Friday, May 06, 2016

Daud Khattak's Pakistan Analysis In "Foreign Policy"

USA-- Foreign Policy magazine logo

Daud Khattak of Radio Mashaal wrote for Foreign Policy on how Pakistan is preparing for a post-withdrawl Afghanistan. The article "For Pakistan, a change of heart in Afghanistan?" was written for FP's AfPak Channel and discusses Pakistan's shifting strategies of dealing with players such as the Taliban, Haqqani, and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) networks, as well as U.S. influences on the Afghan government following the scheduled 2014 exit of foreign forces.

Tags:Pakistan, Foreign Policy, Radio Mashaal, Daud Khattak

How Radio Svoboda’s Election Coverage Became The Best Show In Town

Radio Svoboda election live-blog graphic for October 2, 2012

Recent parliamentary elections in Ukraine shone a spotlight not just on country that has squandered much of the promise of the 2004 Orange Revolution, but also on RFE/RL’s intrepid Ukraine Service, Radio Svoboda, which provides independent, innovative and necessary news in a media environment that Freedom House characterizes as only "partly free."
Maryana Drach, Managing Editor of Radio Svoboda, describes journalists’ challenges this way: "The media environment in Ukraine opened up right after the Orange Revolution. Experts agree that the situation got worse in 2010 when President Yanukovych came into power. Definitely, there is less freedom now than in 2005."
Drach observes that media restrictions underscore the need for balanced, professional and probing journalism.  Moreover, the current political and economic realities mean that most influential Ukrainian outlets, even if not state-run, are owned by oligarchs with political agendas.  Additionally, most commercial media pay scant attention to human rights issues.
This is where Radio Svoboda’s impact is apparent.
Live Blogs and Live Streams

The service has been providing news to audiences in Ukraine since 1954, originally on shortwave, adding FM broadcasts in the 1990s, and evolving in dynamic ways online and with social media today.
With the October 28 election, Radio Svoboda’s coverage set a new standard for comprehensive, multi-platform news reporting, allowing audiences direct access to events on a national scale. Audiences responded, increasing website traffic three-fold throughout the extended election process.
Through live blogging, Radio Svoboda kicked-off real-time coverage beginning at 11:00 am when the polls opened and continued until the next morning.  When polls closed that evening, it launched five-plus hours of live-streaming of early election returns. Over a dozen guests, including political party representatives, pollsters, domestic election monitors, and the head of the European Parliament's election observation mission, contributed to the coverage from Svoboda’s Kyiv studio and via video links in Moscow and Brussels.
Regional coverage was fed by correspondents in Simferopol, Donetsk, Kharkiv, Lviv and Cherkasy by telephone and Skype, as an interactive map highlighted correspondents’ locations and Twitter accounts.
Radio Svoboda’s live-streaming from contested electoral district No.223 in Kyiv was snapped up by major news sites in the country.Radio Svoboda’s live-streaming from contested electoral district No.223 in Kyiv was snapped up by major news sites in the country.
Radio Svoboda’s live-streaming from contested electoral district No.223 in Kyiv was snapped up by major news sites in the country.
Radio Svoboda’s live-streaming from contested electoral district No.223 in Kyiv was snapped up by major news sites in the country.
As controversy arose over results in Kyiv's single-mandate electoral district No.223, Radio Svoboda stayed with the story with live coverage of events on its website for an additional eight days, well into November. The first announcement of the broadcast received 449 comments and nearly 1,000 likes on Facebook, leading one fan to pronounce, “The best show in recent days)) Online round-the clock))"
Twitter praise followed: "@anton_yt: I am sincerely grateful for the broadcast from #223. This broadcast really replaced all the webcams installed at the polling stations!”
On November 12, the Prosecutor General’s Office announced a criminal investigation into election rigging in District 223. Yehor Sobolev, head of the Kyiv-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism (“Svidomo”), acknowledged Radio Svoboda’s influence in its coverage. "Most important is that such a large number of people witnessed the cynicism of the fraud. Non-stop, live, we saw it." Sobolev commented. "A big honor to people who invented this, and even greater honor to those who stood behind camera!"

Interacting With Important Stories

Drach is careful to cite the challenges of covering the elections, as well as the triumphs, and refers to a report by the Institute of Mass Information, a Ukrainian NGO, associating a steep increase in violations of journalists’ rights with the elections.
But the innovation doesn’t stop at breaking news. Radio Svoboda has launched a repertoire of new interactive programs. "We Together" (My Razom), which debuted in September, shifts the focus from the capital to the regions, and from anchors to the audience, facilitating discussion among audience members and guests. "Youth Plus" (Molod’ Plyus) gives a weekly platform to Ukraine’s younger generation, while "Europe Connect" (Evropa na zvjazku), addresses viewers' interest in European integration.  One recent segment compared a bill introduced by Ukrainian legislators to criminalize defamation – a common means of suppressing free speech - with best practices in Europe.
Characterizing the new initiatives, which rely heavily on social media, Drach says, "We focus on stories that we believe are important for our mission and have a connection with our audience going forward."

Video RFE/RL President’s Visit to Bishkek Highlights Kyrgyz Service

Radio Azattyk correspondent Zamira Kojobaeva (left, with microphone) interviewing protesters as the second Kyrgyz Revolution begins on April 6, 2010 with unrest in the western Kyrgyzstan city of Talas.

 It has been an enterprising year for RFE/RL’s Radio Azattyk, the small Kyrgyz Service that is making big news in Central Asia.
RFE/RL President Steve Korn visited the enthusiastic Bishkek bureau on October 31 to get a frontline view of one of our most innovative language services.  He met with members of the award-winning "Azattyk+" team, which is bringing in new audiences with its fresh field reporting on Kyrgyz life.  For its efforts, Azattyk+ has received several travel grants that have enabled the team to take the show on the road.
Korn also met with the journalists who produce the signature TV program "Inconvenient Questions," which uses a hard-hitting talk-show format to discuss hot-button issues.
Earlier this year, a media survey conducted by M-Vector Research Agency ranked Azattyk's programs as among the ten most-watched TV programs nationwide in 2012.  In an increasingly competitive media market, the journalists continue to distinguish their work with an emphasis on quality, unscripted reporting. 
Radio Azattyk made its first foray into the world of documentary film this year with a look at abuse by Kyrgyz men of migrant, Kyrgyz women in Russia. The film, "Tears Left In Moscow, " opened the "Bir Duino - Kyrgyzstan" ("One World – Kyrgyzstan") documentary film festival in Bishkek this September, attracting an audience of over 500 students, activists, and government officials.

Korn and other RFE/RL representatives also met with Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev, and engaged in a back-and-forth discussion on media issues. Korn noted that he was told by one person during the visit that Radio Azattyk is seen as "the New York Times of Kyrgyzstan."
The trip also involved visits with other dignitaries, including U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Pamela Spratlen and former Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbaeva, as well as with independent journalists, bloggers, and representatives of Kyrgyz civic groups.
"Our service in Kyrgyzstan is revered," Korn remarked about the reception for Radio Azattyk. "It’s clearly considered the highest class of media entities. It is trusted, and it is widely read and listened to. "
--Jo-Ellen Koester

Tags:Kyrgyzstan, Kyrgyz Service, Radio Azatlyk, Azattyk Plus, Korn, Inconvenient Questions

Svaboda Reaches Behind Bars in Belarus

Though still imprisoned, Radio Svaboda helped Eduard Lobau feel less isolated despite prison authorities' restrictions.

Having failed repeatedly to arrange for a telephone conversation with her imprisoned son, Marina Lobova told RFE/RL that an online report by RFE/RL's Belarus Service compelled prison authorities to allow the two to speak.
“Because of Radio Svaboda, I have finally heard the voice of my son,” Lobova said.
On September 15, Lobova told Radio Svaboda that prison authorities at Ivatsevichy penal colony, where her son Eduard Lobau is serving a four year sentence for hooliganism, were restricting access to her son and that she had not been able to contact him for nearly one month, despite numerous attempts. Lobova warned that she would involve her son's attorney if she was not permitted to speak to her son within a week’s time.
The day after Radio Svaboda’s report appeared online, Lobova received a phone call from her son. She credits Radio Svaboda with exposing the prison authorities’ mistreatment of her son and with facilitating the long-awaited telephone reunion.
Lobova also said she believes that prison authorities were fully aware of her comments to Radio Svaboda. “They all know that they were written about,” she said. “They read. They’re up to date. And they took offense when I condemned them.”
“The officials are obviously paying attention to what we are reporting and they are reacting to it,” Radio Svaboda’s Deputy Service Director Bohdan Andrusyshyn said.
He explained that prisoners in Belarus are an important Svaboda constituency. “We keep political prisoners in our focus constantly, and it’s important that we don’t forget about them. This is an ongoing plight and the violation of their rights continues beyond their sentences.”
This past summer Radio Svaboda produced a prison survival manual, written by esteemed Belarusian scientist, Radio Svaboda commentator, and former prisoner Yuri Bandazheuski. The guide provides coping mechanisms for political prisoners, such as physical and psychological techniques and advice, to ensure survival and well-being while incarcerated.
-- Rob Peace

Tags:rfe/rl, belarus, political prisoners, Radio Svaboda, Eduard Lobau

Radio Free Iraq Praised For Local Excellence And Émigré Coverage

RFI correspondent Faiqa Rasul Srhan receives her certificate of merit from the cultural attaché for the Iraqi Embassy in Jordan.

Radio Free Iraq, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Arabic language service for Iraqi audiences, has recently been lauded on two occasions for excellence in reporting.
On August 21, provincial authorities in the southern port city of Basra awarded RFI and Basra-based reporter Abdelkarim Al-Amiri with the “Beit Al-Hikma Award for Innovation and Excellence” for their coverage of cultural and social affairs in the province.
“In the past, people were rewarded for singing the praises of the regime and the leader,” said Al-Amiri. “Now it comes in recognition of achievements by creative intellectuals and industrious journalists. RFI shares the sentiment of ordinary Iraqis and responds to their concerns."
The reports noted for distinction included coverage of the reaction of residents of Faw to military presence in their city, the impact of technology on the rituals of Ramadan, and exploring how young Basra students spent their summer break.
RFI correspondent Faiqa Rasul Srhan was recognized on September 9 by the cultural attaché for the Iraqi Embassy in Jordan for her extensive coverage of activities within the Iraqi emigrant community there.
"I have been based here in Jordan as a journalist for 15 years, and this is just a further incentive for me to seek more interesting stories for RFI," said Rasul Srhan. 
Srhan's award-winning stories include exposure of an art exhibition in Amman, a youth football training camp, and how to increase women's participation in politics.
According to Refugees International, millions of Iraqis reside outside Iraq’s borders, and RFI’s Broadcast Service Director Sergei Danilochkin says that reaching those who have emigrated is crucial for keeping Iraqis connected with their culture.
“It is great to be a product that reaches those Iraqis not in the country. We appreciate that Iraqis around the world are important for keeping Iraqi intellectual activity alive,” he said.
Dr. Shimran Al-ljli of Beit Al-Hikma, a local government body that supervises cultural activities in Iraq, presented RFI with their certificate of recognition and said that RFI’s independent outlook raises the cultural climate for all Iraqis.
“We respect RFI for its adoption of the issues that create dignity and freedom within Iraq,” Al-ljli said.
-- Rob Peace

Tags:RFI, awards, excellence

Tajik Student Protests Signal New Culture Of Government Accountability

Students gather to protest at the Ministry of Education in Dushanbe, Tajikistan on 30 August, 2012.

Just days after protests took place following charges that Tajik students lost their Kazakh university spots due to nepotism, coverage by RFE/RL’s Tajik Service helped the students regain their place in the classroom.

Tajikistan annually sends a number of students to Kazakhstan universities for preparatory courses, ensuring they stand a greater chance of formal acceptance into their chosen universities upon completion. But when this year’s group of 90 students arrived in Kazakhstan last month, they found that their expected university spots had been assigned to the children of high-ranking Tajik officials.
On August 30 and 31, Radio Ozodi covered demonstrations at the Ministry of Education and the president’s palace in Dushanbe by angry students. While covering the second day of protests, correspondents Abdullo Ashurov and Zarangez Navruzsho were detained by Tajik authorities and brought to a police station for questioning. After an intervention by Radio Ozodi’s bureau chief, the reporters were released and Tajik police later called the incident "a misunderstanding."

Less than a week after Radio Ozodi's reports on the protests and the correspondents’ detainment, the students returned to the Kazakhstan universities, where authorities granted 20 of them admission to their chosen faculties. The remaining students were satisfactorily assigned to other disciplines.  
Ashurov credits Radio Ozodi’s reporting with facilitating a quick and peaceful outcome. "I saw how quickly the language of the authorities changed afterwards," he says. "Threatening words very soon changed to those of calming resolution."
Tajik Service Director Sojida Djakhfarova said that in addition to RFE/RL's coverage helping to hold authorities accountable, the protests signify a rejuvenated culture of demanding fair treatment following years of suppression after the Tajikistan civil war.

"The culture of protest is coming back to Tajikistan," she said. "People understand that they have to make demands to protect their rights. After all these years, that’s encouraging for young people and the future, to know they can make the government  listen to them. "
-- Rob Peace

Tags:Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, protests

Azadi Report Mobilizes Officials, Thwarts Corrupt Cops

Abdul Wahed (l) and his daughter, interviewed by Radio Azadi's Mujeeb Angaar, 28Aug2012

A recent Radio Azadi report accusing two Pakistani police officers of robbing an Afghan man seeking medical attention for his daughter caught the attention of the General Consul of Afghanistan in Peshawar and has led to the officers’ arrest and dismissal.

At the end of August, Radio Azadi reporter Mujeeb Angaar became aware that Pakistani police had used the pretext of a roadside document check to rob Abdul Wahed, an Afghan national who was traveling with a friend to a Peshawar hospital to obtain medical treatment for his daughter. Wahed had given the money he had raised for the medical visit, the equivalent of approximately $1,000 in Afghan and Pakistani currencies, to his friend for safe keeping.

“We were in a taxi going to Peshawar, and on our way we were stopped by the police,” Wahed told Angaar.  He said that two male officers approached the car and told the friend to leave the taxi.  When the friend refused, he was forcibly removed and taken to a hidden area of the street, robbed of Wahed’s money and beaten.  Wahed himself was unharmed in the incident.

“I was left alone with my daughter,” Wahed recalled. “I asked these two officers to have a little mercy on us.” The officers ignored Wahed’s pleas and left the scene with his daughter’s medical funds.

Officials at the Afghan Consulate in Peshawar heard the incident reported on Radio Azadi and contacted Pakistani officials. Mian Iftikhar Hussain, Minister of Information for the Provincial Government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, has since confirmed that the two police officers have been arrested and suspended from their jobs. In addition, Peshawar’s Chief of Police, Suhaib Ashraff, is following up on the consulate’s investigation.

“We thank Radio Azadi for informing us,” said Ashraff in recognition of Radio Azadi’s role in the incident.

