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Media Matters: July 18, 2005

18 July 2005, Volume 5, Number 13
By Golnaz Esfandiari

Iran's most prominent jailed investigative journalist, Akbar Ganji, has been jailed for the last five years because of his critical articles and his investigation into the murders of political dissidents and intellectuals -- murders in which, he says, top Iranian officials were involved. Now, Ganji's wife says that he has been on hunger strike for a month as he demands to be released unconditionally from prison. On 12 July, a gathering is due to take place in Tehran in his support.

Despite his poor health, Iran's top journalist Akbar Ganji is determined to continue his hunger strike until his unconditional freedom.

Ganji's wife Massoumeh Shafii was able to visit him on 11 July. She told RFE/RL that he believes a hunger strike is the only way to secure his freedom.

She also says Ganji has lost more than 20 kilograms as a result of his hunger strike, but that his morale is good.

"He is still on a hunger strike. His weight is 55 kilos now. He has lost a lot of weight during his hunger strike, he's without any force, the color of his face is yellow, and he tries very hard to speak normally," Shafii said. "His physical condition is not good, but he is in excellent spirits."

The journalist is reported to be subsisting on water and sugar cubes.

Ganji is known for his criticism of the Iranian establishment. He has said that his five years in jail, including several months in solitary confinement, has made his views even more radical.

In his two-part book titled "Manifesto Of Republicanism," Ganji has criticized the authority of Iran's Supreme Leader and said that under the country's current governmental system real democracy cannot be achieved.

Ganji was temporarily released from jail at the end of May on medical grounds. He suffers from asthma and back pain. Prior to his temporary release, he had also been on a hunger strike to protest his detention conditions.

Several days after his release, he spoke with Radio Farda and called for a boycott election of the 17 June Iranian presidential election.

"Those who are theoretically and practically committed to Iran's constitution, if they go after reforming the current ruling establishment, maybe they are taking the right way," Ganji said at the time. "But if someone's main concern is democracy and establishing a democratic regime that is bound to human rights, then that person would not be willing to reform the establishment; his main issue would be how to move from a un-democratic regime to a democratic regime. And I've written in the first and second 'Manifesto' that under the current regime I have no hope for any reform leading to a transition toward a democratic system."

On 11 June, shortly after making this statement, Ganji was returned to prison.

Ganji was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2001 on charges ranging from harming Iran's national security to spreading lies against the country's leaders. His sentence was later reduced to six years on appeal.

Ganji's wife told RFE/RL that Iranian officials have told him that unless he changes his views, he will not be released even after his jail term is over.

"Mr. Ganji says, 'Even after the few months left of my jail term would be over, [the authorities ] will not free me because they have said it to me very clearly,'" Shafii said. "Even Trade Minister Mr. Shariatmadari -- who visited Ganji in jail two years ago -- told him: 'the position of the establishment is that you should stay in jail until you [retract] what you have written in the 'Manifesto.' You have to say that you were wrong.' [Therefore] Ganji considers his unconditional release as the only solution."

In a recent open letter written from jail and published on several websites, Ganji said he will not take back his words and he will not show remorse.

There have been widespread calls for Ganji's release, including from Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi. In a June 30 interview with Radio Farda, Ebadi expressed concern over Ganji's health.

"Once more I would like to bring the worrying condition of Akbar human rights groups," Ebadi said. "If no immediate action is taken he could [die]. I ask judiciary officials and the Iranian and international public opinion to help Ganji," Ebadi said.

The EU, the United States, and several human rights groups have also called on Iran's judiciary to free Ganji.

Ganji's wife says she has written to many humanitarian organizations about his husband's condition.

"We are worried and there is nothing we can do," Shafii said. "We are just witnessing how Akbar Ganji is fading out. We've tried all the [channels] inside Iran but unfortunately there haven't been any results. We've been also following the case outside Iran, we've been sending letters to the European parliament, [EU foreign and security policy chief] Javier Solana, to the UN, to [UN Secretary-General] Kofi Annan. We've sent letters to all places we could and [brought their attention] to Mr. Ganji's case. There is international pressure but it's not clear when the Iranian officials will respond." Today, a group of human rights activists, students and families of political prisoners have announced they will gather in front of Tehran's university to express their concern over Ganji's "critical" condition and to protest against the violation of his rights.

They say "if something unpleasant happens to Ganji, Iran's rulers will be held responsible."

