Friday, May 06, 2016

RFE Journalist Among Those Beaten In Post-Election Crackdown In Minsk

An opposition supporter, who is being held for demonstrating in a protest, flashes a victory sign from a police bus near a detention center in Minsk.

An RFE correspondent was beaten and his camera was broken as he captured this footage of riot police dispersing opposition protests in downtown Minsk Sunday night.

An estimated 20,000 people gathered in the city's central October Square to protest widespread voter fraud that they claim ensured President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's victory. One other RFE journalist was beaten and two bloggers were arrested at the Square as a result of the police action. RFE is withholding their names for their protection.

Follow RFE coverage on our homepage, and in Belarusian, for the latest.

Satire In Iran, Child Suicide In Russia, And Praising Two Mothers: RFE's Stories Of The Year (Part 3 of 3)

Farshid Manafi, moderator of "Pas Farda," Radio Farda's hit satirical program.

Of the thousands of stories produced this year by RFE journalists, 15 have been singled out by RFE's top editors as the "Best of the Best." Read about this year's other winners in parts one and two of this series.

Winner Best Video Feature
In their report, “Why Are Russia’s Children Killing Themselves?” Alexander Kulygin and Anastasia Kirilenko of RFE’s Russian Service look at the suicide of a 10 year-old boy and the growing problem of child suicide across Russia.

Winner Best Commentary
In April, Iranian cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi claimed that women who don't dress modestly lead men astray and even cause earthquakes. In her commentary, RFE’s Golnaz Esfandiari discusses her childhood in post-revolutionary Iran and the role of women in politics and society there.

Best innovative Program
In 2010, RFE’s Persian language service, Radio Farda launched a weekly satirical program called “Radio Pas Farda.” The show makes light of many of political and social issues in Iran -- including a recurring segment featuring a mullah who gives advice on such issues as how to avoid immodestly-dressed women and how to live a long, fulfilling life according to the dictates of the government.

Winner Best Blog Item
Mumin Ahmadi writes a moving tribute to his biological mother in Tajikistan and his “other mother,” the woman who hosted him while he lived in the United States. Ahmadi writes that his Tajik mother gave birth to 12 children, which qualified her for “hero mother” status in the Soviet Union -- entitling her to special state benefits.

Other winners in this year's Story of the Year competition included a report on Uzbeks having their passports destroyed by authorities in Kyrgyzstan; Moldovan Service reporting on the plight of accused spy Ernest Vardanean; Russian Service coverage of the Khimki Forest protests outside Moscow; Balkan Service reporting on the arrest of Ejup Ganic; and a Google Maps project,
100 Names of Freedom, by RFE's Belarusian Service.

- Zach Peterson

Tags:Service Sketches, Radio Farda, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, moldova, Russia, Kudos

RFE Kazakh Journalists Win IWPR Awards for Outstanding Human Rights Reporting

Radio Azattyq reporter Dilbegim Mavloniy receives her award in Bishkek, Kyrzystan. (10Dec2010)

(BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan) Two RFE journalists covering Kazakhstan have been awarded major journalism prizes by the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) for their "outstanding coverage of human rights issues in Central Asia."

RFE's Almaty-based Dilbegim Mavloniy earned the honor for her series of reports on a group of more than 200 Kazakh Muslims seeking asylum in the Czech Republic, which eventually prompted authorities to stop their forced deportation. And RFE's Zhasulan Kuzhekov was recognized for his reporting on a string of violent prison riots in Kazakhstan earlier this year.

Kuzhekov, who is based in Astana, reported directly from the scene of a bloody crackdown on a prison riot in Northern Kazakhstan in August in which authorities brought in troops and heavy machinery from the Kazakh army. His reporting received a huge amount of feedback from prisoners' relatives and, according to some Kazakh human rights activists, was responsible for a softening of the tactics used by prison officials.

IWPR handed out the awards in Bishkek on December 10, corresponding to the UN's Human Rights Day. The jury consisted of prominent human rights activists and media experts from Central Asia and the competition was conducted in partnership with the regional office of the United Nations High Commision for Human Rights (UNHCR) and the U.S. Embassy in Tajikstan.

About RFE's Kazakh Service
Since 1953, RFE's Kazakh Service, known locally as Radio Azattyq, has been an important source of independent information for people in Kazakhstan. In 2009, Radio Azattyq won the prestigious 2009 Online Journalism Award for “standing in defense of citizen’s rights to seek and receive information.”

Tags:Kudos, Kazakh Service

Radio Azadi Distributes 20,000 Radios In Afghanistan

Radio Azadi radio distribution in Khunar province

RFE's Radio Azadi has distributed nearly all 20,000 solar-powered, hand-cranked radios to Afghans across the country. The project, which began on September 17, was designed to promote access to news and information, especially in rural and remote areas where illiteracy rates are among the highest in the world and where radio is often the only means for people to receive news.

  • The radio distribution drive began on September 17 in a camp for internally displaced people on the outskirts of Kabul. These two boys were among the first to receive one of the 20,000 radios RFE's Afghan service Radio Azadi has since been distributing across the entire country.
  • Another picture from the IDP camp on the outskirts of Kabul, where the distribution drive was launched. The aim of the project is to promote access to news and information, especially in rural and remote areas where illiteracy rates are among the highest in the world and where radio is often the only means for people to receive news.
  • An estimated 250,000 Afghans have been displaced due to conflict over the past decades and now live in camps, often in very poor conditions and largely without electricity. Here a photo from Mukhtar refugee camp on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah in Helmand province.
  • A radio Azadi journalist distributes radios to children in Mukhtar refugee camp. Several other IDP camps across the country were among the distribution points.
  • One of the camp's elders told us: "Thank you Radio Azadi for these radios. Now we will know what is going on and we will raise our voice accordingly."
  • In Mazar-e-Sharif, radios were distributed to two suburban girls’ schools in Deh Dadi, where 3000 girls from 1st to 12th grade are being educated.
  • As most Afghans living outside the major urban centers, Deh Dadi’s 200,000 inhabitants are largely without power, which prohibits the use of TVs and other electronic equipment requiring an outside power supply.
  • A student at one of the schools being interviewed by journalists. The distribution effort was covered widely in local media.
  • In Shindand, Afghan nomadic tribes were also among the recipients. Here a picture from a camp of Kuchi nomads, most of which are illiterate and do not have permanent housing, so the radio is the only feasible way for them to stay informed.
  • A woman in a a camp of Kuchi nomads in Shindand province examines her new radio. The radios are equipped with solar panels and a hand-crank for easy, battery-free charging, and also feature a torch and cell phone charger.
  • Over 60% of men and 90% of women in Afghanistan are illiterate, and radio is still the main means to receive news across the country.
  • The radios were distributed all across the country. Here 2 village elders in Shindand province...
  • ...2 men in Farah, where 800 radios were handed out...
  • ...another picture from Farah province...
  • ...a recipient in Baghlan told us: "We are thankful to Radio Azadi for airing the news of every corner of the country. Thanks for gifting me a radio set, which I will use to listen to the news about Afghanistan and the world.”
  • The Afghan Air Force and ISAF are supporting the distribution drive and help with the transport of the radios to remote and isolated areas across the country.
  • On the ground, Radio Azadi works with local authorities, community leaders, and the Afghan police to coordinate and secure the distribution effort. Here, Afghan police are loading radios onto cars in Shindand province.
  • In Jalalabad, the radios were being distributed at a local market close to a regional bus stop.
  • Things got a little hectic, as everyone wanted to get a radio. At the end of the day, 400 radios were distributed at various locations around the city.
  • The radio can also be used to charge mobile phones, a functionality that is particularly useful to people living in areas without electricity. A shepherd told us that "now I will buy mobile phone because I can charge it with this radio! There is no electricity in the desert where I am stationed with my animals."
  • Farmers in Oruzgan province.
  • "I can’t watch TV, but I love Radio Azadi. I am happy that I will be able to listen to it regularly now." Girls at the Herat Blind Association.
  • Demand far outstripped supply. There were rarely enough radios for everybody: “Thanks for the radios, but there are too few! Look at how many people did not get one,” said a resident of Helmand.
  • Radio Azadi’s bureau chief Amin Mudaqiq, who coordinated the project, hopes that there will be more initiatives of this kind in the future: “With 20,000 radios, we are giving 20,000 people a chance to connect more easily with their government and their surroundings, regionally and beyond. This is a small but important contribution to supporting a well-informed citizenry, which is so important for the future development of our country.”

During the project's initial phase, radios were distributed to Afghans in poor Kabul neighborhoods and provinces close to the capital. On September 17, the AP filed this story from one of the project's first distribution sites - an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp on the outskirts of Kabul.


An estimated 250,000 Afghans live in such refugee camps, having been displaced from their homes due to conflict. Most suffer from extreme poverty and lack of electricity. In addition to IDP camps near Kabul, Radio Azadi distributed radios to inhabitants of the Shaidaye refugee camp east of Herat and the Mukhtar refugee camp on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah in Helmand.

Now, I will buy a mobile phone because I can charge it with this radio!


An elder in one of the camps said, "Thank you Radio Azadi, for these radios. Now we will know what is going on and we will raise our voices accordingly."


At two K-12 girls' schools in Deh Dadi in Mazar-e-Sharif, Radio Azadi handed out several hundred radios to many of the 3,000 students who study there. Like most Afghans living outside the major urban centers, Deh Dadi’s 200,000 inhabitants are largely without power, which prohibits the use of TVs and other electronic devices that require an external power source.


In Ghazni in central Afghanistan, Kuchi nomads received several hundred radios. Afghanistan has a significant nomadic population which is largely illiterate and predominantly without permanent housing. A senior Kuchi leader told RFE, "Most Kuchis are not well-informed about national and international issues. These portable radios will help them better understand what is happening in Afghanistan."

Deh-Dedi Girls' School in Mazar-e-Sharif

RFE has been cooperating with the Afghan Air Force and ISAF in order to reach some of the more remote and isolated locations via helicopter. On the ground, Radio Azadi has been working with local authorities, community leaders, and the Afghan police to coordinate and secure the distribution effort.

The radios themselves, produced by US-based Eton Corporation, are equipped with solar panels and a hand-crank for easy, battery-free charging. Earlier this year, Eton worked with the American Red Cross to distribute similar radios in Haiti following the disastrous earthquake. The radios can also be used to charge mobile phones, which is particularly useful to people living without electricity. As a shepherd from Jawzjan province told a Radio Azadi reporter, "Now, I will buy a mobile phone because I can charge it with this radio! There is no electricity in the desert where I am stationed with my animals."


Demand for the radios has been huge, and as word got out about the project, Radio Azadi received dozens of calls from people wanting to make sure that their village, school, or organization would be included in the project.

With 20,000 radios, we are giving 20,000 people a chance to connect more easily with their government and their surroundings.


One such call came from a representative of the Herat Blind Association, who said that many of the visually impaired people he works with are not only unable to watch TV, but also have difficulty inserting batteries into certain kinds of radios. A solar-powered, hand-cranked radio would be extremely useful for them. After the call, Radio Azadi delivered a shipment of radios to the group.


Nevertheless, demand far exceeded supply. There were rarely enough radios for everybody.


“Thanks for the radios, but there are too few!" complained one resident of Helmand. "Look at how many people did not get one."


Radio Azadi’s Kabul bureau chief, Amin Mudaqiq, who coordinated the project, hopes that there will be more initiatives of this kind in the future.


“With 20,000 radios, we are giving 20,000 people a chance to connect more easily with their government and their surroundings, regionally and beyond," he says. "This is a small but important contribution to supporting a well-informed citizenry, which is so important for the future development of our country.”


Take a look at the photogallery here.

--Julian Knapp 

Tags:Radio Azadi

RFE's Kyrgyz TV Show Wins Two Awards

Janarbek Akaev

Last month, Radio Azattyk was awarded the National Aitmatov Prize, an award given out yearly by the Kyrgyz Youth Affairs Ministry in recognition of outstanding work with young people.

Radio Azattyk won the award for its work in 2008-2009, but due to political conditions the prize could not be awarded until this fall. A ceremony was held on November 10 at the National Philharmony.

Azattyk Plus is a youth-oriented television and radio effort that employs a team of young people in their early to mid-20s.  Modern and progressive, the program focuses on issues important to youth, occasionally profiling youth culture in other countries. A recent program profiled young people in Japan.  
...The first thing that came to my mouth was a thank you for everyone that helps with the show. And to the viewers, because really we work for them.

Kyrgyz Service Director Venera Djumataeva emphasizes the importance of Azattyk Plus: “Kyrgyzstan suffers from a deficit of information from other countries,” she says. “It absorbs everything from Russia, and most young people don't know anything about the their contemporaries in other cultures. It is important to have different perspectives.”

To add even more acclaim, the most popular newspaper in Kyrgyzstan, Super-Info recently named an Azattyk Plus correspondent the 'Best TV Presenter' of 2010.

Nominated in November along with five other TV presenters from different channels, Akaev won through an online vote on Super-Info’s website. A special ceremony was held at the National Philharmony on December 5.

This is the second year that the awards have taken place. In addition to best TV presenter, voters decide on the best politician and best singer, among other categories.

Says Akaev, “I was a bit nervous actually - and proud because there were a lot of famous TV hosts at the event. And the first thing that came to my mouth was a thank you for everyone that helps with the show. And to the viewers, because really we work for them.”

Congratulations to Radio Azattyk for all its great work!

Tags:Kyrgyz Service, Kudos

RFE/RL’s Gvakharia Is 'Champion Of Tolerance' In Georgia

RFE'S Giorgi Gvakharia wins 2010 Champion of Tolerance award

The 2010 International Day of Tolerance was a special occasion for Giorgi Gvakharia of RFE’s Georgian service. In a ceremony, the Georgian Council of Religions and the Council of National Minorities hailed Gvarkharia as a 2010 “Champion of Tolerance” for his “distinguished contribution to promoting tolerance in Georgia.” “Gogi,” as he is known in the Georgian Service, is the first journalist to win the award, which was launched in 2009.

The November 16th event was sponsored by the Georgian Ombudsman’s office and the Georgian office of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Sophie Tchitchinadze of the UNDP explained that “Mr. Gvakharia has been selected for his outstanding efforts as a journalist and public figure in promoting ethnic and religious tolerance in Georgia, fighting stereotypes and raising pressing social issues.”
Mr. Gvakharia has been selected for his outstanding efforts as a journalist and public figure in promoting ethnic and religious tolerance in Georgia.
Jamie McGoldrick, head of the UNDP’s Georgia mission, and Tbilisi mayor Gigi Ugulava both addressed the ceremony, which was attended by government officials, foreign diplomats, religious figures and civil society leaders.

David Kakabadze, Director of RFE’s Georigan Service, described Gvakharia as “someone who has never accepted the rules of the game, imposed by the majority or from above.” In the 1990s, he launched "Psycho, a television program with daring discussions of taboo topics in Georgian life, including xenophobia, intolerance, religious stereotypes, misogyny, and homophobia. Kakabdze noted that, “to this day the show, is considered one of the most significant TV contributions to the development of the culture of tolerance in Georgia”.

Since then, Gogi has moved on to other television projects. He is known in Georgia as a popular film critic  and currently hosts “Red Zone,” a television program and joint project of RFE’s Georgian Service and Georgian Public Broadcasting. He is also one of several RFE reporters who are popular bloggers in Georgia.

On his television program, Gvakharia and his guests use reflect upon Soviet totalitarianism and its continued influence on Georgia. The program includes open discussions on such issues as ethnic nationalism, religious intolerance, and patriarchal cliches - topics that are all rarely discussed on other Georgian television channels.

Tags:Georgian Service, Kudos, Service Sketches

Georgia's Celebrity Blogger

Georgia -- RFE/RL blogger and political correspondent Ia Antadze, 2009

Ia Antadze is the most popular blogger in Georgia, and she came to journalism by accident. Trained in philology at Tbilisi State University, Antadze was first lured into the reporting world by an acquaintance in the newspaper business.

“My decision to pursue journalism was not a matter of inspiration.” Antadze explains. “At that time I had been a teacher for 10 years. An editor in chief of the daily paper Kavkasioni asked me to try working as a beat reporter for the Georgian Parliament. I agreed and started my life as a journalist. This was 1995.”

Since that time, Antadze has become a driving force in Georgian journalistic discourse, writing for various print publications over the years and – of course – for Radio Free Europe. Oft-described as provocative and controversial, Antadze is nevertheless universally respected.

“She is controversial because she is often critical of the government,” says RFE’s Georgian Service Director David Kakabadze. “But she is also very honest. Even her enemies acknowledge this.”
But she is also very honest. Even her enemies acknowledge this.”

This reputation has bolstered Antadze’s popularity. Every post on her RFE blog receives an avalanche of responses, often numbering in the hundreds and thousands. Recently, Antadze began hosting a weekly broadcast in which she interviews a guest chosen by readers of her blog. Guests include government officials, opposition leaders, and even in one case a student protestor. Following the interviews, interviewees submit to an online question and answer session, which in one case lasted for close to six hours.

The online chats are an extension of Antadze’s journalistic philosophy. “She considers citizen journalism a model of democracy,” says Kakabadze. “She is very passionate about her blog because it allows a direct dialogue with readers. She responds to almost every comment, carries around her laptop day and night. Ia is truly dedicated.”

Antadze’s dedication to her profession extends beyond the blogosphere. She is the Chairperson of the Civic Development Institute (CDI), an NGO founded in 2005, which supports the development of free media, and also sponsors educational and environmental projects. In 2009, with the support of the European Union, CDI drafted the “Charter of Journalistic Ethics,” which has thus far been signed by 178 journalists within Georgia.

Still, it is Antadze’s ubiquitous blog presence for which she is most known. Sometimes divisive, but always insightful, Antadze has been a leading figure in the Georgian internet revolution. Writing under the Radio Tavisupleba banner – and primarily about politics -she encourages debate and discussion in a country where it is often considered anathema.

In a recent post, entitled “Being Moderate or Being Honest,” Antadze writes about government influence on the Georgian news media. She laments the fact that journalists are often censored or forced to tow the government line, attributing recent government attempts to create public debate as a ruse. The blogosphere, she maintains, is the only unrestricted venue in which to find reasoned, democratic debate.

Says Antadze, “Because TV in Georgia is mostly controlled by the government - through the owners and through the licensing system - Georgian society lacks a real source of information about current affairs. This gap has been partly filled by the blogosphere, which has developed in Georgia over the past two years. Now, there is no important subject that is being discussed without the participation of the people.”

As the conversation continues in Georgia, RFE’s Ia Antadze is leading the debate. The dialogue couldn’t be in better hands.

