Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Havel’s Last Letter To Belarusian Jailed Activists

Three days before Vaclav Havel passed away, he penned a letter of encouragement to eight Belarusian political prisoners (named below).

A gift to RFE/RL’s Belarusian Service, Radio Svaboda, the letter is a testament to the cease-less support and advocacy for human rights -- especially in Belarus -- for which Havel was known.

Though he never got the opportunity to send the letters to the Belarusian political prisoners, on the day of his death, December 18th, Radio Svaboda broadcast his words on the Belarusian airwaves.

The letter: 

                                                                                      Hrádeček 15. prosince 2011

Milý příteli,

rád bych Vás srdečně pozdravil na prahu nového roku a popřál Vám i Vašim blízkým, aby byl lepší než ten odcházející. Solidarizuji se s Vašimi postoji a budu i v budoucnu využívat všech příležitostí, abych spolu se svými přáteli upozorňoval mezinárodní společenství na porušování základních občanských práv v Bělorusku.

Přeji Vám vše dobré a svobodu Vaší zemi.


Andrei Sannikau
Mikola Statkevich
Mikalaj Autukhovich
Zmicer Bandarenka
Ales Bialiatsky
Zmicer Dashkevich
Eduard Lobau
Paval Seviarynets

                                                                                    Hrádeček 15.December 2011

Dear friend,

I would like to warmly welcome you to the threshold of the new year and to wish you and your families a year which would be better than the previous one. I sympathize with your positions and in the future, my friends and I will use every opportunity to alert the international community of the human rights abuse in Belarus.

I wish you all the best and I wish for freedom in your country.


Tags:Vaclav Havel, Radio Svaboda

25-Year Old Kyrgyz Broadcaster Wins Regional Awards

RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service broadcaster Janarbek Akaev receives an award in Bishkek for "Best TV Presenter" in Kyrgyzstan before a crowd of 3000. (Photo courtesy of "Super-Info")

Janarbek Akaev just turned 25, but he's already earning plaudits from around Central Asia for his impressive work in broadcast journalism. On December 13, Akaev -- a television broadcaster for RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, Radio Azattyk -- was voted Kyrgyzstan’s best TV presenter for 2011.

The award came as part of a competition organized by a major Kyrgyz newspaper, which offered the public the chance to vote for its favorite broadcasters online. Akaev won the prize in front of a crowd of 3000 at a gala ceremony in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital.

“I was very nervous when I was receiving this award last night. I thanked organizers; it's not easy to talk in front of 3000 people sitting there,” Akaev said.

More impressive is the fact that this marks the second year in a row that Akaev has won the award: the Radio Azattyk broadcaster was recognized for his exceptional professionalism in 2010.

His impact is also being recognized around the region. On December 9, Akaev flew to Astana, Kazakhstan, to accept a “Eurasian Golden Pen” prize from Kazakhstan's Chief Editors' Club. The prize -- which included a $1000 check -- recognized his work on two TV programs highlighting the progress of police and government reforms in Georgia. During Friday’s ceremony, the speaker mentioned that the jury was impressed by Akaev’s series of international reports.

What is Akaev’s secret formula? He stresses that empathy with the audience is key. “We must be close to people. We have to feel what people want to see, what are their concerns and problems.”

Getting that sense of what people care about depends on a lot of legwork. “We went to all seven regions in Kyrgyzstan, we went to far remote villages and showed people's life there,” Akaev says. “Also, we went to Germany and the US and showed the Kyrgyz diaspora there.”

Akaev’s winning TV report on the Georgian police system saw Akaev embedding himself with police trainers, providing a fresh and entertaining perspective.

What’s driving Akaev, and is he getting tired of winning awards?  The young journalist who was just recognized as the best TV presenter in Kyrgyzstan has his eyes firmly set on public concerns. “I believe that journalists can change society in a better way,” Akaev says. 

-- Kristyna Dzmuranova

Tags:Kyrgyz Service

Uzbekistan's Rights Record: 'Atrocious On Every Level'

Steve Swerdlow of Human Rights Watch discusses the findings of a new report on torture in Uzbekistan with RFE/RL journalists in Prague.

When Obitkhoja O., a 17-year old Uzbek boy, was arrested in 2009 for alleged petty theft, he had little idea what kind of police interrogation he was in for. Officers handcuffed his wrists and ankles and tossed him around in the air; he was kicked repeatedly in the head while bound to a chair; and police tied a gas mask tightly around his head to induce asphyxiation.

The authorities eventually got the confession they were looking for from Obitkhoja. When his mother briefly got to see her son three days later, she said she “almost didn’t recognize him.”

Obitkhoja’s story is just one of many that appear in a groundbreaking new report from Human Rights Watch, “No One Left to Witness,” documenting the deterioration of basic rights in the secretive nation of Uzbekistan. The report is based on hundreds of first-hand interviews with Uzbek human rights activists, lawyers, and government officials. It paints a grim portrait of a regime in which brutal torture is routinely employed as a pre-trial detention procedure for both political prisoners and common criminals.

Aside from asphyxiation by gas mask and cellophane, documented Uzbek torture methods also extend to beatings with rubber truncheons and water filled bottles, electric shock, hanging by the wrists and ankles, and rape and sexual humiliation.

Steve Swerdlow, a researcher for Human Rights Watch and the author of the report, visited RFE/RL’s Prague offices December 9 to discuss the report’s findings. He says that torture has become a vehicle for advancement among members of the country’s security services.

“Torture is ubiquitous as a routine method for doing police work, for skirting the real police work that you should do when investigating a case. If you apply pressure physical or psychological to your detainee you can quickly get a confession which means a conviction, which means a promotion,” Swerdlow told RFE/RL.

Swerdlow described how his research team focused on Uzbekistan’s observance of its citizens’ legal right to habeas corpus (“you may have the body”), which requires that suspected criminals be formally brought before a judge soon after arrest to be charged with a crime. It is a widely observed legal right meant to protect individuals from unlawful arrest and improper treatment (such as torture) during pre-trial detention.

Habeas corpus was written into Uzbek law in 2008. But the report noted that the law is not enforced, and that today “habeas corpus exists largely on paper” and “does little to protect detainees from torture and ill-treatment.”

Obitkhoja’s hearing with a judge took place six days after he had already been tortured. He was still sentenced to nine years in prison for crimes to which he had “confessed” under severe torture.

Swerdlow’s research, which included a two-month period of on-the-ground reporting in Tashkent, provides a rare peek into the workings of the opaque Uzbek judicial and state security system. Since the government’s crackdown on civil society and free media following the 2005 Andijon massacre, Uzbekistan’s few remaining independent journalists and human rights activists have faced constant repression.

In the face of these discouraging circumstances, what keeps Swerdlow and Human Rights Watch going? Swerdlow noted during his visit to Prague that he had discovered a spirit of resilience among activists and ordinary citizens in Uzbekistan, and a yearning for a more open society. Comparing Uzbekistan to the pre-Arab Spring regimes of Tunisia and Egypt, he advised RFE/RL journalists that governments in “countries like Uzbekistan are stable until they are not.”

-- Deana Kjuka

Tags:torture, human rights, Uzbekistan, Human Rights Watch, Islam Karimov

A Guerrilla Newsman In Exile

Journalists from Rouzegar, a reformist Tehran daily, sat in their editorial offices in September after receiving word of a two-month ban on their reporting.

For almost two decades, RFE/RL’s Reza Veisi -- a well known journalist in Iran -- lived under the strain of severe psychological pressure as well as direct intimidation from government authorities before joining RFE/RL’s Persian-language service, Radio Farda, in early 2010.

For Veisi, Iranian censorship wasn’t an academic issue. It was a daily struggle that marked his life as a journalist and editor, as one after another of the newspapers for which he worked was shut down. Long before the contested 2009 presidential elections in Iran, when the government cracked down on civil society figures, especially journalists, the regime had a practiced way of dealing with troublesome reporters.

It was all so routine for Veisi that, in an interview with “Off Mic,” he just briefly mentions his arrest in 1999, instead moving on to a subsequent confrontation with Iranian intelligence officials, in which representatives of the government made specific threats against Veisi’s private life, essentially impeding the rest of his journalistic career in Iran.

“For over ten years, from 1999-2009, I couldn’t explain to anyone why I couldn’t write any report and could only work as an editor. I kept this from everyone,” explains Veisi.

Twelve years later he is still afraid of revealing details about the threats leveled by the intelligence officials.

The shadow of the authorities convinced Veisi that he had to leave Iran. But doing so wasn’t easy. Veisi still feels uncomfortable discussing the particulars of the elaborate plan he devised to leave the country in 2010. While making his arrangements, he lived in constant fear that he or his family would be detained by Iranian intelligence.

“Until the moment your plane takes off, you are in this constant fear that the intelligence service will detain you from your airplane seat,” explains Veisi. In order to avoid facial recognition by the intelligence service computers at the airport in Tehran, he opted to make a far more difficult journey, crossing the border from Iran to Turkey by bus in the middle of the winter. Veisi only narrowly avoided arrest when a security official aware of his identity called him out among the bus passengers.

Working as a journalist-in-exile for Radio Farda, and reporting 24 hours a day to an audience thousands of kilometers away, is a different experience for Veisi. His colleagues referred to his previous work in Iran as “guerrilla journalism” due to the threats, constant fear of arrest, and an-almost daily rotation of work offices. They worked at times without desks or chairs, unloading their phones and computers and all other equipment on a truck.

He detailed his unusual professional experience in a new book, “Election Fallout: Iran’s Exiled Journalists On Their Struggle For Democratic Change,” which documents the experiences of 12 exiled Persian journalists, five of whom now work at Radio Farda.

In an excerpt from “Election Fallout,” Veisi discusses the police investigation that finally prompted him to contact Radio Farda and make plans to leave Iran:

“The Ministry’s of Intelligence’s agents also came to the building in which I lived several times and asked my neighbours about me. Many of my friends were in prison. Many members of our group of reformist newspaper editors, who would meet every Saturday, such as Mohammad Atrianfar, Behzad Nabavi, and Isa Saharkhiz, had been arrested and I knew I could have been taken into custody at any moment.”

The full electronic version of “Election Fallout” is available online here.

‘We Try Everyday To Believe In A New Iran’

The transition from life in Iran has not always been easy: the editor who used to call the shots at his “guerrilla” newspapers has had to start over at the beginning as a reporter. But Veisi points out that for the first time in 10 years, he has the opportunity to file daily reports from Radio Farda’s broadcasting headquarters in Prague: “In five years I couldn’t write or publish a single report in Iran, and now I have the freedom to report daily.”

“In Iran we didn’t have security, and one day I hope to go back,” Veisi says, echoing the hopes of many Iranian journalists living abroad. “But without respect for human rights and democracy, I will never be able to work as a journalist in Iran, so we try everyday to believe in a new Iran.”

-- Deana Kjuka

Tags:Iran, Radio Farda, Iran opposition, iran government

Partly Free Ukraine

Churikova On The Ukrainian Pressi
|| 0:00:00
December 16, 2011
Radio Svoboda broadcaster Natalia Churikova discusses Ukraine's current media environment and RFE/RL's 'suicidal' mission.
Radio Svoboda broadcaster Natalia Churikova discusses Ukraine's current media environment and RFE/RL's 'suicidal' mission.
For over a decade, post-Soviet Ukraine was ranked as a generally “free” country by Freedom House, the US think tank. Ukraine, which sits on the edge of the European Union, aspires to one day join the democracies of Eastern and Central Europe, and has made strides to reform its legal code and political system.

But when Freedom House downgraded its ranking of Ukraine from “free” to “partly free” in 2011, it did so in large part because of “deteriorating media freedom” under the presidency of President Viktor Yanukovych. What’s happening in Ukrainian media, and what does a “partly free” label actually mean?

Few journalists are better acquainted with the Ukrainian press than Natalia Churikova, a Prague-based broadcaster for RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, Radio Svoboda, since 1995. Though she’s spent nearly her entire career at Radio Svoboda, growing up in Soviet Ukraine, Churikova hadn’t dreamt of life as a journalist. After studying English and French literature at the University of Kiev, Churikova thought of becoming a teacher or researcher.

Political changes in the former Soviet Union -- and the new opportunities they brought with them -- made Churikova think about a change in career. She moved to Prague and studied economics. After graduation, Churikova reported from Frankfurt, London and Brussels for the “Financial Times.” At the same time, Radio Free Europe was moving from Munich to Prague. Looking to stay involved with the situation in Ukraine, Churikova applied for a job with Radio Svoboda. Now she has been a part of the radio family for 16 years.

In interview with “Off Mic,” Churikova talked about the media in Ukraine and today’s political climate there.

Churikova explains the current, dismal state of Ukrainian media. As the political environment has worsened, the current government has sought to tamp down independent criticism of government officials and government policy. Overt censorship has become increasingly frequent and, in combination with self-censorship and bribery, creates a media environment that is far from free. In extreme cases, outlets that are not loyal to the government are closed.

She adds that, on the national level, TV news channels are the most influential media sources in the country. Since these predominantly belong to Ukrainian oligarchs, they tend to reflect their owner’s interests and opinions. In terms of the media space devoted to politics, Churikova reckons that pro-government voices outnumber opposition ones 4 to 1. 

To balance out this state of affairs, Radio Svoboda provides the Ukrainian public with independent, verified and contextual news. The recent political trial of former prime minister (and opposition figure) Yulia Tymoshenko provides an instructive example of Svoboda’s leading role as a voice for original thinking. According to Churikova, Svoboda’s wall-to-wall coverage of the trial -- which included an array of domestic voices and coverage of critical international reactions to the trial -- solidified Radio Svaboda’s reputation in Ukraine. With demand for fresh and direct updates running high, the service’s Ukrainian website recorded six times its usual number of visitors.

Since 1957, when Radio Svoboda started broadcasting to Ukraine, the service has come a long way. While the mission of the radio has remained the same, “to be a public radio in a country which does not have a public service,” the focus has changed over time.

In the past, the radio relied mostly on the writings of the dissidents and on interviews with exiles; RFE/RL had no direct access to people on the ground in Ukraine during the Cold War. Matters were made even more difficult by the Soviet government’s insistent jamming of Radio Svoboda’s signal.

Ukraine’s government no longer jams Svoboda’s signal; instead, Churikova explains, Radio Svoboda is just “something the government has to count with.”

Progress is poignant, though. Churikova points out that the mission of Radio Svoboda, and the mission of RFE/RL as a whole, is a “suicidal” one. The purpose of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service will end one day -- as it did in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania -- when a more robust media environment and democratic development have made Svoboda unnecessary. That doesn’t bother Churikova in the least.

“It is my wish,” she says, “to have Ukraine at the level of the Czech Republic or Poland, so that we could return to Ukraine as normal journalists, in stable political settings.”

-- Kristyna Dzmuranova

Tags:Ukrainian Service, Radio Svoboda (Ukranian Service), Churikova

From Shoeshiner To Student: Radio Mashaal Report Paves Way For An Unlikely Education

Palwasha, who once spent her days shining shoes in the busy streets of Jalalabad, Afghanistan, now attends school thanks to the patronage of former Taliban officials.

(Kabul, Afghanistan) Sitting in a classroom, Palwasha, a bright eyed 12-year-old girl from Hadi Farm Camp in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, has substituted a textbook for a shoe shine brush, all thanks to a report by RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal.

Four months ago, Palwasha’s day consisted of shining shoes on the streets of Jalalabad in order to support her family. When Baz Muhammad Abid, a Radio Mashaal correspondent interviewed Palwasha, he couldn't imagine how his report on her difficult life as a child laborer would open up new educational opportunities for her, and likely better prospects for her family.

Immediately after the story was broadcast, it gained the attention of Afghan Foundation, an NGO based in Kabul which contacted Radio Mashaal to locate Palwasha and her family.

In a surprising twist, Afghan Foundation is headed by Abdul Salam Zaeef, the former Afghan ambassador under the Taliban regime in Islamabad prior to the 2001 U.S-led invasion. Zaeef was detained in Guantanamo Bay until 2005 and gained prominence after he published his autobiography, "My Life with the Taliban." In July 2010, the United Nations removed Zaeef from its list of terrorists.

But Zaeef was not the only unlikely benefactor. Zaeef co-founded Afghan Foundation with Former Taliban Foreign Minister, Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil. A former international spokesman for the Taliban, and a relatively moderate leader, Muttawakil was disowned by the Taliban in 2003.

Under the Taliban, women were not allowed to go to school or work after the age of eight, which is why the emergence of reformist leaders such as Zaeef and Muttawakil -- whose organization is now funding the education for young girls such as Palwasha -- is out of the ordinary. 

“I have thrown away the brush and shoe polish”

Palwasha happily recounts the story of how Radio Mashaal changed her life after it reported her daily struggles to make a living.
Before she was able to attend school, Palwasha shined shoes and sold bread to bring money home to her family.Before she was able to attend school, Palwasha shined shoes and sold bread to bring money home to her family.
Before she was able to attend school, Palwasha shined shoes and sold bread to bring money home to her family.
Before she was able to attend school, Palwasha shined shoes and sold bread to bring money home to her family.

“My name is Palwasha. I was shining shoes but then one day Radio Mashaal interviewed me and an NGO in Kabul heard this report. They asked you [Radio Mashaal] for my mobile phone number and called us in August to come to Kabul,” she tells a Radio Mashaal reporter.
Palwasha’s mother, who agreed to receive monthly financial aid from the NGO on the condition of Palwasha’s enrollment in school, described their harsh life before Radio Mashaal reported on their situation. Palwasha’s father died a year ago, leaving the family in difficult circumstances and forcing Palwasha, the eldest among three siblings, to start shining shoes and selling bread to keep the family afloat.

Now, as Palwasha says, instead of wandering the crowded city streets of Jalalabad for a day of shining shoes, she walks the path to school and has finally "thrown away the brush and shoe polish."

Radio Mashaal was launched in January 2010 in order to provide reliable reporting in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

-- Deana Kjuka

Iran Authorities Threaten Radio Farda Listeners Via SMS

The government in Tehran is doing its best to stamp out free thinking through text messages.

“Dear citizen, based on information we received you have fallen under the influence of the anti-security propaganda of media connected with foreign powers.

"If you establish contact with media based outside the country, you will be guilty of violating the following articles of Islamic law (...) and we will deal with you according to the law.”