By Julie A. Corwin

On 25 July, a criminal trial against two local employees of the U.S.-based nongovernmental organization Internews will begin in Tashkent. The two employees are accused of "conspiracy to engage in production of videos and publications of informational materials without the necessary licenses." According to the organization's press release of 5 July, the criminal charges followed "a year of harassment and 'fishing expeditions' by various branches of Uzbekistan's investigatory organs." If convicted they could spend six months behind bars, according to Reporters Without Frontiers.

The pressure on Internews is one part of a concerted campaign to discredit Western media following the 12-13 May Andijon uprising in which hundreds of civilians are believed to have been killed after Uzbek troops opened fire on demonstrators. Soon after the Andijon events, Uzbekistan's authorities began a crackdown on the country's tiny cadre of independent journalists. Also targeted were Russian and Western journalists. The OSCE issued a report last month detailing several examples of harassment by Uzbek authorities during and after the Andijon unrest.

Despite the international attention accompanying the report, the harassment has continued. On 6 July, two unknown assailants beat Rajabboy Raupov, a freelance journalist who works for a number of media outlets including Radio Free Europe, with an iron bar, leaving him in a critical condition. Five days earlier, another correspondent for RFE/RL's Tashkent bureau, Lobar Qaynarova, was beaten unconscious. Qaynarova, who was three months pregnant at the time, had just been interviewing human rights campaigners and opposition activists. Her interviewing materials were confiscated. On 26 June, Ghafur Yuldoshev, another RFE/RL correspondent was picked up by police and interrogated for four hours. His materials were also confiscated.

The campaign against journalists has not been limited to physical assaults. Damning words, insinuations, and accusations about lack of patriotism can be found in any number of recent articles. A new website,, which has turned out to be one of the few sites that is never blocked by local ISPs, published an article on 30 May attacking Gulasal Kamalova, another RFE/RL correspondent for Radio Svoboda. According to the article, her reports "have for a long time created the impression that her interests were not of a patriotic character." Her reports, according to the site, are characterized by "lies, slander, unproved facts, [and] far-fetched theories.", the website of the Tashkent-based Committee for Free Speech and Expression, noted on 16 June that the republican newspaper "Pravda vostoka" has been publishing anonymous material against those persons calling for an investigation of the Andijon events. On 15 June, the newspaper published a letter from a pensioner, complaining that foreign mass media started "a programmed massive attack on Uzbekistan and its leadership accusing it of all deadly sins." According to the website, the previously unknown pensioner has been remarkably prolific lately, contributing any number of missives to Uzbekistan's newspapers.

Writing on on 16 June, analyst Sergei Yezhkov argued that the assault on Western media had become both more "aggressive and professional" and suggested that perhaps Uzbek authorities are getting help from their Russian neighbors. He noted the arrival of a delegation of Russian spin doctors and journalists, including Politika head Vyacheslav Nikonov, former "Nezavisimaya gazeta" editor Vitalii Tretyakov, among others, to Tashkent in mid-June, and their subsequent trumpeting of President Karimov's version of events in Andijon upon their return to Moscow. Writing in "Trud" on 8 July, Nikonov argued that Andijon was an "armed rebellion" led by "300 well-prepared, indoctrinated, and partly armed youths." According to Nikonov, the official casualty figure of less than 200 deaths better reflects what happened than the opposition figure of more than 700 deaths.

"Why is it impossible to suggest that Mr. Nikonov, Tretyakov, and pals flew to Tashkent in order to agree upon a joint policy in the information sphere to support Islam Karimov with the recruitment and deployment of smart journalists and their pens?" Yezhkov writes. "It is not as impossible as it may seem at first glance. Uzbekistan, judging by the evidence, has always paid highly for positive PR, created beyond its borders. And today the creation of a positive image of the Uzbek leader is in Russia�s interest."

Writing in "Vremya novostei" on 29 June, Arkadii Dubnov sounded a similar theme. "The U.S. and EU are insisting on an independent investigation of Andijon, which Tashkent with the support of Moscow is categorically refusing. As Russian political analyst Vyacheslav Nikonov expressed recently, the West is proceeding with a "presumption of guilt" with regard to the Uzbek president.... Not surprisingly, official Tashkent is grateful for Moscow's support. According to Dubnov, a "well-informed" expert on Russian-Uzbek relations speaking on the grounds on anonymity, told the daily that "Tashkent will have to pay for such support."