- John C. Cleveland

Tags:Georgian Service, People Profiles

Service Snapshots: Alexander Lukashuk

Belarus - Alexander Lukashuk at USA embassy in Minsk, 20 May 2009

Since joining RFE in 1993, he has also served as Director of Radio Free Afghanistan (2004-2005), and as acting Executive Editor. Born in Belarus, Lukashuk graduated from Minsk Linguistic University. He has worked as a translator, journalist, and documentary script writer, and served as Editor-in-Chief of a Belarus publishing house.

What impact is Radio Svaboda having in Belarus?

AL: What impact does fresh air have? Political prisoner and ex-presidential candidate, Professor Alexander Kazulin, listened to Radio Liberty behind bars. When released for 48 hours to attend his wife’s funeral, he stopped in our Minsk bureau to say, “Your programs are like a gulp of fresh air in a prison cell.” Thousands of letters from people of all ages from all over the country testify that Professor Kazulin is not alone in his appreciation of RFE/RL as a vital voice for survival and hope in the last dictatorship in Europe.
“Your programs are like a gulp of fresh air in a prison cell.”

What is one popular program or aspect of your service that is making a difference?

AL: Our slogan is “Your voice is the voice of freedom.” We preach and practice citizen journalism, interactivity, and provide airtime for popular bloggers in a monthly “Day of the Blogger” internet event. We also have a unique at-large community called “Friends of Liberty” – about 1,000 active listeners who help to distribute our books, DVDs, and brochures, and who provide constant feedback.

What motivated you to get into journalism?

AL: The illusion that words matter, which I am still addicted to.

Tags:People Profiles, Service Sketches, Belarus Service

A New Frontier In The Fight Against Corruption

"Korrupsiometr" graphic

“It has become a part of our culture,” says Zeynalov. “We are a post-Soviet, oil rich state. Internal corruption has become so bad that we have to pay bribes even going to the doctor. It is our duty to inform the people that there is another way.”

Internal corruption has become so bad that we have to pay bribes even going to the doctor.

Zeynalov is administrator, writer, and editor of Azadliq Radiosu’s Corruption Page - or Korrupsiometr - a one-stop shop for information on corruption in Azerbaijan, and a resource for those looking for texts of domestic laws and regulations prohibiting such practices.

Started in February 2010, the Corruption Page is massive - almost labyrinthine in scope. Soundtracked by a rotating assortment of rock and hip hop songs, the page boasts dozens of features, videos, polls, and news stories - all with the same pivotal focus.

In one particularly affecting video (recorded covertly), a police officer accepts money after stopping a car for speeding. In another, an interviewer asks people on the street to recount the last time they were forced to give an official a bribe. The answers are disconcertingly uniform; responses paint a picture of bribery as an almost everyday necessity. One man matter-of-factly replies that he was forced to pay a bribe to take an exam at university.

Public sentiment is anything but passive, however. In a telling indicator of national discontent, a poll on the main page references a recent Transparency International finding that corruption in Azerbaijan is getting better (note: the organization still lists Azerbaijan in the bottom 50 countries on its 2010 Corruption Index). Prompted to respond to the accuracy of the result, readers overwhelmingly responded that the findings were incorrect. “People think corruption is as bad as it has ever been,” explains Zeynalov. “In fact, it is far worse than in Soviet times.”

Perhaps the most important feature of the Korrupsiometr is that it is a resource for those seeking to combat the abuses of the system. The website features verbatim reposts of Azeri law, which, like most countries, officially prohibits extortion and the taking of bribes by those in the public sector.

According to Zeynalov, instances of irate officials contacting Azadliq following encounters with well-informed Azeris are on the rise. “They are angry that they cannot collect on their bribes,” he explains. “People will go on our website, print out the laws, and then confront these corrupt bureaucrats with documentation.”

When asked how Azadliq responds to bureaucratic backlash, Zeynalov smiles. “Oh, we just refer them to our lawyer.”

Here’s hoping that, as the Korrupsiometr’s popularity increases, the Azeri Service starts getting a lot more complaints.

- John Cleveland

Tags:Azerbaijani Service, Service Sketches

Georgian Deputy Prime Minister Giorgi Baramidze Visits RFE

David Kakabadze of RFE's Georgian Service sits with the Georgian Deputy Prime Minister Giorgi Baramidze and Nina Nakashidze, Georgia’s Ambassador to the Czech Republic

Fresh from Lisbon, the site of perhaps the most important NATO meeting since the end of the Cold War, Georgian Deputy Prime Minister Giorgi Baramidze visited RFE to share his insights on topics ranging from Georgia’s integration into Europe and NATO to the political situation in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Osettia. He was joined by Nina Nakashidze, Georgia’s Ambassador to the Czech Republic.
Baranudze's most controversial statement came when he floated the possibility of a Georgian boycott of the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Baramidze began his remarks by noting successful Georgian efforts to become a more open society and to fight corruption. The evidence supports his claims. Prior to the Rose Revolution in Georgia, which catapulted Mikheil Sakaashvili to prominence, corruption in Georgia was rampant. The 2003 Transparency International Corruption Perception Index ranked Georgia 124 out of 133. By contrast, the 2010 rankings show significant improvement: Georgia is now ranked 68 out of an expanded pool of 178 countries. Baramidze, though, pressed the need for further progress in civil society and governance for the nation’s emergence as a prosperous, 21st century European state.

On EU relations, Mr. Baramidze was unequivocal about Georgia’s place in the broader European context, noting Georgia’s historical ties to Europe. Though he placed no timetable for Georgia’s ascension into NATO or the EU, he said that Georgia is “on its way” to membership in both organizations.

Baramidze did not rule out a boycott of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The Deputy Prime Minister listed two Georgian objections to the Sochi games: Russia’s “continued military presence” in the “occupied territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” which he called “modern [acts] of barbarism.”
Modern acts of barbarism

He also pointed to Russia’s ongoing fight against an insurgency in the North Caucasus region -- just a few hundred kilometers from Sochi -- telling the audience, “What’s happening in the North Caucasus is practically a war.”

-Joseph Hammond and Ed Hetz

Tags:RFE/RL HQ, visits, Georgian Service

Service Snapshots: Hashem Mohmand

RFE/RL – A video grab of Radio Free Afghanistan’s Hashem Mohmand, from the briefing on Afghan-Pakistani security, Prague, 01Jul2008

Hashem Mohmand is the Director of RFE/RL's Radio Azadi. He has worked for the past 24 years as broadcaster, editor, and senior editor in RFE's Tajik and Afghan services. In the 1990s, he was the chief editor of "Breeze of Freedom," a magazine covering the Afghan Diaspora in Europe.

What impact is Radio Azadi having in Afghanistan?

HM: Radio Azadi is one of the most listened-to radio stations in Afghanistan. Recent surveys show that people believe Radio Azadi is the most reliable news source in the country – and not just ordinary people, but government officials, and even the Taliban. In this respect, the effect is enormous.
Radio Azadi is the most reliable news source in the country – and not just ordinary people, but government officials, and even the Taliban. In this respect, the effect is enormous.

What is one popular program or aspect of your service that is making a difference?

We have a variety of programs that appeal to all people from all walks of life. We have news, but we also have a satire program, a music program, a program for women, youth, etc. And all are very well received. We have two popular call-in shows twice a week. They are bilingual, and they give listeners a chance to express their concerns – be they political, economic, or social in nature. Another is a weekly show in which we try to find missing loved ones. During the confusion of the war, many families lost track of relatives so people will call in and we will try to find them. We have had many successes.

What motivated you to get into journalism?

HM: I myself was a victim of the Communist regime. I spent several months in prison. I was tortured. I discovered that Azadi had a message of freedom and tolerance. That people have the right to determine their own lives. Since I speak the native languages, as well as English and German, this was the perfect environment for me. Even though this is my 24th year, I am not tired. When I see the appreciation of our work, I am very proud of my colleagues. It shows that we have been successful. I am happy to be a part of this mission and of this organization.

Tags:Radio Azadi, People Profiles

Live From Berlin: Banned Iranian Rock Band Kiosk

Listen to Kiosk live from Berlin on Radio Farda.

RFE's Radio Farda aired live a rock concert from Germany by an Iranian band that is banned in its home country. It marked the first time Radio Farda is broadcasting a live concert to the people of Iran.

Formed in Tehran in 2003, Kiosk was forced out of Iran because of its satirical lyrics which are often critical of the social and political environment under the Islamic regime. The group is popular among Iran's urban youth and the Iranian Diaspora.


Inside Iran, web users will be able to hear the concert on Radio Farda or access it online using a proxy server that circumvents government censorship.


Tonight’s show in Berlin is part of Kiosk’s latest European tour to promote their new album, “Triple Distilled,” which, along with their other records, is illegal in their home country.

Tags:events, RFE/RL Hearts The Arts, Radio Farda, Kiosk

Released Azeri Blogger Listened To RFE While In Prison

Adnan Hajizade speaks to reporters after being released from jail in Baku.

Despite his imprisonment, Azeri blogger and youth activist Adnan Hajizade was still able to get information from the outside world – thanks to RFE's Azerbaijani Service, Radio Azadliq.

Following this week's early release of the two Azeri political bloggers jailed last year on widely disputed charges of “hooliganism,” Hajizade spoke about the important role that RFE’s broadcasts played during his months of confinement.

“I spent the last 17 months in isolation,” he says. “The guards would allow us to watch only state-run TV and read only state-run newspapers. But in my cell I had a radio, and every night I would get up on my table so I could adjust my radio's antenna closer to the window in order to have a better reception of Radio Azadliq on short-wave. The reception was bad, crackly, like in old Soviet times. But still RFE was able to get the news to us.”

Adnan Hajizade was released on November 18 after being sentenced last year to two years of imprisonment. He spoke to RFE’s Radio Azadliq just hours after being discharged.

- John Cleveland

Tags:Azerbaijani Service, Journalists In Trouble, OH SNAP!

Service Snapshots: Rim Gilfanov

Rim Gilfanov, Director of RFE's Tatar-Bashkir Service.

Rim Gilfanov is the Director of RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service, known locally as Radio Azatliq. He joined RFE in 1990, and was promoted to Service Director in 2006. Prior to joining RFE, Rim wrote for the Kazan-based newspaper "Donya." We sat down with Rim to discuss his beginnings as a journalist and the cultural fragmentation that Radio Azatliq seeks to address.

What impact is Radio Azatliq having in Tatar-Bashkir?

RG: Azatliq is the only major international broadcaster for the Tatar and Bashkir communities in Russia, where the federal government implements a policy of suppressing ethnic minorities' language rights. Furthermore, we are the preeminent news organization that broadcasts in both the Tatar and Bashkir languages. Broadcasting in native languages is inseparable from RFE/RL's core mission. It attracts audience and builds confidence, thus making Azatliq a trustworthy and reliable media outlet.

What is one popular program or aspect of your service that is making a difference?

RG: Azatliq unites the wider Tatar-Bashkir world, which is divided by administrative borders inside Russia. This means that Azatliq has essentially become an all-Tatar media with a vast network of stringers. I will say that we are very proud of our up-to-date web features (EDS: e.g. forums, user-generated content, citizen journalism), and our ability to engage the audience in discussions about the problems we face as a society.
Azatliq unites the wider Tatar-Bashkir world, which is divided by administrative borders inside Russia.

What motivated you to get into journalism?

RG: It was RFE! I started listening to RFE/RL's Tatar broadcasts when I was going to secondary school in the Soviet Union. It was a deeply totalitarian time, when all the Western broadcasts were jammed and listening to them was considered a hostile, antisocial activity. The very fact that an international broadcast in my native Tatar language existed gave me hope that despite all Soviet repressions against the Tatar language and education, my language would live on. I became a staunch supporter of Azatliq and started thinking more about my roots and self-identification. After the fall of Iron Curtain I was offered a job as a stringer and later joined the staff in Munich.

Tags:People Profiles, Service Sketches, Tatar-Bashkir Service

Service Snapshots: Oguljamal Yazliyeva

Oguljamal Yazliyeva Director of RFE's Turkmen Service, Radio Azatlyk.

Oguljamal Yazliyeva is the Director of RFE's Turkmen Service, Radio Azatlyk. Prior to joining RFE, Oguljamal spent more than 20 years at Turkmen State University, where she served as Associate Professor, Chair of the Foreign Languages Department, Deputy Dean of Law and International Relations Faculty, and Dean of the International Business and Management Faculty. We asked Oguljamal three questions to get a better understanding of the Turkmen Service and her aspirations as a journalist.

What impact is Radio Azatlyk having in Turkmenistan?

OY: The Turkmen Service's radio programs and web features are unique. We are the only source of uncensored information in the Turkmen language with in-depth analysis of domestic, regional and international events. We promote critical thinking, which is an essential part of any democratic society.

What is one popular program or aspect of your service that is making a difference?

OY: Definitely our “People's Voice” program. It is based entirely on information we receive from individuals on the ground. Despite fear of reprisal, people send us their thoughts via email, phone, and in writing. I must also mention our weekly talk show programs: “Roundtable Discussion,” “Musical Talk Show,” and “Spotlight.” All of them are very popular.
I wish to see the Turkmen people free, and I believe that my work as a journalist is needed for Turkmenistan's development in line with democratic principles.

What motivated you to get into journalism?

OY: I am motivated by the fact that I serve the people of Turkmenistan. I wish to see the Turkmen people free, and I believe that my work as a journalist is needed for Turkmenistan's development in line with democratic principles.

Tags:People Profiles, Turkmen Service

Afghan Refugees In Tajikistan, Human Drug Mules, And A Pakistani Village Fights Back: RFE's Stories Of The Year (Part 2 Of 3)

Piles of smuggled narcotics go up in flames during a drug-burning ceremony in Karachi, Pakistan.

Of the thousands of stories produced this year by RFE journalists, 15 have been singled out by RFE's top editors as the "Best of the Best."  The three winners featured here come from the volatile region of Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Part 2 of 3:

Best Current Affairs Coverage Video
Thousands of refugees from Afghanistan have fled war, poverty, and the Taliban over the last decade. Many have ended up -- at least for the time being -- in neighboring Tajikistan. In the video below, Barot Yusufi from RFE's Tajik Service, looks at the plight of refugees from Afghanistan, many of whom have been in makeshift camps for years.

Best Current Affairs Coverage/Analysis, Online
In Pakistan, Daud Khattak from RFE's Pakistan Service, Radio Mashaal, looked at the efforts of one Pakistani village in resisting the Taliban. The people of Shah Hassan Khel in Northwest Pakistan watched as the Army fought of the Taliban in 2009. Now, local militias are providing security themselves-- and preventing the Taliban from gaining a foothold in the area.

Best Co-Production Feature
An estimated 20% of Afghanistan's opium exports leave the country via its northern neighbor, Tajikistan. In this report, Charles Recknagel and Zarif Nazar, a journalist with RFE's Afghan Service, Radio Azadi, look at the effects of the smuggling trade on local populations near the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border -- where some people are literally bought and sold.

- Zachary Peterson

Tags:Service Sketches, Radio Mashaal, Radio Azadi, Tajik Service

RFE Broadcasts From Hungarian Revolution Digitized

Once thought destroyed, RFE broadcasts from the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 are now available in digital format.

PALO ALTO, CALIFORNIA -- The RFE/RL Broadcast Collection at Stanford’s Hoover Institution contains some 80,000 studio tape reels of RFE and Radio Liberty (RL) broadcasts. Now, thanks to the hard work of a dedicated team of RFE affiliates, it also contains rare log tapes (low-quality recordings of short-wave transmitter output) for the crucial three weeks of the Hungarian Revolution (October 19 – November 13, 1956).

During this era, log tapes were routinely reused (no others have been preserved), but thanks to historical accident and modern technology, the complete recordings of every RFE broadcast hour from that momentous period are now available in digitized form at the Hoover Archives at Stanford University and the Hungarian National Szechenyi Library. While the transcripts of many of these programs aired during those three weeks of 1956 have long been available, the recovered 1956 log tapes provide the only complete audio record of RFE’s broadcasts at that time.

Accidental Preservation

During the Cold War, RFE and RL log tapes were retained for only a few months in accordance with German, Portuguese, and Spanish transmitter licensing requirements. However, after public controversy developed around RFE’s 1956 Hungarian broadcasts, the West German Foreign Office borrowed the set of log recordings made at the RFE transmitter station at Biblis in order to conduct a review (which was generally positive). It quickly returned the log tapes to RFE, but, fearing more controversy in the media and labor courts, reclaimed them again in the spring of 1957. Seeking secure storage, the Foreign Office deposited the tapes in the Federal German Archives in Koblenz – where they remained, forgotten until their rediscovery in the late 90s. By this point, the ravages of time and outdated technology had made them all but unplayable.

Archaic Sound Recovered

In 2000, after Hungarian Radio arranged for the copying of the Hungarian broadcasts, RFE/RL and the Federal German Archives decided to recover in digital form all RFE language broadcasts during the period of the Revolution. Manfred Hanspeter of RFE/RL Technical Services and RFE/RL archive consultants Leszek Gawlikowski and Laszlo Rajki oversaw the project, which was epic in scope. The 1956 log tapes alone contained a total of over 6500 broadcast hours, recorded on 60 fourteen-track paper-backed tapes.

Today, much of the restorative work could be done on laptop, but ten years ago the project required more creative solutions. Using two computers, a Network Attached Storage (NAS) unit, a low noise amplifier, and a modified Telefunken tape machine (which reduced the tape speed), former RFE/RL Hungarian Service producer Robert Trunk was able to meticulously transfer the recordings on the tape to MP3 format. In 2001, Trunk spent several months adjusting the audio for each of the 727 tape tracks, transferring the output to the NAS, editing the audio to enhance sound quality, and finally depositing the content onto 60 CDs.

Preserved by historical accident and retrieved with modern technology, this unique record of a key period of RFE broadcast history is now available for research.

- A. Ross Johnson & Manfred Hanspeter

Tags:history, Cold War Chronicles

Service Snapshots: David Kakabadze

RFE/RL Georgian Service director David Kakabadze laughs during filming of the 'Inside Joke' feature.

David Kakabadze is the Director of RFE's Georgian Service. A renowned sports reporter within Georgia, Kakabadze joined RFE's ranks in 1993. He has a Ph.D in German literature and has served as an editor and correspondent in Tbilisi for various Georgian and Russian newspapers and magazines. We asked David three questions to get a better sense of the Service and his background.

What impact is Radio Tavisupleba having in Georgia?

DK: Well, Freedom House lists Georgia as “partly free.” Most media is in the hands of the government or the opposition. Given that the Georgian government is trying to position itself as a democratic country striving towards western-style democracies, the media situation is very poor. We are in a position to make a difference.
Given that the Georgian government is trying to position itself as a democratic country striving towards western-style democracies, the media situation is very poor.

What is one popular program or aspect of your service that is making a difference?