The stolen money has since been returned to Wahed and, after hearing the report, Afghans living in Peshawar have collected additional funds to enable his daughter to be treated at a local clinic.

-- JoEllen Koester

Tags:rfe/rl, peshawar, Afghanistan, Pakistan, azadi, police corruption

Kyrgyz Women Beaten By Kyrgyz Men in Russia- How The Story Became Part Of One Reporter’s Life

Screengrab from a video showing a Kyrgyz woman, "Ajna," being beaten, purportedly for associating with non-Kyrgyz men

Last winter, Aida Kasymalieva, a Moscow-based correspondent for Radio Azattyk, scrolled through her Twitter feed and came across something chilling. 

An internet video had surfaced in February of a Kyrgyz woman, Sapargul, standing naked among a group of Kyrgyz men in the middle of a dark street in Yekaterinburg, Russia. In this shoddy footage, a quivering Sapargul is the target in a maelstrom of insults, beatings and threats.  Sapargul is being punished by “Kyrgyz patriots” for speaking to a Tajik migrant man in a Moscow café.

Kasymalieva alerted her editors and TV team to the video, and in doing so, turned a spotlight on the mistreatment of Kyrgyz women by Kyrgyz men in these migrant-heavy pockets of Russian cities. By March, Radio Azattyk pulled together an investigative documentary and Kasymalieva began her search for Sapargul.

While the search was underway, at least five more online videos emerged. In every scene it was the same scenario: a Kyrgyz migrant woman in Russia, cornered, outnumbered and afraid, is beaten and harassed by the self-proclaimed “patriots” for mingling with non-Kyrgyz men.

With no word from Sapargul after inquiring with Kyrgyz residents and local officials in Moscow, Radio Azattyk went public with these haunting stories, first by posting articles about the abuse of Kyrgyz women on their website, and then by airing the documentary on May 29 on Kyrgyz National TV.

Once the abusers and their horrid actions were outed by Radio Azattyk, victims began filing police complaints and telling their stories.

Different Women, the Same Humiliation

Of the 600,000 migrant workers in Russia, about 40 percent are women. Most left their families behind to search for work and are highly vulnerable to abuse and sexual exploitation.

The aggressors kick, punch, and pull the women’s hair. In some cases, the victim’s eyebrows are shaved off or the men threaten to kill her.

Twenty-year-old Ajna, who filed a police complaint after seeing the documentary, was beaten, strangled, and raped by her Kyrgyz boyfriend and his friends after it was discovered that she texted a non-Kyrgyz male. She told RFE/RL that thanks to her testimony, Kyrgyz police have identified seven members of the gang and have asked Russian authorities to launch a criminal case.
Sapargul’s Story is a Part of My Life

Several days after the documentary was broadcast, a letter came to Radio Azattyk from 34-year-old Sapargul with a simple message: Help.

Kasymalieva wasted no time. Within a month, she was at Sapargul’s side, steering her though the legal procedures and helping her heal emotionally.  In June, Yekaterinburg law enforcements opened a criminal investigation of the case and one of the perpetrators has been identified and detained.

Kasymalieva has partnered with Urgent Action Fund, a women’s rights organization which allocated $4,500 for psychological and legal assistance fees, and Civic Assistance, a Russian human rights organization that procured a psychologist and lawyer, to alleviate some of the humiliation and injustice burdening Sapargul.

“Sapargul is not just a journalistic investigation. She is a huge part of my life,” Kasymalieva said. “I saw that no one was actually helping her, and I felt the responsibility because I was the one who raised this is issue in my reporting. I felt I had to take it to the end.”

Patriots Protect a Woman’s Honor

The horrific videos sparked an outcry among Kyrgyzstan nationals and Russian human rights activist and the Kyrgyz parliament sent a delegation to Russia to look into the cases.

“They call themselves patriots of the Kyrgyz people, but just look at what they do,” said Kyrgyzstan’s Ambassador to Russia, Bolot Zhunusov. “This is neither patriotic nor heroic.”

“Patriots do not do that,” adds Sapargul. “Patriots are educated, smart, and they protect a woman’s honor.”

Kasymalieva hopes that these investigations will help women be courageous in their fight against abuse and teach a lesson to the abusers.

-- Kate Leisner with reporting by Radio Azattyk

Uzbekistan’s First Daughter Responds to Radio Ozodlik Investigative Reports

Gulnara Karimova speaking at a press conference held near Tashkent, 17Aug2012

The daughter of Uzbek president Islam Karimov has her eye on RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service -- and she does not like what she sees.
In a country known for widespread oppression, human rights violations, and tight control of the media, dictator-daughter Gulnara Karimova gets away with shutting down cities and damaging historical monuments for the sake of filming music videos – starring her.
But her tune of general disregard changed at an August 17 Tashkent press conference and gathering for invited journalists, actors, artists, athletes, businesspeople, and politicians, as Karimova played defense.
At the conference, she addressed Radio Ozodlik investigative reports about her project to pay for the weddings of hundreds of Uzbek couples who otherwise couldn’t afford marriage. In reality, these showy parties were paid for through the “voluntary” backing of local businesses and governments, a number of which were drained of assets by Karimova’s directives. Some pensioners’ monthly allowances were severely delayed and at least one man stopped receiving disability benefits due to lack of funds.
“I have to confess that I never intended to sponsor all of those weddings out of my own pocket, but wished to rely on local businessmen,” Karimova admitted to the crowd as her comments were quoted in independent Uzbek websites such as Uzmetronom, CA-News, and
Karimova cited another RFE/RL report about her visit to a camp for young journalists where she gave a sports demonstration on stage. She said the report was good, but chided Radio Ozodlik for incorrectly identifying her sport. (She insisted it was yoga and Wushu – not karate, as Ozodlik reported.)
As Karimova highlighted the finer points of her misconstrued athleticism, she neglected to address charges of money laundering in Switzerland and other allegations of misconduct aired by Radio Ozodlik.
Still, the public reaction is unprecedented for the Uzbek first family.
“This is the first time Gulnara is responding to Ozodlik’s critical reporting in front of such a crowd, which also demonstrates her awareness of Ozodlik’s reporting and its impact on her controversial activity,” said Alisher Sidikov, Director of RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service. “It was time for her to publicly respond to criticism.”
We can state with confidence that Gulnara Karimova will be monitoring RFE/RL’s reports on her future endeavors. Criticism of her has grown to the extent that she cannot ignore it any longer.
Says Sidikov, “She is reading. She is following.”

-- JoEllen Koester

Tags:rfe/rl, Uzbekistan, Gulnara Karimova, Googoosha

New Transportation for Children Following TV Liberty Report Is “A Piece of Heaven”

Schoolchildren from Liplje, Bosnia climb out of a minivan donated by a Dutch NGO to help them get to school. Screen shot from RFE/RL's "TV Liberty" program, 24Jul2012.

For the children of the remote town of Liplje, getting to school was an uphill battle. In this majority-Muslim village, near the town of Zvornik on Bosnia's border with Serbia, 20 elementary school students walked five kilometers each day to attend class. During the winter, the kids piled into a four-seat truck, dodging icy water leaking through the rusted roof, while others were forced to sit in an uncovered truck trailer.
But all of that changed when Willem Pronk, president of the Netherlands-based NGO Stichting Proplan heard their story on Radio Slobodna Evropa’s “TV Liberty” program. “I imagined those kids driving in that little truck and I said to myself, children are human beings -- not animals -- and they deserve something better,” Pronk said. And on July 17 Stichting Proplan donated a Mercedes minivan to serve as the village’s school bus.
Liplje residents said that Zvornik authorities have not responded to the children’s transportation problem, despite 10 years of pleas from worried parents. The people of Liplje, who were expelled from the region in 1992 by the army of Republika Srpska and returned in 2000, make their living from agriculture and receive no support from the local government.
With nowhere else to turn, residents wrote the media to ask for help, and RFE/RL’s Balkan Service was the first media outlet to respond. Earlier this year, the “TV Liberty” crew trudged through the snow to speak with the children and record their story. After the segment was aired in February, people turned out to help, first by donating backpacks and money for fuel, and then the gift of the minivan.

“If there were no media, this problem would not have been solved. Who knows when this information would have made it to the public and when all those kind people would have heard it?” said a resident.
The community welcomed the arrival of the minivan with smiling children who lined up to talk to “TV Liberty.” “When I saw it I couldn’t believe it,” said 12-year-old Naida Sinanovic.

“The children are happy now, and I can’t even describe how good it feels to see them happy,” another resident added. “For them, this is a piece of heaven.”
-- Kate Leisner with reporting  by Radio Slobodna Evropa

Tags:Balkan Service, radio slobodna evropa, tv liberty, Liplje

"The Doctor Behind Bars" Brings Hope To Belarus's Imprisoned

Yuri Bandazheuski, author of “The Doctor Behind Bars”, while incarcerated in a Belarusian penal colony in 2004.

Yuri Bandazheuski criticized official reporting on the Chernobyl disaster and radiation levels in Belarus and soon found himself inside a Belarusian prison as an internationally recognized prisoner of conscience. But Bandazheuski, a doctor who also serves as a Radio Svaboda commentator, used his time behind bars to publish a how-to guide for survival in captivity.
“I saw how my own body and that of others reacted; I saw what enormous stress prisoners have to endure,” he writes. This personal experience was the impetus for “The Doctor Behind Bars,” a manual for preserving physical and psychological health that is being serialized on RFE/RL’s Belarus Service website.
“The Doctor Behind Bars” offers prisoners exercise routines, nutritional advice, and mind-strengthening techniques. Condemning “law enforcement specialists” in Belarusian prisons for working “in the field of health destruction,” he recommends ritualized activity as an antidote to such damage. This “method of self-healing” is “a form of physical training” that incorporates the mind as a way of “gaining control over one’s will.” For Bandazheuski, “Healing comes through awareness.”
I saw how my own body and that of others reacted; I saw what enormous stress prisoners have to endure.

Bandazheuski’s guide was the first of its type to appear in Belarus, according to Radio Svaboda editor Alena Radkevich, but it only reached a “very small audience” when it was first published in 2003. By serializing the manual on, Bandazheuski’s work can reach many more current and former prisoners with updated advice.
Its relevance reaches beyond prisoners, their families, and even critics. Radkevich says that for those who live in what has been called “Europe’s last dictatorship,” Bandazheuski’s advice for combating depression is especially important, because “this problem is common not only for prisoners, but society as a whole in Belarus.” The mothers of many prisoners have responded with gratitude for the guidance Bandazheuski provides.
To date, 18 of 24 chapters have been published and serialization should be completed by late August, when Bandazheuski will take part in a online conference with readers and listeners.
Bandazheuski’s guide has its critics, from prison doctors who claim their techniques are sufficient, to zealots who say prayer should be the only form of assistance for prisoners. However, the critiques are balanced by notes of thanks, support, and hopeful anticipation of the new installments.
Allen, a reader in Minsk, writes: “Yuri Ivanovich provides very important and necessary advice; many thanks to him!”
Another reader, Igor, agrees: “Good advice and good examples. The main thing is that a lot of it is basic. In our country, one has to be ready for anything: If not for prison then for other extreme conditions.”

-- JoEllen Koester

Radio Farda Journalist Wins 2012 MJ Bear Fellowship

Iran -- Radio Farda journalist Denise Ajiri, winner of the 2012 MJ Bear Fellowship, presented by the Online News Association (ONA), undated

Radio Farda’s Denise Hassanzade Ajiri has been awarded the 2012 MJ Bear Fellowship. Ajiri is one of three journalists under age 30 selected by the Online News Association (ONA) to receive the fellowship, which is named after digital journalism pioneer and former RFE/RL programming director Mary Jane “MJ” Bear.

Ajiri, 29, writes for RFE/RL’s Persian-language website and contributes to the service’s 24-hour broadcasting into Iran. Her daily reporting on topics not covered in the local media, as well as her work on the weekly foreign cultural issues program “Podhang,” provides Iranians with information they could not receive through the rigidly censored, state-run domestic media.

“As a writer who confronts censorship, I have an innate understanding of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and of course, freedom of the press,” Ajiri said of her work.

A polyglot who speaks Farsi, Turkish, German, Azeri, Assyrian, and English, Ajiri is a graduate of the University of Tehran and of La Salle University’s Professional & Business Communications program in Prague. Prior to joining RFE/RL, she was a translator at a Tehran-based publishing firm where she translated best-selling author Laura Schlessinger’s “Woman Power” into Farsi.

The Fellows Selection Committee recognized Ajiri and Radio Farda for penetrating the tight web of media suppression in Iran. “Her team’s work to get the news past constant threats of censorship is impressive; we are extremely impressed with her courage on freedom of the press,” the committee remarked.

The three 2012 MJ Bear Fellows will each be paired with a digital news leader who will serve as a career development mentor for one year. In addition, fellows will receive a free ONA membership and expense-paid trip to the ONA’s annual conference and awards banquet in San Francisco in September.

The MJ Bear Fellowship honors the memory of Bear, who envisioned a fund dedicated to promoting “the voice of young professionals working in or training in the field of online news” in order to “explore and showcase innovations, developments, and new ideas in the field.”

A true pioneer of online news, Bear helped expand journalism’s partnership with the web in the late 1990’s while working at Microsoft and especially at NPR, where she  became Vice President for Online. A founding member of ONA in 1998, Bear was recruited by RFE/RL to become Director of Programming in 2005. In 2008, she moved on to MSN-Microsoft, where she served as Executive Producer for the Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa CEEMEA) MSN websites. Following a seven-month struggle with leukemia, MJ passed away in December 2010.

Among her many accomplishments at RFE/RL, MJ Bear was part of the team that conceived Pangea – the home-grown content management system that has now been adopted as the web platform of fellow U.S. international broadcasting networks Voice of America, Radio/TV Marti, Radio Sawa, and Alhurra Television.

MJ was also a dedicated mentor to young journalists at the Radios and contributed significantly to RFE/RL’s move into online media. In 2005, she worked with the young journalists of Radio Azattyk in Kyrgyzstan to launch Azattyk Plus, a youth-oriented television and radio effort that employs and targets people in their early to mid-20s.

RFE/RL Vice President for Content, Distribution and Marketing Julia Ragona, who worked closely with MJ at the Radios, remembered her colleague and praised the work of a promising journalist who earned a fellowship in her name.  “Denise unfortunately didn't have the opportunity to work with MJ, but I have no doubt they would have gotten along famously, and that Denise's work would have made MJ very proud,” Ragona said.

-- Kate Leisner

Tags:Radio Azadi, Radio Farda, Azattyk Plus, MJ Bear

RFE/RL Serializes New Book On Jailed Belarus Rights Advocate Byalyatski

International human rights activists call for Ales Byalyatski's release from prison in this undated photo.

One year ago, on August 4, 2011, Belarusian authorities arrested prominent activist Ales Byalyatski on allegations of tax evasion that have been widely condemned as a politically motivated attack on dissent.