Listening to Radio Farda in Iran is no idle pastime.

The audience for Farda, RFE/RL’s Persian-language service, has to contend with a host of threats from the regime in Tehran, which looks to punish its own citizens for listening to free media. The government’s extreme censorship is nothing new in the annals of authoritarianism. But Tehran is upping the ante by making its warnings high-tech and personal.

The government’s latest way of cheerfully informing Farda’s most active listeners of the risk they’re running is through SMS (text) messages directly to their mobile phones. The messages carry the menacing threats shown above.

Remarkably, despite the intimidation, Farda’s listeners continue to send hundreds of SMS messages daily from all over Iran, risking imprisonment in Iran’s notorious jails, where thousands of political prisoners serve terms and fear secret executions.

These SMS messages are tracked by the Iranian government on a daily basis, according to Mardo Soghom, a senior media market research analyst for RFE/RL.

“We have noted that when the SMS numbers drop to 30-40 a day, which was the case nine months ago, it was due to these text message warnings sent by the Iranian government,” says Soghom.

Constant jamming by the Iranian authorities has not succeeded in discouraging Radio Farda’s journalists, who are officially banned from the airwaves in Iran but continue to broadcast news, features and music in Persian, 24 hours a day.

‘Radio Is Only Radio Farda’

The work of Radio Farda broadcasters is encouraged and validated by the messages sent in from listeners, who often pass along the slogan, “Radio is only Radio Farda.”

Reza, a listener from Kermanshah, recently sent a text message to Radio Farda’s SMS service that read,  “All of us are listening to Radio Farda, with the hope for a better Iran tomorrow.” The message played on Radio Farda’s name, which means “Radio Tomorrow” in Persian.

Others write to talk of the unmet promises of Iran’s revolutionary regime. “When the revolution happened, they were blaming the Shah for selling the oil cheaply,” one listener says. “Now, they are not only selling oil and gas, they are even exporting the ‘soil’ of this country and they call it non-oil sector exports.”

For Radio Farda’s journalists, the most rewarding messages are usually the simplest. Writes a listener from Ghazvin, “Long live the one who established Radio Farda.”

To find out more about what is happening inside Iran, read the news in Farsi (or English) on Radio Farda’s website and visit Persian Letters, a blog maintained by RFE/RL senior correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari. Her work is dedicated to uncovering under-reported stories and delivering insight and analysis from bloggers, feminists, clerics and even Basij members inside Iran.

-- Deana Kjuka

In Belarus, A New Kind Of Samizdat

A New Kind Of Samizdati
November 16, 2011
Radio Svaboda director Alexander Lukashuk describes the impact of Svaboda's "Liberty Library" book publishing project.
Radio Svaboda director Alexander Lukashuk describes the impact of Svaboda's "Liberty Library" book publishing project.
In most places, an ordinary book party doesn’t attract the attention of the government.

Not so in Belarus, where the space for civil society is continually suppressed. Case in point: in mid-October, a small bookstore in Minsk came in for a storm of criticism from the head of Belarus’ state association of writers, who said in a widely publicized statement that the business ought to be shuttered. The denunciation came just a week after the store hosted a book release for RFE/RL’s Belarus Service, Radio Svaboda. Svaboda was issuing the latest in its 30-volume series, “Liberty Library.”

Ominous signals from Belarus’ government are nothing new. Venues that have hosted Radio Svaboda’s book releases in the past often find their electricity and water mysteriously shut off, or their roofs suddenly leaking, in the days leading up to an event. Interference of this kind is standard fare in Belarus, home to Europe’s last authoritarian state, and led by Soviet holdover Alexander Lukashenka.

The journalists of Radio Svaboda take it all in stride, always looking for novel ways to deliver critical information about Belarus and the world to their audience in a variety of formats. “Liberty Library” is a key example of that effort. The project has seen 30,000 hard copies of its volumes published and distributed by Radio Svaboda in the 10 years since “Liberty Library” launched. Alexander Lukashuk, Radio Svaboda’s director, says that the hard copies published by Svaboda “are usually gone within several weeks.”

But the volumes published directly by Radio Svaboda represent just a small fraction of the market for “Liberty Library,” and fans of the series have been taking matters into their own hands.

Samizdat For The Internet Age

The real impact of “Liberty Library” is viral. Lukashuk says that Internet users in Belarus -- a nation of just nine million -- have downloaded more than one million PDF copies of “Liberty Library” books, available on Radio Svaboda’s website.

Even that count underestimates the true reach of the books. Most Belarusians have limited Internet access, so in order to disseminate the books, Lukashuk notes, local activists have taken to printing out the PDFs, binding them at home, and sharing them with friends, family, and coworkers.

Lukashuk calls the phenomenon “samizdat for the Internet age.”

He notes that, unlike most news broadcasts, books can retain their relevance far after their publishing date. Few Radio Svoboda listeners are interested in keeping around old news stories -- “It’s yesterday’s news!” -- but they’re hungry for more permanent works of free expression. Lukashuk calls the “Liberty Library” volumes “a powerful, long-lasting weapon of information which we will continue to use.”

Samizdat is closely linked to the history of RFE/RL. During the Cold War, Radio Liberty created a samizdat unit to track and collect the works of dissidents persecuted in the Eastern Bloc. The unit systematically organized samizdat to preserve the testimony of dissidents for future reference, building up a unique archive of hundreds of works.

The picture that emerged from the samizdat collections was crucial in monitoring the human rights situation in the Soviet Union. “Indeed it was thanks to samizdat,” former head of RFE/RL’s Russian Service Mario Corti says, “that Radio Liberty’s broadcasts became a real ‘domestic’ service, broadcasting to the Soviet Union documents about and authored by people living inside the country.”

RFE/RL led the way in bringing the Soviet public’s attention to Solzhenitsyn’s “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” and other works.

The Show Goes On

The success of “Liberty Library” thus far means that Lukashuk and his team at Radio Svaboda have no intention of stopping any time soon, even though their public book releases continue to face all kinds of state obstacles.

Public enthusiasm for the books seems only to grow. Although intimidation from the authorities has meant that Svaboda has to use progressively smaller venues for its book releases, it manages to make the most of what it has. The October release saw organizers cram 150 excited fans into a space meant to accommodate only 40. Those who showed up did so at considerable risk, but this too is remarkably common in Belarus. “There are many people in Belarus who do not agree with what is going on in the country,” Lukashuk says, “and who are willing to risk their business or even their personal freedom.”

Plans for the next book, which will focus on the stories of political prisoners detained since Belarus’ 2010 presidential election, are already in the works. Lukashuk hopes to release it by December 2011, the first anniversary of the election. 

-- Kristyna Dzmuranova

Tags:belarus, Belarus Service, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Liberty Library

RFE/RL Colleagues Celebrate 2011 Stories Of The Year

RFE/RL News Director Jay Tolson congratulates Khadija Ismayilova of RFE/RL's Azeri Service on her award for one of the five best stories of 2011. Ismayilova's story on public corruption in Azerbaijan led to changes in government policy.

Whether it was uncovering state cronyism in Azerbaijan, documenting systematic rape in Kyrgyzstan, remembering genocide in the Balkans, live-tweeting from a charged courtroom in Russia, or broadcasting the desperate story of Georgian sailors, RFE/RL’s journalists profoundly affected the world of their listeners in 2011.

Journalists from across RFE/RL bureaus gathered in Prague on November 8 to celebrate five of the year’s most compelling news stories from RFE/RL's editors, reporters and stringers across the globe. The reports came in a varied mix of languages and media, reaching audiences via radio, website, video, and Twitter.

Khadija Ismayilova of RFE/RL’s Azeri Service won hard-earned plaudits for a courageous investigative report that revealed a tangled web of nepotism and greed in Azerbaijan. “Azerbaijani President’s Daughters Tied To Fast-Rising Telecoms Firm,” recounted the story of Azerfon, a mobile telecommunications provider that claimed to be owned by Siemens and other Western firms. Azerfon had seen a meteoric rise largely on the basis of its state-guaranteed monopoly on 3G mobile service within Azerbaijan.

Ismayilova’s reporting conclusively demonstrated that Azerfon’s true owners, obscured by a maze of shell companies, were the two daughters of Azerbaijan president Ilham Aliyev. The story subsequently forced the government to rewrite the law that gave Azerfon a 3G monopoly.

Journalist Janyl Chytyrbayeva documented the stories of rape victims from ethnic conflict in Kyrgyzstan. Her groundbreaking work overturned local taboos against acknowledging victims of rape.
Journalist Janyl Chytyrbayeva documented the stories of rape victims from ethnic conflict in Kyrgyzstan. Her groundbreaking work overturned local taboos against acknowledging victims of rape.
RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service reporter Janyl Chytyrbayeva defied societal taboos with her deeply humanizing piece, “The Invisible Women of Osh,” a story on the previously-unreported victims of the systematic gang-rape that accompanied ethnic clashes in Kyrgyzstan in 2010.

Centering on the crushing story of one woman, Kamilla, who “saw the worst of fates, lost a good part of her health...and lives hiding her shame from the entire world,” Chytyrbayeva’s sensitive but searing report brought attention to an important story that had been wholly neglected by local media sources in Kyrgyzstan.

Chytyrbayeva's story recently received a note of "High Commendation" from the Association for International Broadcasting at a ceremony in London. 

A willingness to confront uncomfortable truths also characterized Tina Jelin’s video, “Little Joy In Srebrenica At Mladic Arrest,” which offered important context for one of the year’s most important news events in the Balkans.

Jelin returned to Srebrenica to document the surviving relatives of the more than 8,000 defenseless Muslim men and boys who were slaughtered there by the forces of Serb general Ratko Mladic in 1995. As the rest of the world celebrated the justice of Mladic’s long-overdue arrest, Jelin focused on the quiet anguish that still haunts Srebrenica -- an anguish little-assuaged by the legal proceedings to follow.

When a crew of Georgian sailors in Libya reached out to RFE/RL’s Georgian Service, they were suffering a different kind of anguish. The men, abandoned without pay by their ship’s Italian owner in the Libyan port of Misurata, pleaded to RFE/RL, “We have nothing to eat. We are forced to ask other ships for food, water, and cigarettes. Some of the crew need urgent medical assistance...We have no electricity or water.”

RFE/RL’s Tea Absaridze and Daisy Sindelar dove into the story and reported regularly on the crew’s situation, culminating in the gripping account, “After 11-Month Ordeal, Crew Of Georgian Ship Recalls Harrowing Libyan Escape.”  Georgian Service director David Kakabadze noted that RFE/RL’s coverage meant so much to the crew that when other media organizations asked for interviews with crew members, “they asked us to approve the interviews first.”

Finally, RFE/RL praised the diligent work of Russian Service journalist Mariana Torocheshnikova, who kept Russia and the world informed of every minute of the sham trial of former Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky via newsy Twitter posts and web updates. Through her coverage, RFE/RL’s Russian audience and observers across the globe had direct access into the courtroom proceedings.

Torocheshnikova's innovative coverage provides a glimpse of the many ways RFE/RL journalists have moved aggressively into emerging media formats, reaching out to new audiences even as they loyally serve their longtime listeners.

-- Charles Dameron

RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service Enters The Record Books

It's official!

RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, Radio Svoboda, has officially entered the Guinness Book of World Records for participating in the longest television talk show ever. 

From August 23-25, Ukraine's leading news channel, “Channel 5,” broadcast “Ukrainian Independence,” a news-talk program for a record-breaking 52 hours. Two of those hours featured Radio Svoboda's own, Irena Shtogrin. 
Radio Svoboda's certificate of recognition from Guiness
Radio Svoboda's certificate of recognition from Guiness

The effort was done in connection with the 20th anniversary of Ukrainian  independence.

As a result, Radio Svoboda was honored with a certificate of participation by Guinness World Records, which follows and collects record-breaking achievements around the world.

Shtogrin, an RFE/RL correspondent based in Kiev, represented RFE/RL and discussed topics related to Ukrainian politics and the education system in Ukraine.

- Deana Kjuka

RFE/RL President Korn On Soft Power And The War Of Ideas

RFE/RL President Steven W. Korn

RFE/RL President Steven Korn took part in the Center for European Analysis' U.S.-Central Europe Strategy Forum in Prague, delivering the keynote lunch address. The speech, titled, "Central and Eastern Europe's Role in the War of Ideas," focused on the transition to democracy by countries like the Czech Republic and Poland, and how these countries can aid people struggling for freedom both in Europe and further afield.

Read the full remarks here.

-- Communications team

Kazakh Prisoner Files Reports With Smart Phone

Behind bars: RFE/RL's Kazakh Service has featured blog reports on prisoner abuse directly from a Kazakh prison inmate.

How often does a media organization receive an offer for first-hand reports from a criminal in prison?

When Marat Nurumov submitted a blog post via smart phone from a prison in central Kazakhstan in August 2010, he baffled editors at RFE/RL’s Kazakh service, Radio Azattyq.

“He sent us an email saying he would write for us, and at first we thought it was a provocation, but we contacted his relatives and confirmed his identity,”  Radio Azattyq director, Yedige Magauin, explains.

How does a criminal imprisoned in Kazakhstan get access to a smart phone?

Magauin says that mobile phones are illegal in prison, but due to widespread corruption, inmates find loopholes to obtain certain luxuries -- including, it seems, smart phones.

After his release from prison in March, the pseudonymous Nurumov -- a common criminal, not a political prisoner -- continued submitting blog posts.

His introspective observations concerning the difficult circumstances that led to his crime, as well as his documentation of the harsh abuse many prisoners face in Kazakhstan’s prisons, have contributed to his unusual status as a celebrated prisoner-blogger. Nurumov even sent RFE/RL his impressions when he first met Aron Atabek, one of Kazakhstan’s most well known political dissidents, in prison.

Nurumov’s blog entries can be seen on Radio Azattyq’s website under a web feature called “Blogistan.”

He is currently working on fourth series of entries  titled “On The Outside,” which can be found in Russian on “Blogistan.”

Kazakhstan’s justice system is routinely criticized by the international community, but the last few years have been especially fraught with prison unrest and deadly incidents, as well as acknowledged abuse by prison officers.

From A Single Blog To 'Blogistan'

“This turned into a big project and we managed to obtain reports on human rights
violations in a prison where ordinary citizens and journalists are not allowed access,” Magauin says of Nurumov’s blogs.

In April 2010, the Kazakh government gave Radio Azattyq the perfect opportunity to develop the “Blogistan” project by blocking citizens’ access to Kazakh blogs and leaving Kazakh bloggers without a permanent platform. “Blogistan” adopted the motto “your blog on our website.”

Magaiun highlights Radio Azattyq’s role in developing and empowering the blogosphere in Kazakhstan. “Blogistan” was developed purely for a Kazakh audience, featuring Kazakh bloggers who would otherwise not have the chance to be published outside of the country.

The success of “Blogistan” also attracted Russian bloggers; today, the site features blog entries in both Russian and Kazakh. Bloggers in both languages have the opportunity to discuss controversies surrounding social and cultural issues that matter to Kazakh citizens, providing an alternative view on issues that are often overlooked by local media.

At the end of 2010, Radio Azattyq collected some of “Blogistan’s” most successful Kazakh and Russian-language blog posts, and published them in a book.

The overflow of content from new bloggers on “Blogistan” has helped to strengthen Kazakhstan’s repressed civil society, Magauin says. “We have received some amazing reports from ordinary people exercising their civic duty.”

-- Deana Kjuka

Akbar Ayazi Remembers A Different Afghanistan

Akbar Ayazi On RFE's Impact In Afghanistani
|| 0:00:00
October 19, 2011
Akbar Ayazi discusses about his memories of Afghanistan's bygone past and looks to the present and future of the fledgling Afghan media.
Akbar Ayazi discusses about his memories of Afghanistan's bygone past and looks to the present and future of the fledgling Afghan media.
Afghanistan as Akbar Ayazi experienced it during the 1970s was a radically different place from the one we see today.

Ayazi -- now a regional director of RFE/RL's broadcast services to Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, and Iraq -- was a young college student in Kabul when he first recognized his passion for radio. Told that he had a good radio voice, he went to work as an anchor for the Afghan National Radio and TV.

Ayazi nostalgically remembers the peaceful bliss of life in Afghanistan prior to the Soviet invasion of 1979. In 1973, according to Ayazi, over a million European tourists visited Afghanistan; the country was a prominent stop for hippies traveling overland to India.

“No one even knew what a machine gun looked like, because all the Kalashnikovs were in the military barracks. Afghanistan was not a very developed country, but it was democratic and peaceful,” Ayazi recalls.

But with the Soviet invasion, Afghanistan was thrust into a 30-year-long conflict that continues to this day.

Despite the effects of war, the media environment has developed quite significantly and Afghanistan has some of the most dynamic media in the whole region, according to Ayazi.

Without concrete media regulations, the market is open to anyone with the funds to start a television or radio station -- meaning that every warlord has his own television channel; even the Taliban has its own FM stations promoting hate and extremism. But Ayazi is optimistic that the situation with the local media in Afghanistan will gradually change over time.

'We Go To The People'

For now, one of the international radio stations pressing for change is Radio Azadi, RFE/RL’s Afghan service.

What distinguishes Radio Azadi from other international broadcasters is the fact that the radio focuses on the local issues and problems of ordinary Afghans.

“The main agenda is the people. Everybody is reporting on the president’s meeting, a bomb exploding, but you need to do a story that is about people,” Ayazi says. “We go to the people, to the villages. We talk about daily life, so Radio Azadi has not only become like a source of information for the people, it has become sort of like an institution for them. They connect to Radio Azadi and Radio Azadi has also created a platform for the listeners to engage in debate and discussion.”

In 2009, Ayazi moderated Afghanistan’s first-ever presidential debate with a sitting president, as Hamid Karzai faced off against two challengers: Ramazan Bashardost and Ashraf Ghani.

Ayazi describes moderating the event as “the most difficult thing I ever did in my journalism career because this was something that was unprecedented in Afghanistan.”

“The presidential debate was a good example of taking power with debate and discussion and focusing on the issues rather than taking a gun and taking power,” Ayazi explains.

