28 February 2003, Volume 3, Number 8
INTERNATIONALGLOBAL UNIONS ACCUSES GOVERNMENTS OF EXCLUDING PUBLIC VOICES FROM POLICY DEBATE AT UN SUMMIT. Members of the Global Unions group -- which includes the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and represents 158 million workers in 150 countries and territories -- the Global Union Federations, and the International Federation of Journalists on 25 February accused the planners of the second meeting of the preparatory committee for the World Summit on the Information Society of "stifling voices of dissent." Governments voted to exclude nongovernmental groups and civil-society activists from discussions on a draft declaration and a plan of action for the summit, which will open in Geneva on 10 December. The summit is supposed to represent a tripartite effort with community, business, and government representatives playing roles, but the ICFTU claims that politicians seem to have decided "to go it alone" at this week's conference in Geneva, which is the second of three planned agenda-setting meetings before the summit. The summit, which is being organized by several UN agencies coordinated by the International Telecommunications Union, will consider global policy and regulatory issues arising from new communications technologies, Internet use, and the expansion of the global information market. See the ICFTU letter: http://www.icftu.org. Read more on Global Unions role in the summit: http://www.global-unions.org/wsis CC
CALL FOR GRANT PROPOSALS. The Information for Development Program (InfoDev) of the Development Gateway Foundation on 23 February invited organizations to submit grant proposals for the planning of Country Gateways, the country-level partners of the Development Gateway portal. The foundation intends to award $765,000 in grants in this round of competition. InfoDev was formed in September 1995 to help address obstacles to the participation of developing countries in the global information economy. The World Bank program is aimed at promoting innovative projects in information and communications technologies for economic and social development, with an emphasis on the needs of the poor in developing countries. Deadline for submissions is 17 March 2003. See http://www.infodev.org CC
EUROPEAN BROADCASTING UNION: 2003 PROGRAM SCHEDULE. The international training unit of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) has posted its 2003 program of training events, many targeted toward journalists in Central and Eastern Europe. EBU trainers organize courses for broadcast professionals in business, journalism, new media, production, and technology. Most courses are limited to active and associate EBU members. The program includes a long-term training course on producing radio documentaries. Further details will be posted in September. The EBU is the world's largest association of broadcasters, with 71 active members in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, and 45 associate members in other countries. See the 2003 program: http://www.ebu.ch CC
WAN WEBSITE POSTS PROGRAM UPDATES. The World Association of Newspapers (WAN) -- a Paris-based global newspaper-industry organization that represents 18,000 newspapers, 71 national newspaper associations, newspaper executives in 100 countries, 14 news agencies, and seven regional and global press groups -- has posted updated information on its programs at http://www.wan-press.org CC
RSF OFFERS INSURANCE FOR EU FREELANCE JOURNALISTS. Freelance journalists often have limited financial resources and are often "most at-risk in the field," according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on 18 February. RSF has extended its group-insurance coverage to include RSF members who are citizens of the European Union and are working as freelance journalists. For more information contact Matthieu Fargeas: firstname.lastname@example.org CC
AFGHANISTANDEFENSE MINISTER SUPPORTS PRESS FREEDOM. Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim on 24 February told journalists at the Afghan presidential palace that the Afghan administration believes in freedom of the press as a "pressing need of society," as long as that freedom does not harm the country's national unity and does not "provoke national discord," Afghanistan Television reported. Referring to the recent row among Afghan publications regarding an editorial in "Payam-e Mujahed" that criticized Afghans who have returned from the West, Fahim said Afghans who went to the West as refugees are encouraged to come back. Fahim, who is a member of Jamiat-e Islami, said the controversial editorial does not represent his opinion or that of Jamiat-e Islami, the report added. "Payam-e Mujahed" supports the more conservative wing of the Jamiat-e Islami, which is led by former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February)
