12 October 2000, Volume
HUMAN RIGHTS FELLOWSHIPS.
Human Rights Watch invites applications for its fellowship program in international human rights. The Schell Fellowship and the Finberg Fellowship are open to recent graduates of law schools or graduate programs in journalism, international relations, or area studies from any university worldwide. Fellows work full time for one year with one or more divisions of Human Rights Watch, based in New York or Washington, DC. Fellows monitor human rights developments in various countries, conduct one or more onsite investigations, draft reports on human rights conditions, and engage in advocacy efforts aimed at publicizing and curtailing human rights violations. Fellowships begin in the early fall of 2001. The application deadline is 1 November. See website www.hrw.org/about/info/fellows.html
(Center for Civil Society International, 5 October)HELSINKI CITIZENS GENERAL ASSEMBLY.
The Helsinki Citizens' Assembly invites human rights activists, NGO leaders, journalists, students of international relations, and others the opportunity to participate in its fifth general assembly from 28 October to 1 November in Baku, Azerbaijan. The main purpose of the assembly is to foster the difficult peace process in the Southern Caucasus "from below." A panel with Christian, Muslim, and other community leaders will explore the basis for new "Dialogue between Civilizations." In working conferences, participants will present proposals and action models on the main topics, including human rights, conflict resolution, refugees and internally displaced persons, globalization, and media and information blockades. For more information e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org (MINELRES, 6 October)
Rauf Arifoglu, editor of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," was released from pre-trial detention on 5 October after giving written assurances he will not leave Azerbaijan, Turan reported. Arifoglu was arrested in late August and charged with attempted hijacking and planning a coup d'etat. Those charges remain in force, and no trial date has been set. The French and Italian ambassadors in Baku met with Arifoglu for two hours on 4 October. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 October)CENTRAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION LIFTS BAN ON OPPOSITION PARTIES.
Azerbaijan's Central Electoral Commission on 8 October complied with a 6 October request by President Heidar Aliyev to reverse its rulings barring several opposition parties from contesting the 25 parliamentary mandates to be allocated under the proportional system in the 5 November ballot, Turan reported. The commission had ruled on 7 October that there were no constitutional grounds for altering its original ban and had proposed that Aliyev raise the issue with the outgoing parliament, but the following day the commission complied with his request. Of the 14 parties that originally applied for registration, the commission had registered only five and barred the influential Musavat Party and the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (DPA) from running. The U.S. State Department issued a statement on 5 October deploring the ban and calling for Musavat and the DPA to be allowed to contest the poll. (Turkistan Newsletter, 10 October)TV STATION CLOSED.
Obeying orders "from above," the TV station ABA was shut down on 2 October, its director announced on 5 October. He said that the Communications Ministry ordered the station to stop broadcasting 18 minutes before it was due to go on the air on the alleged pretext that the station was in debt. ABA had conducted negotiations with TV stations from seven countries about the possibilities of joint programming. (MPI Information Agency, 5 October)
PROVINCES PROTEST 'ELECTION FARCE.'
The Belarusian opposition on 8 October staged rallies in more than 20 provincial cities. The demonstrations took place under slogans urging free and democratic elections in Belarus and protesting the "election farce" on 15 October. According to RFE/RL's Belarusian Service, the largest rallies took place in Hrodna (2,000 people), Homel (1,500), and Brest (1,500). RFE/RL correspondents reported sporadic arrests of opposition activists calling for a boycott of the legislative ballot on 15 October. The recent developments in Yugoslavia inspired some Belarusian demonstrators to unfurl banners reading "Today Milosevic, tomorrow Lukashenka." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October)
TV BEGINS TURKISH-LANGUAGE PROGRAMS.
Bulgaria's state television launched its first nationwide program in the Turkish language on 2 October, Reuters reported. The news in Turkish followed daily afternoon news in Bulgarian. Bulgaria, in which ethnic Turks comprise about 10 percent of the 8.5 million population, is holding membership talks with the European Union. In the early 1980s Bulgaria's ethnic Turks were victims of forcible assimilation; they were urged to adopt Slavic names and their religious and human rights were severely curbed. After the communist government was overturned in 1989, the rights of the Turkish minority were restored. Some 150,000 of the 300,000 ethnic Turks who left for Turkey have since returned to Bulgaria. (MINELRES, 5 October)
ATTACKS ON JOURNALISTS.
The Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights (CHC) issued a statement about the very "radicalized social atmosphere in Croatia" after an assault on journalist Goran Flauder on 27 September. Based on its media monitoring, CHC concludes that "violations of the freedom of the media [such as beating up of journalists] are on the raise again in Croatia." Several journalists have been attacked or threatened with physical violence. According to the CHC, "politicians also regularly attack journalists. It is evident that the members of the democratic coalition, who won the January elections show almost the same sensitivity to the public criticism as their undemocratic predecessors." (Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, 28 September)
ONE HUMAN RIGHTS WATCHDOG QUESTIONS REPORTS OF JAIL BREAK.
In a statement released in Frankfurt on 2 October, Germany's International Society for Human Rights casts doubt on Georgian media reports that 12 prisoners escaped the previous day from a Tbilisi jail through a 30-meter tunnel they had dug. The statement quotes Georgian Prosecutor-General Djamlet Babilashvili as questioning how former Finance Minister Guram Absandze, who weighs more than 150 kilograms, could have made his way through such a tunnel. The society expressed concern that the alleged jail break may be a pretext for liquidating Absandze, a supporter of former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia who is currently on trial on charges of involvement in the February 1998 attempt to assassinate President Eduard Shevardnadze. It suggests that the Georgian authorities may subsequently announce that Absandze was "shot while resisting capture." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October)BACKTRACKING ON REFORM.
In a report released on 10 October, Human Rights Watch documents Georgia's repeal of reforms that would have widened access to the courts to hear torture and other complaints of abuses by the police, procuracy, and security forces. While a 21-year-old Tbilisi resident languished in a city jail after being tortured for two days with electric shocks and beatings, the authorities refused to let his lawyers see him. Legal reforms adopted last year in Georgia would have allowed his lawyers to complain about the refusal and the torture directly to a judge. But just weeks after the reform went into force, the new complaint procedures were repealed. The best the victim could hope for was an appeal to the procuracy, the very institution that would prosecute his case in court. A copy of the report is available at: www.hrw.org/reports/2000/georgia
(Human Rights Watch Press Release, 10 October)COURT CONVICTS VICTIMS OF MOB ATTACK.
On 28 September, two victims of a mob attack were themselves convicted of "hooliganism," while two of the attackers were not. The victims will appeal the decision. The Gldani-Nadzaladevi Court in Tbilisi convicted Marian Abaradze and Zaza Koshadze, two victims of an October 1999 mob attack on a religious meeting of Jehovah's Witnesses in Gldani. Abaradze was sentenced to three years probation, and Koshadze to six months. Despite the public prosecutor's request, the judge refused to convict two women who admitted taking part in the attack. The prosecutor said that he will appeal the decision because there is sufficient evidence to convict the women. On 17 October 1999, a mob led by defrocked Orthodox priest Basili Mkalavishvili attacked Jehovah's Witnesses, beating men, women, and children with clubs and iron crosses. Sixteen victims required hospital treatment. One woman lost part of her vision permanently. State investigators did not charge the leaders of the attack. Instead, two elderly women were charged, as well as two of the victims. To date, no other attackers have been charged. None of the attackers have been convicted. See: www.jw-media.org/releases/default.htm
(Jehovah's Witnesses Public Affairs Office Press Release, 5 October)
DID DEFENSE MINISTRY SUBSIDIZE SMALLHOLDER NEWSPAPER?
Defense Minister Janos Szabo said on 4 October that he had learned only from the media that a company with which the ministry has signed a NATO-promotion contract is owned by the Smallholders' Party. Szabo is a member of that party. On 3 October, Ferenc Juhasz, the Socialist deputy chairman of parliament's Defense Committee, Free Democrat Imre Mecs, and Smallholder Robert Molnar called for an investigation into why the Defense Ministry has indirectly subsidized the Smallholder weekly "Kis Ujsag." The case came to light when dismissed ministry spokesman Zoltan Szokolay recently claimed that the ministry had transferred 800,000 forints ($2,650) each month to the Smallholder-owned "Arculat" company, which later transferred the money to the weekly. Szabo insists that "Kis Ujsag" is not owned by his party but is "a weekly dealing with public life." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 October)
BAPTISTS TOLD TO STOP ACTIVITY UNTIL THEY ARE REGISTERED.
A Baptist church near Astana must "stop its activity" until the government registers it, officials have said. Local officials and a judge insist that churches must register to function, although Kazakh law does not require this and Kazakhstan's international human rights commitments do not allow it to impose such a restriction on religious activity. (Keston News Service, 6 October)NEW CHARGES BROUGHT AGAINST NEWSPAPER.