However what makes Radio Azadi the most listened-to radio is its credibility. Ayazi says that although many Afghans watch TV during the daytime, they will switch on the radio when the news comes on to listen to Radio Azadi’s news, or to confirm what they’ve heard elsewhere with the information coming from Azadi. Over half the country listens to Azadi on a weekly basis, according to audience research surveys.

“When you have over 50 percent of the entire population listen to you [and] trust you that means you have established credibility no matter who funds you,” says Ayazi.   

Radio Azadi is so credible that even the Taliban competes to get its message across on the network. After the September 20 assassination of former president Burhannudin Rabbani led to reports that the Taliban was responsible for the killing, a Taliban spokesperson called Radio Azadi with the contention that the Taliban’s leadership had not authorized the attack. Radio Azadi was the first to broadcast the breaking news.

But the Rabbani assassination was also a reminder of just what a different country Afghanistan is today from what it once was. Ayazi’s nostalgic reminiscences of 1970s Afghanistan are nothing more than a dream to the generations born after the Soviet invasion in 1980. More than thirty years later -- and ten years after the 2001 U.S-led invasion -- Afghanistan still has a long way to go in repairing all that has been lost since those halcyon days.

-- Deana Kjuka

RFE/RL Teams Up With Forum 2000

Gregory Feifer, a senior RFE/RL correspondent, discusses Russia's ability to adapt to the global economy at this year's Forum 2000 conference in Prague, which ran from October 9-12.

This week’s 15th annual Forum 2000 -- a Prague ideas conference begun in 1997 by former Czech president Vaclav Havel, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, and philanthropist Yohei Sasakawa -- played host to three journalists from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: Gregory Feifer, a senior RFE/RL correspondent and Russia expert; Natalia Churikova of RFE/RL’s Ukranian Service; and Jan Maksymiuk, a senior editor for RFE/RL’s Belarus Service.

The conference, which also featured appearances by Nobel laureate and Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili and Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, was focused on the topic of “Democracy and the Rule of Law.”

Feifer moderated a panel discussion that examined the current, dismal state of the Russian legal system and analyzed prospects for improvement in Russia’s democratic structures. Feifer, who just returned from a trip to the unstable Russian provinces of Daghestan and Ingushetia, also participated as a panelist for a discussion of Russia’s ability to adapt to a rapidly changing world.

The panelists debated the possibility of Russia’s modernization -- Feifer argued strongly that under its current political leadership, “Russia can’t modernize” -- along with the implications of Vladimir Putin’s recent announcement that he will remain in power by again seeking the Russian presidency next year.

Kosovo president Atifete Jahjaga, shown here at Forum 2000, stopped by RFE headquarters to meet with the radio's Balkans Service.
Kosovo president Atifete Jahjaga, shown here at Forum 2000, stopped by RFE headquarters to meet with the radio's Balkans Service.
Citing his recent travels in the region, Feifer also called Russia’s decade-long pacification campaign in the Caucausus a “central trope” of Putin’s rule, which Feifer believes depends upon the existence of a terrorist threat in the republic’s predominantly Muslim south.

Churikova moderated a panel discussion on Ukraine and its clouded road to democracy. The panelists pointed to an “atmosphere of fear” and decried the country’s lack of civil engagement, shaky international relationships with the EU and Russia, and outstanding ethnic issues, particularly a worsening climate for Ukraine’s Crimean Tartars, a minority Muslim population. Just several hours after the discussion, former Ukrainian president Yulia Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison in a trial widely condemned by the international community.

Maksymiuk spoke during a panel discussion, “Belarus: Trading Human Rights For Economic Support?” Describing a recent visit to Belarus, Maksymiuk explained that although Belarus’s capital Minsk appears to outsiders to be a relatively prosperous “Western capital,” with access to Western goods and brands, ordinary Belarusians have seen their purchasing power sharply curtailed by the global economic crisis. 

-- Kristyna Dzmuranova and Deana Kjuka

Azatutyun Succeeds As Internet Pioneer In Armenia

Armenian Opposition Opts For ‘Nonstop Rallies’i
|| 0:00:00
October 01, 2011
Armenian opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian ‘consulted’ several thousands of his anti-government bloc’s supporters at yet another gathering in central Yerevan before declaring the start of what he described as ‘non-stop rallies’ to put more pressure on the authorities to resign.
RFE/RL's Armenian Service recently provided live, streaming coverage of opposition leaders' "nonstop rallies" in Yerevan.
Harry Tamrazian - -the director of RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, Radio Azatutyun -- is no spring chicken. A veteran journalist who covered the 1992 collapse of the Soviet Union, Tamrazian is an unlikely face for the development of new media in contemporary Armenia. But this stalwart of traditional media, who has spent most of his career broadcasting the news from RFE/RL's radio studios, is now at the forefront of an innovative effort to bring the power of Web 2.0 technologies to the mountains and valleys of his native country.  

"We don't want to be behind the curve," Tamrazian says. "We want to be ahead of it."

To that end, Tamrazian and Radio Azatutyun launched their own YouTube channel in late 2009 as part of an effort to expand their Internet reach and to provide more comprehensive video coverage of events inside Armenia. Feeling that visual media was becoming ever more important online, Tamrazian recruited a small crew with extensive video experience to operate out of Azatutyun's bureau in Yerevan, the Armenian capital. 

The channel proved to be an immediate hit, such that for several days in October 2010, it was the most popular YouTube channel among all non-profit operations worldwide, beating out even perennial YouTube favorites like TED. Tamrazian notes that it's a testament to the tremendous, unfilled niche that Radio Azatutyun stepped into. "There's a certain first-mover advantage that we had," Tamrazian says. To date, Radio Azatutyun's YouTube channel has broadcast its videos to over 1.7 million viewers in under two years--an especially impressive rate when one considers Armenia's population of 3.2 million. 

Radio Azatutyun's newfound prowess with video has increasingly made it a popular source of footage for many of the country's regional television stations. Radio Azatutyun is often able to provide video coverage of political events or issues that are too sensitive for other outlets to cover directly. For local media that feel greater censorship pressure from state authorities, Tamrazian notes, RFE provides an invaluable shield: local journalists are able to say that they're merely rebroadcasting RFE's controversial material, rather than generating it on their own. 

The tactic has become a popular one, and to fill the demand, Azatutyun makes its video footage available to Armenian television via an FTP server that stores the files in a variety of resolutions, including HD. "As a radio company," Tamrazian says with a grin, "it's nice to produce video of such quality that other news sources want it."

Driving Change

The explosive popularity of Azatutyun's video footage is directly related to its willingness to tackle otherwise taboo issues. A quick review of the station's most viewed videos attests to Azatutyun's role as a powerful force for investigative journalism. The station's original reports on abuses in the ranks of the Armenian military sparked a parlimentary investigation. Another piece uncovered the tragic story of a young man killed during a police interrogation, leading to a public apology by the chief of Armenia's national police and the arrest of the police officers involved in the killing. 

Tamrazian also points out that Azatutyun also challenges its viewers by publicizing segments of society that are either underrepresented or hidden from public view for cultural reasons. He cites a special report showing how disabled Armenians can live active, successful lives, and says that the effort to increase visibility for the disabled is "one of the core elements of building tolerance" in Armenia. 

A Force To Be Reckoned With

Radio Azatutyun's newfound talent with video has helped to make the station's Armenian-language website ( one of the foremost sources of news in the South Caucasus -- a forum that is impossible for the nation's politicians to ignore. One regular feature is a talk show called "The Crossroads of Opinion," which faces guests of varying political stripes against each other. The show frequently hosts politicians to be subjected to public grillings. Armenia's prime minister, Tigran Sargsyan, braved an appearance this year. "He knows we command a major audience," Tamrazian reasons. holds the politicians' feet to the fire in other ways, too: this week saw the website employ on its homepage an exclusive livestream of anti-government protests in Yerevan. Tamrazian says that Azatutyun's brand of incisive web journalism has stirred competition and driven innovation in Armenia's small media market.

The resulting process brings real social benefits--benefits that even government officials are prepared to acknowledge. On Azatutyun's 60th birthday in May, Prime Minister Sargsyan paid a visit to the radio's Yerevan office and gave Azatutyun's journalists credit for their work. "You try to expose problems that exist in Armenia, the goverment tries to respond to this criticism, and this dialogue is very useful for the country," the prime minister said. 

-- Charlie Dameron and Kristyna Dzmuranova

Tags:youtube, Armenian Service

Keeping Free Culture Alive In Belarus

Lavon Volski, a musician whose work appears weekly on RFE/RL's Radio Svaboda, plays for a crowd of devotees at a 2010 concert in Minsk.

Alexei Znatkevich is a journalist, but he understands that music can affect people on deeper levels than straightforward journalism. Originally from Belarus, the country led by Europe’s last dictator, Alexander Lukashenka, Znatkevich is the Prague-based host of a nightly talk show, “Night Liberty,” on Radio Free Europe’s Belarusian service, Radio Svaboda. His show, started in 2006, brings in live guests -- musicians included -- to discuss political, cultural and social topics, and Znatkevich has seen firsthand how providing a platform for humor, sarcasm, and irony can help to leaven the pressures of life in an autocratic society.

Belarus’ restrictions on culture haven’t dulled popular desire for free expression, and music remains a big part of daily life there, Znatkevich says. State authorities advise musicians to stay away from politics. But according to Znatkevich, many artists insist on holding true to their views, and some of them aren’t afraid to support the political opposition. He also notes that today’s technology enables underground musicians to record their own music more easily than they could in the past: many Belarusian punk bands, for instance, produce their music at home and spread it through unofficial channels online. By going underground, members of the younger generation in Belarus are able to more freely produce music across all genres, and to give voice to their opinions in the form of art.


Those musicians who do not conform to state-approved standards are blacklisted and banned from playing on official music channels or organizing concerts. Radio stations that go against the grain lose their license to broadcast. In fact, stations are under obligation to meet state music quotas: 75 per cent of the music they play has to be produced by government-approved Belarusian artists.

For those Belarusian artists who lack government approval, Radio Svaboda presents a powerful alternative. Radio Svaboda has helped supply the country with free information via shortwave radio since 1954, and now offers its programming through online podcasting, an increasingly popular medium. Through Svaboda’s musical broadcasts, artists relate their intimate testimonies about Belarus’s boisterous past and describe their hopes for the future.

One such artist is a well-known rock musician in Belarus, Lavon Volski, who prepares one song a week for the radio. Every song comes in the form of a conversation between two old friends -- one a minor government official, and the other an experienced opposition leader. The format allows Volski to present a balance of Belarusian viewpoints, each of which comes in for equal mockery, and to provide for dialogue between political factions. It isn’t only politics: his characters openly discuss sports, culture, and social attitudes from opposing perspectives, creating a public realm otherwise lacking in most Belarusian media. Volski and Radio Svaboda packaged together the first 50 songs that aired last year into a multimedia DVD collection and celebrated the DVD’s release at a concert in Minsk. The event was closely monitored by the Belarusian State Security Agency (KGB), which unsuccessfully attempted to shut it down. The attention that the Belarusian KGB pays to Volski’s burlesque songs only serves to prove what power political commentary can have when it’s combined with art.

For Znatkevich, art and journalism are complementary worlds. He recognizes that artists operate with different tools to convey much of the same information, using emotions to express their messages. By enriching matter-of-fact journalism with the personal and emotional elements of art, Radio Svaboda is able to give a more complete perspective of life on the ground for people in Belarus. Although journalists are stuck with truthfully describing the world as it is, the artist’s sphere of competence is much broader, free to develop whole fantasy worlds that provide imaginative windows onto avenues for change.

-- Kristyna Dzmuranova

Service Snapshot: Alisher Sidikov

RFE/RL journalist Alisher Sidikov talks with NATO officials in Strasbourg in 2009.

Alisher Sidikov was a young journalist in May 2005 when troops from Uzbekistan’s security services opened fire on a crowd of peaceful protesters in the city of Andijon, leaving hundreds of Uzbekistan’s own citizens dead, including women and children. The massacre at Andijon marked a turning point in Uzbekistan’s domestic and foreign affairs, as the government clamped down hard on civil society and free media organizations.

It was under these trying circumstances that Sidikov joined RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, Radio Ozodlik, which had been forced by the government to shut down its bureau in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, in late 2005. The move left Radio Ozodlik, and now Sidikov, with a tough problem: how do you report the news for a nation of 28 million without being allowed to set foot inside its borders?

Fortunately, Sidikov and Radio Ozodlik have turned this tremendous hurdle into an advantage.

“This was a chance to find other ways to report and in fact our chief editors said that we were working better without the bureau in Uzbekistan,” explains Sidikov. Instead of despairing, Sidikov and the rest of the team at Radio Ozodlik turned to new sources and new methods of gathering information, relying as never before on citizen journalism.

Looking for Loopholes

“Radio Ozodlik is a pioneer in the new media technology in Uzbekistan,” Sidikov says, and begins to discuss the radio station’s SMS service, which allows ordinary people and governmental officials from all over the country to send in news tips to Radio Ozodlik via text message or phone. SMS is the easiest way for Uzbeks, 58% of whom have a mobile phone, to reach Radio Ozodlik.
What makes us unique is our absolute connectivity to ordinary people on a daily basis.

The response has been extraordinary: on average, according to Sidikov, Radio Ozodlik receives 60 calls every day concerning human rights violations, cases of child labour and torture. “Without any governmental accountability,” Sidikov says, “this is the most vital telephone number for [people] in Uzbekistan. The idea is that in the evening broadcasts, the person who violated your right will hear himself on air as a violator. We receive calls from the mayor’s office, for example, denying or explaining themselves to the public.This was not the case before 2005. What makes us unique is our absolute connectivity to ordinary people on a daily basis. Citizen journalism is a great tool that we are using.”

Just recently, Radio Ozodlik added a new media platform: Skype. The feedback and groundbreaking reports they have already started receiving have astonished Sidikov.

“We receive at least one contact request every hour,” he says.

Virtual Hunger Strike?

The platform Radio Ozodlik provides for Uzbek activists can sometimes take unusual turns.

Sidikov tells the story of two journalists from an Uzbek TV station who went on hunger strike to demand an end to media censorship, but were denied a permit to protest publicly.

“This is when we stepped in and opened up a Twitter account for them. We changed the rules of the game and brought the message out. These two journalists were able to go on a ‘virtual hunger strike’ and go on a direct debate with other Twitter users as well as discuss their conditions and demands on this public media platform.”

Despite the dangers to, and sacrifices of, Radio Ozodlik’s sources within the country, Sidikov still believes firmly that Radio Ozodlik is necessary now more than ever in Uzbekistan. “It is the response from people that  tells us that we are on the right track.”

-- Deana Kjuka

Persian Letters Stirs Up Blogosphere, Is Finalist For Online Journalism Awards

RFE/RL senior correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari's blog, Persian Letters: Notes Of An Iran Watcher, has been nominated for the second year in a row by the Online News Association (ONA) for an Online Journalism Award in online topical blogging.  

For the past 10 years, the ONA in partnership with the University of Miami’s School of Communication has awarded journalists for their excellence in digital journalism.

One of RFE/RL’s most widely-read blogs, Persian Letters features under-reported stories with insight and analysis from cultural, political and social spheres of Iranian society. Written and edited by Esfandiari, the blog gives voice to other Iranian bloggers, clerics, anarchists, feminists, and even Basij members.

Persian Letters is a platform for free discussion on issues that concern all levels of Iranian society. Reports on the imprisonment of Iranian activists, propaganda efforts to force Iranian women to respect the hijab, and stories that open up discussion on censorship, such as "The Little Boy Who Spoke The Truth On Iran's State TV," have contributed to the flow of dynamic and thought-provoking content. Trends and topics from the Iranian blogosphere that otherwise may not be heard occupy the center of public debate--thanks to Persian Letters.

Persian Letters Stirs Up Blogosphere

One of Esfandiari's recent popular blog posts challenged the controversial NBC report that could have been produced by Iranian state TV. Her commentary and analysis of the interview, which she said portrayed Ahmedinejad as a "pious superman," was referenced by news organizations such as The Atlantic and The Jerusalem Post.

Persian Letters is regularly published and discussed by major international media outlets, including Foreign Policy, The Atlantic Wire, The Guardian and The Browser. Esfandiari's unique writing voice and dedication to the Iranian people's stories contributes to the popularity of the blog. Her interview in 2006 with the wife of Iran's most prominent investigative journalist, Akbar Ganji, was published in six languages at the occasion of World Press Freedom Day.

Follow Golnaz Esfandiari on Twitter: @GEsfandiari.

-- Deana Kjuka

Satire Hit '250+' Awarded In Azerbaijan

'250 Seconds +': Azerbaijan's Satirical Hiti
April 15, 2011
A selection of clips from 250 Seconds +, the new satire show from RFE's Azerbaijan Service (Azeri w/ English subtitles)
WATCH: A selection of clips from 250+
"250+", the hit satirical show produced by RFE’s Azerbaijani Service, has been recognized for "innovation in new media" at this year's "Blogosfer" convention in Azerbaijan.

The show's host, Vusula Alibayli, received the award at this year's convention, the second in what has become an annual gathering of independent bloggers, new media specialists, and activists in Nabran, Azerbaijan. 

"250s+" has been compared to Jon Stewart’s "The Daily Show," and Alibayli admits to similarities between the shows, but adds, "I still have a lot of work to do to become as skillful as Jon Stewart!"

Alibayli believes the show’s success lays in the use of satire which helps people to understand and accept events.

"To an extent, I think the show 'chews' issues, making them easier to swallow," she explains.

The reaction to the show has been positive and Alibayli is most encouraged when viewers tell her they need this type of news casting. Through this show, RFE’s Azerbaijani Service, known locally as Radio Azadliq, is challenging people to think differently by analyzing events and news in a lighter, more humorous way, a first in Azerbaijani news media.

One episode opens with Alibayli paying homage to the space blogging has come to occupy in the media environment in Azerbaijan: "Today if you want to bury someone politically the next day he emerges alive with his own blog." 

At this year's "Blogosfer", bloggers and activists discussed problems of Internet quality and professionalism in new media. At the end, a packet of proposals on development of new media was formulated and submitted to the Ministry of Communications and Information, Ministry of Education, Central Bank and other state and private institutions.

