter," 17-23 March)

AZERBAIJAN
TELEVISION PORTRAYS OPPOSITION AS WARMONGERS. Meanwhile, Belarusian Television said the same day that the Freedom Day rally in Minsk was staged by opposition leaders only to vent to their "malice and hatred of Russia." The station reported that the rally culminated in the burning of a Russian flag, adding that this act will not prevent the "cynical" Belarusian opposition from "looking for money in hateful Moscow" for this year's presidential election campaign in Belarus. "With similar cynicism these activists are now seeking to draw Belarus into some bloody turmoil. The national-radicals are not happy with the president's policy, when none of the Belarusian boys are shedding blood in hot spots. And now imagine how many Belarusian boys will die to satisfy political ambitions of the extremists if they come to power," the Panarama newscast said in its idiosyncratic style. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March)

CZECH REPUBLIC
CZECH COURT FINES 'MEIN KAMPF' SELLER. A Prague court on 27 March fined Vit Varak 10,000 crowns ($263) for selling copies of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" over the Internet. Varak was found guilty of supporting and disseminating the propaganda of a movement aimed at suppressing citizen's freedoms and rights. If Varak does not pay the fine, he will be jailed for one year. Varak pleaded not guilty, claiming he was only motivated by profit. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March)

ELECTION OF NEW CZECH RADIO AND TV COUNCIL LIKELY TO BE POSTPONED. Almost 200 proposals for nominations to the new Radio and Television Council have been submitted to the Chamber of Deputies, CTK reported on 21 March, citing the chairman of the chamber's special committee set up for the selection of candidates. Jan Vidim told the agency that the large number of proposals made is likely to postpone the appointment of the new council, which should have been completed in May. In line with a law passed by the chamber after the January crisis in Czech Television, the proposals are made by public and civic organizations. The committee must select 45 candidates and submit their names to the chamber, which is then to decide on the composition of the new 15-member council. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March)

ESTONIA
TALLINN PROMOTES INTERNET. The executives of seven major enterprises, including Hansapank, Uhispank, Estonian Telephone, and Estonian Mobile Telephone, signed an agreement in Tallinn on 7 March pledging to donate 250 million kroons ($14.8 million) over three years for the "Look at the World" project, ETA reported. The goal of the project is to make Estonia the world's No. 1 country in using the Internet by 2003. Finland currently boasts the highest Internet penetration in the world, with 54 percent of its population aged 15-74 having used it during the last six months. Estonia was the leading country in Eastern Europe, with Internet penetration of 31 percent in December. The project will finance public Internet access facilities, the training of the public, and more favorable terms for purchasing computers. It aims to increase the population's access to the Internet and enhance its user-friendliness, make public sector services more readily available online, and to help the private sector promote Internet use for obtaining information and services. The enterprises will also donate the specialized skills of approximately 1,000 volunteers. ("RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 23 March)

PUBLISHER OF TOP RUSSIAN DAILY MURDERED. Vitali Haitov, the publisher and main owner of the Russian-language daily "Estoniya" and weekly "Vesti Nedelya Plus," was found dead in his car in a western suburb of Tallinn on 10 March, apparently the victim of a professional assassination, BNS reported. Haitov, a 56-year-old retired Soviet naval officer who allegedly had connections with the underworld, suffered two shots to the head, and police suspect business rather than political motives for the murder. Haitov had been personally investigating the as- yet-unexplained shooting murder last April of his son Marian, who was co-owner and board member of Estonia's largest Russian-language media publisher AS Rukon-Info, and had recently asked for police protection, ETA reported on 12 March. ("RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 23 March)

HUNGARY
REPORT BLASTS GOVERNMENT. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the world's largest journalists' group, launched a hard-hitting attack on the Hungarian government over mistreatment of journalists and the state of the public broadcasting system. A 60-page report, "Television on the Brink," concludes that Hungarian public broadcasting, and particularly public TV, "has been weakened to the point of destruction because of political manipulation and willful neglect by the responsible authorities." The journalists accuse the current government of launching a new "media war" over journalism critical of it and cites incidents over the past two years that amount to "a circle of improper political influence, which threatens freedom of expression in Hungary." (IFJ, 26 March)

