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(Un)Civil Societies Report: May 25, 2000


25 May 2000, Volume 1, Number 2
AZERBAIJAN
JOURNALISTS, LAWYER INCARCERATED. Gunduz Rustamkhanly, the son of Civil Solidarity Party parliamentary deputy Sabir Rustamkhanly, has been arrested for taking part in a 29 April rally, ANS TV reported on 16 May. Meanwhile, the Yeni Nesil Journalists' Union issued a statement expressing concern over the deteriorating health of Intibakh journalist Vagif Hajibeyli, who has been incarcerated since that demonstration. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May)

COURT SUSPENDS 'MONITOR WEEKLY.' The Azerbaijani Economic Court on 16 May suspended publication of "Monitor Weekly" and froze its assets, Turan news agency reported. The court said that it had taken this step because of a suit brought against the magazine. But its editor, Elmar Huseinov, said that he believes politics were behind the court's action because the magazine has been critical of the Azerbaijani government. (RFE/RL Newsline, 17 May)

BELARUS
'NASHA NIVA' SUES STATE PRESS COMMITTEE. The paper's effort to overturn a warning against it for "fomenting interethnic enmity," was rejected by the Supreme Economic Court on 11 May. The State Press Committee issued a warning to the newspaper in March after it published a letter from T. Sudzilouskaya, titled, "I Envy Chechnya." A State Press Committee representative argued that the letter incited interethnic hatred. "It is sufficient to look at the heading 'I Envy Chechnya' to understand what the author means," he said. "We know the Chechens are currently at war and that they are mainly fought by Russians." ("RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 16 May)

REPORTER AND EDITOR DETAINED. Police in Barysau detained picketeers on 21 May protesting the court sentence handed down to former Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir. Detainees included the editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper "Zhoda" and RFE/RL stringer Ales Mikalajchanka. The police attacked the journalist for his reports on other opposition protests in Barysau, claiming they alerted police chiefs in the capital who are dissatisfied at how the local police treat the opposition. (RFE/RL Belarusan Service, 22 May)

CROATIA
CROATIAN COURT VOIDS TUDJMAN-ERA LIBEL LAW. The Constitutional Court ruled on 10 May that an article added in 1996 to the criminal code to prosecute opponents of then-President Franjo Tudjman is unconstitutional. The measure required district attorneys to prosecute journalists and others suspected of libeling the president, the speaker of parliament, the prime minister, or the chief justices of the Supreme and Constitutional courts. The court ruled that the article violates the constitutional guarantee of the equality of all citizens before the law because it establishes a special legal status for five individuals. This is what the opposition has been saying for four years. In practice, the measure's bark proved worse that its bite. Two journalists were acquitted after being prosecuted for an article comparing Tudjman to the former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. A third case is still being tried, but presumably not for long. Under the new ruling, top officials--like everyone else--will personally have to institute legal proceedings if they feel they were slandered. ("RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 May). Under the same ruling, the Constitutional Court rescinded a penal code article which stipulated criminal sanctions against those found guilty of statements or actions against the honor and reputation of the five high government officials. (Hina, 10 May)

GEORGIA
TWO PROGRAMS TAKEN OFF STATE TV. Although the official reason given was "financial difficulties," two popular TV programs which had been on the air since August 1999 were removed from Georgian State TV First Program in early May. The first, "I Believe," a call-in show moderated by the director of the Georgian State Library, Levan Berdzinishvili, had recently been critical of corrupt regional executive officials appointed by President Eduard Shevardnadze. The second, "Opinion," was hosted by young pro-reform journalist Goka Gabashvili. (RFE/RL Georgian Service, 22 May)

