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CIS: With Apathy, Impunity, Journalist Killings Continue

A picture of slain Azerbaijani journalist Elmar Huseynov (RFE/RL) BAKU, May 25, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Elmar Huseynov, an Azerbaijani editor of the journal "Monitor," which focused frequently on corruption, was gunned down outside his apartment on March 2, 2005.

Although there have been arrests and confessions, his murder has never been officially solved.

Such cases are common across the CIS and, despite protestations from international media watchdogs, journalists continue to be killed -- often with little protest from the public.

In the West, watchdog groups have branded Azerbaijan one of the world's worst offenders against independent journalists.

Inside the country, however, the issue of press freedom generates few emotions.

Lack Of Information

Sedaqet Huseynova, a 42-year-old librarian from Baku, says she has never read any of Huseynov's articles, and knows little about the case.

"Of course I am surprised," she says, "we are surprised by all the cases which are not solved. What can we do?"

In Azerbaijan and elsewhere, impunity has become the new watchword. At its congress in Moscow next week, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is holding a special one-day conference on challenging impunity.

"We know nothing about foreign organizations of journalists. We hear about foreign organizations of journalists, but we have no information about them."

Aidan White, the federation's general secretary, says the phenomenon of impunity is particularly noticeable in Russia, where journalists are killed at an alarming rate with little public outcry.

"There is very often a sense of powerlessness on the streets, and I think people are very aware that there is a terrible imbalance in the power that they have as ordinary citizens and the power that the authorities have and exercise," White says.

"And I think that does lead to a problem, not of apathy and a lack of caring, but a form of citizen self-censorship, in which they put to the back of their mind the problems they have in order just to carry on their normal lives."


The IFJ is launching a commission to investigate impunity in the killings of five journalists (Valery Ivanov, Aleksei Sidorov, Eduard Markevich, Dmitry Kholodov, and Vladimir Kirsanov) in Russia whose cases remain unresolved.

According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Russia is the third deadliest country for journalists, after Iraq and Algeria. Since 2000, at least 14 journalists have been murdered because of their work. The cases all remain unsolved.

White says that the new commission will make recommendations aimed at journalists and media in Russia, police and investigating authorities, and regional and national judicial authorities.

Putin's government has been accused of not doing enough to protect journalists (TASS)

Russia is not unique in its official indifference toward press freedoms. Throughout the CIS, crimes against journalists are investigated with little vigor and are rarely solved.

Joel Simon, director of the CPJ, agrees that there is often a complete absence of political will to investigate the killings of journalist.

"More than 85 percent of journalists killed over the last 15 years around the world were murdered with impunity. That's a staggering record. That means that those who kill journalists are almost certain to get away with it," Simon says.

"The only way to combat this is for governments to say that this is an unacceptable record and that we must devote the resources and the political will and confront the killers of journalists who are often powerful figures sometimes within their own government.... The only way to address it seriously is for governments to actively confront it, and many are simply unwilling to do that."

Death Of RFE/RL Correspondent

One of those is the government of Turkmenistan, probably the most repressive in the former Soviet Union.

RFE/RL correspondent Ogulsapar Muradova died in jail in September, possibly from blows to the head.

She had been arrested a few months earlier on charges of possessing ammunition, but many believe it was the state's response to help she gave to a French journalist filming a television documentary in Turkmenistan.

The Turkmen authorities maintain she died of natural causes. Her family says her head and neck were injured and showed signs of beating.

Cases like Muradova's receive much attention in the international community.

Every time a journalist is killed or a newspaper shut down, international media watchdogs, like the CPJ or the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF), send out press releases and write open letters, calling on governments to clean up their acts.

But on the streets of the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, most people knew little about international campaigns -- or criticism of governments -- for cases like Muradova's:

Ogulsapar Muradova died in jail in 2006

"We know nothing [about foreign organizations of journalists]. We hear about foreign organizations of journalists, but we have no information about them," one woman interviewed says. "The reason is that there is no cooperation with foreign journalists [in the country]. They are not allowed to visit Turkmenistan."

Despite the problems for press freedom organizations in creating awareness, Simon does not think that the situation is futile. There have, he says, been cases when people overcome apathy and have taken to the streets over the killing of a journalist.

"In the circumstances in which governments have confronted and really taken an active and aggressive role in pursuing these cases, it's in instances where there has been widespread public outcry. The murder of Jose Luis Cabezas in Argentina, now almost 10 years ago, provoked widespread street protests and disgust. It reminded people of the dirty war. And the government, because of the response, was compelled to take action," Simon says.

"In the Ukraine, the murder of Heorhiy Gongadze -- who was executed and beheaded, and whose murder was linked to high-ranking officials in the Kuchma administration -- again there was widespread outrage, public disgust, demonstrations, international condemnation, and that compelled the government to take action."

Anna Politkovskaya

In Russia, many people were shocked by the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, who in October 2006 was shot in the head in the entryway of her Moscow apartment building.

Throngs turned out at the funeral for Politkovskaya, who made her name reporting on human rights abuses in the North Caucasus republic of Chechnya.

Her death prompted preemptive comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin and soon-to-be Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Western watchdog groups, many of whom were more familiar with her work than Russian readers, responded with a barrage of angry statements calling for justice.

Few Russians, however, expect justice will be served. This young woman in Nizhny Novgorod recalls the Politkovskaya case: "It was this year, sometime during the winter, in Moscow. She was killed in her entryway. She was a journalist, she worked for a newspaper, 'Novaya gazeta' or 'Novoye delo' or something like that. They haven't found her killers, and they probably never will, because they never find murderers in our country, especially ones who kill journalists."

"More than 85 percent of journalists killed over the last 15 years around the world were murdered with impunity."

Azhar Mukhamadiev, a 74-year-old archaeologist living in Kazan, the capital of the Russian republic of Tatarstan, echoed the sentiment: "Of course, I know about the Politkovskaya case from radio and television. I listen to Ekho Moskvy. Of course, I feel anger. It is certainly bad someone who worked objectively was murdered in front of her door. I'm not surprised that this case has not been solved. It's not the only case that hasn't been solved."

Ilfar Karimov, a 23-year-old journalism student in Kazan, knows many details about the Politkovskaya case and says the state should do more to protect the rights of the country's reporters.

At the same time, however, he admits he has never heard of Western watchdog groups like RSF and CPJ who have heavily publicized Politkovskaya's death outside of Russia.

"I think the fact that we don't know about [such organizations] proves that they are not working efficiently. If those organizations really worked, society would know about them," he says.

(RFE/RL's Azerbaijani, Russian, Tatar-Bashkir, and Turkmen services contributed to this report.)

'Attacks On The Press -- 2006'

'Attacks On The Press -- 2006'

Ukrainian journalists demonstrating against censorship in December 2006 (RFE/RL)

'DOMINO EFFECT.' Two experts with the Committee to Protect Journalists told an RFE/RL-Radio Free Asia briefing on February 6 that their organization is concerned Russia's increasingly restrictive media environment is being copied by other countries in the CIS.


Listen to the entire briefing (about 80 minutes):
Real Audio Windows Media


New Program Finds Way Around Internet Censorship

CPJ Discusses Dangers, Obstacles Journalists Face

East: RSF Calls Iraq, Iran 'Graveyard Of Freedom'

Media Situation Worsening In Central Asia, Russia, Azerbaijan


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