Ermurat Bapi, who is editor in chief of the independent newspaper "Soldat," has been charged with inciting ethnic hatred, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported on 6 October. Bapi told RFE/RL that Kazakh customs officials recently had confiscated the entire 10,000 print-run of an edition of the paper he had printed in neighboring Kyrgyzstan. Publishing houses in Kazakhstan have for months refused to publish "Soldat" because of its criticism of President Nursultan Nazarbaev. Speaking in Almaty on 6 October, media expert Razana Taukina said increasing pressure on Kazakhstan's media is evidenced by the decline in the number of media outlets from 200 electronic and 8,000 print media outlets in 1993 to 25 and 4,000, respectively, today, Interfax reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October)ERQOZHA ATTACKERS ARRESTED.
RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports new information on the acid attack against the leader of "Education -- Hope for the Next Generations" Movement, Ersaiyn Erqozha. Erqozha was attacked earlier this year by two unknown persons who splashed acid in his face. After the attack, Erqozha was hospitalized and lost some vision. A bookkeeper at the Education Academy, Maya Sharipova, reportedly hired two young people to carry out the attack for $500. Suspects were detained on 5 October and the investigation continues. (RFE/RL Kazakh Service, 6 October)TV JOURNALISM CONFERENCE PLANNED.
"Internews" will conduct a seminar on TV journalism from 8-14 October. Journalists, cameramen, and editors who work in news departments of television companies, are invited to attend the seminar. For more information see www.internews.kz/rus/bulletin/085/index.htm
(FSU Media Mailing List, 4 October)
CONFERENCE ON PRESS FREEDOM.
The Internews Network, the U.S. non-governmental National Democratic Institute, and the parliamentary committee on state and media held a meeting in Bishkek on 3 October on the current state of press freedom in Kyrgyzstan. Members of parliament, journalists, the chairman of the Central Election Commission (CEC), and other experts participated. Participants said state officials and especially the CEC put up many obstacles to opposition candidates and independent media during the election campaign, while the pro-governmental media provides biased coverage. Persecution of the independent newspapers "Delo Nomer," "Asaba," and "Res Publica," as well the Piramida and Mezon TV stations were also discussed. (RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service, 3 October)PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEE PLEDGES INDEPENDENT MEDIA...
The chairman of the parliamentary committee on state and media, Kabai Karabekov, told an RFE/RL correspondent in Bishkek on 4 October that his committee would appeal to the Supreme Court that it freeze all the legal cases that have been filed against media organizations until the presidential election is over. According to him, if the trials were held, his committee would monitor them thoroughly. Karabekov took part in a meeting on press freedom in Kyrgyzstan, held in Bishkek on 3 October. (RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service, 4 October)...WHILE NEW SUIT IS BROUGHT AGAINST PAPER.
Deputy Minister of National Security Boris Poluektov has sued the independent "Delo Nomer" newspaper, and the first court session will be held in a Bishkek district court on 12 October. Poluektov accuses the paper of insulting him in an article published on 12 April and demands 2 million som (about $40,000) in compensation. Another case against the paper is still pending. The office of the paper's editorial board and the apartments of its chief editor and a correspondent were searched by security officials in September. The paper is accused of divulging state secrets involving the trial of Feliks Kulov, who was acquitted by the city's military court on 7 August. Most recently, correspondents Leila Saralaeva, Vadim Nochevkin, and Artem Petrov have been interrogated. (RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service, 5 October)OPPOSITION TRIALS CONTINUE.
A reconsideration of the case of Feliks Kulov continues behind closed doors at the Bishkek City Military Court. The judge announced on 6 October that the next court session would be postponed for three days. Kulov was accused of abuse of power while serving as security minister in 1997-1998 and was acquitted in the same court in August. A separate trial against the NGO Coalition has been ongoing in another Bishkek courtroom since 29 September. The case deals with charges by a member of parliament that the NGO Coalition insulted him eight months ago. The chairwoman of the coalition, Tolekan Ismailova, has appealed to the heads of three parliamentary committees for assistance. According to her, the Bishkek City Prosecutor's Office warned the coalition on 4 October that its activity is illegal. (RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service, 6 October)PRE-ELECTION MEETING ON JOURNALISM.
Internews Network Kyrgyz Republic, the National Democratic Institute, and the Committee for Mass Media of the Jogorku Kenesh (Parliament) of the Kyrgyz Republic, held their first-ever joint conference on 3 October in Bishkek. Titled "Government and Mass Media," it focused on independent journalism in the run-up to the presidential election on 29 October and in decriminalizing libel and slander in journalism. Participants included the chairman of the Central Election Commission, OSCE ambassador Jerzy Wieclaw, the leader of the NGO Coalition, Tolekan Ismailova, and over 30 local journalists. The conference was chaired by the head of the parliamentary Committee for Mass Media. Discussion focused on recent libel cases in Kyrgyzstan, with presentations by journalists from "Delo Nomer," Osh-TV, Piramida TV, and by the Internews lawyer who successfully appealed a court decision in Jalal-Abad and thus freed a print journalist from jail. The committee for mass media published an appeal two days after the conference, calling for a moratorium on legal cases against journalists and media outlets until after the elections and agreed on further cooperation with Internews Network and the National Democratic Institute. (Internews Network -- Kyrgyz Republic, 6 October)
CHRISTIAN SCIENTISTS TO TRY AGAIN FOR REGISTRATION.
