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Belarus/Russia: OSCE Criticizes Treatment Of Journalists

Warsaw, 14 November 1997 (RFE/RL) - A conference of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on human rights Friday criticized Russia, Belarus, and Turkey for obstructing work of journalists and urged the three countries to comply with international standards.

Nicholas Daniloff, a member of the U.S. delegation, charged Moscow with creating a territorial and information blockade around Chechnya in a move to deter journalists to visit the breakaway republic.

"We hear little these days about Chechnya," Daniloff said, adding that the deterrent action has halted international aid for Chechnya.

He said sporadic news that is being leaked from Chechnya reports the catastrophic health situation of the people, who suffer from respiratory diseases, parasitic and intestinal ailments.

"If Chechnya had open communications, not only would we have more accurate information, but doctors in the West could, at least, offer medical advice," he said.

Daniloff welcomed the decision taken by the previous OSCE meeting in Lisbon to create a Media Representative to ease the work of journalists.

He said the profession has become a risky one as 10 journalists in Russia, Ukraine, Tadjikistan and Uzbekistan were murdered in 1996 and 114 were kidnapped in Chechnya.

Daniloff said he can understand better than anybody else the situation of those kidnapped. He recalled the former Soviet authorities imprisoned him in Moscow in 1986 on fabricated espionage charges.

"For this reason, I believe, the creation of a Media Representative is a hopeful development," Daniloff said. The next OSCE conference in Copenhagen is expected to elect a Media Representative.

Kerin Yiddiz from the non-government Kurdish Human Right Project based in London told the meeting the journalists are being harassed and imprisoned by the Turkish authorities for independent reporting.

He said at least 80 journalists are currently serving prison terms in a world record of oppressive treatment of the press.

The delegates from Norway and Britain deplored the fact of tightening control over the media and undermining the rule of law by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus Nina Mazai presented her country as a paradise as regards the journalistic operation.

"There is no state monopoly in the media," Mazai said.

She said the transition from the totalitarian system to democracy has just begun in Belarus and many reporters have a wrong notion what freedom of press is.

"They are abusing freedom and are confronting the state," she said. "They do not have any feeling of responsibility before the society and the state."

To the surprise of the conference participants, she welcomed the formation of a Media Representative.

"I hope that the operation of the Media Representative will help to watch how the rules approved by the OSCE are being observed," she said. "I also hope that the Media Representative will not become an instrument of political pressure on government organizations."

One member of the Belarus delegation who asked RFE/RL not to disclose his name, said the attacks on his country will be listened to by the delegation but no replies will be given.

Deputy Prosecutor General in Belarus Mihkail Snegir, a member of the Belarus delegation, told RFE/RL that Belarus is still negotiating with the OSCE about establishing a special OSCE mission in Minsk.

"The talks are in the preliminary state," he said.

The OSCE has attempted to install such a mission in Minsk to advise the authorities on the development of democracy in the country which has a poor human rights record and is ignoring international obligations.