ARMENIAMEDIA MONITORED ON EVE OF PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. The Yerevan Press Club on 18-19 February monitored media coverage of the Armenian presidential-election campaign under a project supported by the Open Society Institute, the press club reported in a statement on 25 February. The Asparez Journalists Club of Gyumri, the Vanadzor branch of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, and Internews-Armenia also took part in the project. Monitors studied all the news and political programs of nine television channels, one radio station, and 17 newspapers. The report concluded that the media in general -- and particularly the print media -- respected the legislative ban on political advertising on election day and the day prior to it. See: http://www.ypc.am CC
BELARUSBELARUSIAN COURT FORBIDS INDEPENDENT PUBLISHER FROM DOING BUSINESS. Judge Uladzimir Dabranau of the Hrodna Oblast Economic Court on 26 February upheld a decision by the court's panel earlier this month to ban Ramuald Ulan, publisher of the independent, twice-weekly "Novaya gazeta Smorgoni" in Smarhon, from engaging in business activities, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Smarhon Raion authorities prevented Ulan from launching two other periodicals in the region and subsequently accused him of violating tax laws, fire-safety rules, and labor regulations, which led to the current ban on his activities. Ulan told Belapan that "Novaya gazeta Smorgoni" will continue to appear because he has found a new publisher. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February)
JOURNALIST HEADS 'SOVIET' IN PENITENTIARY. Inmates at a corrective-labor facility in Baranavichy have elected journalist Viktar Ivashkevich, editor in chief of the independent newspaper "Rabochy," as head of their "soviet," a self-governing body at their prison, Belapan reported on 25 February. Ivashkevich was sentenced in September to two years of "restricted freedom" in an "open-type corrective-labor institution" for defaming President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in articles published in "Rabochy" during the 2001 presidential campaign. "The self-government here, in comparison with the administration of the institution, has similarly meager powers to those of local soviets in comparison with the presidential administration," Ivashkevich commented. He promised, however, that in his new capacity he will brief his colleagues on the political situation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February)
LAWMAKER SAYS STATE MEDIA IGNORED OSCE RECOGNITION OF BELARUSIAN LEGISLATURE. Chamber of Representatives Deputy Chairman Uladzimir Kanaplyou told journalists in Minsk on 24 February that the state-controlled media effectively overlooked the recognition of the Belarusian legislature by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly on 20 February and provided only scant coverage of the event, Belapan reported. RFE/RL's Belarusian Service suggested that the presidential administration prohibited state media from reporting on the move to avoid creating the public impression that this legislative body is of any importance in the country. "I'm glad that I wasn't watching [Belarusian Television on 21 February]," Kanaplyou commented. "They have said exactly six words [about the National Assembly] since 1997, and I'm really thankful to them for supporting our legislature's international activity so strongly," he added in what the agency called a sarcastic tone. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February)
CZECH REPUBLICCZECH TELEVISION COUNCIL FAILS TO ELECT STATION DIRECTOR... The Television Council, which is appointed by parliament, on 26 February failed to elect a successor to Jiri Balvin, who was fired by the council in November, CTK reported. Two of the six candidates advanced to a second round of voting, but neither journalist Jana Kasalova nor business manager Jiri Franc received the minimum 10 votes needed from the 13 council members present for the vote. Kasalova fell two votes short of that target. Council Deputy Chairwoman Lucie Weissova and council member Milan Knizak announced their resignations after the ballot, while a third member said she is considering resigning. Chairman Jan Mrzena adjourned the meeting until a vacationing council member returns from vacation, CTK reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February)
...HIGHLIGHTING ITS POLITICAL NATURE. Before the 26 February vote was taken, some council members joined political observers in criticizing Chairman Mrzena for meeting on the eve of the ballot with Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and Chamber of Deputies Chairman Lubomir Zaoralek, both from the senior ruling Social Democratic Party, CTK reported. Objecting council members said Mrzena's meeting amounts to political interference. Spidla countered that the meeting had nothing to do with the vote, adding that he was personally unaware the council was due to vote on Balvin's successor the next day. Lower house Deputy Chairman Ivan Langer (Civic Democratic Party) said the council may be dismissed if it fails to elect a new director by the end of this month, since the law stipulates that the council must elect a new director within three months of dismissing a predecessor. Balvin was fired on 27 November. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February)
