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A top official with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has welcomed Azerbaijan's recent release of some civil-society activists and journalists and called for the release of more people believed imprisoned for political reasons.

Michael Georg Link, head of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), said in a March 19 press release that the release was "a positive, welcome step."

However, he urged Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev "to review the cases of others either currently imprisoned or under...restrictive orders, including [lawyer] Intiqam Aliyev, [investigative journalist and RFE/RL contributor] Khadija Ismayilova, [and Republican Alternative movement head] Ilqar Mammadov."

President Aliyev on March 17 pardoned a total of 148 prisoners, including 13 people who have been listed by rights organizations as political prisoners.

Human rights organizations say there are still around 80 people imprisoned in Azerbaijan for political reasons.

A group of independent regional media companies in Russia has issued an appeal to the Press Council of Russia asking it to condemn a recent attack story broadcast on the national NTV television channel accusing them of being "indebted" to the U.S. State Department.

The managers of the Altaipress company in Barnaul, the Evening Yakutsk newspaper in Yakutsk, the Yekaterinburg Worker newspaper in Yekaterinburg, and the Tomsk TV2 television station in Tomsk issued the appeal on March 18, saying the March 4 NTV report "conflated real information with obvious lies" and harmed their business reputation.

The media companies have all received financing from the Media Development Investment Fund, a nonprofit organization that provides loans to independent media around the world for capital purchases such as printing presses and broadcast equipment.

It receives funding from George Soros's Open Society Foundations, but has no relationship to the U.S. government.

The statement by the regional media companies said they are committed to editorial independence despite frequent attempts by local and national politicians to interfere.

They ask the Press Council to evaluate the NTV report from the perspective of journalistic ethics.

On March 18, two men who claimed to be NTV journalists aggressively approached the head of RFE/RL's Moscow bureau and asked her pointed questions about her personal property and income.

The men claimed to be acting on tips from "former collaborators" in RFE/RL's Russian Service.

Nenad Pejic, RFE/RL's editor in chief, called the incident "a disgusting example of intimidation," adding that the "authorities in Russia appear to be preparing a case against us because of our journalism."

The incident follows a Russian state television report broadcast by pro-Kremlin media personality Dmitry Kiselyov last week that portrayed RFE/RL journalists as spies conspiring against Russia.

During the show, Kiselyov announced that a documentary about U.S. international broadcasting would be forthcoming.

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About This Blog

"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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