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Watch List: September 9, 1999

9 September 1999, Volume 1, Number 34

DAGHESTAN WAR RESUMES, FEARS OF STATE OF EMERGENCY MOUNT. After declaring victory in Daghestan last month, Russia faces a Chechnya-type war, loss of control over another Caucasian republic, and possibly a suspension of civil liberties, Russian observers now say. According to Emile Pain, a former advisor to President Boris Yeltsin on Chechnya, the Russian military made a mistake: Instead of consolidating its control over Daghestan it attacked several villages controlled by the Wahhabi sect of Islam, which is suspected of being sympathetic to the insurgents. Pain argues that people turn to Wahhabism for protection, rather than for Islam, and that Russian jet fighters cannot stop the Wahhabi movement but only make it grow. "The turmoil raises fears that the Kremlin may declare a state of emergency, endangering Russia's fragile political stability," reports "The Christian Science Monitor" from Moscow.

MAJORITY OF RUSSIANS EXPECT RIGGED ELECTIONS, POLL SAYS. Some 57 percent of Russians believe that the parliamentary elections scheduled for 19 December will be rigged, says a poll published in the daily "Vremya" on 7 September. The poll, conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation in 56 regions across the country in late August, found that only 26 percent of the 1,500 people questioned said the elections would be honest.

TURKMENISTAN BLOCKS DIPLOMATS' ENTRY TO TRIAL OF ACTIVIST. Turkmen officials denied entry to Western diplomats accredited to Ashgabat who sought admission to the 3 September Supreme Court court session which heard the appeal of former parliamentarian and democracy advocate Pirimguli Tanrykuliev. A widely-respected medical administrator who recently tried to form a political party, Tanrykuliev was convicted on 26 August of theft and misuse of government property and sentenced to eight years in prison. The U.S. State Department expressed suspicions that the charges were politically motivated and reminded the Turkmen government of its obligations to free elections and fair trials. The diplomats denied the right to observe the trial were from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, and the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe.

MEDIA MINISTRY RESTORES NETWORK'S LICENSE; CENSORSHIP DECRIED. On 3 September Russia's new media ministry restored the broadcasting license of St. Petersburg Television and Radio Company, after its executives signed an apology for the network's coverage of a rally by the liberal Right Cause political movement and promised to avoid future violations of government media rules, according to AP. A day earlier Minister for Press, Television, and Radio Mikhail Lesin suspended the network's license following a report he called "insulting" to the Right Cause, which held a rally at a local sports arena. The movement, led by Boris Nemtsov and Irina Khakamada, is engaged in the election campaign. One of many critics of the media ministry's license suspension is St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, who condemned it as "the beginning of censorship, a war against journalists."

ARMENIAN REPORTERS PROTEST JAILING OF EDITOR ON LIBEL CHARGES. Reporters from Armenian mass media staged a rally in front of the presidential residence in Yerevan on 3 September in support of Nikol Pashinian, editor of "Onagir" daily, sentenced to one year in jail for defamation and for refusing to pay $25,000 compensation to the company he supposedly slandered. Armenian papers report that Pashinian rejected President Robert Kocharian's suggestion that the matter could be settled if the editor apologized to the persons who sued him for defamation. "What for?" Pashinian asked. According to the Armenian PEN. Center and the Helsinki Association, which protested the sentence and the seizure of "Onagir's" office equipment, this was the first case of criminal prosecution of a journalist in post-Soviet Armenia

SUSPECTED MONEY-LAUNDERER WINS CASE AGAINST TV IN BUDAPEST COURT. Semyon Mogilevich won a libel case in a Budapest court against the TV station RTL Club on 6 September. The station called him one of the most dangerous criminals in the world, based on American media reports which linked him to the allegedly multibillion dollar Bank of New York Russian money-laundering case. The court ruled that the station did not have the evidence to support its claim and ordered a retraction. Married to a Hungarian, Ukrainian-born Mogilevich lives in Budapest where he also owns some businesses. But hours after he won his case, he disappeared.

JOURNALIST GROUP APPEALS TO YELTSIN TO STOP ATTACKS ON RADIO. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) wrote to Russian President Boris Yeltsin protesting a series of attacks against personnel linked to Radio Lemma in Vladivostok and efforts by local authorities to shut down the independent station. Shortly after Lemma broadcast investigative reports about Vostoktranslot, the region's largest refrigerated shipping line, three men assaulted correspondent Yuri Stepanov and attempted to kidnap him. In another incident, two men forced the station director's 20-year-old daughter into their car and warned her to get her father off the case. Also on CPJ's list of harassments were a shutoff of the station's electricity and threats to revoke the station's license.