Whether or not Russia is playing a role in the Uzbek authorities' handling of the domestic and international fallout from Andijon, the United States, for its part, appears intent on continuing to try to influence Tashkent policy. This week, U.S. Congressman Christopher Smith (Republican) announced that he has introduced legislation that would halt both military and humanitarian aid to Central Asian governments that fail to democratize or respect human rights.

So far, Uzbekistan has not appeared to react to Congressman Smith's effort. But two weeks ago, speaking from Moscow, President Islam Karimov signaled that the campaign against the Uzbek media has support at the highest level. He accused Western journalists of arriving in Andijon prior to the unrest in order to "occupy convenient positions for reporting," RIA-Novosti quoted him as saying on 28 June. "This was a professional, thoroughly prepared operation," Karimov concluded.

By Robert Coalson

Yevgenii Kiselev, editor of the liberal weekly "Moskovskie novosti," confirmed on 4 July that he had stepped down following months of controversy at the paper. At the same time, it was confirmed the self-exiled Menatep shareholder Leonid Nevzlin had sold the paper to Ukrainian businessman Vadim Rabinovich.

Embattled "Moskovskie novosti" Editor in Chief Yevgenii Kiselev on 4 July confirmed that he had resigned following several months of tension surrounding the liberal Russian weekly, RFE/RL's Russian Service and other media reported.

"I very much hope that the paper will not change its general liberal-democratic orientation, will maintain its healthy opposition...and will preserve the traditions of Russian journalism," Kiselev was quoted by as saying.

Kiselev, one of Russia's best-known journalists, stepped down after it was reported that the newspaper -- and its English edition, "Moscow News" and its website -- had been sold to Ukrainian businessman Vadim Rabinovich's Media International Group. Rabinovich confirmed the deal on Ukraine's Channel 5 television, adding only that the paper would be edited by "one of the best journalists in Russia."

Russian media on 4 July were speculating that the post could be taken over by former NTV journalist and satirist Viktor Shenderovich. However, Shenderovich told Interfax that the rumor is not true. "No, no," he was quoted as saying. "After all, I'm a journalist and editor in chief is something completely different."

Media International owns several broadcast outlets in Ukraine, as well as a number of Internet sites. The company plans a November launch for a European version of the New York-based, Russian-language daily "Novoe russkoe slovo," reported on 4 July.

The company purchased the weekly from former Yukos manager Leonid Nevzlin, who is wanted in Russia on tax-evasion and other charges and who now lives in Israel. on 29 June quoted Nevzlin as saying he would sell the paper to anyone who would "continue to defend freedom of speech." "I will sell it for $1 if need be," Nevzlin said. "[The price] is not important." Nevzlin announced in April that he would cease subsidizing the money-losing "Moskovskie novosti" after a dispute erupted between Kiselev and staff at the paper.

Kiselev, who led the ill-fated fight against the takeover of NTV by Gazprom in 1999-2000 when he was NTV's general director, was named editor in chief of "Moskovskie novosti" in September 2003 when the weekly was purchased by the Open Russia foundations, a charitable organization funded by the Yukos oil company. The announcement came on virtually the same day media reported that Nevzlin had left Russia for exile in Israel. At the time, quoted an unidentified staffer at the weekly as saying that Kiselev would turn the paper into a "mouthpiece" for the Yabloko party.

In January 2004, Kiselev became a founding member of an anti-Putin organization called Committee-2008, and in March 2004 he publicly urged presidential candidate Irina Khakamada to withdraw from the race against President Vladimir Putin in order to keep turnout low. (Shenderovich is also a founding member of Committee-2008.) Kiselev was also a plaintiff in an unsuccessful legal bid to have the results of the December 2003 Duma elections overturned on the grounds that the campaign was unfair.

Kiselev's reputation as a journalist had already been severely tarnished during the 1996 presidential campaign. At that time, Kiselev and NTV led an all-out effort by the oligarch-controlled national media to secure the reelection of President Boris Yeltsin.

When Kiselev took over "Moskovskie novosti," it was also announced that Open Russia would create a Supervisory Council to "guarantee the decency and incorruptibility of the newspaper and to develop its strategic line," RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. The high-profile board was headed by perestroika ideologue Aleksandr Yakovlev and featured such luminaries as former "Obshchaya gazeta" Editor in Chief Yegor Yakovlev, pollster Yurii Levada, and human-rights activist Lyudmila Alekseeva.