To gain official registration, the Christian Scientists will have to convince the Justice Ministry to reject the verdicts on their faith made earlier by the Riga Theology Department and by the Doctor's Association. (Keston News Service, 3 October)
ANOTHER HUNGER STRIKE.
Three employees of the Inkaras footwear factory in Kaunas have launched a new hunger strike in protest of wage arrears. The three explained that "ineffective fulfillment of promises by the government and the poor economic situation of their families" is the reason they are reverting to this drastic protest method, ELTA reported. An earlier hunger strike ended on 1 September when all Inkaras employees received a small amount of their wage arrears. Recently, however, there has been a dispute among Inkaras workers on whether protesters and strikers would get their full wages first. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October)
MOSCOW TO CALL FOR WORLD INFO SECURITY SYSTEM.
A Russian diplomat at the UN said on 5 October that Moscow intends to propose that the UN create an international information security system to supplement its own national plans in that area, ITAR-TASS reported. Russian Security Council First Deputy Secretary Vladislav Shertyuk said Moscow plans to deal with the threats posed by "information weapons" now deployed against it. He added that the Russian government is currently preparing a federal program to implement the Information Security Doctrine, signed by President Vladimir Putin on 8 September. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October)GOVERNMENT PREPARING NEW PRESS LAW.
Deputy Media Minister Vladimir Grigoryev told Interfax on 4 October that his ministry has drafted a new mass media law that will replace existing legislation. He said that the drafters initially had tried to amend the 1990 law but then decided, when the number of such amendments reached 80, that it would be better to prepare a completely new law, especially since the amendments would be unlikely to be approved by the Duma. Presumably, the new legislation will reflect the provisions of the new Information Security Doctrine, which, among other things, asserts that "the most realistic way to protect national information security is to modify existing legislation." Any changes would likely call into question one of the most important achievements of post-Soviet Russia, a more open press. ("RFE/RL Security Watch," 9 October)LESIN CONFIRMS MEDIA LAW TO BE UPDATED...
Media Minister Mikhail Lesin told reporters on 2 October that the federal law on the media must be updated in keeping with the Information Security Doctrine, adopted recently by the Security Council, Interfax reported. Commenting on the provision of the doctrine relating to the status of foreign media in Russia, he said that "the goal is not to ban foreign stations in Russia but to place them under the same conditions as the Russian media, in particular as far as the payment for a license is concerned." He also noted that in the legislation, the functioning of certain stations, such as RFE/RL, needs clarification. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October)�BUT DUMA MEMBER SEES NO NEED.
Boris Reznik, deputy head of the Duma Information Policy Committee, told "Segodnya" that the Duma has received the Press Ministry's draft law only for discussion. "The existing law on the media," Reznik believes, "is the best and, most importantly, most functional law. The version proposed by the Press Ministry is not the best and 90 percent resembles the version rejected by the Duma last year." Reznik said that this draft law sets out complex licensing requirements -- providing numerous potential pretexts for official refusals -- not only for broadcast outlets, but also for publications. "I am categorically opposed to this -- licensing can apply only to television and radio broadcasting, and the license must be issued by an independent expert council, not simply an official," Reznik believes. According to "Segodnya," "the most radical of the Press Ministry's proposals is this: Organizations in which foreign individuals or corporate bodies have a 100 percent stake or even a blocking share lose the right to register the media. The restriction on the share of foreign capital, which has no parallel in world practice, clearly stems from the information security doctrine recently signed by Vladimir Putin." ("Segodnya," 7 October)PUTIN FURTHER LIMITS ACCESS TO GOVERNMENT INFORMATION.
RIA-Novosti reported on 27 September that President Vladimir Putin has added to the list of officials who have the right to classify information in their areas of responsibility. Among those gaining that right and thus potentially having the ability to limit public access to information in their areas are Industry, Science and Technology Minister Aleksandr Dundukov, Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeyev, Trade and Development Minister German Gref, Energy Minister Aleksandr Gavrin, Russian Land Registration Agency head Sergei Sai, and Conventional Weapons Agency head Aleksandr Nozdrachev. ("RFE/RL Security Watch," 2 October)KREMLIN MOVES TO CONTROL REGIONAL TV...