KAZAKHSTAN
PARLIAMENT CONTINUES DEBATE ON MEDIA LAW AMENDMENTS... Parliament's lower chamber on 22 March approved draft amendments to the Law on the Media that would impose fines on newspapers, Internet sites, or electronic media that propagate information that is demonstrably false or cannot be proven to be true, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The amendments also cut drastically the volume of foreign radio and TV programming that may be retransmitted. Information and Culture Minister Altynbek Sarsenbaev said those restrictions are intended to reduce the preponderance of Russian programming. U.S. Ambassador Richard Jones has expressed reservations with regard to the amendments which must now be approved by the Senate, the upper chamber of parliament. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March)

...AS PRESIDENT'S DAUGHTER RESIGNS AS MEDIA-HOLDING DIRECTOR. President Nursultan Nazarbaev's daughter Darigha announced in Astana on 21 March her decision to quit as director of the Khabar News Agency, the country's largest and most influential media holding, which she helped to found in the early 1990s, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported the following day. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March)

KOSOVA
ANONYMOUS THREATS TO ALBANIAN MEDIA EDITORS. The editors-in-chief of about ten of the best-known Albanian-language media houses in Pristina received anonymous telephone threats on 17 March, Radio B92 reports. The caller, speaking in fluent Serbian, threatened the editors-in-chief for cooperating with the "occupiers and Albanians," according to B92. Among others, editors-in-chief at dailies "Koha Ditore" and "Bota Sot" and radio stations Radio Kontact and Radio Kosovo Iljir received the threats. UNMIK police did not rule out the possibility that the anonymous threats were connected with an attempted terrorist attack in downtown Pristina. ("ANEM Weekly," 17-23 March)

LATVIA
'HIGH LIFE' FOR LATVIAN WOMEN? The March issue of "High Life," the British Airlines flight magazine, included an article, which claimed that the woman on top of the Freedom Monument in Riga was "Mother Russia" and that the three stars in her hands represented the three Baltic states, BNS reported on 8 March. The Freedom Monument Restoration Fund protested, stating that the bronze-cast woman symbolizes the Latvian state, and the three stars stand for Latvia's three regions. The airline rejected the demand that the issue be withdrawn from all flights, but removed it from Riga flights. It agreed to carry a correction in the April issue and to publish an article on Latvia as an interesting place to visit. ("RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 23 March)

MACEDONIA
SKOPJE MEDIA COMMENDED FOR RESTRAINT. Freimut Duve, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, on 27 March welcomed the restraint and responsibility of the media in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in reporting the current conflict. Daily newspapers demonstrated very little bravado and underlined the need for a "speeded-up political process" to deal with the concerns of ethnic Albanians. For more, contact the Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media by e-mail: pm-fom@osce.org or see http://www.osce.org/news/generate.php3?news_id=1567.

MOLDOVA
U.S. REPORT FOCUSES ON MEDIA PROBLEMS. Most of the media in Moldova still are in the service of political movements, commercial interests, or foreign countries and secure large subsidies from these sources -- this is the assessment in the U.S. State Department's "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices -- 2000." The report provides an overview of the most significant media developments in the year 2000 and analyzes the legal framework for media in Moldova. According to the report, Moldovan journalists frequently practice self-censorship to avoid lengthy lawsuits. The report notes that although the constitution prohibits censorship, officials frequently contact media outlets with complaints about their news coverage, which usually results in toned-down criticism. For complete text: http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2000. ("Moldova Media News," 26 March)

ORT MOLDOVA SUSPENDS NEWSCASTS. Citing financial and technical difficulties, ORT Moldova suspended its daily evening news programs in March; its 15-minute newscasts in Romanian and Russian had been broadcast on the Russian ORT channel frequency. The programs were on the air during this year's election campaign and were widely criticized for strong bias in favor of the election alliance of Premier Dumitru Braghis. According to Serghei Ivanchenko, director of ORT Moldova, the newscasts will be resumed in two months. During this "vacation" period the company plans to find additional sources of financing -- most likely from new entertainment broadcasts, according to BASA Press. ("Moldova Media News," 26 March)