A founder of the country’s first pro-democracy movement, the Belarus Popular Front and head of its most prominent rights group, the Viasna Human Rights Center, Byalyatski was later sentenced to four and a half years in prison.
On the eve of the first International Day of Solidarity to mark his continued detention, RFE/RL’s Belarus Service began excerpting on its website a new book by RFE/RL Minsk correspondent Valer Kalinouski, “Справа Бяляцкага” (“The Case of Byalyatski”). In the book, Kalinouski takes a close look at Byalyatski's devotion to the struggle for human dignity in Belarus.
National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman wrote the book’s introduction – an indication of the international human rights community's high regard for Byalyatski's work. Gershman calls Byalyatski a “transformational leader” who places “principle above politics” in the tradition of Martin Luther King, Jr., Andrei Sakharov, Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi. [read Gershman’s introduction in English here]
The Belarus Service, known locally as Radio Svaboda, will post excerpts from Kalinouski’s book online six days a week for the next several weeks, as part of its “Liberty Library” program. In September, the service will begin broadcasting the material over the air to its audience in Belarus.

-- JoEllen Koester

Tags:Belarus Service, Gershman, Ales Byalyatski

Islamic Terror in Bosnia? New Book Offers Insights from Former RFE/RL Editor

Author and former RFE/RL Balkan Service editor Vlado Azinovic, during a presentation for his new book in Sarajevo, 16 July 2012

In 2007, RFE/RL published a book by Balkans Service senior editor Vlado Azinovic that examined Al Qaeda's presence in Bosnia-Herzegovina
Five years later, the journalist-turned-academic is at it again, with a new book titled “Terrorism Studies: Introduction.” During a July 16 promotional event in Sarajevo, Azinovic said he hoped the book would inform an “oftentimes confused” general public and media about the nature of terrorism, define the threat, and help “devise successful counterterrorism strategies.”
The book examines the global threat of terrorism and spotlights how this threat manifests in Bosnia. Azinovic locates the root of terrorism in “deprivation – political, economic, cultural, or religious” and says that it is, for the terrorist, a cost-effective means to resolve grievances by destabilizing government and society. Terrorists proceed according to logic, Azinovic states, and acts of terrorism are “always premeditated, carefully planned and executed.”
To Get Ahead, Bosnia’s Politicians “Cry Terrorist”
Bosnia has not experienced a higher level of terrorist activity than other countries in Europe. However, Azinovic said, rampant discrimination, the government’s questionable legitimacy, and the influence of radical, puritanical Islamists – called Salafists – align to create an environment that is ideal for nurturing potential terrorists.
Instead of addressing these structural weaknesses, argues Azinovic, politicians in Bosnia try either to dismiss the resulting fears about terrorism or to exploit them for political gain.  One group of politicians engage in “constant denial of [the presence of] radical ideology and groups promoting it,” while the other grossly overstates the role of Bosnian Muslims “as active supporters of Islamic terrorism.”
 “Establishing a link between one’s political rivals and terrorism delegitimizes the opponent’s political goal. Calling the other side ‘terrorist’ gives one the upper hand in political struggle,” said Azinovic.
RFE/RL Career Set Stage for Terrorism Research Efforts
Today Azinovic is an assistant professor at the University of Sarajevo, where he has been teaching since 2008. Prior to his academic appointment, Azinovic spent 12 years with RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, and also worked as a journalist for Voice of America`s Croatian Service and FM Radio Zid in Sarajevo.
Though he is no longer employed with RFE/RL, Balkan Service Director Gordana Knezevic says the service would be hard pressed to find someone better equipped to look at these issues than Azinovic, who remains a regular contributor to Balkans Service programs. Whenever incidents such as the 2011 shooting at the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo arise, the Balkans Service turns to Azinovic as a valuable source on the latest developments.
Azinovic credits much of his success to RFE/RL. “I never would have embarked on terrorism research if it had not been for my editors and peers at RFE/RL who encouraged my interests and academic pursuits.”
He continues, “I believe that my professional training in journalism and deeper understanding of contemporary international politics [not only] have enabled me to successfully change career but to carry on, through other means, the same mission that for more than 60 years has been in the core of RFE/RL’s values.”
That common mission, as he puts it, is “creating a well-informed citizenry as a pre-requisite for a functioning democracy.”
--JoEllen Koester

Tags:terrorism, book, Balkan Service, Bosnia, Azinovic

Armenian Education Ministry Approves Use Of Azatutyun Film As A Teaching Aid

Video grab from Radio Azatutyun's film on poet Vahan Teryan.

The team at RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Radio Azatutyun has stepped beyond its usual news reporting and into a creative project -- a 30-minute film about Armenian poet Vahan Teryan titled "Last Journey".

Their effort, the second in a planned series of documentaries examining the lives of Armenian intellectuals, was shot over four days and cost only $1,000 to make. Viewed more than 18,700 times on YouTube, it’s been formally approved by the Armenian National Institute of Education for use as “training and support material” for high school students.

Watch: The Last Journey

Teryan, who died in 1920, was immensely popular in his time and is now considered an Armenian cultural icon. He was the first to employ poetic devices such as the sonnet form, syllable emphasis and the elevated use of rhyme in Armenian.

The lyrical quality of Teryan’s poetry makes his work particularly difficult to translate into English, but this hasn’t stopped translators. A selection of Teryan’s poetry featured in the film can be found here in English translation.

Not Just A Poet

"Last Journey" focuses on the last years of Teryan’s life, as he moved away from intense creative work and immersed himself in politics. The service’s decision to use video – as opposed to widely-available written analyses -- caught the attention of reviewers.

According to Tamara Tovmasyan, a specialist at the National Institute of Education, the film successfully depicts him both as an artist and “a figure concerned with the problems and the future of his country, a figure who tries to create the future spiritual image of Armenia.” Tovmasyan continued, “This is an emotional and sensitive video film that suits the age peculiarities of high school students.”

National Institute of Education Chief Specialist Naira Toghanyan added, “Not only can [the film] become an additional source of information, but can further contribute to the formation of students’ value system.”

Resurrecting The Poet(s)

This is not the first time Radio Azatutyun -- which produced a documentary on poet Hovannes Tumanyan in 2011 and plans another on poet Yeghishe Charentz, the first Armenian victim of Stalin’s terror -- has integrated Armenian culture, politics and history into a video project. No other Armenian media outlet has produced such films on the tragic fate of Armenian intellectuals. According to Radio Azatutyun director Harry Tamrazian, they “are not merely works on Armenian literature and culture, they fit easily within our mission [at RFE/RL].”

Tamrazian, who produced and directed the film on the basis of a script written by Gayene Danielian, said he hoped to create an educational documentary that would include cinematic elements found in any good movie. The final result, Tamrazian said, brings to life a man who “was not only a poet but also a philosopher.”

Although most Armenians grow up learning something about Teryan, Tamrazian said that this is the first work to comprehensively examine Teryan’s attitude toward the West.

Teryan is often – wrongly, in Tamrazian’s view -- considered to have been a pro-Russian communist. In fact, Teryan, who attended university in Moscow and St. Petersburg, believed that the Armenian nation’s only viable path for development lay in adopting European culture. In the film, Teryan’s character states, “We are students of Europe and our future depends on how good we are as students of European civilization.”

The Soviet revolution Teryan supported as the representative of Armenians in the new government’s Ministry of Nations, in effect, killed him. Despite his long struggle with tuberculosis, Teryan was sent in late 1919 by the Soviet government on a mission from Moscow to Central Asia. For a man already ailing, the journey proved to be a death sentence.

This journey is portrayed in the second half of the film. The ending is dramatic, but the actual death of the poet is not shown on camera. Instead, we are given a final, tender scene where his wife lays her head upon his chest. The film then cuts present day Armenians reciting in turn pieces of a Teryan poem. The poet, in this film and in his own writing, lives on.

-- JoEllen Koester

Tags:rfe/rl, movie, Armenia, Azatutyun, vahan teryan

Challenging Cultural Biases in Pakistani Media

Radio Mashaal journalist Daud Khattak

Daud Khattak, Senior Editor of RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal, convened with prominent journalists, ambassadors, and foreign policy experts from Pakistan and the U.S. for a series of conferences to discuss the progress and setbacks of Pakistani journalists and the portrayal of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship in the media.

The Pakistan-U.S. Leadership Forum on Media and Culture conference held June 17-19 was followed on June 20 by a panel discussion at the Heritage Foundation in Washington D.C. entitled “Pakistani Media and Views on Foreign Policy, Terrorism, Religion, and Society.”

“Pakistani media is in an evolutionary stage,” Khattak said at the Heritage Foundation event, noting that there are negatives and positives for a press emerging in a new democracy.

Pakistani media has been accused of being a platform for militant organizations, conspiracy theories, and sensationalism in an effort to secure high-ratings, disparaging the U.S. along the way. 

“A key reason for the misperception about the U.S. among the Pakistani public is that the local media in Pakistan is playing to public sentiments,” Khattak said, acknowledging that the press, facing severe financial and security challenges, panders to popular opinion to secure viewers and avoid harassment.

Khattak said that the Pakistani media is not alone in distorting the image of another country, and charges that American media has muddled the portrayal of Pakistanis. “The image that I am seeing from the American media is that every tribesman living in Pakistan is anti-America and he is holding a gun and he is ready to fight – and that is not the case,” he said.

Khattak found that participants at the leadership conference agreed that American-Pakistani partnerships in media and culture are crucial in overcoming these biases. Radio Mashaal, one of the only news sources reaching tribal areas, was praised for its reliable reporting. Former Pakistan Information Minister Javid Jabbar, Express Tribune editor Muhammad Ziauddin, social worker and human rights activist Samar Minallah, and singer Zeb Bangash, all invited Khattak and Radio Mashaal to work with them to improve cross-cultural perceptions in the media.

-- Kate Leisner

Tags:Radio Mashaal, Daud Khattak

Radio Farda’s Daily “Visit” With Political Prisoners

Molaghat, or "Visit” is one of Radio Farda’s newest and boldest projects. The program, which airs every week from Saturday to Thursday under producer Arash Hassannia, shines a light into prison life in Iran, with each installment dedicated to the experience of an individual political prisoner.

Launched in December 2011, Molaghat  has already introduced Radio Farda's audience to more than 160 activists and individuals imprisoned by the Iranian regime because of their political or religious beliefs. Radio Farda director Armand Mostofi says that, according to Farda's sources, at least 400 political prisoners are currently being held in Iran, including well-known activists, less-familiar politically active individuals, prisoners of conscience and adherents to the Baha'i religion, a group that is systematically persecuted in Iran. "The total number of political prisoners is much higher, but we have complete and credible information for about 400 of them," Mostofi said.

One of the biggest challenges faced by the producers of Molaghat, according to Radio Farda editor-in-chief Niusha Boghrati, is gathering reliable information about some of the less-well-known prisoners. They are, however, in regular contact with prisoners who have been released from jail, as well as with the friends and families of those still being held. "We also gather a lot of info from social media as well as human rights activists based in Iran. A lot of prisoners contact us and we get in touch with them directly," Boghrati said.

The daily profiles are also reaching the inmates themselves. One recently released prisoner told Radio Farda that radio receivers were smuggled into Tehran’s notorious Evin and Gohardasht prisons. Inmates at both facilities started listening to Farda programming in shifts. “Everyone listens to a part and then shares the information with others,” the former prisoner recalled. He said that less well-known prisoners anxiously await each program and look forward to their turn to be profiled.

Mostofi explained that, after a known political activist is arrested, his or her name might appear for the next month in the Iranian media. But later, everyone forgets. “With Molaghat, we strive to keep their voices heard and unforgotten,” he said.


Tags:evin, Iran, Radio Farda, political prisoners, Molaghat

Eviction For Minsk Gallery That Hosted Radio Svaboda Celebration

Belarus -- Liberty Library 10th anniversary presentation. Minsk, 06Jun2012

Just weeks after the Art-Base gallery in Minsk held an event for Radio Svaboda, the popular art venue was charged with fire safety violations and ordered to close its doors by July 23.

Radio Svaboda’s June 8 commemoration of the Liberty Library series, an online collection of RFE/RL's Belarus Service programming, drew a vibrant crowd of supporters including well-known authors and musicians. Gallery director Paval Belavus believes authorities cracked down on the venue because of the Radio Svaboda event, a celebration of freedom of expression in a country that has been called the "last dictatorship in Europe."

The gallery, a hub for youth-oriented cultural activities, including film screenings, literary readings, and art exhibitions, offers itself as one of the few forums in Minsk that foster open discussion. The venue has hosted over 100 events, attracting well-known poets, musicians, historians, linguists, and opposition figures from culture and politics.

"The last straw was probably the fact that we allowed the space for the presentation of the 10th anniversary of the Liberty Library series," he said.
Belavus rented the gallery seven months ago from the state-run television manufacturer Horizont for a one-year lease, but the landlord cited fire safety and visitor violations as reasons for breaking the lease five months early. Belavus says the allegations are bogus, asserting that the landlord was fully aware of the intended activities of Art-Base.
"I think that in reality the decision (to evict) was taken by someone on the outside," says Belavus.
-- Kate Leisner with reporting by Radio Svaboda

Tags:belarus, Belarus Service, Radio Svaboda, Liberty Library

An Exiled Musician's Quest For Harmony in Pakistan

Radio Mashaal's Haroon Bacha at a reception for RFE/RL's 60th anniversary, at the Newseum in Washington, DC - 20 Sep 2010.

Haroon Bacha, renowned Pashtun music star and broadcaster for Radio Mashaal, returned to the music scene on May 2 with the release of his latest album Darman. An eager audience in Pakistan welcomed Bacha’s latest contribution to his impressive discography.

Named after Bacha’s son, Darman consists of songs calling for harmony in the war-torn regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. “I’ve always tried to promote the message of peace and love, and tell the world that we don’t want trouble in our region and in our country,” he said.

Bacha’s 35 albums follow the subtle yet wiry sounds of traditional Pashto music, with lyrics drawn from Pashto poetry and folklore. Like his previous work, Darman tells tales of tranquility in the Peshawar valley and is weaved with nostalgia for a time of civility in the region.  

Bacha was in the midst of an increasingly popular peace-themed music career before he was forced to flee his hometown of Peshawar by the Taliban in 2008. In exile, he has remained a leading voice of tolerance and love for the people of Pakistan through his Pashto music and his D.C.-based Radio Marshaal show "Da Sandaro Ameil," meaning "garland of songs," which reaches a wide audience in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. On June 14 he connected with fans around the world in a live Facebook chat, the first ever for Radio Mashaal.  The same day he was featured in “Express Tribune” for the vital role he continues to play in Pakistan’s search for stability.
From his distant studio in America, Bacha speaks on his show with Pakistani musicians and activists about cultural activities and tolerance. He has surrounded himself with a close-knit Pashtun community in the U.S., but it does not compare in size to his fan-base in Peshawar. A faint longing to return home can be heard in his voice as he rattles off upcoming events in Pakistan.