MEDIA FREEDOM PROTESTS PRODUCE A POSITIVE OFFICIAL RESPONSE. Members of the student Self-Government Association staged a protest near Tbilisi State University to demand that the government refrain from putting pressure on Rustavi-2 TV and especially its journalist, Akaki Gogichaishvili, who had been critical of the cabinet. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May) Concerned about attacks on media freedom, particularly the Rustavi 2 TV program "60 Minutes" and host Gogichaishvili, the NGO letter said, "you have assumed responsibility to control investigations on cases of physical assaults on journalists by law enforcement officers...In all cases journalists were found guilty." The letter also told President Shevardnadze that "we remember your rough reaction to facts revealing your relatives' illegal activities covered by '60 Minutes.' Since the General-Prosecutor's Office is directly subordinate to the president of Georgia it is obvious that [your] reaction became an 'oral order' for the power structures to go after the independent media. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 22 May). Students and representatives of 27 Georgian NGOs staged a demonstration on 22 May outside the state chancellery in Tbilisi to demand the resignation of Prosecutor-General Djamlet Babilashvili and his deputy, Caucasus Press reported. The demonstrators accuse the two officials of having warned TV journalist Gogichaishvili to leave Georgia or risk being murdered after he aired programs on official corruption. Babiashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 22 May that the demands for his resignation are unfounded. Also on 22 May, Shevardnadze ordered the Interior and Security Ministries to take all necessary measures to protect Gogichaishvili and his family. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May)

KAZAKHSTAN
STATEMENT ON PRESS FREEDOM. Three leading human rights organizations issued a statement in April protesting the firing on 31 March of prominent reform TV journalist Tatiana Deltsova, chief editor of the news program "Informbureau." The statement also highlighted other government steps against the media: "We protested against the conduct, procedures and results of tenders on TV and radio frequencies in 1996-1998 when the vast majority of independent TV and radio companies...lost their frequencies and disappeared.... [Last Year] and early 2000 witnessed even greater pressure on the independent press." Among those persecuted were such newspapers as "XXI Century," "Dat'," "SolDat," "Nachnem s ponedelnika," "Diapazon" (based in Aktobe), "Edil Zhaiyk" (based in Uralsk), "NBC-press" (based in Ust-Kamenogorsk), and so on." (Center for Civil Society International, 17 May)

AUTHOR ARRESTED IN SHYMKENT. Temirtas Tleulesov, author of "Ordaly Zhylan" ("Nest of Vultures"), was arrested on 22 May in Shymkent. Published in 1999, Tleulesov's book is a documented chronology of crimes committed by officials in southern Kazakhstan; the book's Russian variant, "Shymkentskaya Mafia," was due to be published shortly. Official charges against the author are unknown. Earlier this year, Tleulesov was badly beaten and spent several weeks recovering in an Almaty hospital. (RFE/RL Kazakh Service, 23 May)

KYRGYZSTAN
TWO PAPERS PAY HEAVY FINES. Early this year, the Supreme Court upheld a 200,000 som fine--the average monthly salary in Kyrgyzstan is about 1,000 som--against the independent weekly newspaper, "Res Publica," which ceased publication on 28 March. The court-ordered fine was levied in late 1999 for insulting the president of the State TV and Radio Corporation. Last month, another independent weekly, "Delo #..." was sentenced to pay a 1,300,000 som fine (about $27,000) for tax evasion. The paper's editor, Viktor Zapolsky, told RFE/RL on 18 May that he intended to sue the State Tax Inspection Agency because it had revised financial documents just after the parliamentary elections and ruled that his paper must pay more taxes. (RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service, 22 May)

OPPOSITION ENUMERATES DEMANDS. Opposition representatives in Bishkek on 19 May released a list of demands they intend to present to the government during a roundtable discussion scheduled for early June. The opposition demands include an end to the harassment of the independent press. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May)

MONTENEGRO
MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT PROMISES AID TO SERBIAN INDEPENDENT MEDIA. Speaking in Brussels on 17 May, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said his country "will continue to provide all possible assistance to the democratic forces in Serbia...for instance, with our satellite TV program." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May)

RUSSIA
DEMONSTRATORS PROTEST THREATS AGAINST MEDIA... A rally to protest threats against freedom of speech attracted hundreds of participants in Moscow on 17 May, Reuters reported. According to "The Moscow Times," some 2,000 people participated, including some members of the State Duma, such as Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii and Union of Rightist Forces members Boris Nemtsov and Irina Kakamada. Reuters said some demonstrators carried banners criticizing President Putin. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May)

...WHILE RUSSIA EXPRESSES ALARM OVER BELGRADE'S MEDIA CRACKDOWN. The Russian Foreign Ministry said on 18 May that it is "seriously concerned" about the seizure the previous day of the independent Studio B TV station, Interfax reported. The statement added that Moscow is also "seriously alarmed by reports that the situation in Belgrade may seriously deteriorate and that direct clashes with law enforcement units may occur." And it noted that the Foreign Ministry believes that "freedom of speech and the press is an integral part of the democratic process." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May)

MOSCOW TO DEMAND EQUAL TREATMENT FOR RUSSIAN MEDIA OPERATING ABROAD? The State Duma Information Policy Committee this fall may send to the Duma amendments to the media law that would demand that Russian television and radio stations have the same rights abroad as electronic media from those countries have in Russia, Interfax reported. Such a law might then become the pretext for Russian government action against international media operating in Russia if Moscow could argue that Russian stations were not enjoying equal access.