BROADCASTS IN TRANSDNIESTER SLASHED. Serious financial problems have prompted authorities in Transdniester to reduce the amount of local TV and radio broadcasts and of programs re-transmitted from Russia. As of 1 March, residents of the region can view the broadcasts of Tiraspol TV for 13 hours a day, and of the Russian ORT and RTR TV channels for just 5 hours. Daily broadcasts of Tiraspol radio now do not exceed 6 hours on shortwave, and 30 minutes on mediumwave. In 2001, local authorities allocated some 416,000 Transdniester rubles ($3,416) to local broadcasters. This covers just 14 percent of their current needs, AP Flux reported. ("Moldova Media News," 26 March)

GOVERNMENT WANTS TO CLOSE PRESS CONCERN. The Cabinet of Ministers proposed the closure on 20 March of state media concern "Presa," which includes a publishing house and the state news agency, noting that it has a current state budget debt of five million lei ($391,155). The director-general of "Presa" protested the government decision, stating that "Presa" has no state budget debts. A final decision will be made by the new cabinet after it is sworn in next month, Moldpres reported. ("Moldova Media News," 26 March)

COMMUNIST MP TO HEAD MEDIA COMMITTEE. On 22 March, Vladimir Dragomir, member of the Communist faction in Moldovan parliament, was elected head of the permanent committee on culture, science, education, youth, and mass media. The present legislature has one less committee than the previous parliament -- the committee on youth matters has been merged with that on mass media. ("Moldova Media News," 26 March)

BOOK ON U.S. BROADCAST REGULATIONS PUBLISHED. The Association of Electronic Media issued on 13 March Romanian-language translations of selected laws and statutes on U.S. broadcasting. Financed by Soros-Moldova Foundation, the publication will be a resource for local broadcasters working on national legislation. ("Moldova Media News," 26 March)

MONTENEGRO
YU INFO ACCUSED OF DESTABILIZATION. The Montenegrin information minister accused television station YU INFO on 17 March of disseminating racial and religious hatred in an open attempt to destabilize Montenegro. "Television station YU INFO heats up the possibility of spreading the situation in Kosovo and Macedonia into Montenegro by broadcasting false Tanjug news alleging that there are four good armed and equipped terrorist Albanian groups in Montenegro just waiting for the signal from Kosovo to begin conflicts," the minister wrote in a statement. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 17-23 March)

WEEKLY CHARGED WITH DEFAMATION. A Montenegrin weekly will appear in court on 24 March to face charges filed by former Montenegrin Religion Minister Budimir Dubak. Dubak charges that "Monitor" founder Miodrag Perovic defamed his honor in an article in its 7 April 2000 issue, which, according to the claimant, wrongly implies that the former minister's policies "imposed" the Serbian Orthodox Church on Montenegrins. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 17-23 March)

ROMANIA
TABLOID ATTACKS RFE/RL... The tabloid "Atac la persoana" on 26 March said RFE/RL and Voice of America "continue to attack the Romanian nation and people." The tabloid claims that RFE/RL "continues to be part of the CIA." It said RFE/RL continues to "greatly harm Romania's real image" and that, furthermore, journalists formerly working for RFE/RL from abroad are indulging in similar activities while acting as independent journalists in Romania. It claims these journalists were placed in their new positions by their former masters in order to better "disseminate their ideology" and transform Romanians into "submissive people." On 23 March, "Romania mare," the weekly owned by PRM leader Tudor, who has numerous links to "Atac la persoana," called for the end of RFE/RL broadcasts, arguing that "the Cold War is over." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March)

...AFTER CRITICISM OF PRIBOI'S APPOINTMENT? Observers say these attacks may be an indirect response to criticism in Romania and abroad of Ristea Priboi's appointment as chairman of the parliamentary commission overseeing the activity of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SIE). Priboi was recently cleared by the National Council for the Study of Securitate Archives (CNSAS) of the suspicion of having been engaged in "political police activities" but the daily "Romania libera" on 24 March, citing "SIE sources," wrote that Priboi had personally coordinated the Securitate's actions against RFE/RL, including the bomb attack on RFE/RL's Munich headquarters on 21 February 1981. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March)