President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree directing that Moscow rather than local governors will appoint the chief administrators of the territorial network of the second national TV channel, RIA- Novosti reported on 28 September. In releasing the decree, Putin said that this measure will help during the upcoming regional elections, adding that he has asked his envoys in the seven super-districts to "help the population to obtain objective information about candidates." The Moscow newspaper "Novaya gazeta" concluded the same day that this measure means that the presidential administration rather than the electorate will choose governors. ("RFE/RL Security Watch," 2 October)...TO OVERSEE GOVERNORS' ELECTIONS.
"Rossiiskaya gazeta" printed a presidential decree on 23 September that takes the right of the elected governors to appoint the heads of the regional State Television and Radio Companies (GTRK) and gives it to Putin's seven appointed district heads. The reason, according to presidential sources, is that governors had been using the media to support their own activities. First Deputy Press Minister Mikhail Seslavinskii said that in many regions the governors had tried to control the media for re-election purposes; over thirty governors face re-election by the end of 2000. The presidential decree was aimed at preventing such abuses from taking place in the future. (EastWest Institute "Russian Regional Report," 4 October)PUTIN'S IMAGEMAKER ISSUES INFORMATION POLICY MANIFESTO.
Gleb Pavlovsky, Vladimir Putin's chief aide on media questions, has published a manifesto on the media on his new website, strana.ru. In it, he says that press freedom, often viewed as a major achievement of Russian reform, has become a tool for the degradation and destruction of society. He blames oligarchs like Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky for this situation, saying that recent moves against them have limited the danger they represent but have not precluded the possible "takeover of their holdings" by foreigners with their own political agendas. And finally, Pavlovsky says that the Russian government plans to rebuild the information environment there from the top down. He suggests that Moscow will split and downsize information conglomerates, feature state takeovers of media outlets, grant television and radio channels to the Russian Orthodox Church and other recognized confessions, and restore the right of communist and nationalist forces to "normal information activity." ("RFE/RL Security Watch," 2 October)WHO PAYS FOR THE KREMLIN WEBSITE?
Veteran Moscow reporter Evgenia Albats wrote in the Moscow Times she had had no luck in trying to find out who foots the bills for the Kremlin's new website, strana.ru -- nor has the newspaper "Vedomosti." In response to reporters' questions, Gleb Pavlovsky merely says that its "sponsors do not want their identity disclosed." ("The Moscow Times," 5 October)ACTIVE MEASURES AGAINST MASS MEDIA.
The Russian Presidential Administration has created a special rapid reaction group to carry out so-called "active measures" against the press most critical of Vladimir Putin, "Segodnya" reported on 21 September. "Active measures," of course, is KGB slang for various techniques of compromising political opponents. The new group is headed by political scientist Simon Kordonsky, with compromising materials on media operatives to be supplied by the country's intelligence services. ("RFE/RL Security Watch," 2 October)KREMLIN FINE-TUNING FINANCIAL PRESSURE ON MEDIA-MOST.
State-owned Sberbank has canceled its credit line to Media-MOST and demanded the immediate repayment of some $100 million in loans, Interfax reported on 4 October. A Sberbank spokesman said that the bank had taken this step because of "growing doubts" about the credibility of Vladimir Gusinsky, an oligarch opposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin. A Media-MOST spokesman replied that this decision is entirely political since his company's debts are entirely secured by government bonds. Meanwhile, Gazprom chairman Rem Vyakhirev told "Kommersant" on 4 October that his company is seeking to sell its holdings in Media-MOST to Australia's Rupert Murdoch. ("RFE/RL Security Watch," 9 October)BABITSKY LINKS DETENTION WITH OFFICIAL DISTASTE FOR HIS STORIES...
RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on 3 October that RFE/RL journalist Andrei Babitsky's trial in Makhachkala continues to attract the attention of a variety of news media. Babitsky's trial on charges of carrying a forged passport opened on 2 October. According to AP, Babitsky testified on 3 October that his detention in January and February this year occurred because his "stories about the Chechen war were unwanted by many officials in Russia." According to RFE/RL, the previous day Vyacheslav Izmailov, a journalist with "Novaya gazeta," testified for the defense that Babitsky did not contact authorities in Daghestan upon his arrival because he did not feel he could trust them after the unusual nature of his detention for more than 20 days in Daghestan and Chechnya, as well as his faked "exchange" for Russian POWs. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October)...AND GUILTY VERDICT AT BABITSKY TRIAL IS DECRIED.
RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine said in Moscow on 6 October that he was "disappointed by a judge's decision to find Andrei Babitsky guilty of the charges the Russian authorities had brought against him." Dine's comments came immediately after a judge in Daghestan first found the RFE/RL correspondent guilty of violating Russian passport regulations, imposed an 8,700 ruble ($300) fine, and then dropped that penalty under the terms of a Russian amnesty program adopted earlier this year. The RFE/RL president said that Babitsky's case is not over and that he and the station will "continue to pursue justice in this case." He said that Babitsky's lawyers would appeal the verdict first to the Daghestan Supreme Court and then, if necessary, to the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. (RFE/RL Press Release, 6 October)JOURNALIST ATTACKED.
The director of the radio station Ekho Rostova, Aleksei Sharafsky, was knifed by two unknown assailants in the center of town on 2 October. A regional Interior Ministry spokesman told AP that the police believe robbery was not the motive since nothing was taken from him. According to "Segodnya" on 3 October, several local media representatives are inclined to connect the attack with Sharafsky's work. The director of Ekho Rostova's news department, Aleksei Pavlovsky, told the newspaper that since the crime was committed in a place where there were many people, it was likely meant as a warning rather than an actual attempt on Sharafsky's life. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October)PRESS PRESSURE DOUBLES IN 2000.
According to a report by the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, a watchdog organization of the Russian Union of Journalists, in the first six months of 2000 some 108 cases of censorship and pressure against the media took place. In comparison, in the whole of 1999 there were 157 cases, while in 1998 there were 126. ("The Russia Journal," 7-13 October)NTV COUNCIL URGES PUTIN TO KEEP NTV INDEPENDENT.
The Public Council of independent NTV asked President Putin to use his "authority and influence to preserve NTV as an independent television channel," Interfax reported on 5 October. In an open letter to the president, the council said that a condition of that independence was that none of the stockholders has a controlling interest in the company. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October)ABOUT ONE QUARTER OF RUSSIANS WANT TO ACCESS INTERNET BUT LACK ADEQUATE FINANCES.
Deputy Communications Minister Aleksandr Volokitin said on 3 October that the number of Internet users in Russia today totals 3 million, ITAR-TASS reported. Of that total, 40 percent are aged 18 to 24. He added that 35 million people would like to access the Internet but cannot do so for financial reasons. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 October)FSB DEFENDS SORM.
Sergei Kabanov, an FSB officer, argued in an article posted on www.fsb.ru
that government monitoring of communications under the SORM system would be undertaken exclusively as part of the fight against crime and espionage. He asserted that his agency has stayed within the law and has even become a member of the Russian Association of Document Telecommunications. But he did not mention that almost 50 percent of the crimes against which SORM nominally is directed are not under the purview of his agency. ("RFE/RL Security Watch," 9 October)MORE CIVILIZED EAVESDROPPING.
The Russian Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a directive of the Communications Ministry that allowed the FSB to eavesdrop on the customers of telecommunication companies without informing them or applying for authorization from the procuracy (see "RFE/RL Security Watch," 28 August 2000). The court has decided that the operator company must be informed about those of its customers who are under secret surveillance. Both the Communications Ministry and the FSB opposed even this cosmetic change, arguing that the operators may then sell this information to criminals. For ordinary citizens, however, the court's action changes very little: Even if a Russian suspects that he is being eavesdropped on by the FSB, he cannot prove it because the operator company is bound by confidentiality regulations with the FSB from telling him. ("RFE/RL Security Watch," 2 October)NEW MOSCOW RESIDENCE RULES.
Until now, citizens of the Union of Independent States (CIS) received temporary Russian residence permits under simplified procedures. Some 200,000 CIS citizens -- many political emigres from repressive regimes -- now live in Moscow. As of 1 October, however, CIS citizens will have to follow the same procedures as all other foreign citizens who want to take up residence in Russia, Vladimir Ivanov, head of the Moscow City Administration for Internal Affairs, announced at 27 September press conference. Workers from CIS states may be granted temporary residence permits valid for longer than the usual six months if the Moscow mayor and an interagency commission decides in their favor. (MPI Agency, 29 September)INTERIOR MINISTER CALLS FOR JOINT EFFORTS WITH ORTHODOX CHURCH AGAINST SECTS.
At a meeting with religious leaders on 6 October in Volgograd Oblast, Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo declared that the ministry and clergy should pool their efforts to prevent the further spread in Russia of religious sects whose aim is "undermining Russian statehood," ITAR-TASS reported. According to Rushailo, certain sects have been increasing their efforts in Russian regions. He added that his meetings with Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II have been helpful. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October)PROTESTANTS PREACH TO TROOPS FIGHTING CHECHEN WAR.