THE MEDIA-MOST AFTERMATH. The board of directors of the Russian Central Bank has agreed to put MOST Bank under the control of a provisional administration, "Vedomosti" reported on 17 May. The daily, citing an unidentified high-level source, said an order to that effect may be signed that day. According to the newspaper, the law on the bankruptcy of credit organizations empowers the Central Bank to impose a provisional administration when the demands of creditors have not been met after a period of seven days. The newspaper also reported that the Media-MOST Group leadership held a special meeting on 16 May devoted to the increasingly complex situation the company faces.

An unidentified source on the presidential staff told Interfax on 22 May that neither President Vladimir Putin nor his staff were informed in advance about the 11 May raid on the Moscow headquarters of the Media-Most group. According to the agency, the source expressed regret that the operation had not been carried out in a "more moderate fashion." But he added, "there can be no organizations in Russia engaged in eavesdropping on telephone conversations." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May)

GORBACHEV TO HEAD NEW MEDIA MONITORING GROUP. Media-Most's NTV announced on 16 May it has set up a media monitoring group to be headed by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. In a public statement, NTV said it is important to set up a "public council" to monitor the media since "the growing influence of the mass media has given rise to a struggle for control" over them. It continued that "an extreme manifestation of such pressure was the well-known events at the Media-Most Company on 11 May 2000." An NTV spokeswoman said the new monitoring group will be sponsored by the station, but will not be part of the company. She added that Gorbachev will seek other public figures to join the council, Reuters reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May). Speculating on the wider implications of this new alliance between media mogul Gusinsky and former Soviet President Gorbachev, "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" (17 May) stated, "Having lost his influence in political circles, Vladimir Gusinsky is seeking in his alliance with Gorbachev first of all protection for all his holdings, especially since Gorbachev, unlike Yeltsin, seems to be more acceptable to Putin.... Media-Most is not only TV, journals and a newspaper. It is also an independent political player and business corporation." As for Gorbachev's motivation in making this alliance with Gusinsky, the paper posits the view, "For the first time in nine years, Gorbachev now has the chance to be directly involved in, as they say, active politics."

Robert Coalson of the National Press Institute said: "it is encouraging that Gorbachev is concerned that the greatest achievement of his rule, glasnost, has made so little progress since he left power and now is decidedly at risk" that he will now head the new press freedom monitoring group financed by Media-Most. Coalson also compared the Russian media response to the Babitsky affair--when 31 Moscow-based publications and organizations supported the special edition of "Obshchaya Gazeta" devoted to that subject--whereas "the special edition which appeared just five days after the [May 11 Media-Most] raid was endorsed by 62 publications." Coalson also notes that various Russian regional publishers wrote him wishing that "Media-Most and other central media would take a more active stance in defending the regional press, which experiences such intimidation tactics on a daily basis."

Giving specific examples of violations of press freedom in the Russian regions, Coalson poses some rhetorical questions, "I wonder where [Media-]Most has been for the last year while the newspaper 'Chelyabinsky Raobochy,' in Chelyabinsk has been under constant assault from the local authorities? Where was Gusinsky when the newspaper 'MIG' in Astrakhan spent nearly a year fighting a court order of prior restraint without any outside assistance? How much did Gusinsky give to provide legal help to 'colleagues' like Aleksandr Nikitin or Grigory Pasko or Altaf Galeyev or others who have sat in prison for the sake of press freedom in Russia?� How about the newspaper 'Kurier Plus' in Syktykvar, which is in danger of closing down because of a politically-motivated civil suit by the local prosecutor? How about all the cities across Russia that don't even have a non-state press to be assaulted?" ("The Moscow Times," 19 May)