RUSSIA
PASKO TRIAL DELAYED AGAIN. The retrial of Grigorii Pasko, the former military journalist turned environmental activist, has been postponed until 4 June, one of Pasko's defense lawyers told AP on 22 March. According to the agency, neither Judge Sergei Volkov nor the prosecutors showed up in court. A jury foreman for the case told Interfax that the postponement was necessary because the defense lawyers have not completely familiarized themselves with the case. The trial is being held in a Pacific Fleet military court in Vladivostok. Pasko faces charges of state treason for having disclosed information about the hazardous environmental practices of the Pacific Fleet. He was first arrested in 1997 and was acquitted of charges of treason in 1999. However, last November, the Supreme Court ordered him to face a new trial. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March)

MOSCOW DEMO FOR FREE SPEECH AND NTV. On 31 March at noon in Moscow on Pushkin Square there will be a demonstration and concert in support of freedom of speech in Russia, and in protest against the gradual elimination of NTV, Russia's largest non-governmental national TV company and its partners in the media holding company Media-MOST. The demonstration is being called by the Russian Union of Journalists (www.ruj.ru) with support from the political parties Yabloko and Soyuz Pravykh Syl (Union of Rightist Forces) and the journalists' rights organization Glasnost Defense Foundation (www.gdf.ru). (Internews Russia, 28 March)

VOA DENIED LICENSE... Deputy Press Minister Mikhail Seslavinsky told Interfax on 28 March that the federal competitive licensing board had denied the Voice of America broadcast licenses for Ufa and Volgograd even though there were no other applicants for the requested frequencies. Reports at: http://lenta.ru/russia/2001/03/28/radio/_Printed.htm. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 28 March)

...WHILE 'EQUAL OPPORTUNITY' CITED. If Voice of America wants to expand its broadcasting network in Russia, Russian media should also get the same opportunity in the United States, said Deputy Press Minister Mikhail Seslavinsky on 28 March. A large number of countries do not allow foreign media to work on their territory, including the U.S., according to the minister. He said that to talk about the fact that one country has a privileged relationship towards its partner and can expand its broadcasting network, while the other cannot broadcast to a single city of that country is unfair and wrong. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 28 March)

YASTRZHEMBSKII PROMOTED. Sergei Yastrzhembskii was tasked with setting up a presidential information division which he will head, according to a presidential decree signed on 19 March, which will also be responsible for "coordination of official information and the image of the Russian government abroad." Yastrzhembskii has been serving as a presidential aide with special responsibility for public relations on the military campaign in Chechnya. According to gazeta.ru and "Segodyna," Yastrzhembskii will have a staff of up to 15; however, "Kommersant-Daily" on 16 March that the department will be much bigger ranging from 20-25 people. His current staff is reportedly seven people. At his first press conference in his new capacity on 21 March, Yastrzhembskii explained that his new department was created in response to media complaints that the Kremlin was not informative enough on important events, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. ("RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 26 March)

PUTIN INTERVIEW PARSED. "Segodnya," one of the media outlets that was not included in President Putin's group interview last week, on 23 March noted that the papers that were allowed to participate did not report the text of his remarks either consistently or completely. It noted that the four papers diverged in how they reproduced Putin's words about "the road to hell being paved with good intentions," and it pointed out that one of the papers -- "Moskovskii Komsomolets" -- dropped Putin's remarks about the withdrawal from Chechnya. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March)

INFO BLOCKADE ON CHECHNYA? Chechen Foreign Minister Ilyas Akhmadov told an RFE/RL briefing on 28 March that the American government is now showing "serious concern" to developments in Chechnya. His comments came a day after he met with a senior State Department official and with members of Congress. He said that such attention was especially important to breaking down what he described as "the Chinese wall" that Moscow has tried to impose on information coming out of his war-torn land. Akhmadov said that in the two months since the Russian security services were put in charge of Moscow's campaign in Chechnya, there has been ever more violence against civilians and ever less media coverage of what Russian forces have been doing. When the Russian army was in charge, Akhmadov said, there was much brutality on the Russian side but far less than now. In the last two months, he said, hundreds of Chechens have simply disappeared and presumably have been exiled or killed and put in the ever-larger number of mass graves Chechens and others have discovered. Earlier in the conflict, Akhmadov said, such graves typically contained 10 or 15 bodies; now, they contain 100 to 200 dead. In response to questions, Akhmadov said that Moscow's decision to target the civilian population reflects the frustration the Russian government and people feel about Moscow's inability to defeat Chechen forces, which now number not the 5,000 Moscow has acknowledged but 15,000. (RFE/RL Press Release, 29 March)