As counter-terrorism campaigns curb harassment by radical militants of musicians and cultural icons in Pakistan, Bacha is hopeful about his music and radio show.

“I feel optimistic that things will be better in the future, and I feel lucky to stay in touch with my people through my show,” he says.

-- Kate Leisner

Tags:pashtun, Pakistan, Radio Mashaal, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Haroon Bacha

AEI Expert Calls Russian Unrest A Civil Rights Movement

Russia -- A protester taps a fake "blue light", a blue bucket turned upside-down, to a roof of his car in St. Petersburg, 22Apr2010

A new study of Russian society by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) draws parallels between ongoing protests in Russia and the U.S. civil rights movement.  Leon Aron, Director of Russian Studies at AEI, presented his report, “A Quest for Democratic Citizenship: Civil Society in Putin’s Russia,” at AEI on May 31 along with a panel discussion from Leonard Benardo from the Open Society Foundation, Andrew Kuchins of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Andrew Weiss of the RAND Center for Russia and Eurasia.
“[The Russian government] says you are not equal in Russia. You are not equal in courts. You are not equal on the roads, and you’re also disenfranchised,” Aron reports. “You are not disenfranchised because of the color of your skin, but you’re disenfranchised because you vote the wrong way, and, therefore, we don’t count your vote,” he adds. 
Sparked by the demonstrations that spread throughout Russia in 2010, Aron and Daniel Vajdic, a research assistant at AEI, visited Russia last summer to interview leaders of six grass-roots organizations -- including those from the Federation of Automobile Owners of Russia, environmental groups, and anti-corruption efforts -- and found a society seeking self-awareness, integrity, and equality. The challenge, Aron argues, is that none of these result from governmental change alone, but rather will develop alongside an enlightened and motivated civil society that demands democratic citizenship.
Aron’s interviews reveal the backbone of the movement: a young, globalized, and educated middleclass. Although their demands are almost entirely apolitical, these grass-roots organizations recognize that they must cultivate a well-informed democratic citizenry to remain relevant in the political arena and ensure their rights. Russia does not need, or particularly want, a regime change, Aron argues. The effort engulfing Russia is not a politically-minded movement; rather, it’s a civil rights movement. 
The leading activists, many of whom are former business owners, are pitted against the Kremlin when their causes run into political roadblocks, Aron observed. While they do interact with the state, they lack a solidified political agenda. In a sense, their demands transcend politics, as did those of the civil rights movement in the U.S.
“Politics come and go, but if you are for equality and against corruption, then you stay and you continue to demand and to demonstrate,” Aron concludes.

-- Kate Leisner

Tags:Russia protests, civil society, AEI, Leon Aron

Despite Time Crunch, OSCE Kosovo Supervises Smooth Election Process

Kosovo -- A voter casts his ballot in the OSCE balloting facilitation exercise for the second round of the Serbian presidential election, Gracanica, 20may2012

Given only 134 hours to accomplish what would otherwise take months, Edward Joseph, Deputy Chief of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Mission in Kosovo, pulled off nothing short of an election day miracle.

Joseph, speaking at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at John Hopkins University in Washington, D.C. on May 25, described the effectiveness and speed with which his team carried out the supervision of the Serbian presidential elections in Kosovo on May 6.

The OSCE Mission in Kosovo, whose aim is to oversee democratic elections and protect human rights, supervised polling booths for the first round of elections where voters in Kosovo were invited to cast their ballots at any of the OSCE-orchestrated polling centers. Although the election process in Kosovo proved successful, the OSCE staff initially thought they had been dealt “mission impossible.” The tardy negotiation between Pristina and Belgrade over the appropriate polling procedures on April 30 left OSCE scrambling to find locations, materials, and staff for the election.

Quickly, 28 centers were erected and ballots, boxes, and ink transported to the desired locations. Three Kosovo Serbs, one international coordinator, and one interpreter were stationed at each voting center.

The OSCE Mission in Kosovo is the organization’s largest field operation and has maintained favorable relations with all communities in Kosovo. In the weeks leading up to election day, Joseph said simmering tensions between rival factions made OSCE’s supervision “the best choice to avoid what could have been a bad situation.”

The OSCE proclaims itself “status neutral,” meaning it has no position relating to the statehood of Kosovo.



-- Kate Leisner

Tags:kosovo, OSCE, Kosovo Serbs

Volodymyr Noskov's Vision Of Radio As Art

After a 2009 skydiving expedition, Volodymyr Noskov landed in the Black Sea, just off of the Crimean coast.

“Step into the unknown? What are you talking about?” asks Volodymyr Noskov, a reporter for RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, Radio Svoboda. “They did not have to kick me out of the plane,” he says of a recent skydiving trip. “I did it myself.”

Known around the office as an enthusiast for the outdoors, 30-year-old Noskov, who lost his eyesight during childhood, has worked for RFE/RL since 2009. Based in Kharkiv, Noskov frequently covers news related to Yulia Tymoshenko but he does not consider himself a political journalist. “Talking to politicians wears me out,“ shares Noskov. “No matter what I report, I am always looking for the human angle in the news.”

Noskov’s articles on social issues or articles related to people with disabilities stand out. “Somehow, he can put himself in other people’s shoes and report that feeling,” says Radio Svoboda broadcaster Maryana Drach. Noskov’s colleagues agree that he has a special gift to empathize with others. “I go from the inside to the outside,” Noskov says, discussing his writing approach. “I want to understand who these people are before I ask them what they do.”

To achieve that kind of proximity, Noskov avoids cliche questions and focuses on his subjects' individuality. He prefers feature writing that enables him to illustrate a person's complete profile. “I put human perspective in the center of every story,” he says.

Volodymyr explains that he does not want to put his disability forward. “My blindness is not an obstacle for my professional career," the radio broadcaster says. "I don’t want any undeserved favors. I need to get fair comments and criticism from my colleagues to grow professionally. I want to be treated equally to everyone else.”

Noskov pitches a tent in the woods in Ukraine's Ternopil region.Noskov pitches a tent in the woods in Ukraine's Ternopil region.
Noskov pitches a tent in the woods in Ukraine's Ternopil region.
Noskov pitches a tent in the woods in Ukraine's Ternopil region.
When speaking, Noskov exudes a heartfelt optimism and inspiring joie de vivre. He takes the challenges that come with working as a journalist while blind -- having to use special voice software to navigate online, for instance -- in stride, though he notes that blind people in Ukraine face a shortage of up-to-date life tools. "I have to get my advanced blind cane, watch, products and other accessories from abroad,” he says.

Still, he has opportunities to stretch his legs: in 2009, Noskov took part in an event called “The Sky For Free,” when Noskov joined a group of other blind daredevils on Ukrainian Independence Day to skydive from a height of 600 meters. “Those 25 seconds in the air felt like eternity," he says. "I sang the Ukrainian national anthem.”

The same year, Noskov participated in a hiking trip to a cave with a group consisting of both blind and non-sight-impaired people. Home to the longest cave in the world, Ukraine's unique cave systems are well known among speleologists. Spending a day and a half together in the cave, the group's seeing members and blind members were all left in the dark. “It was so exciting!” Noskov recalls. “We taught our seeing partners how to exist in this -- for them rare -- environment by using different senses to navigate themselves through space.”

When he was a young boy, Noskov dreamt of becoming an actor or director. When he realized that he could not pursue these dreams with his visual impairment, he decided to work at a radio station. “It is the only medium that gives me a chance to achieve my dreams. [Radio] is an art form, it is a school for intellectuals and I want it to keep this radio culture alive.”

-- Kristyna Dzmuranova and Larisa Balanovskaya

Tags:Ukraine, Ukrainian Service, Volodymyr Noskov

In Memoriam: Haseeba Shaheed

Haseeba Shaheed (r) with her family at RFE/RL's Prague headquarters.

RFE/RL mourns the passing of Radio Mashaal broadcaster and mother of two Haseeba Shaheed. A disciplined journalist and radiantly cheerful friend and colleague, Shaheed covered the news in Afghanistan and Pakistan for over a decade, often risking her life to report on critical issues affecting minorities and women.

A native of Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar Province, Shaheed -- like millions of other Afghans whose lives and livelihoods have been devastated by three decades of civil war -- fled the country with her family during high school to Peshawar, in neighboring Pakistan.

Her media career began at the age of 16, when she seized an opportunity to work as an actress and screenwriter for a BBC dramatic series, “New House and New Life,” in Peshawar. Following the overthrow of the Taliban, Shaheed returned home to join Radio Azadi’s Kabul bureau as a senior reporter and producer in 2003.

During her time in Kabul, Shaheed was recognized numerous times for her reporting excellence in exposing the neglected corners of Afghan life. A 2004 investigative report into the trafficking of Afghan women provoked the ire of a local warlord, who applied pressure on Kabul authorities to bring an investigation against Shaheed in order to silence her reporting. The matter was later resolved in Shaheed’s favor through the intervention of senior government officials.

“Kegday Kegday,” a 20-part series that followed the stories and daily challenges of nomadic Afghans, won Shaheed much acclaim. More recently, she wrote and produced a feature that explored the experiences of four mothers -- the mother of an Afghan National Army soldier; the mother of a Taliban fighter; the mother of a Pakistani Army soldier; and the mother of a US Marine -- who had lost their sons to war.

In 2010, Shaheed moved to Prague to join RFE/RL’s new Pashto-language service for northwest Pakistan, Radio Mashaal. Commenting on her professional acumen, Radio Mashaal director Amin Mudaqiq noted that Shaheed relished taking on the most challenging assignments. “Haseeba Shaheed’s forte was her courage,” he said.

Broadcast journalism wasn’t the only talent that came naturally to Shaheed, who hailed from a family of poets -- her father Dawood Shaheed and grandmother Mastoor Shaal were both prominent and respected poets in Nangarhar -- and composed her own beautiful Pashto poetry.

Known around RFE/RL for her energetic warmth and sharp sense of humor, Shaheed’s bright and optimistic spirit belied a lifetime of hardship. A 2006 Kabul car accident in which Shaheed sustained injuries killed her first husband, Shafeeq, and her sister, Shahnaz.

Her husband’s and sister’s untimely deaths, as well as broader themes of loss and exile, appeared frequently in her work. “Her poetry was full of tragedy,” Radio Free Afghanistan broadcaster and fellow poet Ajmal Aand says.

“Being hopeless is my experience, being without country is my philosophy. I have a Ph.D. in frustration,” Shaheed wrote in her poem, “Refugee Bird,” that reflected on her childhood. “I need a prophet to reconcile me with myself….to show how to love, how to smile.” Several weeks ago, she traveled to Munich to recite “Refugee Bird” at a Pashtun poetry festival, Da Naranj Gul.

Shaheed was gravely injured in a car accident on May 9 and succumbed to her injuries nine days later at Prague’s Military University Hospital. She is survived by her husband, Hadayatullah Sultani, and two young children, Samon and Shiba; an extended family in Afghanistan and abroad; and by countless friends at RFE/RL and around the world.

Haseeba was 29 years old. We will miss her.

Tags:Radio Azadi, Radio Mashaal

In Pakistan, One Tweet Makes A Difference

When RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal highlighted a widow's plight, Pakistanis reached out to help through social media.

“My inner worrywart wonders whether the new technologies overtaking us may be eroding characteristics that are essentially human,” former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller wrote last year in an article entitled “The Twitter Trap.”

He need not worry so much: the power of social media outlets like Twitter to do social good was demonstrated recently when a single tweet by a Radio Mashaal correspondent moved the Pakistani government to help the ailing widow of a legendary Pashtun musician.

Last month, Radio Mashaal correspondent Khalid Khan reported on the devastating decision facing Ashoora Bibi, the 75-year old widow of Pashto music legend Rafiq Shinwari. Shinwari, who died in 1991, was considered such a national treasure that he received an award in 1985 from then-President Zia ul-Haq. Now impoverished and desperate, Bibi was considering selling her husband’s awards and medals to pay her medical bills.

Khan’s story aired on Radio Mashaal on April 23, and was posted to Mashaal’s Facebook and Twitter accounts by colleague Shaheen Buneri. Immediately, fans of Shinwari came together and began to search for ways to assist his widow. As the message spread across the Internet, Pakistani legislators and government officials also learned of Bibi’s predicament.

Pakistani National Assembly member Bushra Gauhar tweeted Buneri to ask for contact information, and later tweeted the news that the Department of Culture had allocated 100,000 rupees (about $1,100) to Shinwari’s widow, who was also promised medical assistance.

“@shaheenbuneri Have requested the CM [Culture Ministry] & concerned to reach out to her. Please DM [direct message] her contact to me asap. Thanks, BG @aliarqam@ijazkhan”

The rapid response of both fans and government officials highlights the growing ability of social media to share important news, generate interest and drive action in this volatile part of South Asia. Buneri’s tweet gave fans all over the world the ability to quickly respond to the plight of Rafiq Shinwari’s widow. Small triumphs like that ought to hearten the essentially human tweeter in us all.

-- Aemilia Madden

Tags:Radio Mashaal

Belgrade Journalist Wins Award For Exposé On Serbian Ultranationalists

NUNS Investigative Journalism Award

Milos Teodorovic, a broadcaster with RFE/RL's Balkan Service, was recently honored for his investigative reports on an ultranationalist group's operations on the border between Serbia and majority-Serb northern Kosovo.

The award was given on May 3, World Press Freedom Day, by the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia (NUNS) and the U.S. Embassy in Serbia. U.S. Ambassador to Serbia Mary Warlick congratulated Teodorovic, and a statement from the awarding jury praised his investigation of the Serbian nationalist "1389" group and their activities in northern Kosovo.

"While many wondered who was setting fires and destroying border installations in northern Kosovo, [Teodorovic's report] reveal[ed] that organized cells of [1389] were based in houses on the Kosovo-Serbia border," the jury said. "He managed to get access to them, talk to their representative, and reveal several important facts about their activities."

Teodorovic, who has won several awards for his reporting on the rise of extreme right-wing groups, said he was pleased to be recognized for this story because it "targeted the system of values inherited from the Balkan wars of the 1990s, which is still very present in Serbian society."

Tags:Serbia, Balkan Service, Milos Teodorovic

Veteran RFE/RL Journalist Passes Away

Armenia -- Armen Dilanian, RFE/RL journalist, undated

Armen Dilanian, a veteran of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Armenian Service, passed away on April 24 at the age of 56 in Glendale, California.

Armen was one of the founders of RFE/RL's bureau in Yerevan in 1992, where he worked until he joined RFE/RL's headquarters in Munich, Germany in 1994. He was one of the first journalists in post-Soviet Armenia to report on the most vital political, social, and economic issues in his country.

Between 1995 and 2006, Armen worked in RFE/RL's headquarters in Prague. He left Prague for Glendale in 2006, where he worked as a journalist at various Los Angeles-based Armenian media and served as a correspondent for Armenian Public Radio.

"Armen Dilanian was a very talented journalist and his death is a big loss for the Armenian journalistic community," said Harry Tamrazian, director of RFE/RL's Armenian Service, Radio Azatutyun. "Listeners in Armenia could easily identify RFE/RL's programs by hearing Armen's voice. He had a large audience in Armenia and made a significant contribution to the success of our service."