IS MEDIA FREEDOM ON THE SUMMIT AGENDA? On 12 May, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said he expects that media freedom will be raised during talks between U.S. President Bill Clinton and President Putin during their June summit. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May) An article in "Nezavisimaya Gazeta"(20 May), however, states: "On the eve of [U.S, National Security Adviser] Samuel Berger's arrival in Moscow the question was raised of whether the U.S. presidential adviser would, in his direct contacts with the Russian leadership, draw attention to events connected with the search of the Media-Most's holding company's premises. However, according to "Nezavisimaya Gazeta's" information from sources close to the talks, this question was not raised at all. It can be said with confidence that the topic of freedom of the press will not be on the agreed agenda for the Russian-U.S. summit. Although the U.S. president might raise it unilaterally in violation of the agreed protocol documents."

INTERNET RESTORED TO ACADEMY OF SCIENCE INSTITUTES AFTER TWO DAYS... Researchers at the Semenov Institute for Chemical Physics in Moscow, including Liliya Khavina, were alarmed on 15 May when the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences issued a document reportedly stating that all its institutes were cut off from the Internet. Such a cut off would have been a "real disaster" to Russian scientists since they now depend on the Internet as a data base and also rely on it to maintain contacts with foreign colleagues. (RFE/RL Russian Service, 16 May). According to later RFE/RL Russian Service reports, the two-day service cut resulted when the academy changed its Internet providers. On 22 May, ITAR-TASS quoted President Putin as saying his government "will support the Russian Academy of Sciences in every way."

...WHILE MEDIA MINISTER REPEATS CALL FOR REGISTERING WEB MEDIA. In an interview with "Ekho Moskvy" on 22 May, Media Minister Mikhail Lesin said that all Internet-based Russian media should be registered like any other kind of media organization. "As long as they identify themselves as mass media outlets, they should be subject to registration in compliance with the law," Lesin said. Last week, the website gazeta.ru reported that agents from the Federal Security Service (FSB) conducted a raid on the office of a Moscow Internet provider, Zenon NSP. A member of Zenon's staff told the website that the search was aimed at one of Zenon's clients. According to gazeta.ru, the FSB is refusing to comment. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May)

SERBIA
MILOSEVIC'S LATEST CRACKDOWN. The regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has struck a major blow against the opposition media. The outcome may be a full-blown dictatorship. But it could well be the beginning of the end for Milosevic.

In the early hours of 17 May, masked Serbian police occupied the Belgrade offices of opposition Studio B TV and Radio, Radio B2-92, Radio Index, and the mass-circulation daily "Blic." Studio B now broadcasts regime news programs, while B2-92 has gone over to a mainly music diet.

Dragan Kojadinovic, the former director of the opposition Studio B TV, which is run by Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service that the takeover is "state-organized robbery, without any legal basis, without any justification...They took over all our premises, a few hundred plainclothes policemen. [Our] security people at the scene say they literally brought busloads of police, who entered the building and broke into our offices...Their aim is to completely eliminate all programs of Studio B. They neutralized Radio B2-92...they are not letting our colleagues from "Blic" enter their offices" in the same complex. As for the SPO, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" argued that the government takeover of Studio B is a "direct challenge" to Draskovic. Veran Matic, who heads the Association of Private Electronic Media Organizations (ANEM), told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service: "This is a complete prohibition of elementary freedom of speech in Serbia. These media outlets were, after all, the heart of our information sphere in Serbia today. The media landscape in Serbia will be permanently fragmented and damaged in the future if we don't start working again" and undo the damage.

The deputy mayor of Belgrade, Milan Bozic (SPO), who is also a member of Studio B's board of directors, told AP that the "regime has made a move with unforeseeable consequences. Whether this is the beginning of the regime's suicide or just a miscalculation, the next few days will show." Opposition Alliance for Change leader Vladan Batic stressed that the government "has imposed an informal state of emergency. This indicates the introduction of a state of [martial law]."

Goran Svilanovic, who heads the Civic Alliance, told Reuters on 18 May that the opposition plans to hold daily protests in several cities and towns. At least dozens of protesters were injured in clashes with police in Belgrade the previous evening when up to 30,000 people turned out in support of the opposition media. Matters came to a head when buoyant fans of the Crvena Zvezda soccer team sought to join the protest and clashed with the police. A declaration read out at the rally concluded that "this is the beginning of the end of the dictatorship" of Milosevic. Svilanovic argued that Milosevic is trying to "turn Serbia into a Cuba in the middle of Europe." Elsewhere, the authorities shut down Radio Pancevo on 17 May while it was broadcasting coverage of the Belgrade protest.