CHECHEN WEBSITE HACKED. The main editor of "Kavkazsky Vestnik" said on 26 March that his newspaper's website had been hacked. He maintained that this is due to telling it like it is -- in Russian -- about what is going on in Chechnya and vowed to continue. For more, contact shamil51@hotmail.com. (Human Rights Society of Azerbaijan, 26 March)

MORE SECRET PROTOCOLS IN LATVIAN-RUSSIAN RELATIONS. "Kontinent," No. 12, reported that the Russian side has demanded that records of conversations between Russian President Putin and Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga be classified, something Latvia has never done in the past. This suggests, the journal said, that the two leaders must have agreed on things that at least the Russian side does not want its citizens to learn of anytime soon. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March)

GUSINSKY RELEASED PENDING HEARING. Spain's High Court on 26 March released Russian media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky on $5.38 million bail while he awaits the final disposition of a Russian government request that he be extradited, Russian and Western agencies reported. Gusinsky had been free on his own recognizance until 12 March, when a lower Spanish court ordered him detained. In related developments, Aleksei Venediktov, the chief editor of Ekho Moskvy, told the Madrid newspaper "ABC" in an interview published the same day that if the Spanish court returns Gusinsky to Russia, Russian journalists will have to engage in self-censorship in order to avoid his fate. Also on 26 March, spokesmen for NTV said that a planned 3 April shareholders meeting by Gazprom to consider taking control of Gusinsky's Media-MOST holding company is illegal, AP reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March)

WIDE RANGE OF VIEWS ON CENSORSHIP. The Public Opinion Foundation interviewed Russians about their attitudes toward censorship, reported "Segodnya" on 24 March: 57 percent think that censorship should be introduced, compared to 49 percent in November. Thirty-eight percent of those polled think information about the latest military developments, location of military bases and nuclear weapons, military exercises, and space technologies can be censored. Only twelve percent think that media should not publicize "state secrets" or inform people about activities of intelligence agencies. Some five percent believe one should maintain secrecy about major disasters, while four percent think one should keep high technology information secret as well as "certain aspects of foreign policy." Nevertheless, 45 percent believe that the media should not distort information, and only three percent of those polled believe one can distort information about the actual situation in Chechnya. While most respondents believe that censorship is a way to increase security and order, respondents wanted to have accurate information about the economic situation, disasters, and the situation in Chechnya. "Segodnya" concludes that "while voting for censorship with one hand, respondents vote for freedom of speech with the other." ("Segodnya," 24 March)

INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS FORCED OUT OF MEDIA-MOST GROUP. In a 20 March letter to Russian Minister of Information Mikhail Lesin, Reporters without Borders (RSF) complained of pressure brought to bear against the daily "Segodnya" and the weekly "Itogi" by the state company Gazprom, the Media-MOST group's main creditor. Senior managers of Sem Dnei, the Media-MOST publishing house of the press group scheduled for takeover for debts to the state company Gazprom, have allegedly decided to cease publication of "Segodnya" as of 1 May 2001. "Segodnya" is an influential political daily, with a circulation of 55,000 in Russia's main cities, and has been especially critical of the Russian government. Similarly, the news magazine "Itogi" may be forced to leave the group in order to maintain its editorial independence. For more, see http://www.rsf.fr (Reporters sans Frontieres, 20 March)