In contrast to reports that only Orthodox clergy have access to Russia's armed forces, Keston has found out that two members of a Moscow Protestant Church were gratefully received and permitted to preach and distribute gifts among the armed forces based in the southern Russian republic of Daghestan. Their meetings were arranged through the Military Christian Union of Russian (MCUR), whose mission is to act "as a bridge between the armed forces and churches." MCUR was set up by U.S. Vietnam war veteran King Coffman, but is now run by a retired Russian military officer. (Keston News Service, 4 October)
PATRIARCH MEETS NEW PRESIDENT...
Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle issued a call to all Yugoslavs to participate in a public prayer service for peace and reconciliation in Yugoslavia on 6 October in Saint Sava's Cathedral in Belgrade. During the last few days, it has become clear how close the Serbian Orthodox Church is to Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, a practicing church member. Last night, Kostunica visited the patriarch to ask for spiritual guidance. The Synod and the patriarch issued an appeal for peace, calm, and no revenge. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov also visited the patriarch. (Keston Institute, 6 October)...WHILE MINORITY RELIGIOUS LEADERS CAUTIOUSLY WELCOME NEW LEADER.
In a series of interviews with the Keston News Service on 6 October, leaders of many of Yugoslavia's minority religious bodies -- including Hadzi Hamdija Efendi Husufspahic, mufti of the Belgrade Islamic Community, and Zarko Djordjevic, pastor of the country's largest Baptist church -- have expressed support for the new leadership in Belgrade, although many remain cautious about how the political situation will develop and the implications of the change of government for their communities.FREE TV VRACAR LAUNCHES PILOT BROADCAST.
Television Vracar today launched experimental broadcasts on UHF Channel 62 in Belgrade. As well as presenting images of current events in Belgrade, the station is rebroadcasting television programming from the Association of Independent Electronic Media and B2-92 Television Production. (email@example.com 5 October)RADIO B92 LIBERATED.
Among the wave of people liberating pro-regime media throughout Serbia, a group of Otpor activists liberated the premises of Radio B92. The station was then handed over to its real owners, its staff, and associates who have not been inside its premises since 2 April 1999, when the director of Radio B92 was dismissed by new pro-regime management and employees were denied access. (ANEM Press Release, 6 October)ROMANY PENTECOSTALS BEATEN UP.
On 26 September, two days after the Yugoslav elections, a group of 13 young men armed with sticks, baseball bats, and chains attacked several Pentecostal believers of Romany (Gypsy) origin in the southern city of Leskovac (180 miles from Belgrade). On election day itself, the congregation was threatened during an evening service. (Keston News Service, 9 October)
MATICA SLOVENSKA'S ANTI-HUNGARIAN RALLY REVIVES OLD THEMES.
Anna Malinkova, leader of the ultranationalist Slovak National Party, told an 8 October rally of the Matica Slovenska "cultural" organization in Surany, southern Slovakia, that "the times of the extended friendly hands are over, now a fist must be shown and perhaps a weapon prepared," CTK reported. The rally was called to protest the demand of the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) that a separate administrative district be established in the Komarno region, where many ethnic Hungarians live. Malinkova also denounced the SMK's demand for a state university offering Hungarian-language instruction to be set up in Nitra as well as a plan "to create a European Gypsy university in Kosice." She ended her speech by quoting from the Slovak national anthem: "Let's stop them, brothers." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October)
INTERNET SHUTDOWN HAMPERS NGO GROWTH.
Last May, Turkmenistan's Ministry of Communications summarily revoked the licenses of all independent Internet service providers. "The system when the NGOs had free access to Internet at the expense of commercial users was unique and very exciting," writes Andrei Zatoka, director of the Dashkhovuz Ecological Guardians. "Therefore, the attack of Turkmen Telecom brought serious damage to NGO development." Zatoka's group is just one of 15 Turkmen environmental NGOs -- more than half of the country's total of 28 third-sector groups -- that use e-mail. E-mail allowed these NGOs, located in one of the most physically and politically isolated areas of the former Soviet Union, to publicize their activity. (EurasiaNet, 4 October)
UKRAINIAN POLICE TAKE 'UNPRECEDENTED' MEASURES TO FIND MISSING JOURNALIST.
Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko told the parliament on 6 October that police are taking "unprecedented" measures in their search for opposition journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, who disappeared on 16 September, Interfax reported. Kravchenko said the investigation of Gongadze's disappearance has taken on a "political character" and has attracted "international publicity." According to Kravchenko, Gongadze's publications in the Internet newsletter "Ukrayinska pravda," which have been critical of Kyiv, may have contributed to his disappearance. "For the first time in the history of crime detection, it was decided to allow the wife [of a disappeared person] to participate in investigative measures and to discuss their results," Kravchenko told the lawmakers. However, he did not report any significant progress in the investigation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October)OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER APPEALS OVER STATE 'PRESSURE.'