BELARUS GOVERNMENT AND OPPOSITION OPEN TALKS. On 3 September, the Belarusian government and the opposition began consultations at the OSCE office in Minsk, the local news agency Belapan reported. The talks focussed on the opposition's lack of access to the news media. A few days earlier in Vilnius, three opposition leaders--a former speaker of parliament, the head of the government-in-exile, and the chair of the World Alliance of Belarusians--appointed Semyon Sharetski, the chairman of the illegally disbanded 13th Supreme Soviet, acting president until a new head of state is elected. In his meetings with the head of the OSCE mission in Belarus, Sharetski expressed his readiness to form an alternative government and to organize new elections as long as Alyaksandr Lukashenka, whose original presidential term expired on 20 July, is unwilling to negotiate.


By Tom Dine

Long on the front lines in the struggle for freedom through its radio broadcasts, RFE/RL is now deeply involved on a second front as well where a battle is going on between the Internet and those governments which fear its influence on the people under their control. Earlier this month, the Paris-based Reporters sans Frontiers identified 20 countries around the world that it said had adopted extraordinary measures to prevent people from taking advantage of Internet and the new opportunities that medium gives for gaining and sharing information and ideas.

Not surprisingly, most media attention to the findings of this international journalism watchdog group has focused on the People's Republic of China and its efforts to prevent Chinese citizens from using the Internet both to find out about the world and to communicate among themselves in ways that Beijing finds so disturbing.

But I want to call your attention to one aspect of the report: Seven of the 20 worst offenders against the right of people everywhere to seek and disseminate information via this new medium are the former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

At the very bottom of this heap is Turkmenistan, where the authorities ban virtually all access and thus maintain what Reporters sans Frontiers calls an Internet "black hole."

Others on this list allow some access but either insist that individuals register their computers, subscribe only through a state-controlled Internet Service Provider whose services are often priced beyond the pocketbooks of most citizens, or accept filters that block access to sites the regimes find offensive.

But just as Soviet-era jamming failed to stop people in Eastern Europe and the USSR from listening to Western broadcasts, now people in these countries are finding a variety of ways to get around these doomed efforts to block the increasing flow of information around the world.

When RFE/RL began to get involved with the Internet a few years ago, most of the visitors to our site were from Western countries and especially the United States. Now, an ever larger number are from the countries we broadcast to. And a small but growing number are from countries where the governments actively try to block this channel. We are confident that we are on the winning side in this struggle for freedom.

Tom Dine is president of RFE/RL.


Compiled by Chris Sturm

Amnesty International (AI) News and links by the world's leading human rights advocacy organization. An extensive links page offers a directory of all country-specific AI sites and Web sites by topic, from Anti-War/Weapons to Women's Rights. (In English)

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) News and alerts about threats to journalists and press freedom around the world. Includes country reports, a keyword searchable database, an "enemies of the press" list and a counter tracking the number of journalists killed this year. (In English and Spanish)

Digital Freedom Network (DFN) Articles by human rights activists and dissidents. Sponsored by Howard Jonas, the founder and CEO of IDT Corporation, via a private grant. Based in the U.S. (In English)

Freedom House In-depth reports on nations in transition concentrating on press and economic freedom. Includes annual comparative assessment of the state of political rights and civil liberties in almost 200 countries. (In English)

Global Internet Liberty Campaign (GILC) News, alerts, and an email newsletter concerning online speech issues such as censorship, privacy, cryptography, and access. Sponsored by a coalition of civil liberties groups. (In English, Spanish, French, German, Arabic, and Swedish)

Human Rights Net A compendium of links to human rights documents and organizations and an email newsletter that focuses on using Internet for human rights work. Sponsored by Human Rights Education Associates of the Netherlands and the U.S. (In English)

Human Rights Watch Rich site with news, commentaries, photo essays, background on specific campaigns. Annual report offers country-by-country updates on the status of human rights around the globe. (In English, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, French, Portugese, and Arabic)

International Freedom of Expression Exchange Clearing House (IFEX) Alerts and updates concerning threats to freedom of expression around the world. Searchable archives date from January 1995. Sponsored by the IFEX Clearing House, an umbrella organization based in Canada whose members include other non-profits with interests in freedom of expression. (In English, French, and Spanish)

Minority Electronic Resources Home Page (MINELRES) A directory of resources on minority human rights in Eastern and Central Europe. A valuable resource of links, periodicals, reports, and working papers on European minorities. Includes an archive of the MINELRES mailing list. Funded by a coalition of non-profits and managed by a group of experts. (In English)

Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) News alerts and reports concerning threats to journalists and press freedom. Includes an annual report, a practical guide for journalists and petitions. (In English, French, and Spanish)

Chris Noonan Sturm is a director of RFE/RL's Internet department.