"Armen contributed his excellent talent and efforts to the principles of free speech and human rights with truthful and sincere reports in his marvelous voice," said Gayane Danielian, staff member for Radio Azatutyun. "He was one of the history writers of the Republic of Armenia from the very first days of its independence."

He is survived by his wife, three sons, and a daughter.

Tags:rfe/rl, Armenia, Armenian Service, Azatutyun, Dilanian

Al Jazeera Film Festival To Screen RFE/RL Correspondent's Documentary

RFE/RL correspondent Zafer Karatay sits with the subject of his documentary, Crimean Tatar novelist and poet Cengiz Dagci.

A documentary movie produced by RFE/RL correspondent Zafer Karatay will compete this weekend at the eighth annual Al-Jazeera International Documentary Film Festival in Doha.

The film, “Cengiz Dagci,” explores the life of renowned Crimean Tatar novelist and poet Cengiz Dagci. Born in Crimea in 1910, Dagci grew up in a Tatar community that faced persecution and discrimination from both the Russian Empire and its successor, the Soviet Union. Drafted to fight for the Soviet Union in World War II, Dagci was captured and placed in a German labor camp. After the war, he settled in Great Britain. Though he never returned to his homeland, he told Karatay, "There has been no day, no morning and no evening when I didn't remember my Crimea."

WATCH: The film trailer for Zafer Karatay's "Cengiz Dagci"

Karatay’s movie is a landmark portrayal of the culture and life of Crimean Tatars, a relatively small ethnic group estimated to number around 1.5 million people worldwide. The Tatars are descendants of Mongol invaders who swept across Eurasia in the 13th century. Predominantly Muslim, Crimean Tatars lived in their own state, the Crimean Khanate, which became a protectorate of the Ottoman Empire in 1475, and was notorious among Slavic Russians for its participation in the slave trade.

Following Russian annexation in the late eighteenth century, the Crimean Tatars became an endangered minority; in the early twentieth century, hundreds of thousands of Tatars were deported, starved or killed in Slavic colonization and Soviet collectivization programs. In 1944, the bulk of the Crimean Tatar community was deported to Siberia and Central Asia for its alleged collaboration with Nazi Germany, despite the fact that many Tatars had fought loyally alongside other Soviet troops during the war. Up through the 1980s, Crimean Tatars were prevented from returning to their homeland.

Dagci’s works focused on the struggle of the Crimean Tatar community between 1932 and 1945. Widely read all over Turkey -- a major center of the Tatar diaspora -- his books are understood by many to be the glue holding Crimean Tatar culture together. One of his more famous poems reads, in part:

Since the day that they
lost their independence,
there wasn't any day
passed without
chopping the branches
of this tree, but
again new branches
came out of its body.

Karatay filmed his documentary during Dagci’s lifetime, before the poet passed away in September 2011. The 59-minute movie brings back Dagci’s memories of growing up under the regime of Josef Stalin and also his testimony of the misery and wretchedness of life in Nazi labor camps. The film first premiered in April 2011, but Karatay emphasizes that, at that time, the movie was not quite finished. He explains that the documentary actually was not complete until Dagci’s funeral --  “a wedding with his much beloved homeland” -- which saw the poet’s body returned to a gravesite in Gruzuf, Crimea after 72 years of homesickness. His burial fulfilled a wish captured at the very end of the movie: "Gurzuf wait for me, I will come back."

Dagci himself did not see the April premiere, five months before his passing, because he was already very ill. Karatay recalls that in 2009, Dagci watched some scenes that were shot in Crimea and it was very emotional for him. “He suddenly saw his village, his home, the coast of Black Sea and even an interview with his sister Ayshe, who he hasn’t seen since 1939. He was very excited and cried,” Karatay says.

Karatay, who hosts a weekly radio show on Radio Azatliq, RFE/RL’s Tatar-language service, has worked with RFE/RL for more than 20 years. From his base in Ankara, Turkey, he frequently covers issues relevant to the Crimean Tatar diaspora living in Turkey, Romania and the United States.

After Karatay’s movie premiered last year, it was screened in movie theatres all over Turkey, where Dagci is considered a national hero, and on Turkish national television. Viewers agree that the movie, now available on YouTube, connects with the emotional experience of Crimean Tatars.

Together with the popularity of the documentary, the demand for Dagci’s books has increased as well.  Karatay himself has already been invited to give multiple lectures about the movie at conferences, universities and even municipalities. He recently traveled to Doha with producer Nese Sarisoy Karatay and editor Cantekin Cantez to prepare the weekend screening of “Cengiz Dagci.”     

Al-Jazeera’s film festival, staged annually since 2005, screens movies from all around the world and aims to encourage intercultural understanding and tolerance through shared experience. This year, nearly seven hundred movies were submitted for review, of which 168 made it to the finals. Karatay’s ‘Cengiz Dagci’ will be screened at 1 pm at the Doha Sheraton, on Saturday, April 21.

-- Kristyna Dzmuranova

Tags:Tatar-Bashkir Service

RFE/RL Web Team Wins High Praise

A screenshot of an audio stream from RFE/RL's Macedonian Service. RFE/RL's websites draw over 14 million visitors per month.

It’s always nice to get a pat on the back, but nothing cheers RFE/RL journalists more than when they’re honored for successes in new media. Radio Free Europe has come a long way since its days of gravelly shortwave broadcasts and helium balloon air drops to audiences behind the Iron Curtain. Today’s RFE/RL, by necessity, is a thoroughly modern operation that reaches its global audience in the places they consume news, whether it’s on radio, television, or online.

Last week, RFE/RL’s website was recognized as an official honoree in the radio/podcasts category at the annual Webby Awards, the leading international awards honoring the world’s best internet content and design. Out of 10,000 entries from the United States and 60 other countries, only the top 15 percent are awarded the "official honoree" title.

The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, a group of 1,000 web experts, celebrities, and internet professionals -- including Huffington Post chief Arianna Huffington and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone -- has handed out the awards every year since 1996, when the Internet was in its relative infancy. The awards recognize the world’s best websites, advertising, multimedia content, and mobile apps.

Powered By Pangea

Behind RFE/RL’s web interface lies the the company’s unique Pangea content-management system, a robust application created by RFE/RL’s technology team of five over five years ago, providing RFE/RL’s 19 language services with an efficient and visually attractive technology platform.

“We spent quite some time on usability. Pangea is customized for journalists. That’s the beauty of it,” Aladin Telalagic, head of RFE/RL’s Internet team, told “Off Mic.”

Pangea has proven so useful that it’s become the template for the rest of the United States’ international broadcasting services: Pangea is currently being adopted as the content management system for Voice of America, Radio and TV Marti, Radio Sawa, and Alhurra television.

“For years, RFE/RL broadcasters have been producing content across all kinds of media,” RFE/RL president Steve Korn says. “It’s great to see that the web community appreciates the dedicated work of our intrepid internet team, whose efforts stand at the core of this company’s mission. This recognition is just further encouragement to build on their successes.”

--Comms Team

Tags:twitter, Webby Awards, Voice of America, Radio Marti, TV Marti, Radio Sawa, Alhurra, Pangea, Biz Stone, Huffington Post

RFE/RL, FAMU Partner For 'One Day On Earth' Premiere

A day in the life of the third rock from the sun.

Planning to be in Prague this Sunday (April 22)? Want to take part in a truly global event? If so, join us at 6 pm, as RFE/RL and FAMU host the Prague premiere of “One Day on Earth," a new documentary that includes video footage from every nation on the planet from a single day: October 10, 2010.

One Day on Earth - Global Screening Trailer from One Day on Earth on Vimeo.

Sunday’s screening at FAMU will be one of over 200 taking place in more than 100 countries across the globe on Earth Day. Producers Kyle Ruddick and Brandon Litman call their project “the first truly worldwide document” and it’s hard to argue with them: “One Day on Earth” brought together some 3,000 hours of video from amateur participants the world over. Their non-profit project has received endorsements and support from dozens of leading international organizations, including the United Nations Development Program, the Red Cross, and the World Wildlife Fund.

The documentary includes footage produced by RFE/RL's Tajik Service of the cotton harvest in Tajikistan. It is common for women and children to work long, hard hours in Tajikistan's cotton fields, as jobs are scarce and much of the male labor population goes to Russia in search of work. Tajik Service Director Sojida Djakhfarova will say a few words about the film at the screening.

We look forward to seeing you there!

What: The Prague premiere of “One Day on Earth”
When: 6 PM, Sunday April 22, 2012
Where: FAMU; Smetanovo Nabrezi 2 (next to Cafe Slavia)

'One Day On Earth' To Use RFE/RL Footage Of Cotton Pickers In Tajikistan

In Tajikistan, young children are often hauled out of school and into the fields for the cotton harvest. Video of the Tajik cotton harvest shot by RFE/RL correspondent Barot Yusufi will be featured later this month in 'One Day On Earth.'

RFE/RL footage highlighting the lives of women and children cotton-pickers in Tajikistan will be included in an upcoming documentary, “One Day on Earth.” The film project, to be released this coming Earth Day, April 22, is meant to capture the tribulations and celebrations of people from around the world by using video footage shot on a single day, October 10, 2010. The video produced by RFE/RL’s Tajik Service examines the social and economic issues faced by Tajikistan’s cotton pickers, some of whom are as young as six years old, forced to work in the fields to support their families.

WATCH: 'Underpaid And Underage In Tajikistan's Cotton Fields'

“We received an email that [the producers of “One Day on Earth”] were collecting films from all over the world and were interested in using our footage from Tajikistan,” Sojida Djakhfarova, director of RFERL’s Tajik Service, says. “We were very happy to send them several links of our videos for them to choose, and they ended up using this video.”

Cotton, one of Tajikistan’s top two exports along with aluminum, is a controversial issue in Tajikistan, a country where domestic economic opportunities are scarce. Much of Tajikistan’s male workforce leaves for seasonal work in Russia, and remittances from abroad account for nearly half of Tajikistan’s GDP. 

Djakhfarova says that the disappearance of Tajikistan’s male migrants has put pressure on the rest of the population. “Since the great labor migration, cotton is a place for women and children, especially underage children to work,” she says.

“There is a government ban on child labor but no one follows it,” Djakhfarova notes. “The idea  for the video first emerged after Western organizations included Tajikistan on a list of countries whose cotton exports should be banned from purchase because of child labor.”

Because many cotton pickers rent the land that they work on, profits are usually very low. Families have to have every member involved in the process in order to make ends meet. Children are often taken out of school early or not allowed to continue their education for lack of family means.

“One Day On Earth” brings together video footage from individuals all across the globe; the submissions range from professionally filmed videos to images captured with cell phones. All in all, with the assistance and participation of 60 non-profit organizations, producers brought together 3000 hours of video shot in every nation on Earth on 10/10/10. The film covers an array of topics -- some uplifting, others less so. The initial success of the project has led to its continuation, with another day of filming occurring on November 11, 2011. Organizers hope to keep the project going through 2015.

-- Aemilia Madden

Tags:Tajikistan, cotton, Tajik Service, Earth Day

Farda Listeners Share Their Norouz Wishes

Radio Farda Listeners Share Norouz Wishesi
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March 23, 2012
Listeners of RFE/RL's Farsi Service, Radio Farda, call in to share their wishes for the New Year.
As millions of people all over the world celebrate Norouz, RFE/RL’s Radio Farda asked its audience to share hopes, wishes -- and some graphic designs -- in honor of the Persian New Year.

Radio Farda received hundreds of voicemails, SMS messages, emails, and Facebook messages from all over Iran and around the world. Many of the messages were simply Iranians wishing their countrymen -- or members of Radio Farda staff -- a happy and prosperous new year. A few callers just hoped to do some traveling in the next year.

“I hope that Radio Farda will launch broadcasting from Iran to Iranians and I will be able to freely share my comments with other Iranians without any fear,” wrote one emailer from northern Iran.

Others, though, were more political in nature. Some called for freedom for political prisoners, some for outright regime change in Iran, and still others were quite critical of Radio Farda.

In the video below, we have compiled some of the voices of Iran. Other samples are printed after the jump.

The graphics are all user-generated content, done in response to Radio Farda’s call to its Facebook fans to create banners celebrating Nowruz. The photos in the video are from Nowruz celebrations in Iran and around the region -- Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

Radio Farda is illegal in Iran, and the regime in Tehran goes to great lengths to jam, block, disrupt and harass the stations signals and its journalists.

Despite this, as you can see, the message gets out.

Sale no mobarak!


Below is a sampling of the SMS, Facebook, and email messages received by Farda: 

“I hope and wish for peace for all Iranians.” - From Isfahan

“Luck is not important, the important thing is that the key is in God’s hand and I hope God will give us the master key as a present for the upcoming year.” - From Isfahan

“I hope to come and see Europe.” - Khadijeh from Mahabad.

“I hope for a regime change in Iran.” - Sasan from Shiraz

“I am in the hospital and I listened to Radio Farda’s Norouz special program. I want to wish Happy Norouz to my mother, who is listening to Radio Farda right now. I hope this year will be better than last year.” - From the Southwest of Iran

“Death to Iran’s dictator and freedom for Iran.” - Sa San from Tehran

“I wish that neither fire, war, poverty or ignorance will burden my country.” - Afshin Sobhani from Kermanshah

“In the New Year I wish the Iranian people freedom and peace, moderation for the government and the rulers, love and success for all my friends and peace for the whole world.” - Anoosh

“I don’t care about the others. I want to go to university, find a good job and a house for myself.” - Sattar Boromandnejad, student at the University of Tabriz from Tehran

“Freedom for all Iranians, especially for the prisoners.” - Ziba Sereshti

“I hope you tell less lies to the people, like the Islamic Republic of Iran.” - Artemis Aryae

“I wish peace for everyone and a year without any wars.” - Mohamad Farkhondeh Fard from Tehran

“In the new year I hope Iran will be better or I’ll leave the country, because in this situation I am hopeless.” - Nehmiya from Elmi Karbordi University


Tags:norouz, Iran, Radio Farda

Made To Face The Music

Not even the widely reputed guitar-playing skills of Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov could deflect unpleasant questions about torture and murder.

RFE/RL’s 19 language services are accustomed to taking hits from government officials in the countries in which they operate, whether it’s the occasional snide remark from Russia’s Vladimir Putin or mock RFE/RL websites erected by autocratic rulers in Iran and Uzbekistan.

But last Friday, journalists from RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service, Radio Azatlyk, were given the rare pleasure of hearing their nation’s deputy foreign minister having to dodge and dissemble under the spotlight of a human rights inquiry at the UN. During a meeting of the UN’s Human Rights Committee, experts grilled a Turkmen delegation on its government’s treatment of independent press organizations, including Radio Azatlyk.

Friday’s hearing was long overdue. After Turkmenistan signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1997, it was required to submit a report on its compliance with the treaty by 1998. Ashgabat turned out to be a little bit behind -- 14 years, in fact -- in filing its report.