Although many media observers placed considerable hopes in this Supervisory Board, it proved powerless in March 2005, when Kiselev summarily dismissed seven leading "Moskovskie novosti" figures after they signed a letter calling on him to step down. The fired journalists included First Deputy Editor in Chief Lyudmila Telen, Deputy Editor Mikhail Shevelev, Executive Secretary Dmitrii Starovoitov, Deputy Executive Secretary Tatyana Yakhlakova, News Editor Irina Serbina, columnist Tatyana Skorobogatko, and correspondent Dmitrii Pushkar. In their letter they accused Kiselev of "authorizing the practice of publishing political and economic promotional materials under the guise of editorial articles," ITAR-TASS reported on 11 March. Supervisory Board Chairman Yakovlev described the dismissals as a step "on the path toward collapse, and a serious blow to the democratic press."

A standoff between Kiselev and the board ensued for several months following the dismissals, with the board appealing on 12 April to Nevzlin to transfer ownership of the weekly to the board. On 27 June, the board resigned en masse over its inability to resolve the conflict between Kiselev and the fired journalists.

"Of course, these are not the most pleasant things, but it is part of the profession, part of life," Kiselev told on 4 July. "To sell a publication is the sacred right of an owner. At the same time, depending on the policies that the new owner will follow, it is the right of journalists to leave or to stay."

By Antoine Blua

The Internet has become a part of life for a growing number of people around the world. But many people don't realize that hours spent online could be a symptom of Internet addiction. The disorder is affecting a growing number of people, mainly children and teenagers, who are spending increasing amounts of time playing games and chatting on the web. In an effort to tackle this problem, China has now opened its first clinic to help treat Internet addicts.

Many working people spend hours every day in front of a screen. But that's not necessarily a sign of compulsive and out-of-control behavior.

The problem occurs when someone neglects his aspects of his regular life -- such as working, eating, or relationships with friends and family -- to get online.

Qu Shen, an 18-year-old student from Henan Province in eastern central China, is in such a situation. He is among 10 young Chinese who are currently being treated at the new Beijing Military Clinic Addiction Treatment Center.

"Internet chatting and computer games to me are the solution to life. I simply couldn't tear myself away from it because I didn't want to leave my world. To put it in a horrifying way, I had no confidence left for the real world," Qu said.

While perhaps extreme, Qu's lifestyle is similar to the existence of many of the estimated 4-5 million Chinese addicted to the web.

Most of them are teenagers who can't tear themselves away from computer games and Internet chat rooms. The problem becomes particularly acute during summer vacation when they can spend their entire day in Internet cafes.

The director of the new clinic in Beijing, Dr. Tao Ran, told Reuters that part of his job is to search for the psychological problem that has led to a patient's addiction.

"We do all kinds of treatment. One big part is using [therapeutic] drugs. We also do psychological consulting and let the kids play sports. So it's a comprehensive way of treating patients. Most of the time this computer addiction is a psychological issue. So we figure out what kind of problem it is and use the right way to deal with it," Ran said.

Addiction to online games is believed to be sweeping the globe. It has led to many public and private attempts around the world to deal with the problem.

The Thai government imposed a curfew in 2003, blocking game servers between the hours of 10 at night and 6 in the morning.

In the United States, the Center for Online Addiction, a private clinic, has specialized in cyber-disorders since 1995. A one-hour session of telephone and chat room counseling costs 95 dollars.

The German social security services in 2003 opened Europe's first school for teenage computer addicts, where children are taught how to make friends, exercise, and play games.

At the addiction center in Beijing, patients stay for a maximum of two weeks, after which they are supposed to walk out of the hospital not thinking about the Internet at all.

Quite a change for 20-year-old Zhao, who admitted using computer games for six hours a day to escape the boredom of everyday life.

"I can find myself again in computer games. In real life, you are nothing but a small potato. But in computer games, you can be a superman. I want to be a superman, so I have to play, play and play. They have this upgrading system. You practice as do a lot of other people. If you want to win, then you have to devote a lot more time to it," Zhao said.

Zhao, who was studying computer design at a college in Denmark, has come back to China to get treatment at the Beijing center.

Treatment there costs $50 a day plus meals -- a huge amount of money for ordinary Chinese families.

However, with Internet use on the rise, the center is planning to expand its services to treat the growing numbers of Internet addicts.