CHERKESOV EXPOUNDS IN 'PAMYAT'-LINKED JOURNAL. Putin's appointee as plenipotentiary for northwest Russia, Victor Cherkesov, has recently published an extensive article in a St. Petersburg journal, "Admiralty Northwest to Russia," edited by extremist Russian nationalist Mark Lyubomudrov. A member of its editorial staff, Yuri Riverov, is a former member of the central board of the neo-fascist Pamyat society. This journal has also published an article by Assistant Professor Karataev of the St. Petersburg Shipbuilding Insitute espousing the introduction of a "pale of settlement" for non-Russians. In his article, Cherkesov discusses his concept of a common information space for "his" part of Russia, in which the political process takes priority over people's right to information. Or, to use "Cherkesovian" language, he advocates that for the successful realization of the process of strengthening verticalized state power it is important to support the aspiration of the media to follow the political process. ("Glasnost Defense Foundation Weekly Digest," 19 March)

RUSSIAN, U.S. POLICE CLOSE DOWN CHILD PORNOGRAPHY OPERATION. Police from Russia and the United States arrested nine people behind a Russian website that had been selling child pornography videotapes worldwide, Russian and Western agencies reported on 26 March. The site itself was shut down in December 2000. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March)

POWER CUTS LEAD TO MEDIA BLACKOUTS. Communications Workers Union President Anatolii Nazeykin told Interfax on 23 March that power cutoffs to radio and television stations for non-payment of bills has resulted in many people in the Far East being unable to watch television or listen to the radio in recent weeks. He said that the problem arose because those who owe money to the stations have not paid them and, as a result, the stations cannot pay their bills. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March)

BOOKMEN BAND TOGETHER TO FIGHT BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD. More than 50 Russian publishers and book dealers have formed the Russian Book Union in order to fight for the restoration of tax advantages that had allowed them to sell books at a reasonable price, "Nezavisimaya gazeta-ExLibris" reported on 21 March. One of the organizers said that if the bookmen fail in their attempt, then Russia will soon fall under "the power of Beavis and Butthead," two MTV cartoon characters known for their crudeness and ignorance. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March)

CORRECTION: In "Media Matters," 23 March 2001, an item incorrectly said that a television station was closed for debts in Chelyabinsk. In fact, the station shut down was in Ulyanovsk.

SERBIA
IS DISINFORMATION TO BE A CRIME... The new Serbian draft Criminal Code's inclusion of "inciting panic and disorder by spreading false information" as a crime is not new but hardly reassuring, notes daily "Danas." Yugoslavia and Serbia enacted such disinformation laws during World War II in order to suppress political opponents. These types of laws were then revived during the Milosevic regime. Kraljevo journalist Miroslav Filipovic was sentenced to three years imprisonment according to such laws, "Danas" warned. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 17-23 March)

...OR ISN'T IT? The Democratic Alternative party denied that the so-called 'verbal offence' would be included in the revised Serbian Criminal Code, "Danas" reported on 21 March. Vice President Radoslav Nedic and party spokeswoman Nada Kolundzija argued that, 'verbal offence' had formerly been used to criminalize criticism of an individual's integrity. Disseminating false information in the revised Serbian Criminal Code should be used solely to criminalize causing public panic and obstructing duties of state organizations. Disseminating false information is a crime in many modern states' criminal codes, they noted. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 17-23 March)

PARLIAMENT CONSIDERS RTS MANAGEMENT PROPOSAL. The Serbian Parliament Committee for Culture and Information supported the government's proposal for the appointment of the new Radio Television Serbia (RTS) managerial committee on 16 March. Of the 16 members named, 11 were nominated by the government, five were based on RTS management recommendations, and three by the RTS labor union. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 17-23 March)

TV KANAL 1 BEGINS BROADCAST DESPITE MORATORIUM. New television channel TV Kanal 1 began broadcasting a pilot program on 15 March despite the Yugoslav Telecommunications Ministry's broadcast moratorium. TV Kanal 1 announced it would begin broadcasts under its former name, TV Kosava, because it had not yet been granted a working license under its new name. The TV Kanal 1 statement said that the previous owner of TV Kosava, former Yugoslav president's daughter Maria Milosevic, had nothing to do with the broadcast. TV Kanal 1 is part of the Blic media group. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 17-23 March)

MILANOVIC WAS INSIDE RTS BUILDING BEFORE THE BOMBING. Former Radio Television Serbia Director Dragoljub Milanovic told Belgrade daily "Danas" on 20 March that he had been inside the bombed television headquarter only shortly before NATO bombings killed 16 RTS employees in this building. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 17-23 March)

UKRAINE
GERMAN RADIO BROADCASTS UPPED. Interfax-Ukraine reports that Deutsche Welle announced on 28 March that it is increasing its broadcasts to Ukraine by 30 minutes a day because of "massive limitations on freedom of the press."