When questioners from the UN committee turned their attention to the status of independent media outlets like RFE/RL, Turkmenistan’s representatives got defensive.

“The people regularly broadcast reports on events that take place in Turkmenistan, about human rights, for example, and they share their opinions. It’s fine for them to do so,” Turkmen Deputy Foreign Minster Vepa Hadjiyev told the committee. “However, when it comes to journalism, that is somewhat different. People are allowed to collect information and disseminate it. Radio Azatlyk has the right to do so.”

This must come as news to RFE/RL correspondent Dovletmyrat Yazkuliyev, who was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison in October 2011 on false charges that he had aided in the attempted suicide of a family member. The government's scurrilous allegations were widely believed to be connected to Yazkuliyev's reporting about an arms depot explosion that killed dozens in the Turkmen city of Abadan. He was later pardoned and released only after complaints from international advocacy organizations and intense diplomatic pressure from the United States led the Turkmen government to reconsider its position.

Yazkuliyev made out relatively lightly compared with Azatlyk contributor Sazak Durdymuradov, who in June 2009 was arrested and confined to a psychiatric institution known as the “Turkmen Gulag,” where he was beaten and psychologically abused by Turkmen authorities.

And if she could still raise her own objections, Ogulsapar Muradova -- an RFE/RL correspondent who died in 2006 while in government detention on trumped-up charges -- might have a thing or two to say about Hadjiyev’s response to UN inquiries.

At Friday’s hearing, Hadjiyev strayed from the official government line on Muradova that she died of “natural causes,” saying instead that Muradova had committed suicide. At the time of her death the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation (THF), a human rights group, quoted Muradova’s children as saying that their mother’s body was returned with a “large wound” on her head and bruising along her neck. THF called Muradova’s death a “political assasination.”

Indeed, by many objective measures Turkmenistan remains among the two or three most-restrictive press environments in the world. For the past three years, Freedom House, an American nongovernmental organization that tracks international human rights patterns, has ranked Turkmenistan second to last in its annual index of press freedoms, behind only North Korea. Reporters Sans Frontieres, the French advocacy group for journalists, has ranked Turkmenistan third from the bottom in its annual press freedom index every year for the past five years.

Veronika Szente Goldston, Human Rights Watch’s advocacy director for Europe and Central Asia, said the meeting demonstrated that the Turkmen government’s approach to its human rights record is characterized by “complete denial.”

Having declared that RFE/RL was free to report from Turkmenistan, Hadjiyev twisted himself into some tight doublethink knots to rationalize his government’s repression and intimidation of RFE/RL’s courageous in-country stringers and contributors. Riffing on the fact that they work without official government accreditation, Hadjiyev branded Radio Azatlyk’s correspondents as mercenaries and outlaws.

“If they think their actions are journalistic work, then these types of activity are not in accord with the current law.... The Radio Azatlyk broadcasters in Turkmenistan provide false information. They are in it for the money,” Hadjiyev said.

“We have applied for official accreditation for our journalists three times in the last five years,” Radio Azatlyk Director Muhammad Tahir told Off Mic. “We’re always interested in talking about our accreditation with the government of Turkmenistan, and would obviously welcome any chance our journalists might have to report the news legally, freely, and without fear.”

Tahir was more than a little surprised to hear Hadjiyev’s contention that RFE/RL journalists were “in it for the money.”

“It’s quite difficult to see why any of our professional correspondents would run the risk of imprisonment, torture, and death just for a few bucks,” Tahir said. “Our people work for us because they are committed to the open flow of accurate information and to the construction of a vibrant civil society in Turkmenistan.”

For their part, some panelists on the UN committee appeared largely unconvinced by Hadjiyev’s answers. “In all honesty,” Swedish panelist Krister Thelin told the Turkmen delegation, “there are still areas of concern that remain.”

To say the least.

-- Courtney Brooks and Charles Dameron

Tags:Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, Turkmenistan, United Nations, Turkmen Service, Human Rights Watch, Dovletmyrat Yazkuliev, Ogulsapar Muradova, Sazak Durdymuradov

International Community Speaks Out To Defend RFE/RL's Khadija Ismailova

Journalist Khadija Ismayilova, pictured here in Baku in February, has made a name for herself as a fearless investigator of official corruption in Azerbaijan.

Media observers and advocacy organizations from around the world are speaking out against an unspeakable act of blackmail designed to sabotage the journalistic work of Khadija Ismailova, an RFE/RL correspondent in Azerbaijan. 

Ismailova, who hosts the popular radio talk-show program "After Work" on RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, Radio Azadliq, has a long record as Azerbaijan's premier investigative journalist. Her award-winning body of reporting has focused on official corruption surrounding Azerbaijan's president, Ilham Aliyev, and his family's assets.

Recently, she teamed up with CNBC to produce a television report entitled "Filthy Rich," that highlighted the Aliyev family's real estate holdings in Dubai. Last November, RFE/RL named her 2011 investigative feature, "Azerbaijani President's Daughters Tied To Fast-Rising Telecoms Firm," as the company's news story of the year.

Now Ismailova is being targeted in a vicious campaign of personal defamation directed by anonymous sources. On March 7, she received pictures of a personal nature in the mail along with a note reading, "Whore behave. Or you will be defamed." The note warned Ismailova to cease her investigations on pain of being "hugely embarrassed."

"We support Khadija completely and applaud her courage in helping RFE/RL provide the people of Azerbaijan what they cannot get locally: uncensored news, responsible discussion, and open debate," RFE/RL President Steve Korn said. "The value and truth of Khajida's work speak for themselves, and those attempting to blacken her name should be the ones hanging their heads in shame."

The journalist issued a defiant response on her Facebook page. "This threat is not a surprise to me. I have been doing investigative journalism a long time," she said. "The motives of these acts are very well known to the public. It is done to silence people who are outspoken."

After a website began distributing intimate video footage of a woman purportedly identified as Ismailova on March 14, international human rights organizations and free speech advocates rallied to her defense.

"This is a despicable attempt to discredit a journalist in the process of investigating government corruption at the highest level," Amnesty International representative John Dalhuisen said in a statement.

Dalhuisen was joined by Nina Ognianova of the Committee to Protect Journalists. "We are incensed by this contemptible effort to silence Khadija Ismailova, and demand that Azerbaijani authorities investigate and put a halt to it immediately," Ognianova said.

Below is a sample of the coverage:

Azerbaijan Must Halt Smear Campaign Against Reporter
The Committee To Protect Journalists
March 14, 2012

Smear Campaign Escalates Against RFERL Azerbaijani Reporter
Freedom House
March 14, 2012

Azerbaijani Journalist Vows To Ignore Threats
Doha Center For Media Freedom
March 14, 2012

"Despicable" Campaign To Smear Woman Investigative Reporter
Reporters Sans Frontieres
March 15, 2012

Azerbaijan Must Investigate Smear Campaign Against Radio Free Europe Reporter
Amnesty International
March 15, 2012

Azerbaijan: Investigative Journalist Defiant After Blackmail Threat
Pervin Muradli | Global Voices
March 15, 2012

Azeri Journalist Alleges Blackmail Attempt
Karl Rahder | Foreign Policy Association
March 8, 2012

Tags:Azerbaijan, Azerbaijani Service, media freedom, khadija ismayilova, ismayilova, ismail, ismailova, khadija

RFE/RL’s Kosovo Unit Celebrates 13th Anniversary

RFE/RL's Kosovo unit head Arbana Vidishiqi

On March 8, 1999, reporters from RFE/RL’s Kosovo Unit, Radio Evropa e Lirë, broadcast their first words to a tense Balkans listenership.

Now the head of RFE/RL’s Kosovo’s unit, Arbana Vidishiqi was then a correspondent and had just reported on an investigation by a team of European Union forensic experts over the killing of over 40 civilians in the village of Račak in Kosovo. It was RFE/RL’s first report to Kosovo’s population of 1.8 million.

Sixteen days later NATO launched an air strike against former Yugoslavia, and RFE/RL’s Kosovo unit was thrust into reporting in the middle of a war zone.  

Thirteen years later, Radio Evropa e Lirë is celebrating more than a decade of providing its Kosovo audience unbiased reports and telling people’s stories, even while combating ethnic intolerance in the midst of deeply rooted inter-ethnic tensions between Albanian and Serbian communities.

Radio Evropa e Lirë is part of RFE/RL’s Balkans Service, which broadcasts in six languages to the ethnically diverse populations of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia.

Despite Radio Evropa e Lirë's outreach, these post-war countries still lack genuine media freedom. The majority of the media outlets are either government controlled or remain divided along ethnic lines.

-- Deana Kjuka

RFE/RL's Daud Khattak Discusses Pakistan At New America Foundation

Radio Mashaal senior editor Daud Khattak spoke with analyst Peter Bergen in Washington on March 6.

On March 6th, the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, hosted Daud Khattak, a veteran Pakistani reporter and analyst, as well as a senior editor for RFE/RL’s Pakistan service (Radio Mashaal). The session was moderated by Peter Bergen, director of the New America Foundation’s National Security Studies Program. 

Video streaming by Ustream Khattak drew on over twelve years of experience reporting on events along the Afghan-Pakistan border, addressing important regional issues including militarism, media and life in the tribal regions of Pakistan.

An important focus of his remarks was the role of the government and international community in limiting extremism in the tribal regions. Khattak said that Pakistan’s government has pursued a counterproductive approach on its border with Afghanistan by using frontier tribes as scapegoats, and he called on authorities to respect and address the demands of tribal people.

“The options for the government and international community are very clear,” Khattak said. “Tribal people want to be part of the mainstream. They want positive change in their life, they want education, health facilities, roads, dams, jobs. Unfortunately, nothing of that sort is visible on the ground and the social status of the tribal people is rapidly going down, mainly because of the ongoing militancy operations and the displacement from their areas.”

Khattak acknowledged that the way ahead for social advancement in Pakistan’s tribal areas -- including civil society development, poverty alleviation, and expansion of access to education -- is a tough one. But he praised the recent proliferation of media outlets in Pakistan’s Pashto-speaking border region, especially non-government outlets expressing a range of ideas and opinions. The expansion of coverage, Khattak believes, has led to a growing social awareness among the people of the tribal regions.

“Despite all the negative [material] in the Pakistani media, it has created awareness,” Khattak said. “Although sometimes it is misguided, taking the people here and there, awareness is coming to Pakistani society about the government, about their problems, their rights, women’s rights.”

He also addressed the most controversial feature of Pakistani-US relations:  American drone strikes against suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan.  Though Khattak emphasizes that the strikes offer a pretext for Pakistani politicians to capitalize on widespread anti-American sentiment, he feels that increasing the transparency of the drone strike program would ease civilian anxieties and improve local support for the policy.

“If the Pakistani government and the US government share the correct information from the ground, releasing the exact info to the people, I think it will snatch the opportunity from Islamists or certain political parties to say that only civilians are being killed.”

Towards the end of his talk, Khattak discussed the Radio Mashaal’s growing role in assisting Pakistan’s Pashtun population. With a focus on promoting interaction between the station and the community, Khattak noted that Radio Mashaal has become an outlet for individuals to present important local issues that otherwise go unheard.

“The people are voiceless, they have no representation,” Khattak said. “So we are including them, we are making our programs interactive to include them and they are sharing their voices with us. They are calling us; they are joining our live debates; they are joining our feature programs. And then our reporters are reporting on their problems.”

-- Aemilia Madden

Tags:Radio Mashaal

Maxliberty Named Most Popular Youth Show in Armenia

Max Club guests discuss highs and lows of Armenian soap operas with host Narine Ghalechyan

It’s a Friday afternoon in Yerevan, and broadcasters from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Armenian Service, Radio Azatutyun, are sitting in a studio to conduct a forum discussion with three popular Armenian actors and singers. Their boisterous video conversation is being carried live online and aired over the radio.

But the topic of conversation isn’t celebrity gossip: these local stars are debating major changes to the urban landscape of Yerevan, Armenia’s capital. Yerevan’s parks and playgrounds, popular for the touch of green they provide in this crowded and ancient city, are under threat as developers buy up public land to build luxury boutique retail stores. Local environmentalists and urban activists are up in arms, and Radio Azatutyun’s popular youth program, Max TV, has invited some of Armenia’s most prominent cultural figures to hash out the problem. As usual, the Max TV hosts invite their listeners to pose questions to the guests via Facebook.

Max TV is a component of broader initiative run by Radio Azatutyun called Maxliberty, which broadcasts to students and other young people in Armenia. Maxliberty, which airs for two hours every day, makes concerted use of new media, particularly social networks like Facebook and YouTube, to provide its young audience members with a platform for generating their own news content and directly communicating with Azatutyun’s journalists and guests. 

Maxliberty’s interactivity with its audience is paying dividends: Maxliberty is now the number one radio program among young listeners in Armenia. At the end of February, the Youth Foundation of Armenia announced that Maxliberty programming had polled best among all Armenian youth radio stations in surveys conducted by the foundation. The foundation’s results track closely with recognition that Maxliberty has received from a variety of local and international organizations, including UNICEF and the British Council. In honor of Maxliberty's achievement,  Armenian prime minister Tigran Sargsyan presented the station with the youth foundation's award at a ceremony in Yerevan.

“I am very pleasantly surprised by this recognition,” Narine Ghaelchyan, the Yerevan-based director of Maxliberty, said. “Right now, Armenia is getting ready for the country’s parliamentary elections. We will pay close attention to that and we will continue to focus on covering youth wings of political parties.”

Since the foundation’s announcement, dozens of Maxliberty’s fans have congratulated the radio via Facebook. Harry Tamrazian, the Prague-based director of Radio Azatutyun, isn’t surprised.  “It is Azatutyun’s embrace of all existing media and social platforms that makes us so popular with younger audiences,” he told Off Mic.

This is Maxliberty’s tenth year in operation. Today, it is an inseparable part of Azatutyun, a radio station that takes pride in its growing share of radio listeners in Armenia -- 11 percent of Armenian adults listen to Azatutyun every week.

The use of social media platforms has put Azatutyun well ahead of other media in Armenia. Tamrazian proudly notes that other Armenian media outlets often copy Azatutyun: “After we started our video talk shows, daily video news and Internet TV, other major news websites in Armenia began producing their own video talk shows. “ Azatutyun’s videos are featured in primetime on Armenian national television.     

Tamrazian also credits the breadth of Maxliberty’s reporting for its success. Producers aim to keep the show’s content diverse. “To keep people returning to our broadcasts and to our website,” Tamrazian says, “we have to give them a wide range of information, a wide range of everything.” Maxliberty shows deal with everything from politics and economics to pop-culture and marriage advice.

Sometimes, Maxliberty’s programming even pushes for the improvement of other media content in Armenia. Case in point: one recent talk-show discussed the quality and impact of Armenian soap operas, which have received wide local criticism for their low standards and questionable taste.