DK: Last year we started Ekho Kavkaza, a one hour radio program in Russian featuring on the ground reports from journalists in the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as well as news and analysis from the rest of Georgia. I highlight this program because it really brings people together with different opinions. In one hour you can listen to several completely different perspectives. This is important because for more than 18 yrs, we’ve been lacking this kind of dialogue.

What motivated you to get into journalism?

DK: How I got here is a long story, but before I started at RFE I followed in my father’s footsteps. He was the founder and editor in chief of the first sports daily in Georgia, called Lelo. From childhood my dream was to become a sports writer and work for this paper – which I did!

Tags:People Profiles, Service Sketches, Georgian Service

RFE Journalist Receives Award For Rights Work

Award Recipients - Rekhviashvili second from left; Public Defender Giorgi Tugushi third from right.

Jimsher Rekhviashvili, a journalist with RFE’s Georgian Service has been recognized for his work covering women’s rights issues.

An investigative journalist for RFE’s Radio Tavisupleba, Rekhviashvili was given the award by the Public Defender of Georgia for his report "Women Call for Gender Equality – A Prerequisite to a Country’s Vigor."

"We’re very proud of him," says Georgian Service Director David Kakabadze. "Jimsher is quite an experienced journalist, and this is not the first award he has received. He is a great asset to our service.”

Rekhviashvili won in the category of "Best TV-Radio Program," a condensed category in which the competition spanned two different mediums. "Even more impressive," laughs Kakabadze.

The awards are an outgrowth of the EU-funded "Supporting Public Defender’s Office" project. Chartered from 2008-2010, the initiative’s stated goal is to support reform of the criminal justice system within Georgia through the promotion of human rights and rule of law. This is the first year the prize has been awarded. has a complete rundown of the winners.


Freedom And The Novel

Michael Cunningham (left) discussing "By Nightfall'' at RFE in Prague.

Robert Frost said, "You have freedom when you’re easy in your harness." But do any of us, free though we might be in principle, ever ride easy – unencumbered by the weight of the workaday?

Several modern American writers are tackling this idea - in certain instances to magazine-cover acclaim. Luckily one of the very best took the time to drop by RFE to discuss his new book.

Michael Cunningham is perhaps best known for his 1998 novel The Hours, which won the Pulitzer Prize, the PEN/Faulkner Award, and was later made into a critically acclaimed 2002 film starring Meryl Streep. His new book, By Nightfall, tells the story of a New York City art dealer named Peter whose world is turned upside down with the arrival of his wife’s carefree – and unconstrained - younger brother Mizzy. Cunningham dropped by RFE on November 5 to talk about By Nightfall, art, and the search for freedom inherent to all cultures, western and otherwise.
"By Nightfall" - Michael Cunningham

Following an introduction by RFE News Director Jay Tolson, the conversation began in earnest with a discussion of some of the central themes of By Nightfall. "It’s an old story that doesn’t seem to go away," said Cunningham. ''This whole notion that you aspire and acquire, and then begin to be trapped by the very things for which you once so yearned at a certain point in life."

The conversation soon turned to art and aestheticism, the prism through which Cunningham’s analysis of "freedom" is filtered. The characters in By Nightfall are the tastemakers and curators of the New York City art world, a backdrop that is at once inaccessible to outsiders and stifling to many of those who seek to make a living in the business.

Cunningham is opinionated on the topic. "We find ourselves in America in an artistic climate that is very much a business climate. It’s the money people controlling our aesthetic so that we will step up and pay big bucks. It is in many extremely unfree artistic environment."

As the audience opened up to questions, the conversation turned from the insular to the international, as journalists from RFE’s services chimed in with their views on the subject. When prompted by one audience member to define his idea of freedom, the author was surprisingly candid.
"I think of freedom as a form of love...But if you’re able to live with love, and love your life, I think you’re always free."

"I think of freedom as a form of love,” said Cunningham. "I think that in a literal sense freedom is almost impossible because we connect with people. Before you know it, you have a spouse, you have children, you have a job - and those things constrict your freedom. But if you’re able to live with love, and love your life, I think you’re always free."

- John Cleveland

Tags:RFE/RL Hearts The Arts, RFE/RL HQ, events

Corruption, Repression, And Poverty In Azerbaijan: RFE's Stories Of The Year (Part 1 of 3)

Azerbaijan -- RFE Photojournalist Abbas Atilay took this picture of a boy whose family lives in an abandoned Baku factory.

Of the thousands of stories produced this year by RFE journalists, 15 have been singled out by RFE's top editors as the "Best of the Best."  The three awards earned by Radio Azadliq, RFE's Azerbaijani Service, were the most by any news service. Part 1 of 3:


Best Breaking News Coverage Video

This video of a peaceful religious protest turning violent in Baku, Azerbaijan provides a rare, real-time look inside a police crackdown. Such clashes are growing more common as the Azeri government tries to impose stricter controls on Islamic life.

Police Clash With Shi'ite Procession In Bakui
|| 0:00:00
February 15, 2010
A peaceful religious procession turned bloody on February 13 when police used force to block the marchers. Such clashes are growing more common as the Azerbaijani government tries to impose stricter controls on Islamic life.

The clip, captured by Radio Azadliq's Javanshir Agamaliyev and Ulker Guliyeva, was voted the best breaking news video by RFE's top news editors.


Best Photojournalism

Also in Baku, Radio Azadliq photojournalist Abbas Atilay was recognized for his images of Azeri refugees living in an abandoned factory. These impoverished families are not taking refuge for a night or two. Many have been there for 20 years.


Best Investigative Report

A third story from the Azeri Service was honored as RFE's best investigative report of the year. Radio Azadliq's Ulviyye Asadzade and Khadija Ismailova looked at the Aliyev family's growing business empire. They carefully tracked a money trail that led from a murky local conglomerate directly to President Aliyev's daughter.


There were a dozen other winners from the rest of RFE's broadcast area. Stay tuned for Part 2.


--Ari Goldberg

Tags:Azerbaijani Service, Kudos

'Who Says The Newspaper Is Dead?' (Part II)

Read all about it! - In Ekho Kavkaza

Earlier this year, we told you about a free weekly newspaper being distributed in Baku by RFE's Azerbaijani Service, which has been banned from the FM airwaves for nearly two years. Now, another paper is making an impact in the Caucasus. In Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, RFE is reaching people the old fashioned way – with paper and ink.

“My job, as I see it,” says RFE Georgian Service Director David Kakabadze, “is to get people talking to each other. To show that even if you don’t agree on anything, you can still have a dialogue. We try to make that dialogue happen any way we can.”

Unfortunately, the aftermath of the 2008 Russia-Georgia war has made such discourse even more difficult than before. Massive infrastructural damage and aggressive Russian interference in Abkhazia and South Ossetia have led to severe restrictions on media freedom in both places.
My job, as I see it,is to get people talking to each other.

In response, RFE launched Ekho Kavkaza ("Echo of the Caucasus") last year, a one-hour daily radio program in Russian featuring on-the-ground reports from journalists in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as well as news and analysis from the rest of Georgia.

“The main idea of this new program is to reach as many people from the breakaway regions as possible,” says Kakabadze, who oversees Ekho Kavkaza. “But after we started it, we were faced with the problem of delivery. It was not realistic to find FM partners because local media in the territories cannot really be considered free. The only way to deliver radio programs is via short-wave, which is limited. So this newspaper gives us a chance to reach people who would otherwise have no access to independent information."

RFE's Tbilisi Bureau Chief, Marina Vashakmadze
Kakabadze credits Tbilisi bureau chief Marina Vashakmadze with the idea for the paper. “It has really been all Marina’s doing,” Kakabadze explains.“She’s done a tremendous job compiling stories for the paper and getting it out there.”

Kakabadze and Vashakmadze have found an important ally in the IDP (Internally Displaced Person) camps set up after the 2008 war. “We give the paper away free of charge in the camps,” Kakabadze says. “We can’t get into a place like Abkhazia to distribute the paper ourselves, but the IDPs can. They have relatives on both sides of the border, and it’s these interpersonal relationships that we rely on.”

Although Ekho Kavkaza faced a hostile reaction at first, Kakabadze says things are changing. "Initially, many of the comments on Ekho Kavkaza’s website were too vulgar to publish," he says. "But now, we post 80% of readers' feedback. Things are changing. We get as many as 50 comments on some articles. People are discussing the issues – Abkhazians, Ossetians, and Georgians are having a dialogue. This is our purpose."

- John Cleveland

Tags:Georgian Service, Azerbaijani Service

Belarus' Banksy: A Covert Cartoonist

The five orange and white display stands parked outside RFE's Prague headquarters say "Smile for Belarus." It is a curious slogan referring to a country widely considered the last dictatorship in Europe. However, in Belarus, humor can serve as a catalyzing and subversive form of protest.

The display features the work of De Lez, an anonymous Belarusian cartoonist and humorist. De Lez's frequent targets include long-time Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko and the state-controlled media. One of De Lez's most iconographic images is the ballot box depicted as a garbage can - an acerbic commentary on the voter fraud allegations plaguing Lukashenko's regime.

De Lez Belarus Cartoon Exhibit
Before coming to RFE, the exhibit was displayed at the Forum 2000 Conference in Prague earlier this month, where it received an enthusiastic reception.

Belarus is the only country in Europe where RFE is prohibited from broadcasting content through local affiliates. Instead, local listeners must rely on Cold War-era shortwave radios to tune in to Radio Svaboda, as the Belarusian station is known. However, as Internet connectivity within the country has increased, so has the ability of the people to access free information unencumbered by state interference. Despite numerous cyber-attacks against, the website has persevered against Belarusian state media filters and is one of the most reliable venues through which to display De Lez’s work.

  --John Connor Cleveland

Tags:Radio Svaboda

Charles University J-School Spends Day At RFE/RL

Students from Charles University spend a day at RFE/RL

Sixteen journalism students from Charles University in Prague got a chance to see a modern, international news organization up-close last month by spending "A Day at RFE/RL."

The aspiring journalists participated in RFE/RL's daily editorial meeting, met with reporters and producers for hands-on training, and discussed the news business with RFE/RL's Associate Director of Broadcasting Akbar Ayazi.

RFE is almost like a doctor, going to see people in need.


“If you can make a difference in the lives of just one or two people, you buy yourself one or two years of happiness,” Ayazi told the group.

The students, who sacrificed a day of their summer vacations to attend, learned that 21st century journalists need to be ready to write, shoot, and package their stories for web, print, and broadcast media.

One student, Anna Chubdova, said she was "particularly impressed by the dedication of RFE/RL journalists to bringing the news to closed societies. RFE/RL is almost like a doctor, going to see people in need," she said.

Charles University was the ninth such group to take part in the "A Day at RFE/RL" program. In the past year, students from schools including Colgate University, Washington University, and Masaryk University, have taken part in the program.

If your organization is interested in spending a day at RFE/RL headquarters in Prague, please contact Jana Hokuvova.

- Joseph Hammond


Tags:events, RFE/RL HQ

From Basra to Baghdad: Radio Free Iraq Earns Praise

Radio Free Iraq Receives an Award in Basra, Iraq.

Authorities in southern Iraq have recognized RFE's Radio Free Iraq "for upholding the principles of democracy and for standing by the Iraqi people in their suffering."

So said a 'Certificate of Honor' presented to Radio Free Iraq recently by the Cultural Counselor for the Basra Governorate Abdul-Ameer Al-Wa'ili. Wa'ili praised the station for "serving the Iraqi people and their democratic aspirations while avoiding divisiveness, categorization, sectarianism, and ethnic bias."
Radio Free Iraq is a credible, impartial outlet that stresses accuracy and facts and figures.

The head of the Iraqi Journalists Union in Basra, Haidar Al-Mansouri, used the presentation ceremony to discuss the numerous challenges facing journalists in Iraq. Among them is the fact that a law aimed at protecting journalists has yet to be enacted.

"Iraqi journalists are courageous," he said. "I'm particularly fond of Radio Free Iraq's news coverage. I listen to it because it is a credible, impartial outlet that stresses accuracy and facts and figures."

In 2008, Radio Free Iraq's Baghdad bureau won the BBG David Burke Distinguished Journalism Award in recognition of its courage and integrity. Radio Free Iraq was launched in 1998 and reaches approximately 20 percent of the population across the country.

- Joseph Hammond

Tags:Radio Free Iraq, events

RFE's Feifer, Asatiani At European Foreign Policy Conference

The Europe of 2025 will be different from the one we know today. Will the EU-Russia relationship be more hostile or more cooperative? Has the 2008 Russo-Georgian War permanently damaged Europe’s security architecture? Is sustainable energy security one of Europe’s foremost challenges? These are just some of the questions that a special foreign policy conference in Berlin will try to answer this weekend. [full program]

Hosted by European Council on Foreign Relations and Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, a think-tank of the German Green Party, the 11th annual Foreign Policy Conference kicks off today with a panel discussion moderated by RFE's Gregory Feifer. The session, titled, "A European Security System For The 21st Century?" will feature professor Thomas M. Nichols of the U.S Navy War College, Ulrich Stefan Schlie, Head of policy staff at the German Federal Ministry of Defense, and Frithjof Schmidt of a Bundestag member with the Green Party. [NOTE: if you have problems with the stream below, it is also available on the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung website]

Later today, Salome Asatiani, a journalist with RFE’s Georgian Service, will speak on the importance of democracy in the EU accession process on a panel entitled “Democratic Transformation: not a chance without accession to the EU”? Asatiani will appear on a panel with Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, Director of the Open Ukraine Foundation, Marieluise Beck a Green party member in the German Bundestag, and Iris Kempe, the head of the South Caucasus office of the Heinrich-Böll Foundation.

Viewers can also follow the proceedings on the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Twitter page.

EVENT: 'Can The War In Afghanistan Be Won?' Featuring RFE's Akbar Ayazi

A week after parliamentary elections in Afghanistan, RFE's Associate Director of Broadcasting for Afghanistan Akbar Ayazi will be speaking at a public panel discussion in Prague.

"The Prague Post" will host a roundtable titled, "Can The War In Afghanistan Be Won?". The event takes place Thursday, September 23 at 7pm at Prague's Narodni Gallery. [map]

Other panelists for  will include:
Olrdrich Bures - Director of the Center for Security Studies at Metropolitan University in Prague
Ondrej Ditrych - Lecturer at Charles University and research analyst at Institute for International Relations, Prague
Tomas Kocian - Head of the Afghan desk for People In Need, Prague

The event will be moderated by The Prague Post's editor-in-chief, Benjamin Cunningham, .

Video 'Can Democracy Take Root In Kyrgyzstan?'

Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbaeva

Just weeks before scheduled elections in Kyrgyzstan, RFE and the Foreign Policy Institute brought experts together to discuss the prospects for democracy in the Central Asian nation. [full transcript ]

RFE's James Kirchick, who traveled to Kyrgyzstan twice this year, was joined by Erica Marat of the Central Asia Caucasus Institute and Jeff Goldstein of the Open Society Foundation. The discussion was moderated by Steve LeVine, author of "The Oil and The Glory."

BRIEFING: Can Democracy Take Root in Kyrgyzstan?.

Although the group agreed on the strengths of civil society in Kyrgyzstan, calling it the most mature in Central Asia, they worried about the country's future following this summer's ethnic clashes that left hundreds dead and hundreds of thousands homeless.

Kirchick said there was a dramatic change in the nation's mood between the time he visited following the coup earlier this year and when he returned after the violence between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. 

Marat said she has reason to be more helpful for Kyrgyzstan's future despite the "bleak short term picture." She said a successful election could boost stability as long as a wide range of groups are included in the new government. Otherwise, expect further tension and a growing number of paralimilitary groups, she said.

Jeff Goldstein spoke strongly in favor or deploying an unarmed OSCE police monitoring force to Kyrgyzstan.

“There needs to be continued pressure on the government in Bishek to deploy these police monitors,” he said. He added that the international community should assist in police and security reforms.

- Joseph Hammond


BBC Debate: 'Has The Taliban Won In Afghanistan?' Featuring RFE's Abubakar Siddique

On September 8 in London, RFE Senior Correspondent Abubakar Siddique took part in a special debate on BBC Radio 4 titled, "Has the Taliban Won in Afghanistan?" [listen to the debate] The event took place at the Chatham House, home of the Royal Institute of International Affairs. The audience included students, journalists, policy-makers and Afghan expatriates.

Appearing with RFE’s Siddique were Peter Galbraith, an outspoken critic of the 2009 presidential elections in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Sir Graeme Lamb, a former senior advisor to former U.S. General McChrystal and Mariam Abou Zaaheb, a French researcher and author who focuses on the region and the influence of Deobandi Islam there.

Galbraith argued that the Taliban had won the war. His main rationale was the Afghan government is not a “credible partner” for international forces, and, therefore classic counterinsurgency warfare theory is inapplicable. He strongly criticized the regime of Hamid Karzai. Lamb argued against Galbraith, saying that the Taliban had not yet won in Afghanistan, claiming that, from a military standpoint, the Taliban is weaker now than it was in 2009. Maiam Abou Zaaheb said, despite that fact, at some point the Taliban are going to have to be incorporated into the political process.
The Taliban are not a Pashtun nationalist movement

All of the panelists agreed that, by most measures, the Taliban were not popular with the majority of the Afghan people.

Siddique argued that the Taliban have not won the war because they had failed to achieve there stated goal of a caliphate run under Sharia Law. He explained that the notion of “The Taliban” as monolithic entity is factually wrong, and that "The Taliban are not a Pashtun nationalist movement.”

Siddique also noted that by killing thousands of tribal leaders, the Taliban have undercut traditional loyalties and intimidated the average Afghan citizen. Pashtun society has, as a consequence, been culturally scarred by these assassinations.

Listeners took part in the special online portion of the debate during the program via Twitter (@BBCradio4 and @RFERL) and by commenting on the Radio 4 blog.


Wicket Wild: Radio Azadi Heads To The Cricket Oval

Radio Azadi Cricket Team takes a group photo during their first season

The new Radio Azadi team is serious about their cricket. "We want to be as active [in cricket] as we are active in the news," boasts Abdul Hameed Mohmand, a correspondent with RFE/RL's Afghan Service, and the team's captain. The players work carefully to balance work and several cricket practices a week.

But, journalism comes first for the Azadi team. "When we were invited to our first tournament we only accepted on the condition that if the election issue grew more serious we could withdraw," says Mohamand. As the Afghan Presidential elections of 2009 approached the team dropped their cricket bats and focused on election coverage.

Radio Azadi's popularity in Afghanistan ensured that the launching of the team last year was a major media event. The ceremony was covered by the local Afghan media and attended by the Deputy Minister of Information and Culture, Mobarez Rashid. The crowds at team matches average 550+ fans and are larger on Fridays. So far the team has appeared in two invitational
When we were invited to our first tournament we only accepted on the condition that if the election issue grew more serious we could withdraw.
tournaments and a number of informal exhibition matches. Radio Azadi's Qadir Habib says, "[In creating this team] we are showing the people we are not only about the news, we are showing them what you are interested in [culturally] we are interested in too."