FORMER PREMIER'S AIDE LOSES LIBEL SUIT AGAINST WEEKLY 'RESPEKT.' Former Prime Minister Milos Zeman's controversial chief aide, Miroslav Slouf, lost a lawsuit on 20 February against the weekly "Respekt" and journalist Martin Profant, CTK reported. Slouf demanded an apology from the weekly and from Profant for a cartoon depicting him as a wanted man in the American "Wild West." The cartoon appeared at an exhibition on Prague's central Wenceslas Square. Slouf's lawyers said the cartoon and an interview with Profant that accompanied it damaged Slouf's image as a businessman. The judge, however, ruled that "Respekt" was not the organizer of the exhibition and rejected the complaint. In the interview, Profant called Slouf a symbol of all the negative images of the Czech Republic -- corruption, violent rule, and an arbitrary civil service. The judge said in his ruling that Profant's interview reflected Slouf's general image in the media. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February)
EU CRITICS DENIED FUNDS FOR EU INFORMATION CAMPAIGN. The Czech Foreign Ministry has refused to grant funds allocated for an EU information campaign to organizations that are critical of EU accession, CTK reported on 26 February, citing the daily "Hospodarske noviny." The ministry on 25 February released a list of 29 nongovernmental organizations that will benefit from funding under the campaign, which will precede the mid-June referendum on accession. All the grants appear to have been allocated to supporters of EU membership. The ministry had said the money would be distributed according to the quality of the applications. Altogether, the ministry allocated more then 5.5 million crowns ($161,205) to the projects. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February)
IRANPROFESSOR'S DEATH SENTENCE ANNULLED... Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Sajjadi, an associate justice on bench 27 of the Supreme Court, said on 14 February that the Supreme Court had quashed the death sentence imposed by a Hamedan court on political activist and university professor Hashem Aghajari, IRNA reported on 15 February. The Hamedan court sentenced Aghajari to death, flogging, and imprisonment for giving an allegedly blasphemous speech in July 2002. Sajjadi said that it had been determined that the verdict contradicted the law. The case must now undergo further hearings, and a new verdict must be issued, he said. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 24 February)
...OR WAS IT? The conservative "Resalat" daily on 16 February denied that the death sentence against Aghajari had been overturned, saying merely that some technicalities necessitated a formal resentencing, the English-language "Iran News" reported the next day. Ayatollah Sajjadi, however, rejected the "Resalat" claim that the sentence had not been reversed, "Hambastegi" reported on 17 February. Judiciary spokesman Gholamhussein Elham said on 17 February that the Supreme Court has not annulled the death sentence, IRNA reported on 18 February. Rather, defects were found in the investigation, and the same court as before must hear the case again. "It is possible that the new ruling will confirm the initial verdict, or a different verdict will be issued," Elham said. Justice Minister Hojatoleslam Ismail Shushtari said after an 18 February ceremony introducing Justice Department officials in the northwestern Ardabil Province that the verdict against Aghajari was annulled because of flaws in the case, ISNA reported. That is why it was returned to the same court that issued the original verdict, he said. "We are waiting for another investigation," he added. Regardless of the technicalities, Aghajari's lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht, on 18 February again rejected the accusations of blasphemy against his client, IRNA reported. "My client has been accused of apostasy and denying the basics of the [Islamic] religion," he said, adding that the charge of apostasy is only relevant "if one denies God and the prophets...and my client has not made any statement to this effect." ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 24 February)
IMPRISONED OPINION POLLSTERS GRANTED BRIEF HOME LEAVES. Ayandeh Research Institute board member Abbas Abdi was given a one-hour leave from prison on 22 February, "Iran News" reported on 25 February, citing "Seda-yi Idalat." Abdi's daughter told the daily that her father is in good health. Abdi was sentenced to eight years in prison after Ayandeh conducted a poll that indicated a majority of Tehran citizens favor the resumption of Iran-U.S. relations. Ayandeh Managing Director Hussein Qazian's lawyer, Ramazan Haji-Mashhadi, said his client was also granted a few hours leave to visit his family, "Etemad" reported on 22 February. Qazian is considering filing an appeal. The granting of leave to these individuals might be connected with the recent visit to Iran by a UN team examining the country's prisons. It is not known if other prisoners have been granted the same privilege. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February)