Maxliberty decided to embrace the topic by inviting representatives from several industry perspectives -- a writer one of the most popular soaps, a film producer, and a camera man who was offered to participate on this soap for a large sum of money but refused the job to keep up his good reputation -- and mediated a round-table discussion among them. Audience members asked tough questions of the panelists, stimulating a lively debate. “We want our audience to have a platform for expression,” Tamrazian says. “We value their opinions greatly.”

-- Kristyna Dzmuranova

Tags:Armenian Service

Azatlyk Housing Report Reaches Top Turkmen Authorities

A residential building in Abadan, Turkmenistan. A 26-year-old mother has recently faced government pressure after talking to Radio Azatlyk about her poorly-built government housing.

Living in Turkmenistan should be like living in an “era of supreme happiness.” At least that is how the state-run media in Turkmenistan has welcomed President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov’s re-election.

But that sentiment has not yet reached 26-year-old Arzuw, who is one of the five million Turkmen citizens living under the repressive rule of Berdymukhammedov's autocratic government, widely considered to be among the world's most restrictive. 

Two weeks ago, Arzuw called a Moscow correspondent of RFE/RL’s Radio Azatlyk, troubled by the repercussions of her complaints to Turkmen authorities concerning the flooding of her government-owned apartment. 

The story quickly reached the top echelons of power.

Arzuw explained to RFE/RL how, when her eight-month-old baby needed urgent help, emergency services were unable to reach her apartment in the Niyazov district in Ashgabat, telling her they couldn't find the right address in the midst of what she refers to as “illegal” construction.

After unsuccessfully petitioning district authorities, Arzuw then sought a meeting with President Berdymukhammedov’s sister, who happens to work as a local government official. She was not granted the meeting, but as the emotionally distraught Arzuw tells Radio Azatlyk, “this is when the trouble started.” Arzuw was instead taken to another room by the local authorities and verbally abused.

After Radio Azatlyk, the only source for independent news inside Turkmenistan, aired a report on the ordeal, she received a call from the district chief of the local administration. The district official had one question for Arzuw: How had she been able to get her report to the top authorities?

With public attention now on Arzuw's dilemma, the district chief offered to meet with Arzuw to address her concerns. After she declined to meet with him, he offered to meet with her in the presence of officials from the Turkmen Labour and Social Welfare ministry.

Arzuw tells Azatlyk that after the interview, the administration cleaned up the area around the construction site, but has yet to make repairs inside the building. She then filed a formal complaint for the administration chief to be removed and met with the administration -- only to be verbally attacked once again.

On March 1, Arzuw sent an SMS to Radio Azatlyk’s correspondent in Moscow saying that she and her closest family members were being followed and that her phone lines have been disconnected.

Journalists for Radio Azatlyk are regularly subjected to threats and harassment by Turkmen authorities. The latest Freedom House Press Index placed Turkmenistan in the ten “worst of the worst” countries for press freedom, among countries such as Iran, Uzbekistan and North Korea.

-- Deana Kjuka

Iranian State Radio Tries Playing Catch-Up With RFE/RL's 'Pas Farda'

They want what he's got.

“What's in a name?” wondered Juliet in Shakespeare’s epic tragedy.

The very same question may be directed to the minds behind Iran’s new state media political satire show, Radio Pariruz, Farsi for "The Day Before Yesterday," a show started in response to Radio Farda’s popular satirical show, “Pas Farda,” or “The Day After Tomorrow.” Radio Pariruz launched on January 24.

Modeled after “Pas Farda,” Radio Pariruz is the second recent attempt by Iranian authorities to counter what “Pas Farda” has been providing Iranians for the past two years: a platform to challenge the limits of political discourse in Iran through satire. Last May, RFE/RL’s senior correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari reported on the launch of a new website called “Radio Dirooz,” Farsi for “Radio Yesterday,” that summarizes Radio Farda’s reports and reposts them, adding their own spin. 

So far, though, it seems that Pariruz is having a tough time recasting its shrill message in the playful language of satire. Pezhman Karimi, the writer and editor of the program, recently told the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) that his goal is to address “the documents of the enemies of the Revolution and Iranian nation, paradoxes in speech and acts and also the ridiculous points of views of so-called anti-revolutionary political personalities and American spies.”

If all that doesn’t say “irreverence,” nothing does.

The man whom the Iranian authorities are trying to challenge is sanguine about it all. “These days, satire is unfortunately the reality of daily life in Iran. It is a bitter satire,” Farshid Manafi says. The host of “Pas Farda” since its inception in 2010, Manafi broadcasts his eye-poking take on the drab ironies of Iranian life every weeknight at 9pm local time.  

Manafi was once the host of a similar political satire show on Iranian state radio. But the program was shuttered in 2006 for political reasons, forcing Manafi to find a new outlet for his heterodox thinking. The move to RFE/RL in Prague has paid off for the 32-year old: in addition to his sizable radio audience, some 1.2 million Iranians now go online every month to download his award-winning podcasts.

Pas Farda: A Forum For Iranians Of All Stripes

“Pas Farda” receives thousands of daily emails, SMS messages and voicemails from its devoted listenership, which spans nearly every sector of Iran’s 77 million-person population. Some write in just to express their appreciation for the show; others, to make critical suggestions. One recent letter even credited “Pas Farda” with helping to overcome a drug addiction. “Before, I didn’t think that a radio program could save people’s lives,” Ebrahim, a 28-year old ethnic Kurd from Tehran wrote. “But, trust me, you and your colleagues are unique.”

Officials within the Islamic Republic’s halls of power may not agree with Ebrahim, but they’ve nonetheless paid “Pas Farda” a high compliment of their own by launching “Pariruz.” Whether the regime’s answer to Manafi’s satire gains any traction at all remains to be seen, but Manafi remains skeptical. “The people of Iran want to listen to the truth these days,” he says.

-- Deana Kjuka

Tags:Radio Farda, Pas Farda

In Armenia, Radio Azatutyun Brings Water Controversy To Public Light

Patrick Lorin meeting villagers of Dashtavani
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February 13, 2012
Patrick Lorin, Armenian Water and Sewerage’s CEO, agreed to meet with villagers of Dashtavan to comment on their issues with the company on February 3, 2012.
Patrick Lorin, CEO of Armenia Water and Sewerage, meets with villagers in Armenia's Ararat province.
Suren Babayan from Dashtavan, in the southern Armenian province of Ararat, has always paid his water bills on time. Believing that punctuality and precision pay off, Babayan keeps copies of every payments made from 2004 to today as proof of his reliability. So when Babayan recently received a letter from the Armenia Water and Sewerage Company informing him that he had an outstanding water bill balance of between $260 and $1300 -- in a nation where average annual incomes hover at just over $5000 per year -- the Dashtavan villager was a little concerned.

“We have paid every month. We have not skipped a single month,” Babayan says.

Babayan’s is not a unique case in Armenia, where one of three local state-owned (but French-managed) water suppliers has subjected hundreds of households to punishing arrears. In extreme cases, the company has gained notoriety for freezing the assets of villagers and raiding the pensions of elderly customers in order to collect what it claimed were unpaid water bills.

Local uproar over the company’s practices led journalists from RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, Radio Azatutyun, into an extensive investigation of Armenia Water and Sewerage. Radio Azatutyun collected the stories of dozens of villagers like Babayan, and consulted lawyers and experts who found that some of the company’s policies were in violation of Armenian law.

RFE/RL’s reports quickly drew the attention of Patrick Lorin, Armenia Water and Sewerage’s CEO, who offered to sit for a full-length interview with Azatutyun to comment on the growing controversy. But Azatutyun editors in Yerevan had another idea: why not facilitate a town hall meeting between Lorin and his irate customers? So on February 3, with cameras in tow, Lorin met face to face in Dashtavan with scores of villagers who accused his company of breaking the law.

At the meeting, Lorin was joined by the regional Ararat governor, Edik Barseghian, and top representatives of the company’s local branches. Lorin and other company representatives maintained that the arrears charges levied against the villagers of Dashtavan were valid. But Governor Barseghian pressed his constituents’ claims, alleging that the company retroactively revised its estimates of household water consumption. The meeting changed Lorin’s mind; he promised that his company would recalculate the villagers’ bills.

An advisor to the regional government told RFE/RL last week that local administrators would help villagers to file their own complaints against the utility for illegally seizing pension checks to pay for the alleged arrears. The victory for villagers in Dashtavan has raised hopes in other rural communities that their similar arrears liabilities may be erased.

-- Kristyna Dzmuranova

Tags:Armenian Service

RFE/RL Photographers Win Competition

Atilay's photo of a Ketish villager in Khinalug was the overall winner of the Transitions Online photo competition.

Abbas Atilay, a photo correspondent for RFE/RL’s Azeri Service and Torokul Doorov, a correspondent for RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, have won three photography awards from Transition Online (TOL) for depictions of  “Everyday Life” and “Arts and Culture." Atilay's submission also won TOL's overall photography award for 2011. Transitions Online is a nonprofit journalism foundation devoted to improving news coverage of the former Soviet Union.

Atilay's photo of a villager holding a goat in the remote village of Khinalug, in northern Azerbaijan, was awarded the competition's "Everyday Life" prize. Around 2,000 residents from a distinct ethnic group, speaking their own language, live in Khinalug. When Atilay took his photo in April 2011, villagers had just returned to their homes in the mountains after wintering in the lowlands. 

Radio Azattyk's Doorov's photograph of older women giving their blessing at a circumcision party in the remote village of Kok-Tash in Kyrgyzstan's Batken region won first place in the competion's "Arts and Culture" category. 

Torokul Doorov's winning photograph shows women offering their blessings at a circumcision celebration in Batken Region, Kyrgyzstan.Torokul Doorov's winning photograph shows women offering their blessings at a circumcision celebration in Batken Region, Kyrgyzstan.
Torokul Doorov's winning photograph shows women offering their blessings at a circumcision celebration in Batken Region, Kyrgyzstan.
Torokul Doorov's winning photograph shows women offering their blessings at a circumcision celebration in Batken Region, Kyrgyzstan.
Based in Baku, Atilay has in the past been subject to abuse by the Azeri authorities for filming and photographing protests in Baku. Abbas has traveled to some of the most remote places in the Caucasus, visited Iran’s bazaars, and documented modern life in Azerbaijan's rural villages. For more of Abbas’s photo galleries, visit RFE/RL's Facebook weekly gallery, and view Abbas' sound slide shows on Radio Azadliq’s website.

Also check out Radio Azattyk to see Doorov’s photo galleries, which show off his winning photo of a Kyrgyz circumcision celebration ceremony and other depictions of Kyrgyz culture.

-- Deana Kjuka

Tags:Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Kyrgyz Service, Azeri Service

Putting A Stop To Kyrgyz Bride Kidnapping

A veiled Kyrgyz bride sits for a photograph. Up to three-quarters of contemporary Kyrgyz brides are betrothed through "bride kidnapping" rituals. Now the Kyrgyz parliament is considering legislation that may chip away at the practice.

With marriage on his mind, a man in his twenties chooses a young woman and arranges her kidnapping. He then seizes the woman in the streets, and takes her to his home, where she is pressured to consent to the marriage by the man’s family.
This practice, known as "bride kidnapping," is endemic to Central Asia and the Caucasus. Now, after in-depth reporting by RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, Radio Azattyk, new legislation on the practice is working its way through the Kyrgyz parliament.

Radio Azattyk Director Venera Djumataeva explains that her station stirred public discourse through its round-table discussions and stories of kidnapped brides. 

“As a result of our discussions, and reports, the Kyrgyz Parliament’s committee on health care, social policy, labour and migration initiated a draft bill penalizing imams for conducting the Nikah ceremony without any official marriage registration,” Djumataeva says.

Bride kidnapping is usually followed by an informal blessing of the marriage by a religious official. However, there is often no official registration of the marriage, meaning that many kidnapped Kyrgyz wives have no legal rights and are powerless in matters such as domestic abuse and child support.

Radio Azattyk’s impact was acknowledged by the Kyrgyz ombudsman, Tursunbek Akun, who quoted Azattyk’s reports following a public discussion in Bishkek.

The Tradition Myth

Though bride kidnapping is now portrayed as a long tradition, critics say that there is nothing traditional about kidnapping a young woman as a way of forcing her into marriage. In the past, bride kidnapping was a ploy used by couples who wished to elope, providing a convenient excuse for brides whose parents objected to the marriage.

Today, the tradition has acquired less romantic overtones. In many cases, the bride does not give her consent to the marriage, Djumataeva says.

There are also tragic cases. Radio Azattyk reported on two twenty-year-old women who committed suicide in the past two years after they were forced to marry their captors.

Bride kidnapping is a common practice in Kyrgyzstan, with anywhere from 68% to 75% of marriages taking place as a result of this practice according to the Kyz Korgon Institute, a nongovernmental organization that aims to eliminate bride-kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan.

Every year, Radio Azattyk receives a higher number of calls concerning bride kidnappings during the month of June. Djumataeva says the number of bride kidnappings increases during this time period as June marks the end of the school year, meaning 18-year-old girls who have just graduated from high school suddenly become easy targets for bride kidnappings.

Though bride kidnapping is officially a criminal offence in Kyrgyzstan and the criminal code provides for a maximum three-year prison term for the practice, most cases never make it to the courtroom and those few offenders who are tried usually get away with paying a small fine. The bill currently under consideration in the parliament, if passed, would be a small but significant step in Kyrgyzstan’s battle to contain the problem.

(UPDATE: On January 26, the bride kidnapping bill lost support in the parliament due to a provision that could prevent the common yet illegal practice of polygamy.)


-- Deana Kjuka

Tags:Kyrgyz Service, bride-kidnapping

Facebook Chat On Dangers Facing Journalists In Pakistan

Pakistan -- VOA journalist Mukarram Khan Aatif who was killed in Shabqadar town in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, undated


The live portion of the chat has ended, but the discussion need not. Go here to read the chat from Friday, and leave a comment or question.

Thank you to all who joined us!


Join us today at 2pm EST on Facebook for a discussion on the dangers facing journalists in Pakistan. RFE/RL's Daud Khattak and Committee to Protect Journalists Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz will cover the recent killing of VOA stringer Mukarram Khan, how journalists in Pakistan can protect themselves, and why Pakistan has earned the dubious title as "the world's most dangerous place for journalists."

Feel free to join the discussion live, or leave questions or comments here, on our Facebook page, or on Twitter (@RFERL). For a preview of the discussion, listen below to a short interview with Daud Khattak on the nature of threat to journalists in Pakistan.

Daud Khattak discusses dangers to journalists in Pakistan
Daud filei
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-- RFE/RL Communications

Poturovic Wins Photography Grand Prize

Midhat Poturovic's photograph "Violence Against Roma People"

When RFE/RL photographer Midhat Poturovic arrived in the small Bosnian town of Osenik in August 2011, he saw what any other visitor would have seen: a village ravaged by violence in the wake of a local population’s attack on Osenik’s Roma population. But then he saw something that many would have missed. “We could see the destruction and the horrible mess,” Poturovic recalls. “One could take hundreds of photos of that. But my attention was drawn to one broken window in particular, where I could see a scared family just in between the pieces of glass. That is how this photo was born.”