The team's sixteen players range in age from 25 to 55 and all have cricket experience. Several months ago, Afghan national team star Dawlat Ahmadzai bowled against the team and came away from the session praising Azadi's batsmen. Radio Azadi coverage of the Afghani national cricket team has also been strong and many of the national team members know the journalists by name. "It's not that our journalists are excited to meet [national team members], it's that they are excited to meet us," says Qadir Habib.

The Radio Azadi team has bold plans for the future. They hope to sponsor a cricket tournament in Afghanistan and to launch a Radio Azadi Football Club.They have been invited by Indian journalists to Delhi to play a cricket match. "Afghanistan has many problems that cricket can't solve. But I think this team is good for both our radio and the community," says Habib.

Azadi is one of eight cricket teams formed by Afghan media organizations in recent years. It is believed that the first cricket match in Afghanistan was played in 1839 by occupying British soldiers. In the 1990s, Afghan refugees in cricket-mad Pakistan took up the game. These refugees returned home with the game which, during Taliban rule, was one of the few permissible sports. As a result, cricket was sometimes perceived as a Pashtun game - a perception that has changed over time. "Today it's played in Kabul, in Northern cities, all there is a player on the U-19s who is not Pashtun. Cricket is a British game not a Pashtun game," explains Radio Azadi correspondent Mohmand. Afghanistan joined the International Cricket Council in 2001.

Mohmand muses on the future of cricket in his country: "In five years, cricket will be more popular than football. Maybe you will see every street filled with people playing cricket like you see people playing cricket in India and Pakistan." Nearby colleagues nodded their head in agreement.

- Joseph Hammond

Tags:Radio Azadi, Service Sketches, Off The Air

'Mashaal' Marshals On Through Floods

Pakistan -- the floods have created extreme conditions for Radio Mashaal's reporters to deal with.

Radio Mashaal’s Ghilzai Amanullah describes some of the difficulties of reporting during the massive floods in Pakistan.

We have seen the dramatic images of the floods and the difficulty in getting aid to the people. How has Radio Mashaal been able to reach the affected areas?

Of course the floods have made things difficult for our reporters. Some reporters in the mountains of the Northwest have walked one or even two hours to get their story. This is not as abnormal as it may sound, as people who live in the mountains are used to walking a lot. Many wear special shoes made of leather and tires called sapi, like the Spanish zapato. But needless to say, the current conditions are especially challenging. In other places reporters had to get out and push their cars through the water. Sometimes locals helped them push their vehicles.

Despite these efforts, our reporters could not physically reach some areas. In some cases we just talked to stranded people on their cellphones, and we put some of them live on the air. Some callers had gone three days without food or water and were asking for help.
We are deeply invested in the people of this region, so deep its like we are sitting in their living rooms.

Does Radio Mashaal’s coverage differ from that of other media outlets?

We differ from the local media in two aspects: balance and depth. We cover stories from the region that are often ignored by others. Few in the Pakistani media mentioned, for example, that the U.S deployed helicopters to the crisis early on.

Secondly we do more in-depth coverage of the Northwest region, Radio Mashaal's area of focus. On a typical day the national news will put out a single story on this area, while we average 25 stories from the region per day. Also, much of Radio Mashaal's work focuses on investigative pieces.

We are deeply invested in the people of this region, so deep its like we are sitting in their living rooms. We have now launched a daily one-hour show focused on the reconstruction of Pakistan, where we plan to focus on a different community everyday so that we can get the views, worries and opinions of the people whose lives were changed by this disaster.

Were any of your reporters effected by the floods?

We had many reporters whose homes were flooded and whose families were forced to flee. Yet, most of our reporters worked non-stop when the story broke. Only after a few days did they ask for a day off to check on the damage to their own homes.

-- Joseph Hammond

Tags:Radio Mashaal

Story of the Month: Why Are Russia’s Children Killing Themselves?

Russia -- Sayid (Said) Fekhretdinov, a 10-year-old who committed suicide while attending a military academy.

July's winner for best multimedia piece in RFE's internal "Story Of The Month" competition was a Russian Service report that uncovered a disturbing pattern of suicides among Russian children.

RFE's Claire Bigg, Anastasia Kirilenko, and Alexander Kulygin started looking into the topic after the death of ten year-old Sayid Fekgretdinov.

“We were horrified to discover how frequently children are committing suicide in Russia," says Bigg, who has been covering Russia for five years. "We had no idea that what seemed like an isolated and horrific tragedy would turn out to be part of a larger trend."
The Russian press is 'more accustomed to writing about Putin, politics, and issus other than the ills of society.

The article and accompanying video paint a moving picture of the suffering of parents and the lackluster effort by the Russian government to investigate the problem. Official statistics report just a few hundred childhood suicides in 2009, but psychologists told RFE that the number could be as high as 3,000. Bigg says the discrepancy is likely explained by the fact that suicides of children under age 14 are deemed classified.
Russia-- Said Fehretdinov's suicide note, undated

“I found it very shocking that some of the people we talked to just sort of shrugged their shoulders and said, ‘It’s sad, but it happens,’” says Bigg. "Local media does periodically report on such incidents, but with little insight as to their causes."

Kirilenko says the Russian press is "more accustomed to writing about Putin, politics, and issues other than the ills of society."

"When I was a ten-year old in Russia, a boy in my class leapt to his death from the eight floor of my school," she says. "It was shocking. In this article, I wanted people to be aware of the problem and understand that even children can suffer from severe depression. They should always know they have an outlet for their feelings or someone to talk to."

There is no easy explanation for the high suicide rate. But Bigg and Kirilenko agree that part of the problem is the absence of institutional assistance. With a small number of after-school programs, few social outlets, and limited access to psychological counseling, Russian youth find themselves increasingly isolated from the world around them.

--Will Storey

Tags:Russia, children, suicide

O'Rourke Discusses Virtues, Limits Of Humor At RFE/RL

O'Rourke at RFE/RL broadcast headquarters in Prague

Humorist and American political commentator P.J. O'Rourke understands the power a few laughs can have in breaking divisions between people and subverting entrenched authority.

"Humor humanize people. Humanizing people is an extremely valuable thing to do," the acclaimed author told a recent gathering of RFE/RL's Prague staff. "Humor can rob tyrants of their dignity, and dignity in the form of self-importance is one of their most important tools."

"I know for a fact that in Iran, there are people telling jokes that make the Revolutionary Guard and all their pals look very foolish. That's a very small part of undercutting autocracy and oppression. It just happens to be the only part that I know how to do," he told an audience of RFE/RL editors and journalists.
The information that you communicate is the essence, the soul, of the attitude of liberty -- the feeling of being free.
His message was of special relevance for journalists at RFE/RL's Iranian broadcast service, Radio Farda, which recently introduced a biting satirical show (Pas Farda, or "The Day after Tomorrow") that mocks the Islamic Republic's ruling elites and pushes the limits of political talk in Iran. The host of the show, Farshid Manafi, previously produced a similar program on Iranian radio that was shut down by government authorities four years ago. Today, he broadcasts his humorous take on the foibles of officials in Tehran with relative impunity.

While satire is capable of delivering this sort of social commentary, O'Rourke was quick to stress that humor more generally is a vital means of creating empathy among people. Discussing his own experience as a foreign correspondent in Beirut, he said that he often used jokes to soften and humanize his subject matter. "One of the things I was doing, whether I meant to do it or not," O'Rourke said, "was showing that these people are humans just like us. And that we should not regard them as aliens...The moment that you turn them into human beings, even if you're just kidding them, you've made a mental step that's very important to any cosmopolitanism."

For all his skill with satire, O'Rourke emphasized that playing for laughs can be a limited tool, especially in underdeveloped parts of the world. "When you're dealing with fundamental ignorance of the world, you have to start small. You have to start convincing people that the world is comprehensible, that they can trust their own senses," O'Rourke said. "Humor isn't the first thing I'd pull out of the toolbox. The first thing is to let people know that they can trust their senses, that they can trust their reason, that they can think things through on their own."

O'Rourke also brought some words of praise for Radio Free Europe. "What you do is more simple and complex than promoting democracy. You are communicating. You are giving information to the world; to some of the least free places in the world. The information that you communicate is the essence, the soul, of the attitude of liberty -- the feeling of being free. Now, people must feel free of political and economical pressure, of course; but first, they must feel free of ignorance."

Be sure to watch and read O'Rourke's interview with RFE's Luke Allnutt.

-- Charles Dameron 

Tags:Radio Farda, Service Sketches

RFE/RL At 60: From Balloon Drops To Web Proxies

Last summer, RFE/RL's client software was critical in enabling Iranians to access Twitter and other sites.

WASHINGTON, DC -- Sixty years ago, Radio Free Europe (RFE) took to dropping balloons into Communist-occupied Eastern Europe as one of its many creative ways of dodging the censors. These days, RFE/RL's methods of penetrating closed societies feature more high-tech tools - proxy servers and client software, for example - as authoritarian regimes do their best to prevent citizens from receiving news and information from the outside world.

From 1951 to 1956, RFE used leaflet drops from high-altitude balloons to reach isloated populations behind the Iron Curtain in Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Hungary. The leaflets were meant to augment RFE's radio coverage of the news; the balloons carried essays about developments in the Soviet bloc, copies of antitotalitarian literature like George Orwell's Animal Farm, and pamphlets calling for workers' rights.
We were confident that the free world had not forgotten us.

Launching balloons at the West German border.
For people who had access only to a limited supply of news and information -- regime news services, Communist publications from other countries, and scattered foreign radio broadcasts -- the moral support provided by the balloons was indispensable. A history of the organization written by former RFE/RL head Arch Puddington, Broadcasting Freedom, contains a telling anecdote about the balloons from a former Czech dissident:

"I was sitting with three friends in a restaurant. All of a sudden, one of them, a railroad employee, handed me something under the table. I felt some paper in my hand, which I slipped into my pocket. After a while, I went to the restroom and locked myself in. I took the paper out of my pocket...One after the other, friends disappeared into the restroom to read the leaflets [that were dropped by the RFE balloons].... They left deep impressions on our minds. We were enthusiastic and confident that the free world had not forgotten us."

Of course, Eastern Bloc regimes went to great lengths to crack down on such instances of independent thinking. Czechoslovakia sent a spy into West Germany to destroy one of the balloon launch sites (his mission ended in failure when he was caught prowling around the area). The Communist government in Prague went so far as to deploy anti-aircraft guns and MiG fighter jets to shoot down the balloons.
RFE/RL has been a central figure in the fight for free information in Iran.

Though RFE's methods have changed, its essential mission has not, nor has the mission of autocratic governments around the world. The cat and mouse game continues, this time with new tools: satellite signals, web encryptions and firewalls. The issue is particularly severe in Iran, where authorities have gone to great lengths to shut down the flow of information over the protests of foreign governments and international organizations. In order to ensure that populations in Iran and elsewhere have secure access to accurate information, RFE/RL's Persian Service, Radio Farda sends out a daily blast email to thousands of listeners with URL addresses for proxy websites (which allows Iranian Internet users to circumvent the censors). Radio Farda also broadcasts those addresses over the radio, and distributes client software such as Freegate and Psiphon, which provide permanent proxy links for internet users.


Those tools became especially critical last summer, when, in the wake of Iran's disputed election, proxy sites - many of them fed by RFE/RL - kept Iranians connected to websites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Traffic from RFE/RL's client software spiked, and the organization rushed to manage the increase. Since then, Iranians have used up so much of RFE/RL's bandwidth that the organization has been forced to limit its proxy access to several critical news sources and social media outlets. RFE/RL - together with human rights NGOs and Iranian activists in the diaspora - has been a central figure in the fight for free information in Iran.


An Iranian censor's message.

Like Czech dissidents who hung their hopes on the signs carried from the free world by balloon, Iranians today have come to count on the technical and moral assistance provided from the outside, which allows them to access a far wider array of information than that which was carried by balloons in the 1950s. And, though it gets the most press, it's not just in Iran that RFE/RL's modern balloon campaign yields dividends: it makes client software like Freegate and Psiphon available throughout the RFE/RL broadcast region, where active Internet censorship in nations like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan prevents people from getting accurate and reliable news and information.

-- Charles Dameron

Tags:Radio Farda, history, events, Cold War Chronicles

Esfandiari, Petrossians Talk New Media in Iran

RFE/RL's Fred Petrossians (second from left) and Golnaz Esfandiari (center) joined bloggers at the US Institute of Peace (8Jul2010)

When it comes to new forms of social media online, "activists are always one step ahead of the government." So said RFE/RL's senior correspondent, Golnaz Esfandiari, who participated in a Thursday discussion at the US Institute of Peace on the impact of new media on political conflict. Esfandiari and Radio Farda's online editor Fred Petrossians shared their expertise on the impact of tools like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube on Iranian politics. Yet, while bloggers and other web-savvy dissenters may be turning the Iranian regime in knots, Esfandiari and Petrossians emphasized that their ability to effect real change is still very limited.
Many Iranian agitators on Twitter are exiles based abroad, well removed from the bullets and clubs of the Basij militia.

Twitter received an avalanche of attention during the protests of last year's Green Revolution across Iran's cities. But, as Esfandiari noted at USIP - and in a recent "Foreign Policy" essay - much of this publicity was pure hype. Not only are there just a relative handful of active tweeters inside Iran, but most of these commentators are focused on apolitical topics such as "their social lives, poetry, and jokes." Many Iranian political agitators on Twitter, Esfandiari said, are exiles in Europe or North America who are well removed from the bullets and clubs of the pro-regime Basij militia.

"People on Twitter were actually misleading the public about what was happening on the streets in Iran," she said, "People outside the country were telling those inside to go out and get killed."

And not all social media outlets are created equal. Petrossians and Esfandiari pointed out that Facebook has emerged as a growing and powerful tool in the hands of ordinary Iranians, and is used by a wider cross-section of Iranian society. Indeed, in advance of last June's elections, according to Petrossians, the Iranian government opened access to social media like Facebook with the expectation that conservative bloggers and activists would dominate the space. Instead, Esfandiari reported, Iranians turned to discussion threads on Facebook as a means of exchanging information about the election and its violent aftermath. Presidential candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi continues to employ his Facebook page as a vital means of communication with Iran's internet uers.

Petrossians and Esfandiari were joined by a gaggle of other international bloggers - Mialy Andriamananjara, Raed Jarrar, Onnik Krikorian, and Naseem Tarawnah - in addition to headliners Marc Lynch, Ethan Zuckerman, and State Department advisor Alec Ross. Ross's own Twitter account (288,000 followers) created a media frenzy recently in Syria, when he and fellow State media guru Jared Cohen tweeted their way through cake eating competitions and frappucino runs. Lynch, Zuckerman and Ross discussed a new report released by the USIP (but not yet available online) on "New Media in Contentious Politics." The results of the report? Not surprisingly, there are still "major obstacles" to quantifying the political impact of social media outlets.

Appropriately enough, USIP kept a running Twitter feed of the conference, which you can view here. Also worth checking out? The tweets of RFE/RL's Ladan Nekoomaram.

--Charles Dameron

Tags:events, Radio Farda

Jeffrey Gedmin Discusses Afghanistan & Pakistan At The New America Foundation

RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin discusses his recent trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan at The New America Foundation, June 24, 2010

RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin discussed his recent trips to Pakistan and Afghanistan in an event titled, "Af-Pak Diary: Notes from Islamabad and Kabul" at the New America Foundation. Gedmin shared his observations on U.S. policy in the region, RFE/RL's broadcasting in the countries, and the importance of promoting press freedom, tolerance and pluralism in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The event was moderated by Steve Clemons, Director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation and publisher of The Washington Note (view a photogallery).

Watch the event:

While in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Gedmin met with religious leaders, intellectuals, and and politicians - including Afghan President Hamid Karzai. His takeaway from the visits was that, despite pervasive corruption and poverty and a constant threat of terrorism, "both Afghanistan and Pakistan have a decent constituency for moderate political thought, for pluralism, and a political culture that promotes and defends tolerance." To support this constituency, Gedmin noted, the U.S. needs "a robust, comprehensive strategy that supports civil society" in the region
both Afghanistan and Pakistan have a decent constituency for moderate political thought

Gedmin said that he had seen widespread anti-Americanism in Pakistan and described the expansive political power of the military in the country as both "an essential part of the solution and essential part of the problem."

Gedmin also announced a joint RFE/RL-ISAF initiative that will see some 20,000 solar-powered radios delivered to rural areas of Afghanistan in time for the country's Fall parliamentary elections.

You can see an archive of the proceedings - 140 characters at a time - on RFE/RL's Twitter feed.

Tags:events, Radio Mashaal, Radio Azadi

To Russia With Love

The above image used in a 1970 Radio Free Europe print advertisement, with the caption, 'He needs a mind of his own.'

The "umbrella murder" was Cold War intrigue at its most dramatic.

In 1978, RFE/RL and BBC Bulgarian broadcaster Georgi Markov was surreptitiously stabbed in the leg by an umbrella’s poison pellet, courtesy of the KGB and Bulgarian secret police. Markov, a dissident writer living in exile, had long been a thorn in the side of Bulgarian dictator Todor Zhivkov, and his fierce and influential criticism of the Bulgarian regime was broadcast deep into Bulgaria with the aid of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Markov died from ricin poisoning three days after he was poked in the leg at a London bus stop, and the event became Cold War legend.

Oleg Kalugin, a former KGB general who was linked with the killing, came face-to-face Tuesday night with the story of the Markov assassination as he sat in the audience of the U.S. premiere of the film.
In a bizarre moment of historical revivification, Oleg Kalugin, a former KGB general who was linked with the killing, came face-to-face last Tuesday night with the story of the Markov assassination as he sat in the audience of the U.S. premiere of the film, To Russia with Love: The Great Radio War. The movie, by the late independent German documentary filmmaker Christian Bauer, was screened at the Goethe Institute in Washington, D.C. last week, and Kalugin, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1995, offered pointers after the show on how America might improve its overseas information programs. (Kalugin currently works in Washington as a counterintelligence consultant).

Bauer first got involved with the project at the suggestion of a former RFE/RL staffer in Germany, but began his research with a considerable amount of skepticism. According to former RFE/RL president Ross Johnson, Bauer grew up with a distaste for RFE/RL’s early CIA affiliations. But, after reading the testimony of former dissidents writings crediting the radios as invaluable sources of truth during Eastern Europe’s darkest periods of state oppression, Bauer gained respect for RFE/RL. Bauer passed away last year at the age of 61 after suffering a sudden heart attack.