MEDIA COVERAGE OF MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS. Iran will stage its second-ever municipal-council elections on 28 February. Campaigning for the elections began on 20 February and will continue until midnight on 26 February, according to state television. Candidates are competing for some 168,000 posts in cities, villages, and townships. Campaign candidates are banned from writing on walls, forming campaign convoys, or covering traffic signs with posters. Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting normally offers constant election coverage on at least one television channel and regular updates on other channels. Election coverage by other networks is less welcome. In the run-up to the 18 February 2000 parliamentary election, Tehran jammed foreign radio services' shortwave broadcasts with bubble-type interference and by overriding the foreign broadcasts with the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran. These Iranian government activities were directed at RFE/RL's Persian Service, Voice of America, and the BBC. On the day of the 2001 presidential election, RFE/RL's Persian Service was jammed on one of its frequencies but was clear on the other three. Voice of America's Persian Service was jammed on only one of its frequencies. BBC's Persian Service was not jammed. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 24 February)
RADIO FARDA ACCUSED OF CAMPAIGNING FOR REFORMIST PARTY. The conservative "Resalat" daily on 26 February claimed that Radio Farda -- "which produces and broadcasts programs with the direct financial and ideological guidance of America's espionage organization and with the aim of leading the Iranian public astray" -- has in the past week given undue attention to candidates affiliated with the pro-Khatami Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP). The newspaper claimed that Radio Farda has publicized the views of IIPP candidate Mustafa Tajzadeh at least four times. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February)
TWO NEW PUBLICATIONS AND ONE OLD ONE HIT NEWSSTANDS. Reformist cleric Rasul Montajabnia has launched "Nasim-i Saba," and Mehdi Shamshirian has launched "Farhang-i Ashti," "Iran News" reported on 19 February. The former publication will back favored candidates in the upcoming municipal-council elections. Economic issues dominate "Farhang-i-Ashti," reflecting the publisher's effort to avoid closure on political grounds, according to "Iran News." Publication of the weekly "Gunagun" has resumed after a two-year ban, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 16 February. Said Shariati, who was the political editor for the banned daily "Noruz," denied that the "Noruz" editorial board is the publisher of a newspaper called "Sharq," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. Shariati said that although "Sharq" is licensed for publication throughout the country currently it is being published as a weekly in Sistan va Baluchistan Province. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 24 February)
IRAQRSF DEPLORES REGIME'S INSTITUTIONALIZED REPRESSION MEDIA UNDER 'IRON CONTROL'... Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on 25 February issued a report on the condition of the media in Iraq that states that President Saddam Hussein's iron control has turned "what was once one of the more vibrant presses in the Middle East into an instrument of propaganda" through an institutionalized system of repression and censorship. In 2002, RSF rated Iraq as the 130th least tolerant country in the world in terms of press freedom and among the 10 worst countries for its treatment of journalists and the media. CC
...AND SADDAM'S SON PLAYS STARRING ROLE... Through his eldest son, Uday, who heads the Iraqi Journalists' Union, President Hussein keeps a close watch on the country's journalists while at the same time awarding them with prizes and privileges, RSF reported. Joining the journalists' union, although not compulsory, is "strongly recommended," and any journalist who refuses to join can be fined. Uday also owns the country's most influential newspaper, "Babil," and manages a dozen weeklies, several dailies, a television channel, and an FM radio station, RSF reported. Uday's influence over Baghdad's media is even more decisive than that of the minister of information. CC
...AND LEADING JOURNALISTS FLEE. The RSF report also notes that "even before [Hussein's Ba'ath Party] took power in 1968, the ruling regimes were closing down newspapers whenever they pleased." From early 1979 through the 1990s, some 400 Iraqi journalists have chosen to live in exile. Full report: http://www.rsf.org CC
KAZAKHSTANAPPEAL DATE SET FOR IMPRISONED JOURNALIST. On 11 March, a court in Kazakhstan will hear the appeal of imprisoned opposition journalist Sergei Duvanov, who was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison on 28 January after being convicted of statutory rape, according to a pseudonymous article posted on Eurasianet's website (http://www.eurasianet.org). Independent journalists and opposition figures believe the charge against Duvanov was politically motivated in an attempt by the government to silence reporting about high-level bribery allegations. The Duvanov case has damaged Kazakhstan's relations with the European Union and the United States. President Nursultan Nazarbaev's daughter, Dariga, a prominent media figure in Kazakhstan, has issued a statement asking whether the case was politically motivated and defending Duvanov's right to freedom of speech. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February)