Now Poturovic’s compelling photograph -- “Violence Against Roma People” -- has been recognized with the 2011 grand prize for best picture at Sarajevo’s annual “Photography BiH” competition. The event, organized by,  is supported by the Sarajevo Foundation for Music, Performing and Fine Arts and the Embassy of Spain in Bosnia. Poturovic’s victory was announced at a gala ceremony in a Sarajevo gallery, the New Temple, on January 16, and his is slated to go on exhibit in another Sarajevo gallery, BlackBOX.

Poturovic stands by his prize-winning shot at the New Temple gallery in Sarajevo.Poturovic stands by his prize-winning shot at the New Temple gallery in Sarajevo.
Poturovic stands by his prize-winning shot at the New Temple gallery in Sarajevo.
Poturovic stands by his prize-winning shot at the New Temple gallery in Sarajevo.
“This award is huge to me,” Poturovic told “Off Mic” in a recent interview. “I am pleased that the jury recognized the energy I put into my work. It will be a motivator for me to work harder and to become a better photographer.”

Poturovic, 26, has only been at professional photography for four years, and says that his interest in the art is driven by his love for photojournalism. “From day one, I was mostly interested in photography as a document, as a witness to daily events,” Poturovic says. “I was interested in newsy photos. For me the most challenging task is being a witness.”

-- Kristyna Dzmuranova

Tags:Balkan Service, Bosnia

Remembering Iraj Gorgin

Iraj Gorgin, former editor-in-chief of Radio Farda, in 2007.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty mourns the passing of Iraj Gorgin, former editor-in-chief of Radio Farda, RFE/RL's Persian-language broadcast service.

Iraj passed away on January 13 after battling illness in Washington, D.C. He will be greatly missed by his former colleagues and many friends in Prague, where he worked from 1998 to 2009.

During his time at RFE/RL, Iraj was instrumental both in the management of Radio Farda and in the launch and operation of its predecessor service, Radio Azadi, where he served as deputy director and acting director. He shaped the style and content of both services, helping them to win strong audience confidence as trusted sources of news and cultural programming.

What Iraj brought to RFE/RL was 50 years of experience as a professional journalist, first in Iran and then in the United States.

Starting in 1957 as a reporter with "Keyhan," a daily newspaper in Tehran, he rapidly moved up in the media world, holding key jobs in print, radio, and television. He worked as the managing director of Radio 2, one of Iran's national radio stations; managing director of the Second Network of National Iranian Radio and Television (NIRT); and editor-in-chief of "Tamasha" magazine, a popular weekly dedicated to the arts, entertainment and literature.
Gorgin moderates a discussion on Iranian national radio.Gorgin moderates a discussion on Iranian national radio.
Gorgin moderates a discussion on Iranian national radio.
Gorgin moderates a discussion on Iranian national radio.
During these years, he traveled extensively as a correspondent to cover major world events, once coming under fire along with his cameraman during a war-reporting trip in Cambodia. He also produced a documentary on Iranian artifacts in Russia's Hermitage Museum.

After leaving Iran at the time of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iraj moved to California where he became a leading media figure within the Iranian-American community. He founded the first privately owned and independent Persian-language radio, Radio Omid (Hope), and grew it from one hour of broadcasting a day to five. The "Christian Science Monitor" called Radio Omid "The Voice of Reason" within the Iranian Diaspora and the "Los Angeles Times" called it "The Voice of Iranians."

Iraj subsequently founded a bilingual news and culture website and was continually active in community activities. He produced a documentary which continues to raise funds for the Encyclopedia Iranica, an ongoing project at the University of Columbia to create the definitive reference work on Persian culture. He raised more than $350,000 through a television telethon to help the victims of a devastating earthquake in Iran.

During his many years in journalism, Iraj was often sought out to speak at university lectures on Iranian affairs or to comment to the media about events in Iran. He was an articulate source of information on an exceptionally wide range of subjects, partly due to his experience and partly due to his own continuing love of education. He earned a B.A. in Persian Literature at Tehran University, followed by an M.A. in Communications Management at Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Southern California. He also took part in courses on radio and television management in Tokyo, London, Paris, Brussels, Boston and Prague.

Iraj will be remembered for his many achievements at two memorial services at U.S. universities this month.

On January 22, there will be a memorial ceremony in the Howard Frank Auditorium of the University of Maryland, where Iraj regularly attended the Roshan Center for Persian Studies and spoke several times.

On January 29, there will be another memorial at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Iraj is survived by his wife Azam and his son Afshin.

-- Charles Recknagel

Tags:Radio Farda, Iraj Gorgin

Azadliq Broadcasters Win Azeri Media Awards

Vusala Alibayli and Huseynbala Salimov received their Media-Key 2011 awards in Baku on January 10.

Vusula Alibayli and Huseynbala Salimov, correspondents with RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service, both won the prestigious "Media Key-2011" award during a January 10 awards ceremony in Baku. Radio Azadliq, as the service is known locally, is the first international news outlet to receive the award, which recognizes excellence in Azerbaijan's domestic media. Previously in 2009, two Radio Azadliq reporters also won a “Media Key” award for their reports exposing corruption and modern women’s issues.

Alibayli, Radio Azadliq’s "queen of comedy," was honored as "Investigative Journalist of the Year" for her reporting on government waste and the plight of illegal migrant workers in Azerbaijan and for her work as the moderator of Azadliq’s satire show, "250 Seconds +." Similar in format to "The Daily Show” in the United States, the show was recognized for “innovation in new media” at last year's "Blogosfer" convention in Azerbaijan.

Salimov, who is a current affairs analyst for Radio Azadliq, won the award for "Political Commentator of the Year." According to Salimov, "The fact that this nomination exists shows that our society is in need of serious journalism, analysis and interpretation of events."

The “Media Key” award is considered to be one of Azerbaijan's most prestigious journalism prizes. It has been awarded since 1997 by the Azerbaijan Union of Journalists, a media advocacy group, and "Yeni Nasil,” or “New Generation,” one of Azerbaijan's most active media advocacy groups.

“The government in Azerbaijan cannot criticize us because we follow professional standards of journalism and stand out within the local media environment,” explains Radio Azadliq’s director, Kenan Aliyev.

Radio Azadliq’s coverage of local issues has garnered international as well as local attention. Radio Azadliq’s reporters risk their lives in order to report on issues that matter to ordinary citizens.

See Radio Azadliq’s Alibayli and Salimov accept their awards in this video of the award ceremony.

-- Deana Kjuka

Tags:Azeri Service, radio azadliq, 250 Seconds

RFE/RL Takes Balkan Politicos To Task In The Court Of Public Opinion

Nenad Pejic Talks About CINi
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January 16, 2012
Nenad Pejic talks about the Balkan Service's fruitful cooperation with CIN, a Sarajevo-based investigative reporting organization.
Nenad Pejic discusses the Balkan Service's fruitful cooperation with CIN, a Sarajevo-based investigative reporting organization.
What happens in Bosnia when a top politician acquires a $380,000 apartment for a mere $600? 

Usually, nothing. But lately Radio Free Europe’s Balkans Service has teamed up with the Sarajevo-based Center for Investigative Journalism (CIN) to uncover the most egregious instances of official corruption across the former Yugoslavia. In a region where many media organizations and judicial systems are reluctant to investigate unpleasant claims about powerful individuals, RFE and CIN provide a rare service: keeping public officials accountable for their actions.

The partnership began in 2009 and has already shed light upon all kinds of shady practises involving top public figures in the Balkans.

Several stories have directly involved Milorad Dodik, the current president of Republika Srpska, Bosnia’s autonomous Serb enclave. In 2005, a local court in Banja Luka -- the capital of Republika Srpska -- acquitted Dodik of charges relating to the misuse of state funds. The case was later reopened and Republika Srpska’s State Investigation and Protection Agency wrote a secret report that exposed Dodik’s abuse of office in the awarding of a contract for Banja Luka’s new governmental headquarters. The report later made its way to CIN’s website.

Other CIN and RFE/RL joint projects have pointed to corruption linking the government to Dodik’s family and associates. In 2009, RFE/RL ran an article disclosing speculative money transfers with state funds that were originally earmarked for local economic development. Out of the assigned budget, a significant amount of money was granted to companies with strong political connections. One large transfer fell into Dodik’s son’s lap and another sizable sum arrived at the account of a Banja Luka newspaper that supports Dodik.    

A Church Official With Business Interests On The Side

CIN has also shed light on the wild ethical practices of the Serbian Orthodox Church, whose Mostar bishop, Gregory Duric, runs a variety of business schemes when he’s not tending to his flock. Unfortunately for Gregory, and the church, the bishop’s business acumen is duller than his talent for navigating ecclesiastical politics: in 2010, his extracurricular entrepreneurial activities ran up debts of approximately $8 million. Perhaps the first bishop ever to put his church under a mortgage, Gregory’s works of wizardry would have gone unnoticed were it not for CIN’s willingness to publicly decry a key executive of one of the Balkans’ most powerful organizations.

Still, influential individuals like Bishop Gregory can usually count on a pass from the region’s shaky legal system, which often fails to investigate or prosecute even the most flagrant allegations of corruption. Nenad Pejic, RFE/RL’s Associate Director of Broadcasting, says that “the courts are not ruled by the law but by the people who are connected.”

The $600 Apartment

A notorious instance of judicial inaction came in 2011 when a Sarajevo court rejected charges against Nedzad Brankovic, Bosnia’s former prime minister, who managed to make an unusually cunning investment by buying an apartment valued at $380,000 for a mere $600. Brankovic’s bargain came as the result of a Bosnian government contract with the country’s largest engineering group, Energoinvest. Together, these two entities agreed on purchasing the aforementioned apartment for $380,000. 46 days later, the real estate was sold to Brankovic for $600, less than 1/600th of its actual price. At the time of the deal, Brankovic was a member of the Bosnian parliament and an Energoinvest executive. 

The list of transparent episodes of corruption goes on, but the local judiciary does not seem to care. Investigative journalists at CIN allege that the Special Prosecutor’s Office of Republika Srpska, established specifically to prosecute Bosnia’s most serious white-collar criminals, fails to fulfill its mission by dropping charges against accused state officials or by abridging their sentences.

In the absence of a legal mechanism for keeping Bosnia’s governments honest, RFE/RL and CIN cooperate to keep the public aware of corruption.

RFE/RL is the only media platform in the region equally interested in broadcasting the misdeeds of public officials from all of the western Balkans’ major regions and interest groups -- Catholic Croats, Muslim Bosniaks, and Orthodox Serbians. Pejic notes, “The local media [in the Balkans] are not interested in any kind of investigative reporting because they are more or less controlled by local mafia or local politicians.” Many local outlets are willing to take a few jabs at opposition politicians, but none are willing to target their own benefactors; instead, they target only those who are not.

It’s precisely for this reason that CIN works exclusively with RFE/RL to produce and broadcast its explosive investigative findings. As the region’s only non-sectarian broadcaster, RFE/RL brings a credibility to bear that no one else in the Balkans can match -- a voice for openness, without fear or favor.

-- Kristyna Dzmuranova

Radio Azadliq Takes Down Corrupt Cops

Azerbaijan's Busy Traffic Policei
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January 04, 2012
A video by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service shows traffic police officers stopping cars on December 31 and seemingly taking bribes. On the same day, President Ilham Aliyev spoke to the nation and talked about his government's "fierce fight against corruption."
A video by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service shows traffic police officers stopping cars on December 31 and seemingly taking bribes. On the same day, President Ilham Aliyev spoke to the nation and talked about his government's "fierce fight against corruption.
A video of policemen taking bribes in the middle of Baku -- filmed by a correspondent with RFE/RL's Radio Azadliq -- has led to the police officers' expulsion from the Baku police force. Recorded on December 31, the video went viral and immediately drew a reaction from the Azerbaijani government. The short video (above) shows a team of policemen signaling passing cars to stop and then accepting what appears to be a roll of cash followed by a firm handshake between the driver and the policemen.

Ehsan Zahidov, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior said that the three police sergeants involved in the video were identified by the Ministry and promptly fired. Corruption is rampant in Azerbaijan, and the government has even declared a national campaign to fight the practice. Since the campaign began in 2011, more than 30 policemen have been fired for violations related to corruption according to Kamran Aliyev, an inspector in the Traffic Police Department.

-- Kristyna Dzmuranova & Deana Kjuka

The Persecution Of A Persian Tiger Mother

Mokhtare, shown above at a demonstration with other relatives of political prisoners, has been jailed for speaking out about her son's imprisonment. "We are protesting the imprisonment of our innocent children," she told Radio Farda.

Parvin Mokhtare was just doing what any other mom would do when she took to the airwaves of Radio Farda (RFE/RL’s Persian-language service) to protest the arrest of her son, journalist and human rights activist Kouhyar Goudarzi, who has been imprisoned off and on by the Iranian government for years. Mokhtare was her son’s fiercest advocate, conducting numerous interviews with media outlets in Iran and writing to human rights groups abroad to publicize her son’s case and secure his release.

Now an Iranian court has sentenced Mokhtare to 23 months in prison for her advocacy efforts, which judges said “[insulted] the martyrs and the Supreme Leader.” The decision was handed down in late December, some five months after Mokhtare was arrested by police as a consequence of interviews she gave to Radio Farda and others. Mokhtare was denied the right to a lawyer during the trial.

“She constantly used to update Radio Farda about the situation of detainees and post-election detainees,” Radio Farda’s Mohammad Hossein Boghrati says. “She gave us interviews on how the officials were threatening the families of imprisoned activists.” The veteran Farda journalist adds that Mokhtare provided RFE/RL with “trustworthy info about the court process and judiciary system.”

Mokhtare is now serving time in a prison in Kerman, in southeast Iran. It’s believed that her son is being held in solitary confinement in Iran’s notorious Evin prison, alongside countless other political prisoners.

Despite the fact that journalists and human rights activists are routinely targeted and  imprisoned by Iranian authorities, legal action against family members is highly unusual, even for Iran’s revolutionary courts. Nevertheless, it isn’t unheard of for authorities to briefly jail family members for speaking up about their loved ones.

A case in point: Fatemeh Alvandi, another woman recently punished for fulfilling her maternal role. Alvandi is the mother of Mehdi Mahmoudian, a journalist spending a five-year stretch in solitary confinement for his reports on the abuse and premature death of inmates at Iran’s Kahrizak prison. She was arrested January 2 after speaking out about her son’s ailing health during interviews with foreign-based media, including Radio Farda. Alvandi was released a few hours later with orders not to give any more interviews with the media.

Boghrati explains that there have been “numerous cases in which family members were detained, or even handed down a sentence for the purpose of intimidation.” But the Farda journalist stresses that Mokhtare’s 23-month sentence is a new extreme. “No one has actually been sent to prison for such a long time on such a charge.”

-- Deana Kjuka


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