Reaction from abroad to the media clampdown came quickly. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington on 17 May that Milosevic's latest actions "smack of desperate Bolshevik-style oppression." Boucher added that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will raise the possibility of unspecified "joint action" at a conference of NATO foreign ministers in Italy slated for late May. In Vienna, OSCE Chair Benito Ferrero-Waldner and Media Representative Freimut Duve also condemned the moves against the non-state media. In Brussels, EU Commissioner Chris Patten said that he "deplores this cowardly crackdown on the independent Serbian media...carried out under cover of darkness by Milosevic's henchmen...Milosevic will ultimately lose this battle." Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic called the clampdown an act of weakness, adding that Montenegro will not be intimidated by any of Milosevic's pressure tactics.

And what did the authorities have to say for themselves? Prior to the nighttime raid, Serbian Deputy Prime Ministers Vojislav Seslj and Mikovan Bojic signed a decree in which they said that the authorities have taken control of Studio B because it has allegedly "frequently called for the toppling of the constitutional order and for rebellion against a legally elected government." It is not clear whether the decree also referred to the other opposition media outlets located in the same office complex as Studio B. Perhaps more importantly, it is not clear if additional non-state media (besides Radio Pancevo) will also feel the wrath of the authorities.

The latest moves were prepared well in advance. On 16 May, the Borba publishing house, which is close to the regime, refused to print "Blic," "Danas" reported. The Forum and Glas publishing house printed "Blic" instead. Democratic Alternative leader Nobojsa Covic said that the regime is preparing to declare a state of emergency by branding its opponents "fascists" and "traitors" in the wake of a mysterious killing in Novy Sad. ("RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 May)

SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH APPEALS FOR CALM. The Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church said in a statement in Belgrade on 18 May that state authorities should "immediately stop the violent shutting down of non-state media centers, " RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May)

SERBIAN POLICE CHARGE PROTESTERS. Police wielding truncheons and firing tear gas charged some of the 10,000 mainly young demonstrators who had gathered in Belgrade to protest the regime's latest action against the non-state media. The police attacked after the rally had ended and protesters broke up into smaller groups, the BBC's Serbian Service reported. At least 17 demonstrators and four police were hospitalized. News agencies report numerous cases of demonstrators with blood streaming down their faces and young women bruised by batons. The Interior Ministry has not announced how many people police detained during the crackdown, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 19 May. Several thousand people took part in protests the previous evening in Novy Sad, Kraljevo, Kragujevac, and in unspecified other towns, the private Beta news agency reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May)

'BELGRADE WITHOUT EYES, EARS'--BUT B2-92 CAN STILL BE HEARD. The weekly, "Nin," described the current electronic media scene in Belgrade on 19 May following the clampdown, as deaf and blind.

Radio B2-92 is still available on the Internet: http://www.ituner.com/perl/display,pl?file=ituner/station.html&key=793The staff of the daily "Blic" returned to their offices on 18 May, but police continue to bar employees of Studio B, Radio Index, and B2-92 from going back to their work places, Reuters reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May)

REGIME IS IN 'PANIC' OR 'NEARING END?' Some of the protesters chanted on 18 May: "Kill yourself Slobodan and save Serbia." This is an allusion to the fact that both parents of the Yugoslav president committed suicide and that his wife is believed to have tried to kill herself on more than one occasion. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May). NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson said in Helsinki on 18 May that "this is the time for democratic change in Serbia. The Serbian people are not going to take these totalitarian tactics lying down--they are clearly speaking out for freedom. This crackdown on the press is an act of panic by somebody who is cornered...[It] is the classic way that tottering dictators seek to prop themselves up." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May)

SERBIAN OPPOSITION WANTS DETAINEES FREED... Some of Serbia's key opposition leaders told several thousand protesters in Belgrade on 21 May that the authorities must not continue to detain opposition supporters without charging them. Most detainees were freed after questioning. Under current legislation, police can detain people for 72 hours without filing charges. The authorities may soon implement a new law that would "create an informal state of emergency," "The New York Times" reported on 21 May. Under the new law, the police could detain people "on grounds of national security" for up to 60 days without filing charges. Police would be entitled to conduct searches without warrants." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May)