-- Deana Kjuka

Video RFE's Chalupa Co-Anchors Webchat On Media Freedom

RFE's Irena Chalupa (left) co-anchoring media freedom webchat with Dr. Tomicah Tillemann.

(Washington, DC) On the heels of RFE’s recent participation in the U.S. State Department’s "TechCamp: Moldova" and "TechCamp: Vilnius" (recapped here), Irena Chalupa, senior correspondent in RFE’s Washington Bureau, served as a guest and co-anchor for a U.S. State Department-sponsored worldwide, interactive webchat with civil society activists on July 14.
Free expression and journalistic freedom are ... almost like oxygen.
--Irena Chalupa

The hour-long discussion focused on citizen activism, press freedom and freedom of expression in Europe. More than 100 activists from Ukraine, Slovakia, Serbia, Turkey, Romania, Albania, Serbia, Switzerland, Lithuania, and the United Kingdom, as well as surprise particiants from China, Myanmar, and Senegal, participated in the live chat. 

[Watch the video chat here]

According to Dr. Tomicah Tillemann, a senior advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the webchat's host and co-anchor, Chalupa was selected to assist in leading the global discussion because "she is a real expert on these issues." The chat was part of the "Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society" series, which was launched by Secretary Clinton in February as part of the State Department's Civil Society 2.0 initiative.

During the webchat, Chalupa emphasized her belief that "free expression and journalistic freedom (are) extremely important and very, very necessary...for human development...almost like oxygen."

"If you are not an informed can you make any sort of a decision (that) will give you the tools to make the proper choices?" Chalupa asked.

An activist from Romania asked about the politicization of media in certain European countries, and Chalupa offered Ukraine's oligarchs as a "prime example" of this trend.

"Oligarchs are the new rich people of the countries in the former Soviet Union (and) they do control these outlets quite tightly," Chalupa explained. "You can try talking to the oligarchs to convince them that it is in their own interest to have real, vibrant open and free media outlets... If you’re consuming this material and you find it objectionable, say so or stop reading it."

Chalupa recently moved to the RFE Washington Bureau from Prague after serving more than 20 years with RFE's Ukrainian Service, most recently as service director from 2007 to 2011 where she was involved in every aspect of the broadcast efforts.  From 1990 through 2007, Chalupa hosted daily live programs from Munich, Kyiv, and Prague and managed the creation and development of the editorial team supporting the Ukrainian Service's website

--Sigrid Lott

Tags:Ukraine, Balkans, media freedom, Irena Chalupa, webchat, citizen activism

RFE Social Media Analyst Shares Digital Literacy Expertise

Camilla Hawthorne at TechCamp Moldova

(Washington, DC) Camilla Hawthorne, a new media analyst for RFE, was recently asked to share her expertise and skills in social media and online activism at TechCamp training sessions in both Lithuania and Moldova. She was joined at the Vilnius camp by RFE's Kenan Aliyev and Mardo Soghom.
"These are the countries we broadcast to day in and day out, so to be able to share and work with different community members was very important and rewarding," Hawthorne said.
About 80 activists from civil society organizations (CSOs) representing Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, the countries of the Balkan region, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine participated in TechCamp: Vilnius on June 29-30, where they  focused on how technology can be used to facilitate citizen journalism and further their objectives for strong democracies and open societies.  The training session in Chisinau on July 15-16 gave representatives of Moldovan CSOs a chance to learn how technology can be used to make government data accessible, promote transparency, and empower citizens.
According to Hawthorne, "We [RFE] were able to bring the knowledge we have working with our broadcast countries combined with the how-to of new media, activist reporting, Internet censorship and promoting media freedom."
"The role of the Internet for social change is really starting to reveal itself," Hawthorne said. "Most of the people [at the sessions] were being introduced to a new world of tools and RFE was able to sit down with people from human rights organizations and share our expertise.  It was powerful that they were able to walk away with new knowledge on how to work with their citizenry, get the message out and work with their governments.”
Last week, Hawthorne was interviewed on "The Blender," the weekly RFE podcast, where she discussed technological opportunities as well as challenges facing online activists across the world. Highlights of TechCamp can be viewed through Storify. To see more tweets from this and other, along with future, TechCamps follow #techcamp on Twitter.
TechCamp is a global program under U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Civil Society 2.0 initiative, which is an effort to galvanize the technology community to assist civil society organizations around the globe by providing capabilities, resources and assistance to enable them to harness digital media and Internet circumvention tool advances in order to build their digital capacity and online activism efforts. CSOs support the collective values and beliefs that non-governmental communities have for the promotion of a healthy democracy.

-- Sigrid Lott

Tags:lithuania, moldova, rfe, social media, digital activism, TechCamp, Camilla Hawthorne

Khattak Discusses Pakistani Taliban For 'CTC Sentinel'

The Pakistani Taliban: sitting together...for now.

RFE's Daud Khattak looks at the recent defection of Pakistani Taliban leader Fazal Saeed and what it means for the TTP. A portion of the article is reprinted below, read the full piece on the CTC Sentinel website.


The Significance of Fazal Saeed’s Defection from the Pakistani Taliban

Daud Khattak | Combating Terrorism Center

July 27, 2011

The Role of Fazal Saeed
Fazal Saeed, 39-years-old, is from Uchat village in Central Kurram district. He enjoys the support of hundreds of local tribesmen in Kurram Agency, which is located in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on the border with Afghanistan. Saeed joined the TTP when it was founded by Baitullah Mehsud in 2007. Since then, he played an active role in the TTP on various levels, but he has been the group’s primary asset in Kurram. He opposes Pakistan’s alliance with the United States, but is equally against attacks inside Pakistan. He supports fighting against U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan and shows allegiance to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar.... [READ MORE]

RFE's Teachable Moment

Reading, writing…and RFE? That's the plan for one European university.
RFE video clips will be online as teaching tools this fall at the UCL (University College London) School of Slavonic and East European Studies for post-graduate students studying the Serbian and Croatian languages. RFE was chosen for its emphasis "not just on politics, but also on social and cultural issues," says Jelena Čalić, senior teaching fellow in Serbian and Croatian language.
Čalić said RFE's Balkan programming was valuable as it covers several countries, including Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia.  She wanted to use material that dealt with current issues and allowed student to hear the "authentic language, not something that is engineered or doctored," as is often found in audio programs used for language teaching.
Video clips will be accompanied by exercises aimed at developing comprehension skills and insight into social, cultural and political issues. RFE programs have highlighted current events in Serbia and Croatia – including the economy, minority language rights and the wearing of burqas – which Čalić believes will add a cultural context to language studies.
-- Sarah Adler

Radio Azatutyun Website Honored With Yerevan Press Club Award

Yerevan Press Club Annual Award winners, 18 July, 2011

Artur Papian, a website editor for RFE’s Armenian Service, Radio Azatutyun, was honored for his outstanding contributions to the development of digital media in Armenia at the Yerevan Press Club (YPC) Annual Award ceremony on July 18.
Papian won for enhancing alternative media through the introduction of live streaming to Radio Azatutyun's website. Radio Azatutyun broadcast its first live stream video in March to share news not available through traditional Armenian broadcast media, which is subject to government censorship. One webcast covered an opposition rally in Yerevan marking the third anniversary of the clash between protestors of the 2008 Armenian presidential elections and police, a conflict that left 10 protestors dead.

Traffic to Radio Azatutyun’s website has increased significantly, with some of the service's live videocasts reaching more than 85,000 viewers. Papian predicts that the increase in traffic and YPC’s recognition of Radio Azatutyun’s alternative media initiative will inspire other Armenian news outlets to follow suit.

“This award will point everybody in the right direction by making Armenian media stronger in the alternative media area,” Papian said.
YPC has served as an influential media watchdog since it was founded in 1995 and has recognized the top Armenian journalists and media outlets at its annual award ceremony since 1998. Radio Azatutyun correspondents have previously won YPC Annual Awards in 1999, 2003 and 2004.
-- Grace Dohnalek

Tags:Armenia, rfe, Azatutyun, yerevan press club

Paul B. Henze, An Appreciation

Paul B. Henze passed away on May 19, 2011.

Paul B. Henze, colleague and friend, died on May 19, 2011. His many professional accomplishments included his role in shaping Radio Free Europe in the 1950s and supporting RFE/RL later, both inside and outside the U.S. government.

[For more on Henze's life and work, we encourage you to read this eulogy by former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, which he prepared  for delivery at a memorial service for Henze held in northern Virginia on July 17, 2011.]

Born in Redwood Falls, Minn., Paul graduated from St. Olaf  College and, following service in the U.S. Army in Europe, completed a master's program in Soviet studies at Harvard.

In 1952 he joined RFE as deputy political advisor in Munich to William E. Griffith. Until 1958, Paul helped shape the concept of full-service substitute or surrogate broadcasting. Having taught himself shorthand, Paul chronicled many internal RFE discussions in its formative years, some of which are available for viewing in the Hoover Institution archives at Stanford University.

Later, in a number of government positions, especially as a National Security Council staff member responsible for international broadcasting during the Carter administration, Paul was an unfailing supporter of RFE/RL.

Over the last decade, while pursuing scholarly interests in Turkey, the Caucasus, and especially Ethiopia, Paul's interest in RFE/RL was rekindled. He helped us celebrate RFE/RL’s continuing legacy in Budapest, Warsaw and Prague. He was honored by the government of democratic Poland and traveled with founding Polish Service director Jan Nowak-Jezioranski around the country. Paul even contributed a chapter on RFE's early years to the volume "Cold War Broadcasting" (Central European University Press, 2010).

When I turned to writing "Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty: The CIA Years and Beyond," my book about RFE/RL (Wilson Center Press and Stanford University Press, 2010), Paul provided invaluable insights into RFE’s early years. During our many conversations at his Virginia farm he also made available volumes of private correspondences he'd had with RFE leadership during his tenure.

From his material, I learned how Paul had helped counter irresponsible suggestions made in the wake of the June 1953 East German uprising that RFE should promote violent unrest in Eastern Europe. In one letter, Paul vented his frustration at the "stupid" and "hair-brained" advice of some officials who thought RFE should advocate sabotage in Eastern Europe. Disparaging them as "psychological warriors," he wrote that "our exiles here will never carry out the kind of orders the PW-boys want to give." 

In his section for "Cold War Broadcasting," Paul wrote that "Radio Free Europe was an experiment" that "by the end of the 1950s... had evolved into a semi-permanent feature of the East European political and social landscape." 

That did not just happen. Paul Henze and his Munich associates – Americans and exiles alike – made it so. With his passing, we celebrate Paul Henze’s many accomplishments and adventures and we especially honor his lifelong contribution to RFE/RL.

- A. Ross Johnson

RFE/RL Finds A Kindred Spirit In The Lone Star State

Student interns from Radio Free Liberty Hill. Photo Courtesy Shelly Wilkison/Radio Free Liberty Hill.

(Liberty Hill, Texas) There blooms in Texas a news website inspired by the ideals of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and manned by a dedicated group of young journalists. publishes weekly in the small town of Liberty Hill, just outside the state capital of Austin. With the help of about a dozen local high school students and a civic-minded couple, the site aims to inform residents while teaching the basics of journalism.

Charley Wilkison and his wife Shelly co-founded the Radio Free Liberty Hill website in 2008 with the legacy of RFE/RL in mind. "Radio Free Europe was the truth teller and they were the people that got the real facts to the story," Wilkison said of RFE's and RL's broadcasts to countries of the Warsaw pact and former Soviet Union.  

Wilkison said the student interns "experience first-hand the consequences of truth telling." He explained that students "have been in the newspaper office when elected officials have burst through the door screaming and hollering and waving the paper" in protest. But interns, "have also been thanked for stories that sensitively covered someone's death or reported an emotional story in the community.

Shelly, who has a degree in journalism, and Charley, who studied political science, had both been high school newspaper editors and worked for their college newspapers. When they discovered that Liberty Hill students didn't have access to a journalism program, Charley said they created the website with "the idea of getting real information, real news behind enemy lines."

Wilkison puts the credit for Radio Free Liberty Hill "to whomever it was in 1951, those forward thinkers that designed this thing called Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty and put that idea of the importance of a free press out there." 

He adds they borrowed heavily from that idea, "in a humble way, to bring the news to a little central Texas farming community."

-- Sarah Adler

'Foreign Policy' Taps Caryl As Contributor For 'Tsunami'

The cover of FP's "Tsunami: Japan’s Post-Fukushima Future" E-book

RFE Washington Chief Editor Christian Caryl has contributed to an E-book by "Foreign Policy" on the Japanese tsunami and its aftermath.

Tsunami: Japan's Post-Fukushima Future examines the political and economic prospects for Japan after the March tsunami and ongoing nuclear disaster, and assembles an exclusive collection of leading journalists and scholars who are working in Japan today or have covered the country in the past. Caryl previously served as Tokyo Bureau Chief of  "Newsweek" from 2004-09.

Caryl's chapter is titled "Looking Out on the World." The E-book also contains contributions from Devin Stewart, Jeff Kingston, and Noriko Murai.

All the proceeds of the e-book, which costs $4.99, are being donated to the Japan Society which will send proceeds directly to tsunami relief efforts on Japan’s northern coast.

- Comms team

Tags:japan, Caryl, tsunami

RFE In The Twitterverse

It's where it's at.

RFE Chief Washington Editor Christian Caryl and correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari are breathing rarified air reserved for the top echelons of the foreign policy Twitter community. 

Both were (hash)tagged in "The FP Twitterati 100," a list of top tweeters covering global events and issues. Caryl (@ccaryl) examines American foreign policy on his "Outpost Washington" blog, while Esfandiari (@GEsfandiari) specializes on Iran, editing the "Persian Letters" blog.

Several other RFE journalists, editors, and broadcast services are active on Twitter and listed on the @RFERL feed. Each of RFE's language services tweet in their native local language, and some do in Russian as well.


- Comms Team

In Azerbaijan, BBG Governor Ashe Awards RFE Literary Prize, Discusses Local Media Environment

BBG Governor Victor Ashe (r) presenting the 2011 Oxu Zali award to Azerbaijani author Musa Efendi.

(Baku, Azerbaijan) At a ceremony Wednesday in Baku, Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) Member Victor H. Ashe presented Musa Efendi with the Oxu Zali ("Reading Room") literature award. Efendi, 20, was recognized for his short story, "Taken Away," which bested over 200 other submissions in a writing competition judged by the online audience of RFE’s Azerbaijani Service, Radio Azadliq. The ceremony was attended by more than 200 writers, journalists, and members of Azerbaijani civil society, including a member of parliament.

While in Baku, Governor Ashe met with Azerbaijani officials and media representatives to discuss Radio Azadliq broadcasts and other BBG-related issues.  During his meetings, Ashe invited Azerbaijani officials to visit RFE's offices in Prague and the offices of the BBG and Voice of America in Washington "to see firsthand what we do". Ashe also attended a dinner for representatives of the media in Azerbaijan, including a blogger who was recently released after spending 17 months in prison.
In a meeting with Nushiravan Maharramli, Chairman of the National TV and Radio
We hope the government of Azerbaijan will reconsider its ban on international broadcasting

Council, the governmental body responsible for licensing and regulating media, Ashe discussed a government-imposed ban on international broadcasters in place since January 2009. The ban on broadcasts over government-regulated airwaves profoundly affected distribution for both RFE/RL and Voice of America in the country and was roundly condemned by the BBG, the U.S. State Department and other media organizations.

"We hope the government of Azerbaijan will reconsider its ban on international broadcasting," Ashe said, pledging that the BBG will "continue raising the issue until it is resolved." Thomas O. Melia, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. State Department, also in Baku this week, said at a 
Ashe and Melia at a monument to slain journalist Elmar Husseynov in Baku

public meeting with journalists that he had raised the ban with his counterparts in the Azerbaijani government. "This is an important issue for us, and we tried to convey that to our Azerbaijani colleagues," Melia said. "There is no good reason why RFE shouldn't be broadcasting [on FM] here."

Ashe's trip included a visit to Radio Azadliq's Baku Bureau, during which he took questions from listeners on the radio's "Ishden Sonra" ("After Work") live call-in program. He was also presented a letter addressed to BBG Chairman Walter Isaacson from journalist Eynulla Fatullayev, who was recently released from prison in a high-profile case. "Radio Azadliq was the only media outlet in Azerbaijan that reported continuously and fearlessly on my imprisonment," Fatullayev writes. "We served this sentence against media freedom, against the right to question and the freedom to criticize, together."

About RFE's Radio Azadliq
For nearly 60 years, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service (Radio Azadliq) has operated within a challenging media environment as a dependable source of professional, independent, and up-to-the minute information and news. Broadcasting for ten hours each day, Radio Azadliq puts the values of democracy and independence firmly at the center of its mission and is one of the country's most respected news sources.

Tags:bbg, Azerbaijan, rfe, media freedom, Victor Ashe

Marking 60 Years Since The First RFE Broadcasts To Czechoslovakia

Just after the Velvet Revolution, Czechoslovaks gather in Wenceslas Square in Prague to support Vaclav Havel as president of the newly independent nation.

WASHINGTON, DC -- On May 1, 1951, the first director of the "Voice of Free Czechoslovakia" vowed that RFE’s programs would "smash the communist monopoly on speaking to the Czech nation." Sixty years later, BBG Chairman Walter Isaacson addressed a celebration of the anniversary of RFE’s first broadcasts to communist Czechoslovakia at an event co-hosted with the Czech Embassy in Washington, D.C. and the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies.

"We have to always remember that the idea of credible information is on the side of individual liberty and democracy," he said. "That’s what Radio Free Europe has stood for – and that’s what we hope to uphold in the future."

To mark the anniversary, RFE staff produced this video on the history of RFE's Czechoslovak broadcasts.

60th Anniversary-Czech Servicei
June 15, 2011
On July 4, 1950, RFE went on the air for the first time with a broadcast to communist Czechoslovakia from a studio in New York City. Sixty years later, RFE/RL reaches more than 23 million people in 28 languages and 21 countries. Here's a look at our history. (Photos courtesy Czech Tourism and the Security Service Archive in Prague.)

- Sigrid Lott

Tags:Czechoslovakia, rfe, 60th anniversary

'Radio Azadliq Saved My Life' Says Released Azerbaijani Journalist

Journalist Eynulla Fatullayev at home, Baku, May 26, 2011

In his first interview after being released from prison today, journalist Eynulla Fatullayev told RFE's Azerbaijan Service, Radio Azadliq, "We cannot let independent, critical journalism disappear in Azerbaijan."