OPPOSITION SUPPORTS EU RESOLUTION, CITING DUVANOV CASE. At a news conference on 24 February, Kazakh opposition groups called on the government to take notice of a 13 February European Parliament resolution that accused Kazakhstan of committing human rights violations and suppressing the opposition. The Kazakh leadership has rejected that resolution. The opposition figures also demanded the release of journalist Duvanov and called for the reexamination of the cases of Mukhtar Ablyazov and Galymzhan Zhakiyanov, Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan leaders who were convicted of corruption last year, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 25 February. A formal appeal to the government was signed by Pyotr Svoik, a leader of Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan; Rozlana Taukina, head of Journalists in Distress; and Kazis Toguzbaev, director of the Kazakhstan office of the International Foundation for the Defense of Political Prisoners. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February)
KYRGYZSTANHUMAN RIGHTS OFFICIAL TO PURSUE LIBEL SUIT. Human Rights Commissioner Tursunbai Bakir uulu told journalists on 24 February that he has no intention of dropping a libel suit against a Bishkek newspaper that claimed he was in league with extremist Muslim groups. Opposition figures assert that such lawsuits by state officials are intended to discourage freedom of speech. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February)
MOLDOVAPPCD LASHES OUT AGAINST ATTEMPT TO ELIMINATE 'HISTORY OF ROMANIANS.' The Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) on 21 February harshly criticized the renewed attempt by the government to eliminate courses on the "History of Romanians" from the national school curriculum, calling it a reflection of the policies of an "ethno-cultural genocide to which the ethnic Romanian majority" is being subjected in Moldova, Flux reported. In a long document that accuses all Moldovan governments and heads of state of having promoted policies of Russification and of replacing the Romanian national identity and language with "Moldovanism" and "Moldovan," the pro-Romanian unionist PPCD said the elimination of the "History of Romanians" is part of a scenario that promotes "the destruction of the Moldovan Republic's territorial unity through its so-called federalization." The PPCD accused President Vladimir Voronin and the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) of violating several constitutional provisions, including the stipulation forbidding the imposition of any official ideology and the provision granting citizens the right to preserve, develop, and express their ethnic, cultural, linguistic, or religious identities. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February)
POLANDRYWIN REFUSES TO TESTIFY TO PARLIAMENTARY COMMISSION IN 'RYWINGATE'... Film producer Lew Rywin on 22 February refused to testify to the parliamentary commission investigating accusations that he solicited a bribe from Agora, the publisher of "Gazeta Wyborcza," purportedly on behalf of Premier Leszek Miller, Polish media reported. Rywin said he will not answer lawmakers' questions because of an ongoing criminal investigation into the case. "I state that I did not act in any group; I did not make any proposal of a bribe," Rywin told the commission. He added that he has been a victim of a scheme by Agora President Wanda Rapaczynska, "who urged that I join in her game that was being conducted around the law on radio and television broadcasting." Rywin noted that the recording "deceitfully" made by "Gazeta Wyborcza" Editor in Chief Adam Michnik, in which Rywin allegedly makes a bribe offer, was "a tool of subtle manipulation and does not reflect the entire conversation or its real intention." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February)
...AS PUBLISHER ADMITS DESTRUCTION OF POTENTIAL EVIDENCE. Anna Borys-Karwacka, spokeswoman for Agora, confirmed on 26 February that Agora headquarters' visitor books had been destroyed, but she emphasized that the step was taken in accordance with proper procedures, Polish Radio reported. The previous day, prosecutors investigating "Rywingate" said some documents that could constitute evidence in the case had been destroyed. "Rzeczpospolita" wrote on 26 February that the announcement referred to the documents from Agora. "We do not regard these as very significant documents. These are materials that are not kept especially thoroughly -- that is, important visitors are often not entered in these books," Borys-Karwacka said. According to "Rzeczpospolita," the destroyed books could confirm when Rywin arrived for and left meetings at the company. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February)
ROMANIAINFORMATION ON U.S. USE OF MILITARY AIR FIELD IS CLASSIFIED. The Defense Ministry on 21 February said in a press release that information on the use of the Mihail Kogalniceanu military air field is classified, and it appealed to media outlets to exhibit understanding in view of the restrictions imposed by "the necessity of ensuring operational security under the current circumstances," Mediafax reported. The same agency reported on 23 February that U.S. military aircraft transporting equipment and personnel continue to land at the air field. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February)