Former RFE/RL presidents Johnson and Kevin Klose shared their respective experiences at the company and fielded questions and comments from the audience. Klose credited the film with giving a fair-minded account of the news organization’s history, and emphasized RFE/RL’s ongoing role in bringing free media to closed societies. During the Cold War, RFE/RL was a critical tool in “bearing witness to oppression,” he said. “It is doing the same work today.”

The following 1955 PSA by a young Ronald Reagan was also featured prominently in the film. For more Cold War-era video clips from Radio Free Europe, check out our collection here.

-- Charles Dameron


Radio Farda Top 10

The back cover of the most recent album by Iranian singer Googoosh. RFE/RL's Radio Farda recently sponsored a concert by the popular singer.

Last fall, RFE/RL’s Persian-language service Radio Farda launched "Top 10," a monthly music program featuring new music being produced in Iran and throughout the Iranian diaspora worldwide.

We talked to Radio Farda's chief music producer Payam Razi about the "Top 10" from May and take a look at this month's program. June marks the one year anniversary of the protests that broke out in Iran following controversial presidential elections.

(Click here for a previous chat we had with Payam about Iranian underground music).


What's the basic concept of the show?

The idea is simple: each month, our music team selects 10 songs, and these songs are aired daily. Our listeners then vote for their favorite song by e-mail or text message. At the end of each month we present the winners in a special program. Before the Revolution, Iranian public radio had similar programs, but now this kind of show no longer exists on Iranian radio as far as I am aware.

How do you select the songs each month?

New music is being produced all the time, inside Iran as well as by Iranian artists around the world. We also receive a number of songs composed by mostly young Iranian underground artists each month. This generation of musicians faces a number of obstacles in Iran, from not having access to proper studios and equipment to not passing the governmental and official filters and censorship. Our radio can be an outlet for such artists.

From all this material, we select 10 songs based on various criteria: lyrics, music, the song's message, and so on. Especially in the current situation, a lot of the music that's being produced is very political. We're careful not to play anything that is overly aggressive or even inciting.

Who won in May?

Our listeners chose the song "Donyaye in roozaye man" (My World These Days) by the legendary Iranian singer Dariush - he has been one the most popular singers for the last 40 years.

The song "Rain" by Googoosh - another musical legend - was the runner-up. By the way, Radio Farda sponsored a Googoosh concert a few weeks ago in Dubai .

In third place was a song by Mehdi Moghaddam, a very talented young singer who lives in Iran and has become very popular during the last few years. His song is called "Loneliness."

On a related note, we recently held a separate song contest for "Best Song Of The Year" to mark the Persian New Year (Noruz). The winner of that competion was Dariush with the song "Khoon Bazi." The lyrics are very much related to the post-election events.

What's planned for this month's Top 10?

As you know, this month marks the first anniversary of the presidential election in Iran which caused public protest and demonstrations last year. Many human rights activists, students, politicians and artists were arrested and some were unfortunately killed in the demonstrations.

Those sad days were very inspiring for Iranian artists and musicians, and many songs have been composed related to what happened after the election in Iran. So we have decided to select the best 10 songs under the name of "songs of protest" and let our audience chose their favorites.

The most important one to mention is a song by the Iranian maestro Mohammad Reza Shajarian called "Zabane Atash" (The Language Of Fire). Another one is by Abjeez called "Bia" (Come). Finally, I would like to point out a very popular song by an anonymous singer who goes by the name of "Mazdosht" and the song is called "Nedaye Sohrab" (a combination of names of two victims of the protests).

-- Julian Knapp

Tags:Radio Farda, Service Sketches

Audio 'What Did June 12, 2010 Tell Us About Iran?'

In a conference call with policy makers and journalists, three of RFE/RL's leading Iran experts discussed the political situation in the country one year after the disputed re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Golnaz Esfandiari, Robert Tait, and Mehrdad Mirdamadi analyzed the state of Iran's opposition Green Movement, various splits within the establishment, and the politics of the country's religious leadership in the 45 minute question and answer session.

Listen to the call (read the transcript):

Robert Tait, former Tehran Correspondent for "The Guardian" newspaper before his expulsion from Iran in 2005, expressed his surprise that any demonstrations took place at
The government's police and security forces took this demonstration more seriously than the opposition.
all, noting the presence of more than 50,000 police and militia in the streets of Tehran. Mehrdad Mirdamadi agreed, pointing out that the overwhelming show of force by the regime showed that "the government's police and security forces took this demonstration more seriously than the opposition."

Golnaz Esfandiari noted that government officials had closed the late Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri's offices in Qom on the heels of a visit to the religious center by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini. Mirdamadi saw Khomeini's visit as an attempt "to put an end to any kind of blunt criticism coming from Qom."

Stay tuned to the RFE/RL website for updates on Iran, and for information on future conference calls and events with RFE/RL experts.

Tags:events, Radio Farda

Video Gedmin: Authoritarian Regimes Employing 'An Army Of People' To Silence Dissent

RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin was recently interviewed by James Glassman for his program Ideas In Action, which is broadcast on PBS television affiliates across the U.S.

The episode, "How The Internet Is Changing Dissent", also featured interviews with Freedom House's Christopher Walker, founder David Keyes, in addition to several other prominent writers and activists. Gedmin spoke about RFE/RL's experiences in a number of countries, including Iran, Russia, and Central Asia.

"What's happening to us in Iran is the same thing that's happening to the so-called Green Movement. The government of Iran is pretty good at social media too," Gedmin told Glassman. "They surveil, they infiltrate, they block, they jam...they do everything to rob us and the democrats in the country of that competitive advantage, and they're fairly successful."

Gedmin also described the shrewd strategy of the Russian government in countering political dissent: "I think the strategy of the Russian government is that we'll give people everything they want -- except debate about political freedom. If you're interested in cars, in fashion, in all sorts of consumer goods, you can find and access that, but when it comes to political debate and discussion, the Russians want to pollute the landscape, misinform, or discourage it."

"I think its safe to say that the more severe the authoritarian, the more hostile the reactions," Gedmin said in response to a question about various governments' reactions to RFE/RL. "There are some governments in Central Asia, and Iran in particular, where they're simply hostile and will threaten or arrest people who cooperate or work for us."

"I've met Iranian dissidents in the Middle East who say, 'We no longer know where to go, where the rally takes place,' or they say, 'We were going to go on Thursday, but we saw through friends on a Facebook page that at the square where the rally was going to take place, there were snipers prepositioned on the roofs.' Well guess what, Thursday comes and there are no snipers, and the best guess is that the Iranian secret police put that out, and voila -- they've been able to disband a rally before the protesters even gathered at the square that day."

"If you look globally, the three countries that are most sophisticated [at silencing dissent] are Iran, Russia, and China," said Gedmin. "Those three countries are employing an army of people who are well-trained, who are well-financed, and who are highly motivated in blocking, infiltrating, and surveilling. They're playing the social media game from the other side."

Tags:Videos!, Jeff Gedmin, Radio Farda, Russian Service, Off The Air

'Women In Shroud' Wins Cinema For Peace 'Award For Justice'

Women In Shroud

"Women In Shroud," a documentary co-produced by RFE/RL Radio Farda broadcaster Mohammad Reza Kazemi, was recognized in February with the Cinema For Peace Award for Justice for promoting humanity through film.

Shot in Tehran, the film focuses on the sometimes arbitrary and subjective nature of the Iranian judicial system and the sentencing policies towards women believed to be guilty of adulterous behavior. "Women in Shroud" highlights the efforts of several women's rights activists and a volunteer lawyer who try to appeal and overturn the death sentences of women who were accused, often without adequate proof, of adultery and sentenced to the death penalty by public stoning.

When asked why he decided to work on this film Kazemi said, "The work of the women activists seemed to me to be very important for the democratization of the whole country. It shows that the Iranian society thinks totally differently than the government. It shows that the young people who grew up in the Islamic Republic and were subject to propaganda in the last 30 years have not accepted the values conveyed by the regime through the educational system and media."

"Women in Shroud" was one of a handful of films judged by a jury of 12, including RAI International's Paolo Balzarro. Established in 2002, The Cinema for Peace organization aims "to promote peace and international understanding through the medium of film." It holds its annual award ceremony during the Berlin International Film Festival.

Check out more from Radio Farda in Farsi or English.

-- Taylor Smoot

Tags:Videos!, Radio Farda, RFE/RL Hearts The Arts, OH SNAP!, Kudos

Meenapal, Bayriev Win 2010 David Burke Award

RFE/RL President Jeff Gedmin (second from left) accepts RFE/RL's David Burke Awards with BBG members.

Radio Free Afghanistan's Dawa Khan Meenapal and Ashyrkuli Bayriev of RFE/RL's Turkmen Service have been honored with the distinguished 2010 David Burke Journalism Award from the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).

Dawa Khan Meenapal's David Burke Award
Named after former BBG Chairman David Burke, the award is given annually to journalists from the BBG's broadcasting services who demonstrate courage, integrity and originality in reporting, and the dedication to the advancement of freedom and democracy through free exchange of ideas.
Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Dawa Khan Meenapal reports from Kandahar, one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Meenapal was kidnapped and released by the Taliban in 2008, but continues to report from Afghanistan.

Meenapal reacted to the his receiving the Burke Award with humility and gratitude, telling his colleagues, "I am deeply honored and pleased to recivive this award. I want to thank RFE/RL for their continued support of my work. The environment is very difficult, however I am committed to continue my important work."

RFE/RL's other Burke Award winner, Turkmen Service correspondent Ashyrkuli Bayriev, reports  from Turkmenistan under constant threat and surveillance.
Askyrkuli Bayriev's David Burke Award

Bayriev responded to winning the award by praising his colleagues, saying, "I am very happy for the recognition of my modest work by the Broadcasting Board of Governors. I believe this award is also the recognition of the work of my colleagues in Turkmenistan who do their jobs in extreme situations." 

RFE/RL President Jeff Gedmin praised the work of both Meenapal and Bayriev saying. "We are honored and proud to have such dedicated and hard-working colleagues. It's important to remember that the conditions in which these journalists work and the lives that their audiences live in can be extremely dangerous. Keeping this perspective will help us remember how important and necessary their work is."  

For Additional information on the other 2010 David Burke award winners see the official BBG Press Release.

Check out RFE/RL's Afghan and Turkmen Services on the web.

-- Taylor Smoot

Tags:Kudos, Turkmen Service

Jeff Gedmin Talks To Tajik TV Station 'SMT'

RFE/RL President Jeff Gedmin recently sat down with independent Tajik TV station SMT to discuss RFE/RL's evolving mission and presence in Central Asia as a surrogate broadcaster.

Boasting some of the most popular radio stations in the region, Gedmin told the station that RFE/RL's role is as vital as it was during the Cold War. "We're doing the same kind of work that we did before," says Gedmin. In the absence of independent or well established media, "we provide a free flow of information, debate, and responsible discussion."

"Radio stations do not have the ability to change governments," He says. "In Tajikistan for example, we can provide a source of accurate reliable information, but if we do our job well, we can provide a model of professional journalistic standards for other media outlets as well."

Watch highlights from the Interview here:
RFE/RL President Gedmin Tajik Interview i
|| 0:00:00
May 10, 2010
President Gedmin discusses RFE/RL's evolving mission and presence in Central Asia with the Tajik news editor of "Millot Weekly"

Rather than provide opportunity for pro-American politics, this goal supports the underlying assumption that, "when free people are free to choose, they will choose decent accountable government over dictatorship virtually every time."

- Elizabeth Ganshert and Taylor Smoot

Tags:Tajik Service

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service Director Recalls May Day Protest

Kyrgyz Communists hold protest rally marking May Day in Bishkek, 1 May 2010.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service director Tyntchtykbek Tchoroev reflects on his involvement in a key anti-Communist rally held on May 1, 1990 in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyz marked the 1st of May, Labor Day, in different ways. While the local Communists celebrated the international day of workers' unity, I remembered this day for a different reason -- as the twentieth anniversary of the anti-Communist rally held in Bishkek on May 1, 1990.

I was one of the organizers of that rally, which was intended as an alternative demonstration against the Communist regime in Kyrgyzstan. At the time, I was a 31 year-old teacher and one of the leaders of the Association of Young Historians of Kyrgyzstan, a non-governmental organization. The main political organization in charge of the rally was an underground political movement known as "Asaba" (Flag).

The rally was the first signal to the establishment that a movement against the one-party Communist system existed. Common opposition practices today, like holding a press conference or publishing an article in a newspaper, were virtually unknown at that time.
If the Kyrgyz youth had not been active twenty years ago, the social and political life of Kyrgyzstan would likely be much more similar to some of Kyrgyzstan’s authoritarian neighbors today

Secretly, members of the Asaba movement and their supporters collected money and prepared banners with slogans demanding democracy in Kyrgyzstan.

The 1st of May was designated as the day of the pro-Kremlin rally, so workers, students and intellectuals were instructed to march through the Central "Ala-Too" Square. Our plan was to follow the formally accepted rally with our own, carrying banners with democratization slogans. In order to attract people's attention, we prepared blue flags and banners. Blue was regarded as the color of the historically independent medieval Kyrgyz Khanate, which ruled in South Siberia during the 6th-12th centuries.

The day started wonderfully -- it was sunny and warm. As our group, made up of young students, workers, teachers and engineers moved towards the centre of the city, some residents of the capital watched us with wonder -- and suspicion -- but others joined us.

Less than a kilometer from the main square we were stopped by a police squad. Abdybek Sutalinov, the police commander, called his superiors for permission to allow us to continue our march or to disperse the unarmed protesters by force. The rally participants demanded that they be allowed to proceed after the Communists' columns. The tension was palpable.

After a standoff that lasted for more than an hour, the police finally opened the way for our blue-bannered columns.

We learned afterwards that the order to allow us to proceed was given by Feliks Kulov, then head of the Bishkek city police. (Kulov also indirectly supported the protesters during the anti-Communist hunger strike in October 1990 by not arresting its participants.)

I was amazed to learn that the bulk of the democratic protesters in Kyrgyzstan this April were young people, born on the eve of the Soviet Union's collapse or afterwards. The May 1, 1990 rally was also organized mostly by youths.

If the Kyrgyz youth had not been active twenty years ago, the social and political life of Kyrgyzstan would likely be much more similar to some of Kyrgyzstan’s authoritarian neighbors today.

--Tyntchtykbek Tchoroev is the director of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service.

Tags:Kyrgyz Service, history

'Fresh Mozzarella On The Bagel Sandwich'

RFE/RL's Irina Lagunina discusses the challenges of covering human rights in Russia with visiting students at RFE/RL's Prague headquarters, May 6, 2010

Fresh mozzarella was just one of the highlights mentioned from a Colgate University student who visited RFE/RL's new headquarters in Prague to spend "A Day With RFE/RL", as part of a new initiative which offers visitors a rare peek behind the scenes at RFE/RL.

The students, with their professor Dr. Barry Shain, had a day devoted to "hands on" journalism at RFE/RL. The program, tailored to the students' political science studies, included a tour of RFE/RL headquarters, central newsroom and broadcast studios; a master class with Irina Lagunina from RFE/RL's Russia Service on the challenges of covering democracy and human rights issues; and a
Students discuss youth involvement in politics.
discussion with Akbar Ayazi, RFE/RL's Associate Director of Broadcasting, who oversees programming in Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, and Iraq.

The group attended the editorial meeting which student Kathryn Esteves especially enjoyed because "it illustrated the steps taken to develop story ideas." Her classmate, Mary Beth Spencer, found "the opportunity to sit in on the editorial meeting very informative and cool -- it was nice to see the organization at work."

Participants in "A Day With RFE/RL" are able to catch a behind-the-scenes glimpse into RFE/RL's broadcast countries, which include challenging reporting
The opportunity to sit in on the editorial meeting was very informative and cool.
environments such as Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, and Russia. The program includes Q&A sessions with our international journalists on a wide range of issues, tailored to fit the interests of the group. As one student from Colgate wrote in his evaluation, "I learned a lot about Russia and it was very, very nice to learn about current events there and new development that you wouldn't see in a textbook."

"A Day With RFE/RL" is available to student and professional groups in the fields of media, communication, radio/TV production, political science, and international relations. We offer group visits in English, Czech, and Russian. The program is free of charge and lunch includes, but is not limited to, fresh mozzarella cheese on bagel sandwiches. In addition to Colgate University, the College of International & Public Relations in Prague, Masaryk University in Brno (CZ), Palackeho University in Olomouc (CZ), and the University of New York in Prague have taken part in "A Day With RFE/RL" - to glowing reviews.

To book a visit with RFE/RL or for more information about the program, please contact Larisa Balanovskaya on +420 221 123 325 or via e-mail:

--K. Bjorklund

Tags:visits, RFE/RL HQ

Christiane Amanpour Honors Fallen Colleagues on World Press Freedom Day

An exhibit on fallen journalists on display at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. to mark World Press Freedom Day, May 3, 2010.

In the past year, 88 journalists around the world lost their lives on the job. Many of them were working in high-risk areas like Mexico, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Philippines.  As the world marks World Press Freedom Day today, Christiane Amanpour presided over a ceremony at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. to honor her fallen colleagues.

"We must shine a light in the darkest corners of the world," she said. "Without these courageous journalists, some of the biggest catastrophes of the world would never have been told."
We have to report without fear.

The Newseum features the names of more than 2,000 journalists killed in the line of duty over the past 172 years on a glass wall. This year, for the first time, a blogger was added to the memorial. Omidreza Mirsayafi, a 28 year-old blogger from Iran, died in Evin prison after being charged with insulting Iran's leaders.

Amanpour said she began noticing that journalists were targets in war zones while she covered the Bosnian War. Despite the growing risks, however, she urged journalists to continue reporting from the scene rather than relying on new media platforms and aggregate news services.
Christiane Amanpour is interviewed by RFE/RL's Ladan Nekoomaram at the Newseum in Washington D.C., May 3, 2010.

"It's almost unimaginable to think what our world would be like if these journalists - out of their deep belief in what they're doing - simply did not go out to cover the events of the day," she said.

According to Frank Smyth from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), more reporters have been murdered deliberately in the past year than ever before. He said it has become easy in some countries to silence dissenters without fear of repercussion.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Amanpour said, "It shows that this dangerous trend continues and once you’re out there putting a stake down for truth, there are people who don’t want to hear it.”

 "And whether you're a blogger, camera person, or reporter, this is becoming an increasingly dangerous profession. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't keep doing it. We have to report without fear."

To see the list of journalists on display at the memorial, visit the Newseum's site

--Ladan Nekoomaram

Tags:Journalists In Trouble, events

Radio Farda Teams With Heinrich-Böll Foundation

RFE/RL Radio Farda correspondent Hossein Aryan and Online Editor Fred Petrossians were featured panelists at an event in Prague titled "How to Deal with Iran?" sponsored by the Association for International Affairs and the Heinrich-Böll Foundation.