Fatullayev was pardoned as part of a presidential amnesty marking the anniversary of the first independent Republic of Azerbaijan, 1918 - 1920.  In a high-profile case, he was sentenced to eight and one-half years in prison in 2007 after being found guilty of terrorism, defamation and incitement to racial hatred, charges that international organizations and foreign governments rejected as politically motivated.  The European Court of Human Rights found that his trial was unfair and dismissed the charges in 2010.  Azerbaijan defied that court's ruling and extended his sentence on new charges of drug possession last year.
I love Radio Azadliq. You're one of those who saved my life.

Fatullayev called his release a "miracle," and thanked local and international organizations for their efforts to press for his freedom. In his interview he said that he listened to Radio Azadliq in prison. "I love Radio Azadliq. You're one of those who saved my life," he added. (Please visit this photo gallery of Fatullayev's homecoming.)

Radio Azadliq reported extensively on Fatullayev's arrest and trials, interviewed him in prison and aired several letters that he had written while behind bars. 

Fatullayev was the editor of Realny Azarbaycan and Gundalik Azarbaycan, both independent dailies that published criticism of the government and which were closed after Fatullayev's arrest. He also worked with independent magazine editor Elmar Huseynov, who was murdered in 2005 in a case that remains unsolved.

At the news of Fatullayev's release, Kenan Aliyev, Director of Radio Azadliq, said "Eynulla was the last journalist in an Azeri prison, and we hope there will be no more."

Additional news is available at Radio Azadliq, Facebook and Twitter.

Two Days With RFE: Charles University and Point Park University

Charles University students meet with staff at RFE headquarters

Last week saw two visits to RFE headquarters from aspiring groups of journalists – one from each side of the Atlantic.Both visits were part of our "A Day With RFE" program, a one-day visitor's program for journalism and communications students.

The group from Prague’s Charles University stopped by on Wednesday, meeting with audience research specialist Andrius Kuncina to discuss reporting from and about closed societies. They also met with RFE's journalism trainer Dragan Milojevic for a workshop on online multimedia techniques.

The following day saw the arrival of students from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s Point Park University. The group met with RFE's Central Asia expert and veteran journalist Bruce Pannier, attended RFE's daily editoral meeting, and capped off the day with a master class by Akbar Ayazi, who oversees broadcasts to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran.
Of their day at RFE, Point Park students had this to say:
Point Park University students tour RFE's central newsroom

"So interesting! My favorite part of the trip! Very well put together and presented!"

"So amazing! It was so interesting to hear about Afghanistan from Ayazi’s perspective, especially as Americans. We do not hear these types of stories. It gave me a great perspective as to what goes on in the world and why an organization like this is so important. It's a humbling experience."

"The conversation with Mr. Ayazi was more eye-opening and informative than anything I have experienced while I have been in Prague. Not only do I have a new perspective on journalism in the Middle East, I realize now how the US media tends to gloss over non-sensational stories about the region.”

If you are interested in "A Day With RFE/RL", please check out our visitor program info page.


Radio Europa Libera: The Legacy Of RFE's Romanian Broadcasts

Moldovan Foreign Minister Iurie Leanca, 22Mar2011

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC -- Earlier this week, Moldovan Foreign Minister Iurie Leanca stoppped by RFE headquarters, where he discussed Moldovan democratization, the conflict with Transdniester, and the potential for further integration with Europe. His visit was both informative and topically appropriate, as this year marks the 60th anniversary not only of the Czechoslovak Service, but also of its Romanian counterpart, Radio Europa Libera.

Now succeeded by the Moldovan Service, official broadcasts from Radio Europa Libera into Romania were halted in 2008. In its 57 year existence, however, Europa Libera’s Romanian iteration made a lasting impact on the society into which it broadcasted, and on a number of its most prominent citizens.

During his visit, Minister Leanca spoke of his personal relationship with RFE growing up. Said Leanca, “I still remember when I was a child in the 70’s and [my father] was listening to your radio. And it was a really a source of inspiration, of unbiased information, and a source of hope. And by the way, today, we now all live in completely different conditions, but Radio Free Europe is playing a very important role.”

Also impacted was Vladimir Tismaneanu, a noted Romanian/American political scientist, professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, and President of the Scientific Council of The Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes and the Memory of the Romanian Exile (IICCMER). Tismaneanu recently drafted a statement in honor of the anniversary, speaking of the catalyzing effect that RFE’s Romanian broadcasts had on him growing up.
For totalitarianism, truth is subversive.

Wrote Tismaneanu: “In a Bucharest pervaded by official lies, with newspapers dominated by sycophantic poems and hagiographic articles celebrating the ‘victories of socialism’ and the ‘triumphant march of Marxism-Leninism,’ not to speak of the infinite genius of the general secretary (first Gheoghiu-Dej, then Ceausescu), Radio Free Europe was indeed the source of our refusal to despair.”

Tismaneanu specifically praised broadcasts by former director Noel Bernard, calling his editorials “superbly informed and remarkably balanced.” In the statement, he also looks back on the particularly virulent brand of opposition that Radio Europa Libera faced in Romania at the hands of the totalitarian government.

“For totalitarianism, truth is subversive. The regime reacted accordingly, unleashing sordid, slanderous campaigns against RFE’s most active editors. An attempt against Monica Lovinescu’s life was hatched. Directors Noel Bernard and Vlad Georgescu most likely lost their lives as a result of Securitate-planned criminal plots.”

Nevertheless, despite the regime’s efforts, Radio Europa Libera endured, even after the fall of communism. Today, the Moldovan Service carries on the legacy, serving as the largest international radio broadcaster in the country.

To read the full text of Prof. Tismaneanu’s statement, click here. Visit RFE’s Moldovan Service web page here.

Tags:history, Moldovan Service

Service Snapshot: Vusala Alibayli

Vusala Alibayli poses for a mugshot.

We recently had a chance to speak with Vusala Alibayli, the Azerbaijani Service's new queen of comedy and anchor of "250 Seconds +," its popular satirical news program. We talked to her about the show, her accidental beginnings in journalism, and the hidden melancholy underneath her jovial exterior.

"250 Seconds +" is a comedic newscast in the same vein as America's "The Daily Show." What has been the reaction in Azerbaijan to the program?

Vusala: I suppose there are similarities between the programs, but I still have a lot of work to do to become as skillful as Jon Stewart!

Still, the reaction to our show has been very good. Sometimes when our newscast is posted on the webpage it gets more than 500 likes on Facebook and more than 6,000 views in a day. And the thing which makes me happy to hear and to see - no matter what their political perspective – is when people tell me that they need this type of newscasting. Our society needs satire, I think.

What do you think it is about the comedic format that is so successful with regard to newscasting?

Vusala: Well, as I mentioned, I think people need satire, at least to understand and to accept events in an easy way. To an extent, I think the show “chews” issues, making them easier to swallow. Humor makes people think differently, and that’s why it is more interesting.

What inspired you to get into journalism? And how did you become involved with RFE/RL?

Vusala: I never had any great desire to become a journalist; it was simply by chance. At our university, we had to choose our focus using codes. Fortunately, I made a mistake on my code list, putting down journalism instead of what I originally intended. This mistake gave me a profession which makes me very happy and confident now.

I began my career in 2006, working for a youth program. My colleague and I did a radio broadcast about the legalization of prostitution. This reporting brought us good luck. After broadcasting it, we got our first press card from Radio Liberty. That was so exciting. I think the only way to achieve success is to do the best you can with what you’re passionate about without thinking of the end. And that’s what we did.

Comms: You are very funny on the show. Are you funny in real life?

Vusala: As the political expert of our comedic show Loru Expertov says,

"Говорят что я жизню доволен
Говорят что я много шучу
Но никто никогда не узнает
Как тоску разогнать я хочу"


"They say I am pleased of life
They say I am joking a lot
But no one will know
How I want to disperse my melancholy."

Tags:People Profiles, Service Sketches, Azerbaijani Service

Havel Congratulates RFE On Anniversary Of First Czechoslovak Broadcasts

Vaclav Havel Signature

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC -- Thanks to President Vaclav Havel, who took the time to draft a statement congratulating RFE/RL on the 60th anniversary of its first Czechoslovak broadcasts. English translation of President Havel's statement below. 

Dear Friends,

I am glad that RFE/RL celebrates such a mature birthday, and in full strength. Its broadcasts have played an exceptional role in the modern history of Czechoslovakia. The radio belongs to institutions that have for several decades informed truthfully about real and important events, and thus have helped to maintain continuous civic awareness under communist dictatorship. It was with great satisfaction that we could welcome the radio in Prague after the fall of the Iron Curtain, and thus start to repay our debt for its credible work. I hope that RFE/RL will continue to pursue in the post-modern and politically unstable world the same goals for which it was established, and which the radio faithfully and steadfastly served: defense of human rights, civic rights and human dignity.

- Vaclav Havel


Radio Farda Surpasses 100,000 Fans On Facebook

Radio Farda Facebook Page Screen Grab

In a landmark event exemplifying the success of social networking and new media in reaching those living under government censorship, RFE/RL’s Iran Service, Radio Farda, reached a milestone last week: surpassing 100,000 fans on Facebook.

In an interview with RFE/RL’s Communications team, Radio Farda web editor Fred Petrossians discussed Facebook’s effectiveness in providing an alternative source of information for those without access to impartial television or newspaper outlets. Said Petrossians, “Social media is a tremendous asset for an organization like ours. Promoting our content through these websites can help target new audiences and get people sharing the content they like with others on the web.”

Indeed, following the events of the Arab Spring, social media is more relevant than ever. Facebook is the new town hall, and forwarding content has become the post-modern equivalent of Paul Revere’s ride.

“The beauty of Facebook,” says Petrossian, “is that people can make our content their own in a sense, and send it to their friends very easily. Facebook is an information highway.”

Radio Farda maintains one of the most popular Iranian Facebook pages. The social networking website’s popularity, according to Petrossians, has allowed Radio Farda listeners to become more involved in the news process.

To be sure, the interactive elements that Facebook provides have become an essential part of Radio Farda’s success, which has continued to grow - somewhat to the surprise of Radio Farda itself - even after the election controversy and ensuing protests of 2009.

In an effort to bolster both Radio Farda’s growing popularity and interactivity, a new project is about to launch that will enable a more human touch. Explains Petrossians, “we are starting a new section where Radio Farda employees and staff will be able to interact directly with our users, answering questions and interfacing directly with readers. Not only about specific news stories, but about the best ways to share useful information and have their voices heard.”

Congratulations to Radio Farda!

Tags:Radio Farda

RFE Hosts UNDEF Media Training

Training the Trainers

This week, RFE/RL played host to ‘Training the Trainers,’ a five-day multimedia workshop and training course for journalists and bloggers from Central Asia. Administered by media development nonprofit “Transitions” and financed by the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF), ‘Training the Trainers’ seeks to familiarize participants with new and multi-media approaches to reporting in the particularly restrictive media environments of Central Asia.

Instructor Alaksiej Lavoncyk, a media development expert who helped to sketch the program’s initial proposal, explains: “Central Asia is very restricted. For these journalists, the Internet is the only way to promote their ideas. The governments own the printing presses. With this program, we believe we can…at least create some self-sustaining momentum.”

This week’s workshop marks the inaugural event for ‘Training the Trainers.’ The schedule includes a day of focus on social networking – in many ways the principal venue for modern political dissent in closed media environments. During this session students split into groups, each choosing a campaign or website and developing promotional strategies to market the idea using social media. Other days’ topics include software compatibility, multimedia journalism, as well as digital storytelling and publishing.

For the inaugural run, ten participants were chosen from a pool of applicants, with two from each Central Asian country. All active professional or citizen journalists with experience in publishing, the participants came to Prague not only to learn new techniques, but also to learn how to teach them.

But that was the easy part; the primary challenge for ‘Training the Trainers’ was getting the students to Prague, which can be difficult given the relatively closed nature of the countries from they hail. Thanks to significant assistance from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, “Transitions” was able to secure visas for the participants and get them to Prague safely.

Two students even came from Uzbekistan, an authoritarian nation with perhaps the most restrictive media regulations in the region. Such dedication on the part of the participating journalists serves as a reminder of the desire for free expression inherent in post-Soviet Central Asia. With broadcast services in each of the countries from which participants were drawn, RFE was proud to play a small part in the initiative.

‘Training the Trainers’ is funded by the UNDEF through 2012. Judging by Lavoncyk’s assessment, it may not be enough. “We have a lot to overcome in a short time,” he says. Still, if the enthusiasm of the participants is any indication, it would appear that ‘Training the Trainers’ has a receptive audience.


Azeri Correspondent Honored In Photography Competition

Azerbaijan -- "Helplessness" by Abbas Atilay, Baku, undated

Baku-based photographer and correspondent for RFE’s Azerbaijani Service, Abbas Atilay, was recently featured as a finalist and runner-up in the 2011 International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) Photography Contest.

Now in its third year, the annual IFES contest highlights images depicting civic engagement and political activism in the pursuit of democracy. Atilay, who also won the 2010 Transitions Online Photo Competition, was honored for two photographs taken during the Summer 2010 opposition protests in Baku. Both images placed in the top ten list, which was culled from 500 original submissions.

Congratulations to Abbas and the Azerbaijani Service. View the winners and runners-up here.

Tags:Kudos, Azerbaijani Service

'250 Seconds+': The Lighter Side Of News In Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan -- Logo, Radio Azadliq

RFE's Azerbaijan Service, Radio Azadliq, is trying to (occasionally) lighten the mood of the news a bit in Azerbaijan. The station's new satire show, "250 Seconds+", skewers the absurd and offers political analysis that, as one can see in the clip below, is as funny as it is important.

VIDEO: Highlights from "250 Seconds+"
'250 Seconds +': Azerbaijan's Satirical Hiti
April 15, 2011
A selection of clips from 250 Seconds +, the new satire show from RFE's Azerbaijan Service (Azeri w/ English subtitles)

- Comms team

RFE Armenian Service Reporters Receive 'Freedom Of Speech' Awards

Two correspondents of RFE's Armenian Service have won a prestigious "Freedom of Speech" journalism award by Asparez, an Armenian NGO dedicated to the protection of journalists' rights and freedom of speech.

Anush Martirosian was awarded for her reporting on legal action taken against arrested political opposition members. Satenik Kaghzvantsian received the award in recognition of her reports on critical social issues in Armenia, including problems in the education system, housing shortages, as well as emigration of the young Armenians to Russia.

The prizes were presented at a ceremony in Gyumri which was attended by a wide array of prominent public figures from across Armenia.

RFE's Armenian Service, Radio Azatutyun, continues to be one of the primary sources of independent news in Armenia, rated "not free" in Freedom House's 2010 Freedom Of The Press report. The station has received a number of noteworthy awards in recent years. These include: an award for their coverage of the achievements of women in political, economic and social spheres from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the British Council “Silver Microphone,” the “Best Radio Report” award from the United Nations Armenian Association, and the “Responsible Coverage” award from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Armenian Public Relations Association.

Tags:Kudos, Armenian Service

From Our Archives: Personalities, Pundits and Politicos

U.S. -- Radio Liberty Editor Francis Ronalds interviews Martin Luther King in 1966.

  • Former U.S. First Lady and Human Rights Champion Eleanor Roosevelt sits down for an interview in the late 1950s - Former U.S. First Lady and Human Rights Champion Eleanor Roosevelt sits down for an interview in the late 1950s with Radio Liberty.
  • Jazz musician and bandleader William "Count" Basie (left) visits the RFE studios during his 1956 European tour. - Jazz musician and bandleader William "Count" Basie (left) visits the RFE studios during a break in his 1956 European tour. Jazz, which the Soviets dismissed as capitalistic, was an important component of the Radios' programming. throughout the years. At one time labeled "the music of putrescent capitalism" by the Soviets, jazz was suppressed to varying degrees in the USSR and its satellites. Despite official condemnation, jazz remained popular in the region, and RFE/RL took advantage of this, using music to build a base of devoted listeners. The Radios recorded performances by American jazz artists in New York and Munich for broadcast to their listeners; one of the Radios' biggest jazz coups was the recording and distribution of an album of Soviet jazz compositions smuggled out of the USSR by members of Benny Goodman's orchestra.
  • U.S. President John F. Kennedy speaks into an RFE microphone in the early 1960s. - U.S. President John F. Kennedy speaks into an RFE microphone in the early 1960s.
  • Former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower talks with RFE director C. Rodney Smith in front of a RFE map. - Former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower talks with RFE director C. Rodney Smith in front of a map showing RFE's broadcasting area in the early 1960s.
  • U.S. journalist Walter Cronkite narrates a film about RFE commissioned by the National Committee for a Free Europe-1960s - U.S. journalist Walter Cronkite narrates a film about RFE commissioned by the National Committee for a Free Europe in the 1960's.
  • Henry Kissinger is being interviewed by Radio Free Europe in the early 1960s about the political situation in Europe. - Henry Kissinger is being interviewed by Radio Free Europe in the early 1960s about the political tensions raging in Europe.
  • Elizabeth Taylor takes a break for an interview with Radio Free Europe in 1962 on the set of the epic film Cleopatra. - Elizabeth Taylor takes a break for an interview with Radio Free Europe in 1962 on the set of the epic film Cleopatra.
  • New York Senator Kenneth Keating speaks with Radio Free Europe on a fact finding mission to Germany in the early 1960s. - New York Senator Kenneth Keating speaks with Radio Free Europe on a fact finding mission to Germany in the early 1960s.
  • Radio Free Europe Journalist scrambles to get front row seat for a news conference with Nikita Khrushchev in 1962. - Radio Free Europe Journalist scrambles to get front row seat for a news conference with Nikita Khrushchev in 1962.
  • Radio Liberty Editor Francis Ronalds interviews U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in 1966. - Radio Liberty Editor Francis Ronalds interviews U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in 1966 about the on-going fight for equal rights in America.
  • RFE Czechoslovak Disc Jockey Joe Sevecka (left) interviews British singing star Tom Jones in March 1968. - RFE Czechoslovak Disc Jockey Joe Sevecka (left) interviews British singing star Tom Jones during his March 1968 visit to Munich.
  • Shah of Iran speaks into a RFE microphone during a 1968 diplomatic trip to Berlin . - Shah of Iran speaks into a RFE microphone during a 1968 diplomatic trip to Berlin .
  • Ronald Regan's foreign policy adviser and ardent anticommunist Jeane Kirkpatrick sits down with RFE in 1980. - Ronald Regan's foreign policy adviser and ardent anticommunist Jeane Kirkpatrick sits down with RFE in 1980.