UZBEKISTAN
KILLED AFTER BBC INTERVIEW? Hazratkul Kadirov, who worked in the timber industry in Uzun, Surhandarya region, gave an interview to the BBC in November last year. On 11 November, Kadirov was arrested; three days later, his corpse was given to his relatives. The Interior Affairs Department of Saraasiya district claimed that he had died of a heart attack. His brother, Ahmankul Kodirov, wrote in an official complaint that, "I took part in the funeral and saw Hazratkul's body. His head, hands, fingers, and legs were broken, his body was punctured in more than 50 places, and some of his organs had been cut." (Press Center of Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, 17 March)

IMPRISONED JOURNALISTS. Despite numerous appeals for release, Samarkand TV reporter Shodi Mardiev has been imprisoned for three years in one of the most severe prisons of Uzbekistan, Kizil Tepa, in the Bukhara region. Another journalist, Shanozar Ermatov from Khorezm, is also imprisoned there. Mamadali Mahmudov, Rashid Bekjanov, and Komil Bekjanov are still in the prison. (Press Center of Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, 17 March)

REGIONAL
PARTIAL TAX EXEMPTION FOR MEDIA? Media in Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Kyrgyzstan may soon be relieved of the burden of various taxes, which media owners and journalists have said make it difficult for independent media to survive financially. The Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan governments are considering Value Added Tax (VAT) exemptions, while in Azerbaijan, the parliament has adopted a law that exempts the local media from customs duties. (International Journalists' Network Net, 26 March)

SOUTHEAST EUROPE MEDIA CONFERENCE. The Albanian Media Institute (AMI) has organized a conference on "Media in Southeastern Europe: New Era, New Dilemmas", which will be held in Tirana on 30 and 31 March. It will discuss the role of the media during the post-communist transition, postwar societal agendas, and coverage of the 1999 Kosovo war and the downfall of the Milosevic regime. For details, contact Genc Caushi (genc@mediainstitute.org) at Albanian Media or see http://www.seenpm.org (International Journalists' Network Net, 26 March)

BELARUS
JOURNALIST SENTENCED TO THREE MONTHS IN JAIL. The International League for Human Rights, in a 21 March letter to Alexander Lukashenka, expressed deep concern about the court's decision to sentence Valery Schukin, a 13th Supreme Soviet Deputy and an independent journalist, to three months in prison for "malicious hooliganism." Despite his press credentials, on 16 January Schukin was turned away from a press conference held by Vladimir Naumov, Belarusian interior minister. The police then detained Schukin at the entrance to the building where the press conference was to take place, knocked him to the ground, and twisted his arms behind his back; the police accidentally broke the glass entrance door and Schukin sustained several deep lacerations. For the past four years, the government has targeted Schukin on numerous occasions for his active stand against the "total suppression of basic rights and freedoms in Belarus." (International League for Human Rights, 26 March)

EDITOR'S TRIAL BEGINS. On 27 March the trial of Shahin Jafarli, first deputy editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Yeni Musavat," began in Baku. Jafarli is charged with Articles 221.1 [hooliganism] and 221.2.1 [hooliganism by a group of people] due to an alleged assault of a group of Baku residents on the newspaper' s office on 25 November of last year. Jafarli's lawyer denies that his client was involved in the incident. A 26 March press conference at the "Yeni Musavat" offices said the case is part of the government's campaign against the paper. (Center for Political and Economic Reforms, 28 March)

NATIONAL RADIO/TV COMMISSION NAMED. On 19 March, President Robert Kochraian signed a decree appointing the members of the National Commission on Television and Radio. Only the positions of chair and vice chair are salaried. ("Yerevan Press Club Weekly Newsletter," 17-23 March)