Petrossians and Aryan looked at the current political situation in Iran in a discussion titled "The Aftermath of the Election: Iran in Turmoil."

They were joined by Shadi Sadr, a lawyer and women's rights defender from Tehran who previously worked at a now-closed legal advice center for women and Massoumeh Torfeh, a research associate at School of Oriental and African Studies in London, a columnist for "The Guardian," and former BBC journalist. The panel was chaired by Marc Berthold of Heinrich-Boll Foundation in Berlin.
The regime is primarily concerned with domestic security and not so much outside pressures

Radio Farda's Aryan (read his profile of the Green Movement) gave an overview of the conservative and reformist camps in Iran while detailing the structure of the security forces within the government from the police force to the Basij and Revolutionary Guards. "The regime is primarily concerned with domestic security and not so much outside pressures," said Aryan.

The panelists also discussed the current status of the Green Movement, with Aryan sharing his view that without organization, the movement risks failing in its quest for successful and meaningful change. "In spite of what it has done, it doesn't have the structure or a charismatic leader. [The Green Movement] doesn't know where it is going," he said.

Aryan predicted that the regime will remain relatively intact, adding "I hope I'm wrong."

Fred Petrossians discussed the technology fueling the Green Movement, pointing out the essential role played by websites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. "These sites were all unblocked three months before the election," he said.

The extraordinary use of social networking has provided new and innovative methods of revolution, but also problems.

"Like in other areas of social networking, it cannot be substituted for full organization; social networking is not the gatekeeper, someone will have to emerge as a leader in order for the revolution to advance." Petrossians added.

For more on Iran, check out RFE/RL's Radio Farda online. Also see Fred Petrossians award winning online project - OR318: Remembering Omid Reza

- Taylor Smoot

Tags:Radio Farda, events

Jeffrey Gedmin Interviews Georgian President

RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin interviews Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili at the Milken Institute Global Conference (April 27, 2010). Click the image above to play the video clip.

RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin interviewed Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili about the business climate in Georgia in a forum titled "Poverty Is Not Destiny: A Conversation With Mikheil Saakashvili, President of Georgia". The event was part of the Milken Institute's Global Conference 2010, an annual international conference of business, political, and intellectual leaders in Los Angeles.

The discussion explored Georgia's ongoing business and political reforms which, according to recent rankings from the World Bank, have succeeded in creating a far more business and investment-friendly environment in the country. (watch the discussion)

Tags:events, Videos!

'Who Says The Newspaper Is Dead?'

Readers of "Fərqli düşüncə" show off their copies of the newspaper in Baku, Azerbaijan.

"A year ago people were worried that losing our FM radio frequency would be a big problem. But we're working around it," says Kenan Aliyev, the director of RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service Radio Azadliq. He waves a copy of "Fərqli düşüncə", a newspaper that's being distributed weekly in Azerbaijan's capital Baku and around the country. "Who says the newspaper is dead? It's not!"
"When you don't have access to free airwaves, you have to go back to the old traditional way."

In January 2009, The Azeri government banned all international broadcasters, including RFE/RL, VOA, and BBC, from the national airwaves. This posed a challenge to Kenan and his colleagues: "Our listeners were used to listen to us on FM radio. When the frequency was shut down, many of them lost touch with our station," he says. "So we had the idea to get our content published in a locally produced newspaper."

Fərqli düşüncə being distributed in Baku, Azerbaijan
Fərqli düşüncə, which translates as "think differently" (Radio Azadliq's main slogan), is a joint project between Radio Azadliq, the local branch of the international NGO IREX, and a local publishing house. Since December last year, 10,000 copies of the paper are being distributed weekly in Baku and regionally.

"Our main goal is to get our content to the people. And in certain places, when you don't have access to free airwaves, you have to go back to the old traditional way. The paper allows us to work around the radio ban, and it's a great way to promote our short wave and satellite radio frequencies as well as our website."

The Internet is developing fast in Azerbaijan. Facebook recently announced that they have 140,000 members in the country. "10,000 of them are fans of Azadliq," says Kenan, "and our website had over 1,000,000 page views for the first time in January. This newspaper has helped us a great deal in making people aware of our online content."
Radio Azadliq director Kenan Aliyev with a copy of Fərqli düşüncə at the RFE/RL headquarters in Prague

Among the most popular pages on is "Korrupsiyametr" ("Corruption Meter"), a page dedicated to raising awareness about corruption and transparency issues (click here for a video of an Azeri traffic policeman seemingly taking a bribe).

Also popular is "Oxu Zali" ("The Reading Room"), a new page devoted to literature. "There is no real place for writers to discuss literature and to get published. We give them a platform for free expression," explains Kenan.

"At the end of the day, we'll always find ways to reach our listeners and readers. The most important thing is that our information is trusted. That's our biggest advantage."

-- Julian Knapp

Tags:Azerbaijani Service, Dictators Will Be Dictators, Service Sketches, Off The Air

Video Last Chance to Catch 'Voices From Afghanistan' at Library of Congress

The entrance to the "Voices From Afghanistan" exhibit at The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

The "Voices From Afghanistan" exhibit at the Library of Congress showcasing the letters RFE/RL's Radio Azadi receives from its Afghan listeners will be coming to a close on May 8, 2010. The popular exhibit has been seen by thousands of visitors and has generated extraordinary media attention, including this  feature report on the BBC World Service [listen], this story and video on the PBS Newshour [watch], and this full-page column in The Washington Post.

Watch this video tour of the exhibit along with highlights from the opening celebration:

Inside Look: Video Tour of VFA Exhibiti
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April 26, 2010
A behind the scenes video tour of "Voices from Afghanistan" exhibit, plus excerpts from the opening ceremony.

The opening celebration also included traditional Afghan music performed by RFE/RL's Haroon Bacha, a well-known Pashtun pop singer. Watch:

Haroon Bacha Live Performance at VFA Ceremonyi
|| 0:00:00
April 23, 2010
Haroon Bacha performs traditional Afghan music at Voices from Afghanistan opening ceremony.

"Voices from Afghanistan" is free and open to the public Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Library of Congress's Thomas Jefferson Building in Washington D.C.    

-- Comms Team

Tags:events, Radio Azadi

'Democracy Isn't Just A Tweet Away' - Gedmin In 'USA Today'

In a column for "USA Today", RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin writes about the limits of social networking technology in bringing about revolutions, and warns that advances in digital technology have also afforded authoritarian regimes new ways of monitoring and silencing dissent.

This article is adapted from a speech Mr. Gedmin delivered at a conference co-sponsored by the George W. Bush Institute and Freedom House on Cyber Dissent and Democracy. (Listen to the speech)

Democracy Isn't Just a Tweet Away

Jeffrey Gedmin | USA Today

April 23, 2010

Social media — texting, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube — have been transforming the way we think about many things, especially political power and protest. Enthusiasts speak of Twitter revolutions. Small countries have had these: Moldova in 2009, Kyrgyzstan this year. Is Iran or perhaps China next? You cannot stop the people anymore, says the conventional wisdom.

Well, not so fast.

It's true that authoritarians can no longer maintain a monopoly on information. Social media are empowering large segments of society like never before. "Fence-sitters" are emboldened by friends and like-minded souls to join social movements and political protests. But our thinking about social media and democracy movements needs a reset.

For starters, let's not get carried away by the hype. Iran is a case in point. We celebrated the early success of the Green Movement and marveled how young Iranians were able to stand up to the regime with the help of social media. When government forces murdered a young woman named Neda last summer, graphic amateur videos posted to Facebook and YouTube spread virally, shocked the world and seemed to galvanize the Iranian people. So what happened?

Battlefield dominance

The Green Movement hasn't disappeared. It's still there. But the regime achieved battlefield dominance in the technosphere over the past year. Iranian authorities have used a range of technologies to block, surveil and infiltrate social media. One young Iranian I met in February in a neighboring Middle East country told me he and his friends were having a hard time getting accurate and reliable information about when and where to go for Green Movement protests. Pro-democracy advocates were intimidated from joining key rallies last fall when warnings were tweeted and posted to Facebook about snipers pre-positioned on the roofs of buildings. The rumors turned out to be false. Through disinformation, it seems, Iranian intelligence services were able to disband demonstrations before protesters ever arrived on the scene. Brute force has played its role, too. Thousands have been arrested. It's the regime's technological edge, though, that has likely made the critical difference in hindering the Green Movement's progress.

Other heavy-handed governments are catching on, too. Countries like Russia and China have been standing up well-trained, handsomely financed cyber militias. Tyrants, it turns out, like Twitter, too. Innovative cyber dissidents will eventually sort this, perhaps with a technological assist from the United States.

But there's a bigger problem than states engaging dissidents on the social media battlefield. This has to do with understanding the limits of the technology. Twitter (or its next variant) will continue to bring protesters to the town hall square. Protesters may even succeed in toppling corrupt, autocratic regimes. But Twitter won't tell the opposition how to govern, how to develop democratic institutions or how to inculcate and defend the values, habits and behaviors that belong to democracy. These things require an immense amount of intellectual, conceptual and political work. And patience. This is especially so in countries that have little or no experience in democracy.

For instance, on a recent trip to Afghanistan, the leader of a mosque in Kabul told me he rejects Taliban rule and wants his country to be a democracy. He conceded at the same time, though, that it's difficult to know exactly how democratic institutions should look in an Afghan context. He's right, of course. Afghanistan is a tribal, largely illiterate society. American or European models cannot be simply transposed.

What next for Iran?

In the case of Iran, if the regime were to fall, then what? How would religious factions and secular elements reconcile? How would a more liberal, pluralistic post-mullah Iran balance forces of modernity and tradition? Such questions are anything but academic. If sanctions against Iran fail and we are faced with the prospect of nuclear weapons in the hands of this current regime, don't be surprised if the United States opts for a policy of robust support for the democratically minded opposition.

Don't be surprised either if some of the utopianism about social media starts to fade. That's not a bad thing, but rather a call to action. Promoting democracy is an American interest, and the U.S. needs to make adequate resources available to match the commitments made by authoritarians. The private sector must hold up its end of the bargain, too. Google's new approach to China is encouraging. We need patience and, above all, must assure that we're as long on substance as we are on the gadgetry.

Tags:Kudos, Reading List

RFE/RL Journalist Publishes Paper On Taliban

NAF Swat Valley report

Daud Khattak, a broadcaster with RFE/RL's Pakistani service, Radio Mashaal, recently released a policy paper for the New America Foundation analyzing the ongoing battle between Taliban militants and Pakistani security forces for control of the Swat Valley in northwestern Pakistan.

"Although Swat is known as the Switzerland of Asia because of its scenic beauty...Talibanization in Swat brought destruction to the otherwise peaceful area," Khattak writes. "Hundreds of people--anti-Taliban and bystanders--were gunned down, beheaded, kidnapped, or expelled from their homes."

Khattak's paper, "The Battle For Pakistan: Militancy and Conflict in the Swat Valley", was released as part of the New America Foundation’s Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative series. [download the full PDF (3.5MB)] The Battle For Pakistan project features a number of policy papers, analyzing the trends of militant activity and effectiveness of counterterrorism initiatives in each of Pakistan’s tribal regions.

The project was officially launched by the New America Foundation at an event in Washington, D.C. on April 19.

-- Alex Mayer

Tags:Reading List, Radio Mashaal

RFE/RL's Esfandiari Moderates Forum On Iranian Blogosphere

RFE/RL's Golnaz Esfandiari moderates a forum about the Iranian blogosphere at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., April 12, 2010.

RFE/RL Senior Correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari served as online moderator on a discussion held in Washington, D.C. regarding the state of new media in Iran and the Iranian blogosphere.

The discussion, "Iran’s Blogosphere and Grassroots Voices," [watch the event] was presented by the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the George Washington University Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication. Among the panelists were Azar Nafisi (author of "Reading Lolita in Tehran") Executive Director of Global Voices Ivan Sigal, Executive Editor of VOA Persian News Network Hida Fouladvand, and Mohamed Abdel Dayem, Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Finally, those voices and those images that have been forced underground for so many years have burst and blossomed on the Internet and on television screens.

During the discussion, Esfandiari highlighted various blogs websites written by Iranians, including the blog of an Iranian former vice president who writes from prison and the website of Kouhyar Goudarzi, who is reportedly facing the death penalty.

Bloggers have also been calling on each other to write about Iranians behind bars who don’t receive media attention in Iran or internationally.

"This just shows how bloggers are using this new media," Esfandiari said. "They are publicizing the cases of prisoners that nobody knows about…It’s very powerful."

Nafisi, the keynote speaker, said online journalism has flourished in the past year despite the government’s attempt to stop news from spreading.

"Finally, those voices and those images that have been forced underground for so many years have burst and blossomed on the Internet and on television screens," she said. 

The presentation featured a series of political cartoons by Nikahang Kowsar, a popular Iranian cartoonist who went to jail for his depiction of "Professor Crocodile" that criticized a prominent Islamic cleric. He said many Iranian journalists have turned into citizen journalists in exile. "We know that we’ll be crucified in the future, but we love it," he said.

Esfandiari also pointed to an article in Global Voices by Hamid Tehrani, who said the use of social media like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube has helped "immortalize" the movement for younger generations. "However, the cornerstone of this movement is not technology – it’s the people," writes Tehrani.

Nafisi told the audience not to feel sorry for the people of Iran, but rather join with them in the spread of information.

"They have taken responsibility for their lives and they have refused to be victims. What you need to do is to support their voices and to add your voice to them and to communicate to them."

-- Ladan Nekoomaram

Tags:events, Radio Farda, Journalists In Trouble

Audio Belarusian Music With Meaning

Belarus -- Radio Svaboda Director Alexander Lukashuk performs an original song at the Minsk Palace of Arts.

For the past two years, Night Liberty, a popular show on RFE/RL's Belarusian Service (known locally as Radio Svaboda) has been signing off each night with a new, original song composed by one of many local troubadours. Through music, these artists tell personal stories about Belarus' tumultuous past and describe their hopes for the future. 
What we've been doing every night for the past two years - giving new artists a chance to feature their work - is nothing short of phenomenal.



Last week, Minsk's prestigious Palace of Arts hosted a special live performance of these songs, 50 of which are currently available on a new compilation DVD called "Bards on Liberty." [Listen to all of the songs]

So far, about 100 musicians - including Radio Svaboda Director Alexander Lukashuk - have had their works played on Night Liberty.  Lukashuk, who performed a rap-style song [listen here] at the Palace of Arts, calls the project "a fantastic reaffirmation of the strength of the Belarusian language, culture, and future." Part of his song has been translated into English:

A Chorus of Bards

For them, something is missing

Radio doesn't entertain, television is boring, movies no fun, the internet beginning to stall

Yet, they won't give in, after all, they still have words

And with those words, they weave poetry about themselves and their friends,

About the quest for their dreams, about choice and elections, about blood on the pavement

Yet these poems are not meant for publication

So they pick up their guitars

And it makes no difference whether there's an audience of two or two thousand,

Whether they're singing in a field or on a hilltop 

Their days and nights are complete as long as they have their guitars

Short waves are not meant for arias

They sing ballads and songs, romances and rap, chansons and folk tunes - but not odes 

And with these, they become bards of liberty

Their music comes from the language

Every week and every year, they go into the studio and begin to the strum their chords

Without censors, without conductors

And with them is born a chorus of bards of liberty

"Night Liberty provides these local Belarusian artists with an uncensored platform to “strum their chords,” says Lukashuk. "People have been writing and singing their own songs in Belarus for decades, but what we've been doing every night for the past two years - giving new artists a chance to feature their work - is nothing short of phenomenal."

"Bards on Liberty" is Radio Svaboda's fourth multimedia production. The previous three were devoted to the works of renowned Belarusian writer Vasil Bykau.

--Elizabeth Ganshert

Tags:RFE/RL Hearts The Arts, Service Sketches, Belarus Service

Going Off-Mic with a Farda Regular

Radio Farda contributor Azadeh Kian-Thiebaut, teaching at the University of Paris –Diderot. Photo by Javier Franco for RFE/RL.

It is probably no surprise to Iranian listeners to learn that Dr. Azadeh Kian-Thiébaut is one of the world's most distinguished researchers on gender, ethnicity, and identity in Iran. The Paris-based sociology professor, who frequently contributes to Radio Farda, says her "day job" at the University of Paris - Diderot is spent studying how modernity affects vulnerable groups such as ethnic minorities and women in her native country.
"On Radio Farda, I know I will be listened to."

Like many Iranian ex-pats, Kian’s life prior to 1980 was a period of doubt. The university purges following the revolution forced Kian to flee Tehran in order to continue studying political science and sociology. She took a bus to Istanbul, managed to avoid the looming Iraqi invasion, and eventually settled with family in Paris. Four years later and with a political science degree in hand, she went to UCLA and earned a Ph.D. in sociology and political history. In Southern California, Kian first became aware of Radio Farda as she began to closely follow the societal changes taking place inside the Islamic Republic.

On Farda today, Azadeh provides regular insight into social and political trends in Iran. Commenting on the effect of globalization, she states that, “modernity has brought better access to education and foreign influence, though it altered the way of life for at risk groups, changing expectations and fragmenting identities.” The contrasting agendas of the Green Movement and the Government intensify the complexities of this issue and create an “uncertain future for reform.”

"Since the protests began last year, I am now unwelcome inside the country, so I rely heavily on Farda as a news source," she says. "And I'm grateful for the opportunity to contribute to its programs because the station is followed closely inside and out of the country - I share my thoughts because I know that I will be listened to."

-- Elizabeth Ganshert

Tags:Radio Farda, People Profiles

RFE/RL's New Vaclav Havel Conference Room

Havel chaired the first editorial meeting at RFE/RL's new headquarters.

One year after he chaired the first official editorial meeting in its new headquarters, RFE/RL has named its main conference center after former Czech President Vaclav Havel. Havel's "thank you" note [Click here for pdf] reads:

"I am really glad that RFE/RL resides in our country and that it relocated to the new building and can spread its mission of liberty into many countries from Prague. I have always been a great admirer of its broadcasting. I am touched that the conference room where I met with RFE/RL`s management and journalists on the occasion of the new building’s opening will bear my name."

-- Vaclav Havel

A long-time friend of RFE/RL, Havel was instrumental in bringing the radios from Munich to Prague in 1995, charging the Radios 1 Czech Krown (roughly a nickel in today's money) to rent the former communist parliament building in downtown Prague.

-- Taylor Smoot


RFE/RL At The 'One World' Film Festival

The Official Poster of the One World Film Festival

RFE/RL Georgian Service correspondent Salome Asatiani, a long-time film critic in her native Georgia, took part in a post-screening discussion at the One World International Film Festival, which was was held from March 10 through the 18th in Prague, Czech Republic.