For more RFE/RL photo slide-shows visit RFE/RL's History in Images or RFE/RL in Images.


RFE/RL's Polish Broadcast Archives Now Available To Stream

Radio Wolnosci Conference - Poland

WARSAW, POLAND -- All the preserved RFE Polish Service broadcasts are now available for on-demand streaming at a new Polish Radio website, ‘Radios of Freedom.'

These broadcasts are a unique part of Polish history. They demonstrate how Poles abroad - in partnership with Americans - helped preserve the spirit of Polish independence and freedom during the Cold War.

‘Radios of Freedom’ was launched at a recent conference in Warsaw. The event was organized by Andrzej Mietkowski, former head of the RFE/RL Warsaw bureau, and featured a number of former international broadcasters as well as members of the Polish government.
Through these stations, America did not seek to impose freedom but empower people to find their own.

Daniel Fried, formerly the American Ambassador in Warsaw, told the gathering by video recording: "My government established these stations - it was one of America's better ideas. But Americans did not generate their content; Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, Estonians, and others from then-captive nations generated it. Through these stations, America did not seek to impose freedom but empower people to find their own." 

Former RFE/RL Polish Service Director Zdzislaw Najder echoed this perspective in an English-language interview for Polish Radio’s external service.“[RFE] did not shape attitudes; it made people more aware of what their real attitudes are. It informed them about neighbors. Sometimes it was difficult to communicate with people in the next town, because of censorship, because of police [surveillance]. The radio could gather this information and transmit it.”

Tags:history, Cold War Chronicles

Service Snapshot: Harry Tamrazian

RFE Armenian Service Director Harry Tamrazian

Harry Tamrazian is Director of RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. He sat down with us recently to talk about Radio Azatutyan, his time with RFE, and Armenia's most popular game.

What impact is Radio Azatutyan having in Armenia right now?

HT: Radio Azatutyan is the most popular and listened-to radio station in Armenia. This includes all local radio stations, even the 24 hour public radio news broadcast, which is surprising since we broadcast far less! Our programming covers evenings and prime time news hours, and we also have a morning broadcast as well as regular special segments focusing on topics like education, music, youth and culture.

The strength of Radio Azatutyan that no other outlet has been able to accomplish is the reputation of being the radio that broadcasts the truth. Over many years of fair and intelligent news broadcasts we have achieved this, and we are proud of our accomplishment.

You have been with RFE/RL since 1990. What about RFE/RL do you enjoy that has kept you here for so much of your career?

HT: I consider RFE not just a media company, but something more. Our mission – reporting unbiased, fact-based news to unfree societies – is essentially selfless. It is not financially driven, it’s not commercial; it comes from the heart. Frankly, this is inspiring to me, because it makes me something more than just a broadcaster. I’m here to support my fellow Armenians.

We have been told that you are something of a master chess player. Care to comment?

HT: I would not consider myself a master chess player. But what I will say is that every Armenian knows how to play chess. This is the most popular game in the country because we had the world champion, Tigran Petrosian, during Soviet times in the late 60s. Imagine this tiny nation in the corner of this huge empire that suddenly has this hero. Every family wanted to send their kids to his chess school. This tradition continues today. So I am just another Armenian who plays chess.

Tags:People Profiles, Service Sketches, Armenian Service

RFE/RL Remembers Elizabeth Taylor

U.S. -- Elizabeth Taylor takes a break for an interview with Radio Free Europe in 1962 on the set of the epic film Cleopatra.

Hollywood Icon Elizabeth Taylor has died today at the age of 79.

Radio Free Europe interviewed Elizabeth Taylor on the set of her epic film "Cleopatra" in 1962. A photo from the interview (above) shows Ms. Taylor being interviewed during a break from filming.


Banned In Iran: Radio Farda To Live Stream Nowruz Music Festival From Dubai

Germany -- Ebrahim Hamedi, well known by the name Ebi is a famous Iranian singer, undated

To celebrate Nowruz (the Persian New Year, which began on March 21), RFE's Radio Farda is live streaming a special three-day concert series from Dubai. Beginning today at 1 PM EST and running through Thursday, the event will bring together a number of different Iranian musicians who are banned in their native country.

Four different acts will kick things off tonight from the 6,000-seat Aviation Tennis Club in Dubai, UAE. On the 24th, legendary Iranian singer-songwriter Ebi will perform, along with Iranian pop-singer Shadmehr Aghili. 

The three-day performance schedule is as follows:

March 22: Homeira, Shahram Solati, Pooya, Michael
March 23: Sattar, Omid, Mansour, Afshin
March 24: Ebi, Shadmehr

Concert times should remain consistent from day to day (1 PM EST, 6 PM CET). The stream is available here.

Nowruz Mubarak from RFE!

Tags:Radio Farda

RFE's Oana Serafim At 'One World Film Festival'

Czech Republic -- The poster for the One World 2011 (Jeden svet) film festival

On March 14, Oana Serafim - Director of RFE/RL’s Moldova Service - spearheaded a panel debate following the premiere screening of the controversial Romanian film "Kapitalism: Our Improved Formula” at the One World Film Festival, which took place in Prague from March 8-17.

In the film, director Alexandru Solomon investigates the rise of Romania’s unique brand of capitalism. The film paints a picture of a business oligarchy plagued by allegations of corruption, money laundering, and close ties to the Securitate (communist Romania’s former secret service). 

In her role as RFE/RL's Director of the Moldova Service, Oana Serafim has spent a lot of time listening to the voices of the past via RFE/RL archival reports in an effort to understand the roots of today's problems. A long-time film critic and specialist on the region, Oana described "Kapitalism" as altogether “brilliant, tough, real and profound to watch.”

Serafim explained to the audience that the film’s subjects – Romania’s corrupt, oligarchic elite - felt themselves to be “heroes of capitalism” and simply above the law. Such predicaments, she explained, are an inheritance of communism.

Director Solomon is not new to RFE/RL. In a previous film, “Cold Waves,” he explored the Radio's impact on Romanian society and the ruling elite during the last era of Nicolae Ceausescu’s dictatorship. His new work focuses on that regime's anarchic aftermath.

Fittingly, the most succinct summation of the film's central theme came near its conclusion - and from one of its subjects. In the words of Dinu Patriciu, currently the richest tycoon in Romania:

"You won't be successful unless you steal."

- Dalma Szentpetery

Tags:events, RFE/RL Hearts The Arts, Moldovan Service

Charter 77's Unlikely Signatory

Jefim Fistein

In 1976, following the arrests of a number of prominent musicians and entertainers in Czechoslovakia, a document was drafted by anti-communist activists that would go on to define the opposition movement for years to come.

Charter 77, as it came to be known, was an embryonic blueprint for the Velvet Revolution. It criticized the government for failing to uphold civil and human rights, and involved a number of the same leaders that eventually went on to participate in the non-violent overthrow of the communist government in 1989.

In the end, close to 2,000 people signed Charter 77. And yet, among those, only one was a non-native Czech. Jefim Fistein, Director of RFE/RL’s Russian Service, is the man that carries this distinction.

Born in Kiev, Ukraine, Jefim had a politically active youth – if only, ironically, due to his inactivity. Growing up, Fistein refused to take part in the Soviet political machine. “I never joined the [Communist Union of Youth] Komsomol as a young person,” he explains. “In my time, this was seen as a strong gesture of disapproval against the regime.”

Fistein’s political involvement took a turn in 1965, when in December he went on to participate in one of the first anti-communist demonstrations in modern Russian history. The protest – a reaction to the arrest and trial of well-known writers Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel on charges of publishing anti-Soviet materials in foreign papers – was the first of many to take place in Pushkin Square, considered by many to be the heart of Moscow. As a result of his participation, Fistein was formally reprimanded by the state and deprived of a scholarship to school.
I see my signature under the charter as proof that in real life there is always a chance to bring your social behavior in compliance with your conscience.

Several years later, in 1969, Fistein again bucked the system when he expressed solidarity with the Prague Spring. “I empathized with what they were doing,” he explains. “Around that time, I married a Czech girl and moved to Prague, so you could say I was a bit more invested than many Soviet citizens.”

While in Prague, Jefim worked as an independent translator, despite his training in journalism. Says Jefim, “Although I was trained in journalism, I didn’t want to work in Czechoslovakia because I didn’t want to serve the regime in any way.”

Fistein’s activism came to a head when he signed Charter 77 in 1978. Aware of the ramifications that might result once he signed, Jefim preemptively asked the government to rescind his Soviet citizenship. “I became, effectively, a man without a country,” Jefim explained, “so once I signed, it became difficult for the authorities to know what to do with me. The best they could do was deprive me of my residence permission, which they did.”

Fistein moved to Austria with his family shortly thereafter, where he stayed until after the Velvet Revolution.

Looking back, Jefim is glad to have been a part of such a defining period in history, but is careful with his choice of words when describing his time as an activist.

“I wouldn’t say I’m proud,” he explains. “I see my signature under the charter as proof that in real life there is always a chance to bring your social behavior in compliance with your conscience.”

More important for Jefim was the redemptive aspect of his participation. “It gave me the chance to not be ashamed of my past.”

Tags:Service Sketches, Cold War Chronicles, Russian Service

Iran's Fars News Endorses 'Liberty & Listeners'?!

Zarif Nazar, Host of "Liberty and Listeners"

Decidedly mixed signals coming out of Iran these days.

In a surprising plug, Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency recently endorsed RFE/RL’s own “Liberty & Listeners” program in Afghanistan.

Published almost concurrently with the reported DOS attack on Radio Farda’s answering machines, the article commends Radio Azadi’s popular program as a unique and helpful venue through which the Afghan people can connect to their government.

In the relatively glowing report (available here in Farsi), Fars praises “Liberty & Listeners” for the role it has played in “bridging the strongly-felt gap between the Afghan people and government.” This marks a surprising break in sentiment for an organization known for its often one-sided articles expounding its government’s anti-western stance. Further, the fact that Azadi’s Iranian counterpart, Radio Farda, is officially banned in the theocratic nation (and subject to consistent jamming efforts by its government) adds to the quizzical nature of the plug.

For his part, Zarif Nazar – host of “Liberty & Listeners” – is bemused by (and only a little suspicious of) the article’s positive tone. Although the piece’s first sentence scolds Nazar for having a somewhat dictatorial bent, it is the only critical line in an otherwise laudatory several paragraphs.

“I’m certainly confused,” laughs Nazar. “But you have to remember that there is a lot of movement within Iran, and in Iranian media. Although there is government control, there are also those that want to do good journalism. They have provided here a strong analysis of my show.”

Nazar attributes some of the positive feedback to the possibility of his airing of emails from Iranian citizens. “I occasionally air questions or comments from Iranians if they are relevant to Afghanistan, and these are often critical. I think perhaps they recognize that I am fair in this regard.”

Nevertheless, Nazar is wary of all the attention. “It’s a little disconcerting!” he says. “Still, I think it is a positive development overall.”

Tags:OH SNAP!, Radio Azadi, Radio Farda

Service Snapshot: Farshid Manafi

Pas Farda's Farshid Manafi at the helm.

Farshid Manafi, host of Radio Farda's wildy popular talk show "Pas Farda," pushes back against Iranian censors with his critical eye and gimlet wit. Reactions from his listeners are a testimony to his success.

Farshid has been a well-known Iranian personality for some time. But five years ago, his lively programs on state television and radio were shut down by censors, and he was fired.
There is no substitute for truth, and we at "Pas Farda" try to provide that every day in a fun and unique way.

Banned from Iranian airwaves, Farshid joined RFE's Iranian service Radio Farda and created “Pas Farda” (Farsi for 'The Day After Tomorrow'), which has been on-air five nights a week for a little over a year. A satirical production skewering both political and social mores inside Iran, “Pas Farda” provides a breath of fresh air in a media climate devoid of critical voices.

For Manafi, no subject is off the table. Segments of the show poke fun at the regime, and the religious fundamentalism that permeates public life in Iran. A popular recurring character is a mullah who gives decidely tongue-in-cheek guidance on such issues as how to avoid immodestly-dressed women, as well as how to live a long, fulfilling life according to the leaders in the government.

The show continues to be a hit. Tens of thousands of Facebook fans and hundreds of daily comments and calls are a clear sign that "Pas Farda" has hit a nerve.

We sat down with Farshid for a quick chat about his program. Also, check out the brief video clip showing Farshid in action. Farsi speakers can follow Farshid on Facebook or on Radio Farda's site.

PasFarda Blurredi
March 08, 2011
PasFarda Blurred

How do you choose content for the show?

: We just take a look at what's going on in Iran and choose our topics accordingly. The Iranian government and authorities never fail to provide us with fodder for the show, so we never run out of things to talk about. This week we will be focusing on corruption and the Revolutionary Guard’s propaganda efforts.

How do you know your show is making an impact?

FM: Due to censorship and political repression in Iran it is very difficult to measure the exact reach of our program. But we have strong indicators that “Pas Farda” is making quite an impact. Our show's Facebook page has about 35,000 fans, and we often receive hundreds of comments when we're live on the air. And despite the censorship, Radio Farda's website receives millions of visitors each month, many of them through proxy servers. People send us emails, SMS and telephone messages, and they tell us that they love the show because it is one of the only sources that provides real commentary about what is happening in Iran.

How did you become the host of Pas Farda?

FM: I have been working in radio since I was 18 years old. I really love my job and want to make a difference for the Iranian people. Five years ago I had one of the most popular programs on Iranian state television and radio. Because of the show’s honesty and content the government showed up one day and shut down production. Now I am glad to have the opportunity here at Radio Farda to talk to the Iranian people freely and without any censorship. There is no substitute for truth, and we at "Pas Farda" try to provide that every day in a fun and unique way.

“Pas Farda” airs on RFE/RL from 9:00 to 10:00pm Tehran time, Saturday through Wednesday.

Tags:People Profiles, Service Sketches, Radio Farda

RFE Correspondent Curates Book On Occupation Of Czechoslovakia

Czechoslovakia -- Czech youngsters hold a Czechoslovak flag stand atop an overturned truck as other Prague residents surround Soviet tanks in Prague, 21Aug1968

On February 20 in Prague the Mene Tekel festival against totalitarianism began with an exhibition at Charles University. The event, now in its 5th year, examines totalitarianism in its many forms, focusing specifically this year on art and education. It was the perfect venue for the February 21 unveiling and launch of “Okupanti Tahnete Domu!” - a new book compiling firsthand retrospective accounts of Lithuanian soldiers who took part in the invasion and occupation of Czechoslovakia following the 1968 Prague Spring.

The book – the title of which translates to “Occupiers Go Home!” – was compiled under the guidance of RFE/RL newsroom correspondent Valentinas Mite. A Lithuanian himself, Mite says he was drawn to the project by the unique relationship Lithuanians had with occupied Czechs. “Lithuanians came to Czechoslovakia as occupiers being occupied themselves,” he says, “and their feelings were with the Czech people.”

Indeed, such post-Soviet solidarity is evidenced just inside the book’s front cover, which boasts endorsements from Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg as well as his Lithuanian counterpart Andronius Azubalis.

The publication of “Okupante Tahnete Domu!” constitutes a unique landmark in the Czech historical narrative. Explains Mite, “On the whole it is one of the first books in Czech actually written by former occupiers. I hope it will be some kind of source for Czech historians investigating the period and will help for better mutual understanding.”

“Okupante Tahnete Domu!” will soon be available in stores in the Czech Republic.

Tags:Reading List

RFE Historian On The Development Of Independent Media After The Cold War

U.S. -- Cold War Broadcasting Ross Johnson book cover, undated

WASHINGTON, DC -- RFE/RL's own A. Ross Johnson - also of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars - was recently published on with a piece entitled "Fostering Independent Professional Media in the Transition; The Contribution of RFE/RL." In the article, he discusses the recent release of an RFE-centric book he co-edited, as well as the larger issue of RFE's contribution to the development of independent media in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

"[RFE/RL's] continuing role of promoting a well-informed citizenry was in response to the urging of many in Eastern Europe, most prominently Vaclav Havel, and took three forms.

First, continued broadcasting in the RFE/RL tradition, providing audience-centric news and information that was balanced, objective, and non-partisan but now increasingly East-European based. Initially this meant strong local news and production bureaus, led by veteran journalists Peter Brod in Prague and Maciej Wierzynski in Warsaw, that provided most domestic news and features for the broadcasts. A Crusade for Freedom poster had called RFE broadcasts “The In Sound from Outside.” Now the “in sound” came from inside."

To read the rest of the article, visit Wolna Europa.

Tags:Reading List, Cold War Chronicles

Service Snapshot: Nabil Ahmed And Iraq's 'Economic Report'

Radio Free Iraq's Nabil Ahmed

Any casual observer of international affairs in the late 1990s knew Iraq’s 'Oil-for-Food' program was plagued by corruption. Yet, in Baathist Iraq such information was tightly controlled. These were the conditions facing Nabil Z. Ahmed when he launched Radio Free Iraq’s Economic Report in 1999.

“The Economic Report looked closely at the corruption in the 'Oil-for-Food' program," Ahmed explains. "Iraq was under sanctions at this time and the amount of corruption was immense and included the highest levels of the Russian and French government.”

After its initial launch, Economic Report rapidly became popular with listeners across Iraq who had little access to economic news about their country. The weekly broadcast dealt with Iraq’s domestic and international economy, focusing heavily on capital markets, entrepreneurship, finance, agricultural development, and trade. In all, 455 episodes of the Economic Report were broadcast between April 1999 and June 2009 before Ahmed moved on to focus on other projects with Radio Free Iraq, including local and world news bulletins, international and regional reports, as well as translations from western press.