...YET SERBIAN JOURNALIST REARRESTED FOR 'ESPIONAGE.' A military court in Nis on 22 May ordered the rearrest of Miroslav Filipovic for "espionage" and "spreading false information" because of several articles he wrote for "Danas," Agence France Presse, and the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR). The espionage charge could carry a stiff penalty and centers on some of Filipovic's articles for IWPR. A military prosecutor asked the court to order Filipovic's return to detention from which he was freed on 12 May, Reuters reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May)

OPPOSITION CALLS BELGRADE RALLY. Leaders of several opposition parties appealed in a statement on 22 May to people throughout Serbia to attend a rally in Belgrade on 27 May. The meeting's slogan will be: "For Serbia, without terror and fear--for the freedom of Studio B and other media," AP reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May)

DID KOSOVAR NEWSPAPER 'CONDEMN' SERB TO DEATH? The local Albanian-language daily "Dita" recently published an article alleging that Serbian UN worker Petar Topoljski committed atrocities against Kosovars during the 1999 conflict. UN officials are investigating the possible role of the article in the recent murder of Topoljski. An unnamed international official told Reuters that printing such an article about a specific individual in Kosova is equivalent to "signing a death warrant" for that person. UN officials promised to increase security for their Serbian employees and expressed fears that some Serbs might quit their jobs and leave Kosova. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May)

TAJIKISTAN
TAJIK TV AND RADIO HEAD MURDERED In Dushanbe on 20 May, Tajikistan State TV and Radio Chairman Saif Rakhimov was shot dead by six unidentified attackers in camouflage uniforms who managed to escape. President Imomali Rakhmonov condemned the shooting as "a terrorist act," Reuters reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May). So far, there have been no results from the official investigation into the murder. RFE/RL's Tajik Service observed that Rakhimov is the second head of this committee to be shot by unknown assailants in recent years and reported that Rakhimov was a close aide to President Rakhmonov. According to the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, the 47-year-old Rakhimov was a well known writer, journalist, and film director who worked for many years for the Tajikistan state TV station.

TURKMENISTAN
"GASNOST" PUTIN STYLE? Turkmenistan is the only country of the former USSR to which Russia has an outstanding debt--for natural gas. Until Russian President Putin's recent visit to that country, however, just over $1 billion was the mutually agreed upon total debt. Just before Putin arrived in Ashgabat, however, the Russian government unilaterally decided that it is the Turkmen government which owes one billion dollars to it. This sudden financial reversal in Russia's favor became known in certain media circles. At a May 19 press conference in Ashgabat, RFE/RL's Arkady Dubnov asked Putin about this, provoking the new Russian president to ask, "What are your information sources?" The reporter replied, "From unofficial sources which, by the way, are well reflected even in the Turkmen press." As a result, Putin admitted there was a problem which was under discussion with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service, 20 May)

END NOTE
OSCE Press Release: Freimut Duve [OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media] Threatened by the Yugoslav Government

Vienna, 22 May 2000 -- Freimut Duve, the OSCE representative on Freedom of the Media, sent a letter to the foreign minister of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Zivadin Jovanovic, informing him of a letter by Federal Minister Goran Matic addressed to Duve and Aidan White, secretary-general of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). In that letter, Goran Matic makes serious threats against both the secretary-general of a leading media NGO and professional union (IFJ) and Freimut Duve, the Head of an OSCE institution.

Duve and White are accused:

1. Of being "accomplices of [a] crime." They are seriously warned that they should "not forget that sooner or later justice will be served."

2. Of committing a "serious crime" by "withholding the truth."

3. Support for independent media is defined as "terrorism and a crime against a sovereign state."

4. They are warned in a direct way by a member of the government that "we have a long memory."

Freimut Duve sees these threats as directly linked to the ongoing discussion in the Serbian Parliament of a severe anti-terrorist law that would nullify all legal bodies in the country and would give the government full authority to define all opposing voices, whether national or international, as "terrorist criminals." The OSCE representative asked Foreign Minister [Jovanovic] to inform him as soon as possible if he differed with the threats made by the [Yugoslav] cabinet minister [Matic.]

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