Salome took part in a post-screening discussion of "The Leader is Always Right" (watch the trailer in Georgian), a film by Salome Jashi about nationalistic youth summer
I was really thrilled, and really flattered that they offered me this position in the festival. It was a great experience.
camps financed and run by the Georgian government, and Andrei Nekrasov's "Russian Lessons," (watch a clip) a stirring documentary about both the 2008 Russia-Georgia War and the struggles in Abkhazia throughout the 1990s.

The discussion mainly focused on Nekrasov's film, which had garnered significant attention in the run up to the festival. Salome shared her view - echoed by many members of the capacity crowd - that "watching the film ['Russian Lessons'] was one of the most difficult experiences" she had ever had with a film.

"It's a very heavy, heavy film," Salome says. "It's impossible not to be haunted by the images, especially in the last 30 minutes of the film."

As the panel concluded, the discussion continued with the microphones off, with patrons peppering Salome with questions on what the reaction would be should the film ever be shown in Russia, and Georgia's political relationship with the West.
Salome Asatiani (second from right) discussing the films with the crowd in Prague (photo by Lubomir Kotek)

For her part, Salome says that she enjoyed the experience and was flattered to be asked to discuss such important films in such a high-profile venue. A former lecturer and teacher, she had participated in many festivals in Georgia, but never in Prague where she lives and works now.

"This was new to me, speaking in front of a Czech audience about Georgia in this important film festival," she says. "I was really thrilled, and really flattered that they offered me this position in the festival. It was a great experience."

The One World Film Festival is currently on tour throughout the Czech Republic, and will be held in Brussels from April 12-19.

-- Taylor Smoot

Tags:RFE/RL Hearts The Arts, Georgian Service

'You Wrote Nasty Things About Putin'

Julia Ioffe, freelance journalist and occasional writer of 'nasty' things

Last week, RFE/RL Russia Service contributor Julia Ioffe was scheduled to interview Vladimir Churov, head of the Russian Central Elections Committee, on the show “Face to Face” along with Victor Hamraev from the Russian daily Kommersant. The topic of the show was the key regional elections that were
It's definitely flattering for a journalist to be so hated, but I was disappointed that I wouldn't get to interview Churov.
held the weekend before, a topic Julia had covered in an article for "Foreign Policy".

The morning of the show, she received a text from the show’s producer, stating: “Julia, unfortunately, everything’s changed. Churov, it turns out, knows you well from your publications and really doesn’t like you.” Apparently, Churov’s press person called RFE/RL and, with Churov audibly grumbling in the background, chewed out the show’s producer because Julia had written “nasty things about Putin.” The producer, to his credit, refused to replace her with someone friendlier and instead canceled the show.

When I asked her what it was like to be held in such high esteem by Russia's election officials, Julia responded: "It's definitely flattering for a journalist to be so hated, but I was disappointed that I wouldn't get to interview Churov. I was really looking forward to asking him why he came into the office in overall hunting fatigues the week before the election."

You can read her account of the experience on her 'Moscow Diaries' site.

-- K. Bjorklund

Tags:Russian Service, OH SNAP!, Dictators Will Be Dictators

'Voices from Afghanistan' Visitors Discuss Exhibit

Mary Jane Deeb of the Library of Congress describes 'Voices from Afghanistan' with RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin (right) and Michael Novak

It's been nearly a month since RFE/RL's "Voices from Afghanistan" exhibit opened at the Library of Congress, and Kim Curry, who led the effort to put it together, is pleased with the results.

"This exhibit is unique in that we assembled it in less than three months," she said, citing Librarian of Congress James Billington's enthusiasm for the project as the reason for the short timetable.

"The Library has been collecting materials from this part of the world for hundreds of years," she said. "The main thing we hoped to accomplish with this exhibit is to show that the fan mail RFE/RL's Afghan service (Radio Azadi) receives are part of a centuries-long tradition of letter and scroll writing. They help us kind of bring our collections up to date."

We went to the Library to collect some comments from people as they exited the exhibit:
Visitors read and discuss the letters to Radio Azadi

Patricia Sullivan, a tourist from Atlanta, found in the letters a reason for optimism. "I was especially pleased to hear that the people are writing, that they're engaging -- mostly the young people," she said. But the exhibit also reminded her of the tough questions still to be addressed in Afghanistan: "My question is: Is America really coordinating and are we really following through? Or are we merely doing a military presence and maybe not communicating correctly to help and address the people's needs?" [Listen to her full remarks]

Emily Cohen, who was visiting the Library with a tour group from Rochester, N.Y., was impressed by the artistic qualities of the letters. She was particularly amazed that such young people can write in such elaborate styles. "I think it's cool to see faces and names, and letters and stories from things that you hear about on the news," she said. [full remarks]

A man visiting from the Netherlands, but originally from Nepal, said he was not surprised at all that Afghans use RFE/RL's Radio Azadi as a way to make their voices heard. Ratna Pandit said the exhibit reminds him of what it was like in his country
I think it's cool to see faces and names, and letters and stories from things that you hear about on the news.
during Nepal's decade-long civil war that began in 1996. "During the war and during troubled times...the only way of finding or getting information is by radio or newspaper, and [the exhibit] shows all this," he said. "Especially remote places, there's no other means of information." [full remarks]

For her part, the Library of Congress' Curry finds the courage of the Afghan letter-writers inspiring: "I made the assumption they were living with war around them, and that war reached into every part of their lives - the terror and the fear. But no, these letters show that they try to put order and meaning in their lives. They also show that they try to put beauty and culture into their lives." [full remarks]

"Voices from Afghanistan" is on display at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., through May 2010.

--Abby Holekamp

Tags:events, Radio Azadi

RFE/RL's Dragan Štavljanin Receives Critical Acclaim

Dragan Štavljanin promotes 'Cold Peace: Caucasus and Kosovo'.

Dragan Štavljanin, a broadcaster with RFE/RL's Balkan Service, is receiving critical acclaim for his new book "Cold Peace: Caucasus and Kosovo", published by RFE/RL's Radio Slobodna Evropa. The book is drawing enormous attention in the region with dozens of interviews, reviews, and presentations in Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro. Neven Kazazovic, one of the region’s leading military and security experts, applauded it in Sarajevo: “It’s a brilliant text, kind of an event in itself. There are just a few books of this quality and they can be counted on the fingers of one hand.”

Check out this short video to see the recognition Dragan gained on his book tour in the Balkans:

Dragan Stavljanin Receives Critical Acclaimi
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March 08, 2010

Two leading newspapers, Serbia's "Today" and Montenegro's "Victory", ran extensive excerpts from the book which examines the motivation behind the Russian intervention in Georgia, its recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, and the ramifications of those actions in international relations. It explains the background to the so-called frozen conflicts, their significance for regional and international stability, and identifies possible scenarios for the future: is a new cold war looming?  

Dragan and Nenad Pejic discuss the book in Sarajevo.
The book sheds light on the international context in which the war in Georgia occurred and draws parallels between Kosovo and the Caucasus, such as whether Kosovo's independence constitutes a precedent under international law or a unique case. Finally, the book focuses on the use of energy as a political tool.

When asked about the experience of writing such an extensive book on a subject while it was still occurring on an international stage, Dragan recalled, "I was in the situation without having any historical distance because I wrote about current events and processes -- even though they were still unfolding while I wrote the book. So, I had to update certain parts several times because of pending events and processes which were very unpredictable. I was also under time pressure to complete the book as soon as possible because the prospect of a new Russian intervention in Georgia in the summer of 2009 loomed."

Cedomir Cupic, a professor of sociology and anthropology at Belgrade University commended Dragan’s work: “This book is extremely important for us because there is material not researched and studied before.”

Dragan joined RFE/RL in 1994 as a correspondent in Belgrade, later serving as Chief Editor of RFE/RL’s Serbia and Montenegro Program. Prior to joining RFE/RL, he worked for several radio and TV stations in Serbia and prominent Serbian newspapers. He also wrote for the Prague based journal "Transitions". Dragan has interviewed numerous international politicians and experts on Balkan issues and provided analysis on the possible wider effects of Kosovar Independence. This is his first book.

-- K. Bjorklund

Tags:Videos!, Balkan Service, RFE/RL Hearts The Arts, Kudos

'Balay, Radio Azadi!': Call-In Show Gives Voice To Ordinary Afghans

Radio Azadi's call-in show "On The Waves Of Liberty" receives hundreds of calls from Afghan listeners each week.

RFE/RL's Afghan Service, known locally as Radio Azadi, is the most popular radio station in Afghanistan, broadcasting in Dari and Pashto to nearly 8 million listeners weekly. Every Thursday, Radio Azadi's Jan Alekozai and Zarif Nazar host a live 2-hour call-in show, "On The Waves of Liberty," which brings together experts, high-ranking government officials, and the Afghan public for what is usually a spirited discussion on the country's current affairs.

Check out the short video below for a behind-the-scenes look at the making of "On The Waves Of Liberty":

The show gives a unique space for its diverse audience to discuss and debate a wide range of topics ranging from national security, nation-building, the rule of law, women's issues and human rights. "On the Waves of Liberty" is extremely popular -- during the show, the lines are constantly busy as hundreds of listeners attempt to call in.

Zarif Nazar, one of the hosts of Radio Azadi's "On The Waves Of Liberty" call-in show.
Since the first broadcast in 2003, "On the Waves of Liberty" has brought important subjects such as property rights, woman's rights, corruption, and governance into the spotlight of Afghan discussion, and helped educate citizens about peaceful ways to influence their government's domestic policies.

Radio remains the most important ways for Afghans to receive information in their war-torn country, as roughly 70% of Afghanistan's population is illiterate and close to 90% have no constant source of electricity - much less a television or a computer.

Often listeners will call the show and tell the hosts of an emergency, such as an avalanche or a domestic dispute and the show, being the first to hear of the information, will relay the information to the government.

Jan Alekozai and Zarif Nazar hope to someday see the show evolve, adding an interactive television show to reach an even broader audience.

"On The Waves of Liberty" has been such a successful means of communication that according to his official spokesman, Afghan President Hamid Karzai regularly listens in and receives the written transcript of the show, closely monitoring the suggestions and opinions of its audience. Similar praise has been been echoed by many senior Afghan government officials and ministers.

Inside one of RFE/RL's Prague studio during the live broadcast of "On The Waves Of Liberty."
Alekozai and Nazar say that the show has "gained the trust of the people" by ensuring that the audience knows that its hosts are not biased by any political agenda or affiliation.

"On The Waves of Liberty" is meant to be a listening post, giving ordinary citizens of Afghanistan the chance to air their opinions and complaints, including many people who are anti-government or even Taliban sympathizers.

As long as the listeners who call in have something constructive to add to the conversation and are not attempting to use the station as a pulpit for a personal agenda or incitement to violence, the show's hosts do not restrict who can participate the discussion.

The show has regularly hosted high-ranking government officials such as Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Minster of Foreign Affairs and General Atiqullah Baryalai, Deputy minister of Defense as guests. Even U.S. Secretary of States Hillary Clinton once came into the studio to take questions submitted by Azadi listeners.

-- Taylor Smoot and Alex Mayer

Tags:Radio Azadi, Videos!, Service Sketches

'Voices From Afghanistan' Exhibit Opens At The Library Of Congress

A letter sent to Radio Azadi from a listener in Wardak Province, Afghanistan.

On display now in the Library of Congress's Thomas Jefferson building in Washington, D.C. is a multimedia exhibit displaying some of the thousands of hand-painted scrolls and letters received by Afghanistan's most popular radio station, RFE/RL's Radio Azadi. The exhibit - "Voices From Afghanistan" - offers a window into the daily lives of ordinary Afghans from various ethnic communities across all parts of the country.

[Click here to go to the exhibit home page; click on the image below  to see an interactive preview of the exhibit]                                               


And check out this amazing video of two Afghan boys who sent a 130-foot long letter to Radio Azadi from their small village outside of Kabul:

Voices From Afghanistani
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February 24, 2010

"Voices from Afghanistan" is free and open to the public Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Tags:Videos!, Radio Azadi, events

Video RFE/RL Hosts Ludmila Alekseeva to Discuss Russia's Extremism Law

Russian policemen arrest journalists covering a protest in Moscow, 15 Oct 2009

On February 4, RFE/RL welcomed long-time Russian human rights advocate Ludmila Alekseeva to its Washington, D.C. office to discuss Russia's "extremism law" and how it is being used by authorities to harass NGOs, journalists, and human rights groups.

Alekseeva was joined by a panel of experts in Washington along with Irina Langunina, a senior Russian RFE/RL journalist, via videoconference from Prague.

[A transcript of the briefing is available here.]

Alekseeva, who is chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group, noted that much of the criticism surrounding Russia's 2002 law to combat extremism stemmed from the legislation's vague wording. According to Alekseeva, key terms like "extremism," "terrorism," and "social groups" were never specifically defined in the law, giving Russian enforcement authorities broad latitude in determining which organizations, individuals, and activities were covered under the law.

In practice, Alekseeva said, the law has frequently been interpreted to include any criticism of government officials -- including content published on personal blogs and on the Internet, leading to prosecutions over what she called rather "ridiculous" incidents.

Convenient Cover: Russia's Extremism Law pt 1i
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February 04, 2010
A forum on Russia's extremism law as a tool of oppression, hosted by RFE/RL 4 Feb 2010

In Fall 2008, the Russian authorities created a special department (known as "Center Eh") specifically for the enforcement of the extremism law. Alekseeva explained that this department has interpreted the law's definition of "extremism" very broadly, and has monitored public organizations, human and civil rights groups, and religious minorities.

A frequent target of such activities are minority religious groups. For example, Alekseeva said that any Muslim who frequents a mosque that is not on the "white list" (list of state-approved mosques) is likely to be accused of extremist activities -- some have received 8 to 15-year prison sentences.

Alekseeva said that this persecution was due "not only to sheer incompetence" -- both by lawmakers and those who enforce the laws -- but also "a habit of Russian bureaucracy" which seeks to resolve any issue "not through analysis, persuasion, or consensus, but rather through coercion, intimidation, and repression."

RFE/RL's Irina Lagunina attempted to put the extremism law into the context of the Russian legal system. In addition to two other laws restricting political parties and NGOs, Lagunina said that the extremism law was part of a triumvurate of laws that worked to restrict freedom of speech and civic participation in Russia. Lagunina noted several notable examples of ways in which the law had been abused -- in one case, a blogger was prosecuted for a comment he had posted on his LiveJournal page which was harshly critical of Russian police; the authorities claimed that policemen were a "social group" protected under the law's prohibition on "incitement of hatred against any social group."

Convenient Cover: Russia's Extremism Law pt 2i
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February 04, 2010
A forum on Russia's extremism law as a tool of oppression, hosted by RFE/RL 4 Feb 2010

In another case, Lagunina explained how a newspaper had been sued after an anonymous reader had posted an incendiary comment about Muslims on one of their online articles. Even though the offensive comment was removed by the newspaper within two hours of its posting, the newspaper was still prosecuted for being a conduit of "incitement of hatred" against Muslims.

According to Langunina, RFE/RL's Radio Svoboda also felt the effects of this law after they ran an interview with Dokka Umarov, now the leader of the Chechen resistance. Russian authorities warned Radio Svoboda that if they ever broadcast Umarov's statements again they would be prosecuted -- under the extremism law, it is illegal to broadcast the messages or statements of any "terrorist groups." Authorities also demanded that Radio Svoboda hand over all tapes, notes, and data on the interview (they refused).

Alexander Verkhovsky, director of the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, reminded the audience that the law was "not all bad," and had been applied against legitimate targets as well. [Click here for SOVA's statistics of attacks by racist and neo-Nazi groups in Russia] The problem, Verkhovsky explained, was that the authorities used the same legal norms against both real extremist groups and human rights advocates.

Verkhovsky reiterated the problem of vague definitions in the law; protected "social groups" are very vaguely defined, meaning that Russian authorities can arbirtrarily decide who can be defined as "social group."

Convenient Cover: Russia's Extremism Law pt 3i
|| 0:00:00
February 04, 2010
A forum on Russia's extremism law as a tool of oppression, hosted by RFE/RL 4 Feb 2010

Ivan Pavlov, chairman of the Institute for Freedom and Development, spoke about one case in particular -- a raid on the offices of Memorial, a Russian human rights advocacy group. Pavlov explained how police had executed search warrant on the group's headquarters -- even though it turned out that the target of their criminal investigation was not Memorial or its members, but rather the editor of an extremist newspaper in St. Petersburg.

Asked to justify their search warrant, police alleged that the editor of the extremist newspaper had handed over the finished copy of an incendiary article to someone at Memorial. Curiously, however, no search warrant was issued for the offices of extremist newspaper itself, nor the editor's own home.

The police's evidence, it was revealed, was based on the report of a surveillance team, who claimed that someone matching the editor's description had been seen entering and leaving the Memorial offices -- despite the fact that there has never been any evidence of cooperation or coordination between Memorial and the extremist newspaper. However, it soon became clear that the target of the surveillance had not been the newspaper editor at all, but rather Memorial's headquarters, which had in fact been under surveillance for nearly a year.

Pavlov explained that this was indicative of the environment in which rights advocates found themselves in Russia today.

During the question and answer session, Lagunina also added that although few journalists had actually been imprisoned under the law, they were nevertheless victims of the repressive atmosphere it created. As a journalist in Russia, Lagunina said, "You are constantly intimidated and harrassed, and reminded that you are being watched. You have to be careful."

--Alex Mayer

Video Links:
Presentations (part 1)
Presentations (part 2)
Presentations (part 3)
Q and A (part 1)
Q and A (part 2)

Tags:Russian Service, events, Journalists In Trouble, Videos!

Radio Free Iraq Helps Iraqi Prisoners In Saudi Arabia

RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) has helped to repatriate dozens of Iraqi prisoners who had been held in Saudi prisons without access to legal or diplomatic counsel.

Iraqi prisoner Ahmad Huseini and three dozen fellow inmates in Saudi Arabia returned home last week after Radio Free Iraq investigated a series of phone calls coming from a Saudi jail and spread the word to families back home.

The Iraqi prisoners, who were detained in the desert somewhere near the unmarked border between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, smuggled in a cell phone and radio to listen to Radio Free Iraq. Huseini was among the men who placed the first phone calls, but RFI received calls from multiple phone numbers and prisons. Although concrete numbers cannot be determined, they told the radio station that up to 60 or 70 Iraqis were in Saudi prisons and had not received fair trial -- some were even sitting on death row with no access to the outside world.
Ahmad Huseini and three dozen fellow inmates in Saudi Arabia returned home last week after Radio Free Iraq investigated a series of phone calls coming from a Saudi jail

Radio Free Iraq director Sergei Danilochkin explained how the story unfolded over the course of nearly a year after the station received a series of calls from a mobile phone from men saying they were inmates in a Saudi jail. The calls discussed details of the prisoners' sentencing and their conditions. Radio Free Iraq returned the call.