Broadcasting in Iraq has never been without its challenges. Saddam’s regime took a hostile view toward Radio Free Iraq and many of the early interviews were conducted anonymously. Today, however, Radio Free Iraq has an entirely different brand image in the region. “Now when we speak with individuals from Jordan or Saudi Arabia and say we are with Radio Free Iraq," says Ahmed, "they often know who we are and what we do."
In Iraq we have elections, but democracy is not just voting. You must build a civil society and ensure free speech.

Ahmed, who had the distinct honor of reading the very first news bulletin for Radio Free Iraq in 1998, recalls when he began broadcasting there were numerous opposition radios aimed at the Saddam regime. After the fall of Saddam, many of these halted broadcasts. Nevertheless, Radio Free Iraq's role today remains as important as ever. Ahmed explains, "While the media environment is more free in today’s Iraq - there are in fact hundreds of publications – the various media outlets are very biased towards one group or individual. Overall professionalism is lacking.”

Before joining Radio Free Europe in 1998, Ahmed worked as a newspaper editor, an academic, an Information Director of Iraq’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and as an Information Consultant at UNICEF Baghdad. Perhaps most important to his future in economics reporting was his position with the National Bank of Abu Dhabi.

The veteran journalist, who is known to his listeners by his on-air name "Nadhum Yassin," has high hopes about the economic potential of his native Iraq. “I’m optimistic. Oil production is back up and for the first time last year major international companies returned to Iraq. Still, Iraq needs to continue to improve its infrastructure to allow it to integrate more closely with the international system. There are also promising signs in the banking sector and even tourism.”

Recently Nabil has been reporting extensively on the fate of Iraqi antiquities, vital to international tourism.

Ahmed also stressed the role that societal reforms must play in a new Iraq. “In Iraq we have elections but democracy is not just voting. You must build a civil society and ensure free speech. You must also have a degree of transparency both in politics and business. That’s what we do with Radio Free Iraq.”

Episode recordings and full text of all episodes since October 2001 can be found here.

- Joseph Hammond

Tags:rfe/rl, People Profiles, Service Sketches, Radio Free Iraq

RFE Launches Caucasus Television Program

On the set of ''Free Talk''

Following the demise of the Soviet Union, the newly-formed countries in the Caucasus focused on building national media institutions, and media outlets largely abandoned Russian as a lingua franca. This greatly contributed to regional fragmentation, as there was no longer a media platform through which the different cultures could interface to discuss regional issues.

RFE/RL’s new television program "Free Talk" attempts to bridge this gap. The Russian-language show brings together journalists and experts for roundtable conversations on the region’s pertinent social and political issues.

"Free Talk" host Irina Lagunina of RFE/RL's Russian service explains: “After the fall, people were unwilling to use Russian as a common language because it was associated with Soviet times. 'Free Talk' aims to rebuild the old platform of the Russian language, but on a new basis of free media and free discussion. Only a program in Russian can reach a large audience in the region.”

A joint product of RFE/RL's Azerbaijani, Georgian, North Caucasus, and Russian Services, "Free Talk" broadcasts on the Georgian public broadcasting network PIK (First Caucasus News) every Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Tbilisi time. Via satellite the 30-minute broadcast also reaches audiences beyond the Caucasus, including in Ukraine, Belarus, the Russian Federation, Turkey and Iran.
Only a program in Russian can reach a large audience in the region.

In its short history - the first show aired on January 25 - "Free Talk" has covered issues ranging from the events in Egypt to the terrorist bombings in Moscow, as well as an in-depth discussion on the legacy of Imam Shamil, the leader of the anti-Russian resistance in the 19th Century Caucasian War.

The show also aims to be interactive and to connect to its audience via the likes of Skype, Facebook, and Twitter. “We want to hear from our audience and tailor our programming to their interests and the issues they care about,” says Lagunina.

Lagunina is optimistic about the program's potential for sucess. “When you start to discuss regional issues in the Caucasus, you immediately see how interconnected the whole region is: most events in one country influence developments in the whole neighbourhood. The more people understand each other the more capable they will be at solving problems together.”

Follow "Free Talk" on the web at RFE/RL or via the PIK website

- Taylor Smoot

Tags:Service Sketches, Videos!, Georgian Service, Azerbaijani Service, Russian Service, North Caucasus Service

Denial of Service Attack On Radio Farda's Answering Machines

Radio Farda logo

It's nothing out of the ordinary: as Iranian authorities get nervous about potential protests, jamming of Radio Farda's radio programs and website increases (some examples here, here, or here).

But since earlier this week, RFE's Iranian service Radio Farda has experienced a new form of interference from Iran: a flood of automated phone calls aiming to clog up its answering machines.

On an average day, Radio Farda receives between 150 and 200 voice messages from its listeners with everything from eye witness reports to music requests. These messages are recorded by answering machines at RFE's Prague headquarters in the Czech Republic and at its news bureau in Washington D.C.

This Wednesday, RFE's technicians noticed something unusual: a large number of calls coming in from an automated system. Soon, Radio Farda's answering machines were receiving 200-300 calls an hour - an obvious attempt to block out regular callers with a variation of a "dial of service," or DoS attack.

Upon connection, these calls played just over 1 minute of a looped recording of speeches and sermons in Farsi before hanging up. In a slightly unexpected twist, yesterday this changed to a loop of a recent speech by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

As of today, the automated calls are continuing. RFE's technicians are making sure that regular callers can get through. The service was never interrupted.

Like other international broadcasters, RFE has observed intense jamming of its Persian radio and satellite broadcasts in recent weeks. Radio Farda's website is also routinely blocked. Despite this aggressive censorship, Radio Farda's website has seen an approximate 50% increase in web traffic over the past two weeks, including through proxy servers, which allow users in Iran to surf the web anonymously. Ever since the protests following the 2009 Presidential elections, record numbers of Iranians have turned to Radio Farda.

Tags:Radio Farda

RFE Senior Correspondent Participates in NDI Event

RFE/RL -- Golnaz Esfandiari

On Monday February 14, RFE/RL Senior Correspondent and Iran expert Golnaz Esfandiari participated in a discussion hosted by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) entitled “The Role of Citizen Journalism and Social Media in the Middle East and North Africa.” The topical event included several NDI officers, as well as Tunisian digital activist Houieda Anouar and Raed Jarrar, an Iraqi-American blogger and political activist based out of DC.

Esfandiari, who also edits RFE’s Persian Letters blog, emphasized that social media is a tool, not a catalyst for change. While she attributes the relative traction of the 2009 Green Revolution in Iran to the increasing availability of social media, she also posited that too often activists become “stuck in the virtual realm” due to fear of persecution in the real world.  

For more information, see the Project On Middle East Democracy’s comprehensive write-up of the event.

Tags:events, Radio Farda

Radio Azadi's SMS Service Hits 100,000 Subscribers

Radio Azadi's SMS feed in Afghanistan (09May2011)

After only three months in operation, Radio Azadi’s SMS Service has garnered over 100,000 regular subscribers.

This number accounts for people in Afghanistan who receive RFE’s twice-daily headline news roundups. Many of these same subscribers also serve as part-time citizen journalists, regularly sending on-the-ground updates to Radio Azadi from all over the country. The SMS messages received regularly by RFE paint a picture of public sentiment in Afghanistan that is hard to match through typical third-party reporting.

Some selections from recent SMS submissions:

Salam from Kabul:

“My question is why even after the activation of the fiber optic the ministry of communications failed to reduce internet costs? The hourly cost of internet with Afghan telecom is 60 Afghani, which is very expensive, and a student cannot afford to use the internet.”

No Name:

“In Polichrkhi region of Kabul, some powerful people are stopping cars and taking 5,000 to 10,000 Afghani from each. Right now we are stopped by them in very cold weather and they are asking for 10,000 Afghani. My car is fully loaded with potatoes that I ahve to ship to Jalalabad and I’m standing in the cold.”

No Name:

“Iran stopping oil shipments to Afghanistan and killing Afghans within Iran is unjustifiable. Why is the Afghan government not paying attention to this? We ask his Excellency Hamid Karzai to defend Afghan rights in Iran.”

Azadi's SMS service was started in late October, 2010. It is the result of a partnership with mobile service provider Etisalat. Customers who subscribe to the free service receive news headlines from Radio Azadi in either Dari or Pashto. They also get SMS messages on their phones with breaking news and emergency alerts.

Despite being one of the poorest countries in the world, Afghanistan has an estimated 57 percent penetration rate for mobile phone use - 17 million subscribers out of a population of 29 million.

For more on Afghanistan, check out RFE's new "Gandhara" blog.

Congratulations to Radio Azadi!

Tags:Service Sketches, Radio Azadi

11:30am EST: Radio Farda To Stream Live Concert by Mohammad-Reza Shajarian

Lebanon -- Persian traditional singer’s Mohammadreza Shajarian concert in Lebanon in Beiteddine Palace, Chouf, 06Aug2010

Today, February 17, RFE/RL’s Radio Farda will live stream a concert by famed Iranian musician Mohammad-Reza Shajarian direct from Dubai.

Shajarian is a renowned composer, singer, and master (ostad) of traditional Persian music, or dastgah, as it is known in Iran. Shajarian began his career in 1959 and has enjoyed domestic and international success ever since.

During the Iranian election protests of 2009, Shajarian drew controversy by expressing solidarity with the protestors after president Ahmadinejad dismissed them as “dust and trash.” Shajarian has called himself the voice of dust and trash and forbidden the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) from using his songs in its broadcasts.

Tune in today at 17:30 Prague time (11:30 am on the East Coast) to hear the show. Listen to the stream via Radio Farda here. On-demand links will be provided after the broadcast.

Tags:events, Radio Farda

EVENT: The New Media Revolution And U.S. Global Engagement

BBG Chairman Isaacson and other BBG governors at RFE headquarters in Prague, 13Oct2010

On February 15, the Broadcasting Board of Governors sponsored an event on U.S. international broadcasting and public diplomacy in the age of social media titled, "The New Media Revolution and U.S. Global Engagement." A standing-room-only audience enjoyed presentations on international broadcasting in the new media age, cyber jamming and the challenge of bringing accurate news to closed societies.

Visit the BBG's website to read a release on the event.

For more info on all of the panels, see below. Watch or listen to the event here:

On-Demand Streaming Media

Windows Media Broadband On-Demand Video Link
Windows Media Dialup On-Demand Video Link
Windows Media On-Demand Audio Link

Full program:

Public Diplomacy and International Broadcasting In The New Media Era
The role 'New Media' is playing in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere is up for debate. What's certain, however, is that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media tools have changed the way people communicate. Today's global media environment is a revolution in progress. How is the U.S. taking advantage of the potential unleashed by the digital revolution and what else must it do? Join a discussion with experts and practitioners led by Walter Isaacson, BBG Chairman and former president of CNN.


- Walter Isaacson, BBG Chairman (Moderator)
- Rebecca MacKinnon, Co-Founder, Global Voices and New America Foundation Fellow
- Rebecca McMenamin, New Media Director, International Broadcasting Bureau
- Golnaz Esfandiari, Editor, RFE's "Persian Letters" Blog
- Mohamed Al-Yahyai, Host, Alhurra Television's "Eye on Democracy"

Presentation of VOA-Citizen Global project on sexual violence against women in the Congo.

Censorship, Signal Blocking, and Cyberjamming -- Can the U.S. Keep Up?
Behind the scenes, there is an information war being waged between closed and free societies. Autocrats are jamming the airwaves and blocking the Internet to prevent their people from accessing outside information. A senior U.S. official charged with overcoming these obstacles explains what the U.S. is doing about it. With:

- Ken Berman, Director, International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) Anti-Censorship Program

Introduced by BBG Governor Michael Meehan

North Korea, Iran and Cuba: Bringing Accurate Information to Closed Societies
What do citizens inside Iran, North Korea, and Cuba know about their governments and the outside world? This group of experts and international broadcasters (including Kambiz Hosseini, Jon Stewart's recent guest on "The Daily Show") discuss what the U.S. is doing today to get accurate news and information inside these "information bubbles." With:

- Jeffrey Gedmin, President, RFE (Moderator)
- Kambiz Hosseini, Host, "Parazit", VOA Persian News Network
- Christopher Walker, Director of Studies, Freedom House
- Andrei Lankov, Professor, Kookmin University, Seoul, South Korea
- Carlos Garcia-Perez, Director, Office of Cuba Broadcasting

Introduced by Radio Free Asia President Libby Liu

Welcome comments by BBG Governor Susan McCue
Concluding comments by BBG Governor Dennis Mulhaupt

Tags:events, Think Tank

New Book Debunks Myths About RFE/RL's Early Years

U.S.-- Johnson, Ross, a Senior Advisor to the RFE/RL President; Woodrow Wilson International Center, Washington, 25May2006.

WASHINGTON, DC -- "Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty: The CIA Years and Beyond," the new book by RFE/RL historian A. Ross Johnson, was unveiled on January 20 at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. At the event, Johnson laid out the case that - contrary to conventional wisdom - the CIA played a positive role during RFE and RL’s early years.

"I wrote the book primarily to debunk some of the myths surrounding the two organizations," Johnson said, "and to honor the brave men and women behind the Iron Curtain who wanted to tell the story straight."

According to Johnson, a 20-year veteran of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the CIA’s success in shielding the two services from espionage operations was of particular note. Also important was their concerted effort to respect the operational autonomy of the broadcasters in order to maintain objectivity in the eyes of the audience.

Fellow scholar and a former policy planner at Radio Liberty Stephen Larrabee spoke glowingly of Johnson’s most recent work:
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the CIA played a positive role during RFE and RL's early years.

“The book was able to maintain scholarly objectivity throughout,” he said, “by painting a picture of the service as it really was, complete with all of its successes as well as a dedication to discussing its mistakes by putting things into proper context. His ability to clear up the outstanding myths was an important accomplishment.”

Elez Biberaj, a thirty year veteran of Voice of America, said, “Dr. Johnson highlights a critical theme in the book, which is that foreign broadcasting can only reinforce the antipathy one feels toward their current regime. It cannot create resistance out of thin air.”

But how can one measure impact? When an audience member posed this critical question, Larrabee was quick to jump in. “Reach is important, impact is reach with consequences. We know the regimes took the broadcasts seriously because they employed many countermeasures such as radio jamming. Testimony of key opposition figures helped illustrate to us just how instrumental these services were in breaking the censorship wall and keeping people in touch as well as informed."
Former government officials talked about how these services forced them to change policy.

Biberaj agreed. “Former government officials talked about how these services forced them to change policy,” he said. “Radio broadcasting carried out by RFE and RL was important, but was just one of many factors that led to the downfall of communism.”

Maintaining objectivity is an important theme of the book and one that was repeatedly referenced during the hour and a half panel discussion. Johnson concluded the panel appropriately, with a cautionary reminder of that directive. “The most important thing for effectiveness,” he said, “is credibility of the message. Especially when you are in an information rich environment you need to have something free of bias and spin."

--Jeff Swafford

Tags:history, events, Cold War Chronicles, Think Tank

Azeri Service Correspondent Wins Photography Award

Detained Baku Protester

A correspondent for RFE’s Azeri Service has won the 2010 Transitions Online Photo Competition. Baku-based Abbas Atilay was awarded the honor for a photograph taken during last summer’s opposition protests in Baku calling for free parliamentary elections. The image (above) captures the palpable apprehension of a protestor as he is detained by authorities.

The photo won in the ‘Politics and Democracy’ category in addition to winning overall. Other categories in the contest included ‘Everyday Life,’ ‘Education,’ and ‘Industry and Economy.’

Transitions Online is a non-profit media advocacy and reform organization dedicated to strengthening “professionalism, independence, and impact” of the news media in former Soviet bloc states. This is the second year the contest has been held.

Congratulations to Abbas and to the Azeri Service!

Tags:Kudos, Azerbaijani Service

'Liberty & Listeners' Gets It Done In Afghanistan

Zarif Nazar, Host of "Liberty and Listeners"

In Afghanistan, where a fledgling government sometimes struggles to meet the needs of the Afghan people, a popular broadcast on RFE’s Radio Azadi is providing an alternative avenue for the cultivation of organized problem solving.

Bridging the Gap

Since 2004, “Liberty and Listeners” has served as a much-needed intermediary between Afghans and the government in Kabul; creating a forum for civilians to reach out to government officials and community leaders in an effort to find solutions to the many infrastructural and security-based problems facing Afghanistan today.

Explains host Zarif Nazar, “Ordinary people lack access to the government and the media. Therefore the central government is not aware of what is happening in various parts of the country. We are providing people with the opportunity to voice their issues and concerns. This enables them to participate more actively in the country's political life.”

A veteran journalist and former Turkmen Bureau Chief, Nazar also hosts the popular Azadi program “On the Waves of Liberty,” as well as “In Search of Missing Persons” - in which Afghans call in the hopes of locating family members or loved ones that have gone missing in the turmoil of the past several decades. A somewhat less dramatic- but equally utilitarian - venture, “Liberty and Listeners” exists to get things done, often as basic as obtaining clean water or clearing roadways.
Ordinary people lack access to the government and the media. We are providing [them] with the opportunity to voice their issues and concerns.

With two hotline numbers set up to receive calls, “Liberty and Listeners” is composed primarily of pre-recorded messages from Afghan civilians, in correlation with the responses (official and otherwise) to their qualms. In planning broadcasts for the twice-weekly program, Nazar sifts through the messages in search of a theme, eventually choosing an issue to highlight based on popular demand. After a theme has been chosen, “Liberty and Listeners” researches the issue and attempts to schedule for the program an expert or official to discuss the problem – and hopefully find a solution.

Some of the messages are urgent, and to these Nazar responds immediately. Last year, “Liberty and Listeners” received a call from the residents of a mountain village hit hard by severe flooding that cut off supply routes to the region. Facing starvation, and unable to contact local authorities, villagers called Azadi to spread news of their predicament. Nazar in turn called officials, who sent equipment and help to the beleaguered village.

Generally, however, messages tend to focus on issues of importance to the greater population of Afghanistan as a whole. Education and security have topped the call logs of late, and it was to these topics that Nazar devoted two recent broadcasts.

Problem Solving

A recurring request among listeners has been for “Liberty and Listeners” to confront the Ministry of Education about the low quality of the school system. For a recent broadcast, “Liberty and Listeners” compiled the grievances received via phone and contacted Asif Nang, the head of the Publication and Information Center inside the Ministry of Education. Nang willingly answered all of the recorded questions and explained ways for Afghan citizens to inform the Ministry of Education about problems in the future. As a result of the interview (which was pre-recorded and later broadcast), the Ministry of Education has begun receiving significantly more feedback from the local population.