END NOTE
NOTED UIGHUR WRITER DIES IN UZBEK PRISON

By Vitali Ponomarev, Coordinator, Memorial Human Rights Center, Central Asian Section

Emin Usman, 56, died on 28 February 2001 in an investigation cell of the Interior Ministry of Uzbekistan. Usman, an ethnic Uighur, was born in 1945 in the Xinjiang-Uighur autonomous province of China; he and his parents moved to Uzbekistan when he was a child. Usman became a citizen first of the USSR and then of Uzbekistan. A trained philologist, Usman was fluent in Russian, Arabic, and Uzbek as well as Uighur. He joined the Soviet and Uzbekistan Writers' Unions and wrote over 20 works, including popular works of fiction in Russian, Uzbek, and Uighur. Well respected by the Uighur community in Uzbekistan, several years ago he was the head of the Center of Uighur Culture in Tashkent. The father of three, Usman also kept in contact with his relatives in Eastern Turkestan.

Reportedly, a car Usman was driving was detained by the police on 11 February 2001, near his home on the Navoi collective farm in the Tashkent district. After his arrest, Usman was immediately placed in the basement of the Interior Ministry, a place where detainees are known to be brutally tortured. Only once -- on Usman's fifth day of detention -- did his lawyer, Akhmadjon Sautov, manage to see his client. Interior Minister Investigations Officer Abdumutal Zakrullaev told the lawyer that Usman was charged with dissemination of documents which threaten social security and that later on Usman would be charged with violation of the constitutional order.

Since Usman was fluent in so many languages, the Uzbekistan authorities suspected him of regularly translating publications by the forbidden Islamic party Hizb-it-Tahrir, according to Vasili Inoyatova, an activist of the Human Rights Society of Uzbeksitan. Uighur sources, however, deny that Usman belonged to this organization.

On 28 February, Usman's relatives were informed of the writer's alleged suicide. On 1 March, at about 4:30 a.m., law enforcement officers brought Usman's body to his home. At the same time, some fifty militia officers surrounded the district where Usman used to live, blocking traffic. They did not allow anyone to go to Usman's house or to wash or examine his body. According to a witness, one of Usman's relatives who somehow managed to look at his corpse, there was a deep bloody wound on the back of his skull. According to another report, the body was covered by numerous blue marks and bruises,which attest to the torture of Usman during investigations.

The militia demanded that a hasty funeral be held at about 6:00 a.m. in line with strict security measures. In fact, "Usman was buried by the militia themselves," one eyewitness said. "During the burial, militia and even people in civilian clothes cordoned off the cemetery." Friends and relatives were forbidden even to get close to the grave. After the funeral, Usman's family was given a medical certificate, stating that the reason for death was a cerebral tumor.

Mikhail Ardzinov, chairman of the Independent Organization for Human Rights in Uzbekistan, said that Usman has been on an Uzbekistan intelligence service "black list" for some time, owing to his religious beliefs and social activities among ethnic Uighurs. During the wave of mass arrests after the terrorist bombings in Tashkent in February 1999, Usman was arrested and thrown in an Interior Ministry basement. Only after well-known Uzbek writers interceded on Usman's behalf, did he escape more severe punishment. In February 2000, Usman was sentenced to three years of imprisonment for alleged illegal currency transactions and was released from custody in the courtroom.

Human rights groups in Tashkent are unanimous in their opinion that Usman is a victim of the next wave of political repression. Several members of the Uzbekistan Writers' Union have been convicted under fabricated charges for political motives in the last few years.

It should also be mentioned that Usman's case is far from being the first time when persons suspected by the Uzbekistan authorities of contacts with the Hizb-ut-Tahrir party were killed in detention after cruel torture. For example, Farkhod Usmonov, a Hizb-ut-Tahrir activist -- whose case was also handled by Abdumutal Zakrullaev -- died after torture in June of 1999. Usmonov's funeral became a mass public protest against the Uzbekistan authorities. Unfortunately, however, the authorities refuse to investigate such cases of probable torture. But up to now, not one official of the Uzbekistan Interior Ministry or the National Security Service has ever been put on trial on charges of torture.

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