"They reported several dozen people kept in various Saudi prisons," Danilochkin said. "Most of them were illegally detained for crossing the border, even though they weren't aware they had crossed the border."

Danilochkin also said that according to the callers, many of the Iraqi prisoners on death row were accused of serious crimes like murder and rape without any evidence. Instead, Saudi police simply blamed Iraqi prisoners for unsolved crimes committed by perpetrators the local police had failed to apprehend.

Many prisoners have faced trial -- though without being allowed any contact with Iraqi authorities, including the Iraqi consul in Saudi Arabia.

"They were put on trial with insufficient legal advice which means that some of them didn't have proper defense lawyers at the trial," Danilochkin explained. "Some of the cases were absolutely fabricated."

The imprisoned Iraqis told Radio Free Iraq that some Iraqis may have in fact broken Saudi laws. But the problem, Danilochkin said, was that they didn't have the chance to defend themselves, nor talk to Iraqi authorities for help.

When Radio Free Iraq got the story, they informed the Iraqi authorities. The Iraqi authorities told Radio Free Iraq that they were aware of the possibility of such cases, but had never heard any specific details about any arrests. It was then that the story broke and authorities stepped in.

"After we broadcast the phone calls, the relatives of men suspected to be in prisons rallied," Danilochkin said.

After a few months of back and forth conversations with the Iraqi Embassy in Saudi Arabia and Saudi Embassy in Iraq, the two governments started negotiating.

"We were not dealing with the issue of how Saudis were abusing human rights. We were simply asking whether Iraqis have a right to talk to their national country's authorities when caught by Saudis," he said.

Since the negotiations have started, the Saudis have agreed to release some of the prisoners on the condition that they serve their remaining time in Iraqi prisons.

Radio Free Iraq got a call on January 6 from the recently released prisoner's father, Karim Huseini, saying his son would come home the next day. Huseini said it was because Radio Free Iraq raised awareness of the issue.

Both governments are still negotiating the return of prisoners who have just started their terms, and men continue to wait on death row.

-- Ladan Nekoomaram

Tags:Radio Free Iraq, Service Sketches

My Friend, Roman

The late Roman Kupchinsky, former director of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service

The following is a tribute to the late Roman Kupchinsky, former director of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.

It was early fall, 1993, and I had just arrived in Munich, Germany, to start at my new position as acting director of the Armenian Service of Radio Liberty.

I had worked for the company for six years as an ordinary broadcaster in the New York bureau. Munich was something else. There were rumors and legends about how hard it would be to get things done as a supervisor and middle manager in need of higher-management support. Some colleagues advised me to meet with a few other service directors to solicit advice and guidance.

It was a nice sunny morning when I walked into a large office where I was to meet with the director of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. I found Roman Kupchinsky, a large and healthy-looking man in his late 40s, behind the desk talking to someone on the phone. I waited and looked around, as one usually does in such a situation. I noticed it was not a neat office. Papers, recording tapes, and pictures were everywhere. But that’s how the office of a chief editor should look like, I thought.

I introduced myself. He looked at me with a naughty smile and said, "Armenia? Is that a real country?" But there was no malice in the way he uttered these words. I felt it was pure humor and I replied, "Well, it is a smaller version of the Ukraine." He started laughing wholeheartedly and we both realized we would be friends for a long time.

Roman can best be described in terms of three of his greatest attributes: Humor, hard work, and humanism.

His sense of humor was legendary among friends and colleagues. But he was not your typical joke teller, who recycles what he hears. He had his own unique talent of instantaneous witty remarks and observations that sometimes one remembers for years.

I recall one particular editorial meeting in the late 1990s, when the director of a broadcast department went on and on about how messy things were in his country. Roman was smiling under his bushy mustache. Then, he opened the microphone and with a measured and serious voice said, "This is not a country, it is a goat farm." On another occasion, a high-ranking Ukrainian official had been found dead with multiple stab wounds. Roman described the case to his colleagues as follows: "Yes, the official version is that he committed suicide by stabbing himself eight times in the back."

Roman and I traveled to Beirut in September 2004 so he could research a thriller he was writing about a young terrorist from Lebanon (never completed). In his adventurous nature, he bugged me constantly to take him to the Hizballah neighborhoods. While we were driving in the southern suburbs of Beirut, his phone rang. A State Department official wanted to ask him questions about an article he had just published about corruption in the energy business. The official was shocked to hear that Roman was in Beirut. "Is it safe there?" he kept asking. Roman laughed and said, "Right now I am in Hizballah territory, riding on a white horse, fully armored in my crusader outfit. I am carrying a huge cross and urging the people to convert before it is too late."

Now that he has departed, I can reveal a little secret. Roman had his own occasional funny Samizdat publications at RFE/RL, which he sent out to less than 10 people perhaps. He used his sharp sense of humor to describe bureaucratic or silly trends and phenomena in the company, which sometimes became a little unbearable.

Here is a snippet of one of Roman's leaflets from 2006:
I am proud to announce that as of today, I have unexpectedly assumed the position of President of RFE/RL.

My first act will be to eliminate the rather pompous title “President of RFE/RL Inc.” My advisors suggested that I be called “Caudillo”, but I prefer something more modest, something which fits my shy, withdrawing and contemplative nature – so I chose the title of “Generalissimo.”

Henceforth, when an employee sees me in the corridors of power, he/she will bow and grovel.

The days of lewd anonymous essays which maligned our hard working and dedicated management team are over! Beware of the consequences of frivolous cynicism!

Furthermore, the 10:00 o’clock meeting will no longer be a ventriloquist show. We shall all take part in free discussions before I make the final benevolent decision.

As you might have heard, I have submitted an application to personally join NATO. Some of you do not appreciate the seriousness of this undertaking and what it means to the continued existence of RFE/RL... I’m not really sure that even I understand this, but it’s too late for that; the application is presently under review in Brussels.

As Roman charmed his colleagues and friends with his sense of humor, his diligent work ethic (buttressed by his impressive intellect) was also an integral part of his personality.

Through his untiring efforts, he was able to make the Ukrainian Service an important part of the country's post-Soviet media scene. He achieved this by putting together a cohesive team and by developing contacts in Ukraine, which gave him a solid network of sources and affiliate stations. At the same time, he did not shy away from investigative reporting, which often revealed the dark side of the country’s politics.

Certainly, Roman's long years of experience as an activist and investigator of human rights abuses helped him tremendously in his position as director of the service. But more than that, it was his dedication to the cause of building a better Ukraine.

His hardworking nature became even more evident after he left the Ukrainian Service at the age of 58. Usually at that age, an individual hangs on to a temporary position in the organization until he retires. But Roman did not take his analyst job as an entitlement. He reincarnated himself as a top expert in energy and corruption issues in former Soviet countries and went on to publish original investigative reports, one after another, bringing prestige to the organization he loved so much.

However, what was less evident perhaps to many people was Roman's humanism. Although his humor was not always politically correct, just below that surface he had a very soft heart that always beat for the weak, the underprivileged, and the underdog. For a man who for all of his adult life could be considered a foreign-policy hawk, Roman was more to the political left on social issues. He had a sharp instinct to see the weaknesses or errors of Western democracies, as much as he was dedicated to expose the corruption eating away at the fabric of newly independent countries. He was instinctively suspicious of all-powerful elites and big business. The recent economic crisis only strengthened his skepticism.

Everyone knew about Roman's heroic military record in Vietnam, but he rarely talked about it. Many times I had to pry open his mouth for small tidbits about his experiences. Then I realized why he was reluctant to talk about Vietnam -- he disliked wars having seen firsthand the suffering of soldiers and civilians in war zones.

I bid farewell to a brave soldier who started his adult life in Vietnam, but went on to fight for the freedom of his ancestral land and for the freedom of countless others suffering under the Soviet regime. Farewell, to a dedicated father, friend and colleague who belonged to the phalanx of a few who had a dream.

-- Mardiros Soghom

Tags:In Memoriam, Ukrainian Service

Roman Kupchinsky: Ukrainian Patriot, A Man Larger Than Life

Roman Kupchinsky, RFE/RL veteran, passed away this week at the age of 65 after a battle with cancer.

Roman Kupchinsky was not someone easily overlooked. A great shaggy bear of a man, habitually disheveled in appearance, he attracted notice for his air of casual relaxation under all circumstances.

His gruff, joke-laced approach was the same toward everybody, whether they were government ministers or young members of his own staff.

But his Falstaffian exterior hid a sharp mind that was acute at analyzing the broader implications of seemingly unrelated events in Ukraine, Russia, and across the East-West divide. Always close in spirit to his homeland, he made through his work a lasting contribution to Ukrainian independence.

He wrote with particular authority on endemic corruption in Ukraine and in the former Soviet Union, and on Russian and East European energy issues.
A great shaggy bear of a man, habitually disheveled in appearance, he attracted notice for his air of casual relaxation under all circumstances.

Kupchinsky died on January 19 in Washington, D.C., at the age of 65 after a battle with cancer.

In a letter of condolence, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said he was "deeply saddened" to hear the news of Kupchinsky's passing.

"A wonderful person has left us, a prominent journalist, a true Ukrainian patriot, who devoted his life to the service of his native land," Yushchenko said. "He did an awful lot for the development of independent Ukrainian journalism, tirelessly worked for the rebirth of Ukrainian statehood, the consolidation of democracy, and freedom of speech."

Mardo Soghom, now the deputy director of broadcast operations at RFE/RL, was a close associate of Kupchinsky.

"He made one of the biggest  impacts on his own country, in terms of exposing corruption, in terms of exposing political greed, in exposing all kinds of willful governance," Soghom said. "And he was very happy that he could do that, that he could do investigative reporting, and that he could tell the people what was really going on behind the scenes, within the political-economic corrupt elite."

The current director of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, Irena Chalupa, confirms Kupchinsky's impact on Ukraine. She recalls an investigation he carried out linking the head of the state gas trading company to a complicated web of corruption.

"Two weeks after these stories came out, the head of the gas agency resigned," Chalupa said. "And he even made reference to the 'winds of liberty' catching up with him."

The president of RFE/RL, Jeffrey Gedmin, paid tribute to Kupchinsky, saying he had faced his final battle with cancer with characteristic bravery, charm, and humor.

Indeed, Kupchinsky's sense of humor was legendary. Here he is at his last appearance in RFE/RL's Washington Bureau, only two months before his death, when he was able to obliquely joke about it:
"I had some very bad news last night. My application to join NATO was rejected. This is the fourth time that I've been rejected, and I begin to suspect there is some plot against me. At the same time, the World Bank has not responded to my request to open a checking account...This is very discouraging. Anyway, now that you're aware of my situation, I'm not suicidal over the NATO rejection. But I plan to fight that."

Former Radio Liberty Director S. Enders Wimbush recalls that when Kupchinsky applied for the job of director of the Ukrainian Service in 1989, he listed his special qualifications as, first, a "graduate of the Army Special Forces School" and, secondly, "wife is a child psychologist."

"We considered that the perfect resume," quipped Wimbush, and Kupchinsky was hired.

Kupchinsky was born in Vienna on November 1, 1944, and migrated to the United States with his refugee parents in 1949. After obtaining a degree in political science at Long Island University near New York, he saw U.S. Army service in the Vietnam War as a rifle platoon leader. He received a Purple Heart, the decoration for those wounded in battle.

He later spent a decade at the helm of a U.S.-based Ukrainian-language research institute, Prolog. In the 1970s, Kupchinsky became a leader of the Committee in Defense of Soviet Political Prisoners, garnering worldwide support for human rights activists held in labor camps.

From 1990 to 2002, he headed Radio Liberty's Ukrainian Service. He then became a senior analyst at RFE/RL, stepping down in 2008.

Kupchinsky is survived by his son Markian.

He lived in Arlington, Virginia, and will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery with military honors.

Below is video of a discussion with Roman Kupchinsky at RFE/RL, held in December 2009:

Discussion with Roman Kupchinsky -- December 2009 from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on Vimeo.

Tags:In Memoriam, Ukrainian Service, Jeff Gedmin

Freedom House: 2010 Report Shows Decline In Freedom For RFE/RL Broadcast Region

Chart showing changes in Freedom House's rankings for countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region between 2009 and 2010. (click image to enlarge)

In the latest installment of its "Freedom in the World" report released yesterday, the global rights watchdog Freedom House finds that declines in freedom around the world outweighed gains during 2009. (read the report / watch the discussion). You can also read a more in-depth summary and analysis of the new report by RFE/RL's Nikola Krastev here.

Of the countries within Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty's broadcast region, three are "Free," seven are "Partly Free" and ten are "Not Free." Six of these countries, concentrated in the Balkans, are considered electoral democracies. The Freedom House scale ranges from 1 (most free) to 8 (least free).  

This year’s findings particularly reflect the growing pressures on journalists and new media, restrictions on freedom of association, and repression aimed at civic activists engaged in promoting political reform and respect for human rights.

RFE/RL Country Highlights from the Report:

  • Montenegro: Became more free due to the successful organization of parliamentary elections in March, anti-corruption legislation, and overall stability in the country.
  • Serbia: Political rights improved from 3 to 2 due to the consolidation of a stable multi-party system after rounds of elections in the post-Milosevic period.
  • Ukraine: Ukraine is one of the new "Free" countries, with a score of 3 for political rights and 2 for civil liberties.

  • Armenia
  • Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • Georgia
  • Iraq: Improved due to free and competitive regional elections in early 2009 and an increase in the government’s autonomy.
  • Kosovo: Political rights improved from a 6 to a 5 and civil liberties from a 5 to a 4, moving it to “Partly Free” due to the November parliamentary elections—the first since the 2008 declaration of independence—moving Kosovo to "Partly Free".
  • Macedonia: Remained at 3 for both political rights and civil liberties, making it “Partly Free".
  • Moldova: Political rights improved due to parliamentary elections that resulted in a rotation of power between the Communist Party and a coalition of opposition parties.

  • Afghanistan: Political rights declined because of the recent presidential election that included massive fraud and lower voter turnout.
  • Azerbaijan
  • Belarus: Was among the lowest ranking amongst RFE/RL broadcast countries, with a score of 7 (out of a possible 8) for political freedom and 6 for civil liberties.
  • Iran
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kyrgyzstan: Their ratings declined due to a flawed presidential election, new legal restrictions on freedom of religion, and a stronger executive branch.
  • Russia: Faced a downward trend because of electoral abuses, decline in religious freedom controls over the presentation of history, and political terror against activists and journalists.
  • Tajikistan
  • Turkmenistan: Among the lowest ranking countries with 7 for political rights and civil liberties.
  • Uzbekistan: Also among the lowest ranking countries with 7 for both political rights and civil liberties.

Note:  North Caucasus and Tatar-Bashkir are regions within Russia and therefore were not included distinctively in this report.

Tags:Reading List

Prague Film School Students Profile RFE/RL

For a quick and powerful look at the dangers faced by RFE/RL's journalists, check out Freed Voices, a short, smartly-edited documentary about RFE/RL by Goran Rokolj and Karin Bleiweiss, two students at the Prague Film School. The documentary focuses on the significant threats, intimidation, and violence endured by many of RFE/RL's journalists.

Several RFE/RL employees are interviewed in the film, including David Kakabadze, director of RFE/RL's Georgian Service, Moyad Al-Haidari, a broadcaster for Radio Free Iraq (and former Baghdad bureau chief), Omid Marzban of our Afghan Service, Roya Karimi Majd from Radio Farda, Saida Kalkulova, a broadcaster with our Kazakh Service, Sabina Cabaravdic of the Balkan Service, and the Communication Department's very own Julian Knapp.

Radio Azadi's Omid Marzban also served as a production assistant for the film.
"I always loved watching films, but the idea of making films came to my mind when I realized that sometimes radio journalism is not enough to tell my stories to the world," said Omid. To attain these skills, Omid is currently pursuing a degree in Directing and Screenwriting at the Prague Film School. "I want to tell the stories that come from the core of Afghanistan and from inside the people of Afghanistan," he says. "And my aim is to play the role of a bridge in connecting Afghanistan with the world through these stories."

Freed Voices was filmed at RFE/RL's headquarters in Prague in October 2009, and was completed in December.

For more information on the perils encountered by RFE/RL's journalists, check out our Journalists In Trouble page.

-- Alex Mayer

Tags:RFE/RL Hearts The Arts, Cold War Chronicles, Videos!

Kyrgyz Service Wins Slew of Awards

Shailoobek Duisheev is presented with an award by the Kyrgyz veteran journalist Sulaiman Mambetaliev, 82, which the award is also named after.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz serviceRadio Azattyk, was the recipient of numerous awards at the end of 2009, collecting more than 12 honors from various newspapers, agencies, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The following is a sampling of some of the more prominent awards:


"Best Media Outlet in Kyrgystan in 2009"
Radio Azattyk received this award from Nazar ("View"), an independent Kyrgyz newspaper, for its "outstanding, unbiased, and relentless coverage of events in Kyrgyzstan."

"Best Human Rights Activist Of the Year"
Jarkyn Temirbaeva, a Bishkek-based stringer for Radio Azattyk, received this award from Kyrgyz Rukhu ("Kyrgyz Spirit"), another independent Kyrgyz newspaper, for her reporting on human rights issues in Kyrgyzstan. Mrs. Temirbaeva was also among the winners of the human rights feature competition hosted by the Soros Foundation in Kyrgyzstan.

Government/official agency awards:

"Best Journalist of the Year"
Amanbek Japarov, a Bishkek staffer for Radio Azattyk, was given a "first degree" certificate by the Kyrgyz Ombudsman's office for his human rights reporting in 2009.

"Best Supporter Of Young Human Rights Activists 2009"
Eleonora Mambetshakirova, a young Radio Azattyk journalist, was given this award by the Council for Protection of Youth and Students' Rights, under the Kyrgyz Ombudsman's office.  

"Best Journalist of 2009"
Janarbek Akaev, a 23-year-old correspondent for Radio Azattyk in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, received this award from the Osh Regional Administration for his "outstanding" youth-oriented radio features in 2009.


"Best Coverage of Contemporary Kyrgyz Society"
Awarded to Radio Azattyk by Eco-garmoniya Zhenshshin ("Women's Environmental Harmony Foundation"), a Kyrgyz NGO.

"The Clattering Sound of Spiritual Movement" (Best Arts Discovery of 2009)
This peculiarly-named award was given by the Zamandash ("Contemporary") Association to Shailoobek Duisheev, a Bishkek-based correspondent for Radio Azattyk and a renowned contemporary Kyrgyz poet, for his new version of the 500,000-line Kyrgyz epic poem entitled "Manas."  Duisheev also received an award named after the Kyrgyz veteran journalist Sulaiman Mambetaliev, 82 (pictured above).

--Alex Mayer

Tags:Kyrgyz Service, Kudos


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