On the security front, Nazar recently devoted a show to the Arbaky - Afghan civilians who have taken up arms in order to protect themselves from the Taliban when the government has failed to do so. Unfortunately, reports of Arbaky abuses (or at least the abuses of those who claim to be Arbaky) have begun stacking up. Accounts of Arbaky forces using their authority to extort money, food, and weapons from various local populations are multitudinous. A year ago, the government in Kabul pledged to incorporate these forces into the government; supplying them with a salary and with needed supplies. Little has been done - and as a result these ragtag militias remain unregulated.

Upon request, “Liberty and Listeners” called Mr. Zamarai Bashari, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, and demanded an explanation for the government’s inaction. Mr. Bashari informed “Liberty and Listeners” that the effort to organize and regulate Arbakai forces was underway, and that he would personally look into the individual complaints in the messages.

Leading the Way

Committed to open dialogue and government accountability for the Afghan population, “Liberty and Listeners” is leading the way in the fields of citizen journalism and investigative reporting. Zarif Nazar hopes that if the show can let the Afghan people realize that they can speak up about injustices that the Afghan people face with out fear of punishment or persecution.

“Liberty and Listeners” is a bi-weekly program airing every Tuesday and Friday on Radio Azadi. For more information, visit Radio Azadi online or check out our Gandhara blog for more on the AF-PAK area.

- Taylor Smoot and John Cleveland

Tags:Service Sketches, Radio Azadi

Belarusian Graffiti In The 'Age of Rage'

Belarus - political graffiti, Minsk, 27Jan2011

Sometimes support pops up in the unlikeliest of places – like brick walls.

In an inspiring and mysterious show of solidarity, precisely stenciled graffiti has started materializing in Belarus, with the moniker of RFE’s Belarus Service, Radio Svaboda, in prominent display.

In Minsk, Belarus’ capitol city and the recent site of significant post-“election” unrest, the graffiti has cropped up in a number of different locations, the displays espousing a message of free media and fair elections.

“But I will not keep silent,” reads one. “Belarusian TV depends on Lukashenko. The truth is in internet.”

“We protest against cruelty of the usurper,” begins another. “Freedom to political prisoners. Fair elections.”

The street slogans have also appeared in Brest, a Belarusian city of 300,000. There is no word on whether the graffiti is the work of the same anonymous advocate.

The power of popular sentiment continues to sway in this ‘Age of Rage.’ In Belarus, Radio Svaboda will continue to report accurate, reliable news. See our Belarus page for the latest coverage.

Tags:Dictators Will Be Dictators, Belarus Service

RFE's Siddique Talks Taliban At Atlantic Council

Afghanistan -- Taliban militants stand, after voluntarily handing over their weapons and joining the government, in Sangin district of Helmand Province, 01Jan2011

Think the Taliban are a Pakistani ISI creation? Looking for a detailed explanation of the factional cleavages amongst the ranks of the Taliban? Look no further than discussions led late last month by RFE senior correspondent Abubakar Siddique while speaking at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center in Washington, D.C.

Abubakar’s views on the Taliban, the American presence in the Middle East, and prospects for peace in the Af-Pak region – extrapolated in detail during the discussion – in many ways challenged conventional wisdom. “I think in Pakistan,” said Siddique, “we had unfortunately this mistake of indentifying all Pashtuns with political Islam. If you look at Pashtuns in the past century we had communist Pashtuns, we had Pashtuns in Kybher, and Pashtuns closely integrated in the Pakistani state." A significant proportion of Pashtuns, he noted, are secular.

With regard to the Taliban, Siddique feels that the stepped-up military presence of the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) can prove to be contrary to the goal of a negotiated agreement "One of the disincentives for the Taliban is more boots on the ground, more soldiers, more night raids. It's also a huge disincentive for people to believe you." He maintains that ISAF attacks play into the notion of revenge - which is not limited to Pashtuns.

The most important group to negotiate with, Siddique explained, is the Kandahari Taliban, rather than any particular foreign influence. "Major reconciliation has to be with them. It would be wrong to think of the Taliban as a Pakistani creation."

In closing, Siddique discussed possible solutions to the conflict. “The people in Afghanistan are very clear on one thing. From Karzai down to everybody in Kabul, [they] will tell you the Americans are not here for charity; that they are here for their own interests. The solution in Afghanistan,” he concluded, “has to a center on Afghanistan.”

- Joseph Hammond


RFE's December Story Of The Month Winners

Belarus -- policeman Aliaxandar Klaskouski

News Story of the Month

December’s Story of the Month Award went to the Belarus Service for "The Square 2010," an algamated blow-by blow of Radio Svoboda's coverage of that month’s disputed election and its tumultuous aftermath. Coverage began the morning of December 19, and was repeatedly updated with hundreds of bulletins detailing developing stories, as opposition groups took to the streets and government forces clashed with protestors and journalists.

Feature of the Month

Janyl Jusupjan of RFE’s Kyrgyz Service compiled “Invisible Woman of Osh,” an in-depth report focusing on the many victims of gang rape during the violent Kyrgyz-Uzbek riots in June 2010. For the most part the Kyrgyz state has ignored this horrible crime. In her presentation Jusupjan noted, “The vast majority of perpetrators of these vicious crimes are freely living among us. Even though the fighting has stopped, the fact that the number of [abused] women is growing is not surprising.”

Innovation of the Month

A spontaneous category dubbed ‘Innovation of the Month’ was announced to honor “Child Labor in Afghanistan” – a video/story composite, which was the result of suggestions by listeners of Radio Azadi’s “Liberty and Listeners” talk show. Host Zarif Nazar and Senior Correspondent Charles Recknagel collaborated on the project.

Commentary of the Month

Gordana Knezevic, Director of the Balkan Service, personally penned “Thaci Allegations Don’t Change the Broader Perspective on Kosovo” a lengthy commentary piece on how recent organ-trafficking allegations in Kosovo should not distract us from the broader question of Kosovo’s internal strife.

Video of the Month

Rounding out the awards, James Kirchick received the honor for his wide-ranging video interview with author and journalist Christopher Hitchens, who is struggling with cancer.

Congratulations to all the winners!

RFE/RL Launches 'Central Asian Crossroads'

Central Asia -- map, undated

RFE has begun airing "Central Asian Crossroads," a weekly 30 minute broadcast comprised of reports from all five Central Asian language services.The program - which is jointly-produced by the Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik, Turkmen, and Uzbek services – is broadcast all in Russian, with the five services trading moderating duties on a rotating basis. Russian is an official language in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, and is widely spoken in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

“The purpose," says RFE's Associate Director of Broadcasting Abbas Djavadi, "is to create a bridge among Central Asians. To help them understand and appreciate their lives and challenges, to boost tolerance for ethnicities and religious groups, and to raise awareness about extremism, terrorism and violence while stressing the need for peace and cooperation.”

Centered around a retrospective of the year 2010, the first installment of “Central Asian Crossroads” featured a roundtable discussion of Freedom House’s 2010 human rights findings in the region. Such discussions could become a regular feature of the program as it addresses the issues common to that part of the continent. Other topics that “Crossroads” intends to tackle in the next few weeks include inter-ethnic marriages, winter-time gas and fuel shortages, illegal border crossings, and the rise of fundamentalism. “We will also be looking at issues at play in the countries to the South, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran,” adds Djavadi.

Meanwhile, the Central Asian services will soon activate subpages on their websites featuring Russian language transcripts of the reports featured on the show.

“Central Asian Crossroads” airs weekends, with times varying according to service.

Tags:Service Sketches, Turkmen Service, Tajik Service, Kazakh Service, Uzbek Service

RFE's Lukashuk Discusses The Role Of Social Media In Belarus

RFE Belarus Service Director Alexander Lukashuk

In the wake of recent political turmoil in Belarus and Tunisia, Global Journalist Radio, the web-based discussion branch of the magazine of the same name, hosted a half-hour broadcast focusing on the expanded role of social media in grassroots political dissent. Alexander Lukashuk, Director of RFE's Belarus Service, participated in the January 20 broadcast along with guests Elaine Ganley of the Associated Press, Scott Shane of "The New York Times," and Tunisian political activist Fares Marbouk. [listen and watch the full program]

Referencing the increasingly popular appellation for social media’s political metamorphosis - “Revolution 2.0” - host Byron Scott focused first on Tunisia’s apparently successful toppling of the Ben Ali regime. Recounting his firsthand experiences, Marbouk explained in detail the cyber-guerilla campaign that played such a dramatic role in this month’s overthrow.
Europe hasn’t seen this number of people arrested, put into prison and prosecuted since the martial law in Poland in the early 80s

“We were creating maybe 10 or 20 new websites a day,” Marbouk explained. “Without knowing each other, we used Twitter to communicate about what’s happening in Tunisia, and to spread this information.”

If Tunisia is a picture of social media’s efficacy, however, Belarus is an example of the risks inherent in such a public strategy. Lukashuk described the situation in Belarus as bleak, characterizing it in stark opposition to Tunisia’s fast-moving revolution.

“In Belarus, it is a fast-moving counter-revolution,” Lukashuk explained. “What’s happening on the ground is [an] unprecedented level of repression. Basically, Europe hasn’t seen this number of people arrested, put into prison and prosecuted since the martial law in Poland in the early 80s.”

Lukashuk went on, expanding on this dark side of social media. He explained that, while some of the benefits of social networking are very positive -- citizen journalism and political organizing -- at the same time government secret services like the KGB have begun using information gathered via websites like Twitter and Facebook for the purposes of counter-intelligence and raids.

Following the discussion, Lukashuk participated in a one-on-one interview, focusing on RFE’s efforts in Afghanistan, in addition to Belarus.

Global Journalist is aired weekly at

Tags:belarus, Belarus Service, Alexander Lukashuk

'Long Live Radio Mashaal!'

Pakistan -- Mashaal Logo, 29Nov2010

Earlier this month, RFE’s Pakistan Service, Radio Mashaal, celebrated its one year anniversary. Following a banner first year in which Mashaal garnered praise for its unique coverage of the July floods, as well as for its reporting on controversial bombings in Peshawar and Tirah, the service received congratulations from all corners of Pakistani society - as well as international recogntion. Such accolades are indicative of the widespread trust that Radio Mashaal has earned over the past 12 months.

“I am very happy with Radio Mashaal’s work. It mobilizes and enlightens people, providing them with the information they require. I congratulate the Mashaal team on the completion of its first year, and I urge them to continue their struggle to defeat darkness by spreading light.”

- Mufti Kifayatullah, leader of Jamiat-ul-Ulam-e-Islam (JUI) and Member of the Pakhtunkhwa Assembly.

“In a very short span of time, Radio Mashaal has become a voice of the Pashtuns. In every nook and corner of Pakhtunkhwa it creates awareness in the Pashtun nation. Our prayers are with Radio Mashall.”

- Amir Haider Khan Hoti, Chief Minister of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“During its first year Radio Mashaal reached out to each and every person in the region. I have no words to adequately convey my appreciation for Radio Mashaal and its active role in informing Pashtuns about developments in the region. I hope that it will continue with its broadcasts and a time will come when its voice will be heard in every home.”

- Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, Member of Parliament, former Interior Minister and Chief of the Pakistan People’s Party.

“I congratulate Radio Mashaal for creating awareness and spreading the message of peace in far-flung areas where no other media sources have access. In its first year, Mashaal has created debate on important issues and conveyed it to the people in the Pashto language – this is its most important achievement.”

- Bushra Gauhar, Central Vice President of the Awami National Party and Member of Parliament

“I congratulate Radio Mashaal on its first anniversary. I hope that it will continue its work of informing the Pashto masses and enlightening people’s minds.”

- Afrasiab Khattak, Senior Leader of the Awami National Party, former chairman of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission, and Member of Parliament

“I congratulate the Radio Mashaal team for their hard work. Due to their efforts, people in the Pashtun belt of Afghanistan and Pakistan are informed and educated.”

- Muhammad Kamran Khan, Member of the National Assembly from North Waziristan Agency

“During the last year Radio Mashaal earned a huge listenership in the region for its popular programs. It covered issues and events from all possible angles. I hope that it will continue to accomplish its mission with the same spirit.”

- Jabbar Naeemi, Governor of Khost Province, Afghanistan

“I congratulate all on the first anniversary of Radio Mashaal. Long live Radio Mashaal!

- Farhad Darya, popular Pashtun singer

Tags:Service Sketches, Radio Mashaal

A Day At RFE/RL: One Happy Visitor

Students from University of New York in Prague during a trainig session in RFE/RL's computer laboratory.

I consider myself an avid consumer of news, but the reality of what foreign correspondence and international reporting entails never truly occurred to me until my recent study abroad experience in Prague, especially my visit to RFE/RL. [For more on scheduling a visit to RFE, check out our "Visit Us" page]

In November of 2010, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tour the RFE/RL headquarters in Prague with my journalism class. I was impressed and deeply moved by the stories of journalists and reporters working to share with listeners the often unheard voices of people from all over Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia.

Hearing the news is one thing; but covering it -- gathering facts, conducting interviews, and putting it all together -- is another. If we are not journalists or reporters ourselves, we, as listeners, really cannot know just how intense the process of telling a story through journalism can actually be. On top of that, sacrificing one’s life to report from countries where a life could be threatened is something we cannot fathom, unless we experience it ourselves.

This is what I began to understand when I met some of the RFE/RL journalists. They shared their experiences about doing their job in areas where reporting can require an extreme amount of bravery

Thank you, RFE/RL, for making me appreciate learning about the reality and importance of this kind of journalism

and courage. Stories were told of journalists having their lives threatened, whether they were reporting about human rights issues or about oppressive governments.

This made me think about the true purpose of journalism, which is more than telling people what is happening every day. Visiting RFE/RL made me realize that its journalists are devoting their lives to depicting what is truly going on in parts of the world where many voices may not be heard. They write about the reality of living in environments that we, reading from the outside, can never know and even come close to empathizing with until we read the words of the brave journalists writing about it.

In the end, it was a great privilege and a moving experience to hear the stories of the journalists reporting on and from countries like Turkmenistan, Iran, and Iraq. How careful must journalists be when it comes to asking the right people the right questions? How can one judge the credibility of a fact when it is already difficult to even find the right contacts to base it upon?

How persistent must a journalist be to even ask a question to someone from somewhere such as Turkmenistan, a country where simply talking to an RFE/RL correspondent can land one in the police station? Who can journalists go to and how do they maintain secrecy in their identities, if necessary, so that their lives are not threatened?

The care these reporters must take in using the right language -- the right words at the most opportune time -- is unfathomable to me, and I can only commend those working for RFE/RL. Thank you, RFE/RL, for making me appreciate learning about the reality and importance of this kind of journalism. And a special thanks to Larisa Balanovskaya, RFE/RL’s Outreach Coordinator, who gave us a tour and introduction to RFE/RL's history.

It was a tremendous opportunity that inspired me to strive to be a diligent journalist as well as a more attentive listener and reader of news in the future.

- Michelle Lee

The author is a junior at New York University, studying English & American Literature, Producing and Journalism. Her class visited RFE as part of the "A Day With RFE" program.

Tags:visits, Day With RFE

RFE's Radio Azadi Honored By Afghan Senate

The Afghan Senate presents Radio Azadi with an award for journalistic excellence.

(KABUL, Afghanistan)  The Afghan Senate has awarded RFE's Radio Azadi an important local journalism prize for "its long record of impartiality and prompt news reporting."

"Over the years, the local media outlets routinely censored our news," said Senate Complaints Committee Chairman Dr. Zamai Zabuli. "But Radio Azadi always aired the news as it was. It has always been the best place to obtain objective facts."
Radio Azadi always aired the news as it was. It has always been the best place to obtain objective facts.

The station beat out hundreds of other regional news outlets for the award. Radio Azadi's Kabul Bureau Chief Amin Mudaqiq was presented the prize by Zabuli during a ceremony in the Afghan capital.

"In a place where partisan politics frequently inhibits unbiased reporting, I'm proud that Radio Azadi is being recognized for our commitment to provide Afghans with reliable and accurate news," said Mudaqiq. "It's why Radio Azadi consistently draws more listeners than any other station in the country."

About Radio Azadi
RFE's Radio Azadi is the leading media outlet in Afghanistan, reaching 50% of the population with broadcasts in Dari and Pashto. It was originally established in 1985 and resumed in 2002 following the ouster of the Taliban.

-- Jeff Swafford

Tags:Kudos, Radio Azadi

Service Snapshots: Maliha Amirzada

Maliha Amirzada - Radio Mashaal

A recent addition to RFE/RL, Maliha Amirzada grew up in Peshawar, Pakistan. She attended the University of Peshawar, where she earned an MBA and a BBA in finance. She was trained in banking at the Institute of Bankers Karachi, and joined RFE's Radio Mashaal team in March of 2010.

What impact is your service having in Pakistan?

In a developing country like Pakistan, it is important that people be informed and given a chance to share their perspectives about issues of national and international importance. In the short period of time that I have worked for Radio Mashaal, I have seen firsthand what a crucial role it is playing in reaching the millions of Pashtuns who are not only finding it hard to make ends meet, but who are also deprived of an interactive venue through which to communicate. One of the important ways Mashaal is making in impact is by bridging this gap between different Pashtun regions.

What is one popular program or aspect of your service that is making an impact?

The most important aspect of Mashaal radio is that it has several weekly feature programs that anyone can relate to. We have programs centered around youth, women, Pashto language and culture, war-affected people and their experiences, Pashtun villages, Sufiism, the economy, etc. In this way Radio Mashaal has created a network of communities which include women, men and youth - connecting and informing each of them in different ways.

What motivated you to get into journalism?

I belong to the Pashtun tribal belt and understand the issues that Pashtuns face everyday. Hailing from that region gives me an edge in interpreting these issues and challenges. So I did not need a lot of motivation. Having a strong academic background, journalism was the perfect opportunity for me to interact with my fellow Pashtuns and highlight their problems in order to enable them to get the proper attention that they deserve.

Tags:People Profiles, Service Sketches, Radio Mashaal


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