Oleh Lyashko, chief editor of the opposition newspaper "Svoboda," has sent an open letter to the ambassadors in Kyiv of EU countries, the U.S., Russia, and Japan asking for help in purchasing printing equipment to publish his newspaper, Interfax reported on 6 October. Lyashko's letter mentions 14 publishing houses that had agreed to publish "Svoboda" but subsequently refused to do so while continuing to publish other newspapers. "Thus, we have every reason to say that the refusal of these publishers to print our newspaper was connected with pressure exercised on them by state bodies," Lyashko wrote. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October)
HOTLINKS TO COLD SPOTS.
William Mills, keeper and librarian of Scott Polar Research Institute, presents Directory of Polar and Cold Regions Organizations: www.spri.cam.ac.uk/lib/organ/keyindex.htm
-- the most comprehensive list of organizations concerned with the polar and cold regions has been updated and hotlinks added. It contains the webpage address, postal address, telephone, and fax number of any Arctic or Antarctic body. (Center for Civil Society International, 5 October)ELECTRONIC NEWSLETTER ON EXTREMISM/DEMOCRACY.
With over 160 members in 25 countries, this University of Bath working group has begun publication of an electronic bulletin. For more information, see www.bath.ac.uk/Departments/ESML/ps/Newsletter3.htm
(Center for Civil Society International, 29 September)
A METAPHOR FOR SELF-DETERMINATION
By Paul Goble
The Internet's ability to empower those who use it is increasingly prompting authoritarian governments to seek to restrict access to it among populations living under their control.
Gary Selnow, a widely published media expert, told a U.S. State Department conference this week that the Internet offers "a high-tech answer to basic human needs" and thus "can play a significant role in preparing people for the transition to democracy."
Speaking to more than 500 participants from 50 countries, Selnow said the Internet plays this role by providing its users with "a sense of control, and its user-driven choices reinforce this medium as a metaphor for self-determination," which he described as "the soul of democracy."
Selnow noted that the U.S.-supported Kosovo Internet Access Initiative had helped Albanian refugees communicate with each other, assisted other Kosovars in finding medical information, and allowed people in that troubled region to learn about conditions in the wider world.
"What do you think the Internet says to teens in Kosovo who spend hours examining the websites of universities in the West?" Selnow asked rhetorically. "What do you think it says about an open society to students who download newspaper articles, to pregnant women who obtain guidance about prenatal care, to disabled people who receive information about their disability and communicate with others?"
Selnow suggested that "the cumulative effects of these experiences...go a long way to preparing the soul for democracy."
Selnow and his fellow conferees in Washington are not the only ones who recognize the power of the Internet to change the world. Even as he was speaking, a study released by an American technology consulting firm warned that up to 50 million U.S. adults are in danger of becoming functionally illiterate because they lack access to the Internet.
That study said that by 2005 some 75 percent of all U.S. households would be linked to the Internet, and that at that point, "not having access to the technology or not knowing how to use it will be the equivalent of not knowing how to read or write."
To meet that challenge, the National Research Council of U.S. National Academy of Sciences called on the U.S. Congress to fund vouchers for those who cannot otherwise afford access to the Internet.
But if these American institutions are concerned about the need to extend Internet access to all, the governments of an increasing number of authoritarian countries are seeking to restrict such access lest the Internet pose a challenge to their rule.
The government of the Peoples' Republic of China, for example, issued new regulations that limit foreign investment in Internet companies, impose strict surveillance against what Beijing calls "subversive" content, and call for the closure of any unlicensed firms.
Last month, Moscow issued Russia's first-ever Information Security Doctrine which among other things calls for an expanded government role in overseeing the Internet. And Moscow officials have already had some success in getting Russian websites to drop links to foreign sites the authorities disapprove of.
Meanwhile, the authorities in Kazakhstan restricted access to the websites of the country's leading opposition groups via the country's two leading telephone companies. This step has made it more difficult for the citizens of that country to gain information about the political situation there, but as the opposition groups noted, it has not made it impossible: Kazakhs who want to visit these sites can still do so but now in a more roundabout way.
Such struggles between authoritarian regimes which seek to restrict access and the people living under them who view the Internet as a means of overcoming them are likely to become ever more common, a testimony to the power of the Internet to threaten those who oppose democracy and to empower those who seek it.