RUSSIAYABLOKO WARNS OF THREAT TO PRESS FREEDOM... The political party Yabloko issued a statement on 25 February expressing serious concern about the fate of freedom of the press in Russia, RosBalt and other Russian news agencies reported the same day. According to the statement, the party has noted a pattern of overt actions since 2000 in which law enforcement agencies were used to exert pressure on journalists and the owners of private-media outlets. The statement also decried selective changes to media legislation, the use of state-controlled media to discredit political opponents, and the rise of self-censorship practices among owners of private media outlets. Press freedom in Russia is "contracting" rapidly, the statement says, and defending that freedom should be the top priority for the country's democrats. Yabloko's statement was prompted by the recent dispute at "Novye izvestiya." The party believes these trends might intensify in the run-up to national Duma elections in December, Interfax reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February)
...AS LEADING TELEVISION PERSONALITY SAYS RUSSIAN PRESS FREER THAN U.S. PRESS. Television journalist Vladimir Pozner, who in the late 1980s and early 1990s conducted a series of joint broadcasts with U.S. journalist Phil Donahue, commented that MSNBC's 25 February decision to fire Donahue was politically motivated, ORT reported on 26 February. Pozner rejected the argument that Donahue's show was cancelled because of its low ratings and said instead that the decision was made because of Donahue's vocal opposition to a possible U.S.-led military operation against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Today, Russian journalists are much more free to criticize their government than U.S. journalists are to criticize theirs, Pozner said. Pozner was a leading journalist in the Soviet era, and his integrity has been frequently called into question. In 1996, Pozner interviewed former KGB Chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov and asked him whether he would send Pozner to a labor camp if the Communists returned to power. "No," replied Kryuchkov, "a journalist with your talent will find a place under any regime." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February)
'NOVYE IZVESTIYA' STAFFER EXPLAINS ORIGIN OF CONFLICT... In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 25 February, "Novye izvestiya" commentator and Deputy Editor Otto Latsis commented on the recent conflict at that publication, which has not appeared on newsstands since 20 February. Latsis explained that Editor in Chief Igor Golembiovskii was dismissed only from his post as the paper's general director but remains its editor in chief. However, Golembiovskii has refused to act as editor until he is restored as general director. Latsis also claimed that self-exiled magnate Boris Berezovskii is the paper's main shareholder. He said that Oleg Mitvol, chairman of the paper's board of directors, only recently began asserting that he owns the largest stake in the paper. Previously, Mitvol "never expressed the smallest doubt about who is the real owner of the paper," Latsis said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February)
...AND SUGGESTS NEWSPAPER MAY RETURN WITH NEW OWNER. According to Latsis, Alyans Group head Ziya Bazhaev has been engaged in negotiations to buy the newspaper. Ziya is the elder brother of Musa Bazhaev, who was trying to buy the newspaper when he was killed in the plane crash three years ago that also killed the well-known television journalist Artem Borovik. Latsis said that journalists at the newspaper, many of whom left "Izvestiya" with Golembiovskii and Latsis in 1997 during a dispute at that paper, will try to continue as a team with "Novye izvestiya" and to produce it under "a new flag." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February)
OLIGARCHS SHARE CONTROL OF TVS. The group of shareholders in TVS led by Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich has lost its controlling interest in the station, Ekho Moskvy reported on 24 February. According to Ekho Moskvy, Vympelkom head Dmitrii Zimin and United Machine-Building Plant head Kakha Bendukidze have now paid for their shares and handed them over to be managed by TVS Chairman Oleg Kiselev, who represents the group of shareholders led by Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais. Zimin and Bendukidze had earlier declined to join the group of shareholders. According to the station, Chubais's group and Abramovich's now each have 45 percent stakes in the company, while the station's journalists own 10 percent. On 28 February, an EES board meeting is scheduled, at which members are expected to approve the sale of the company's 70 percent stake in REN-TV, Interfax reported earlier. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February)
CHECHEN ORGANIZATIONS CITE LACK OF MEDIA FREEDOM IN CONDEMNATION OF PLANNED REFERENDUM. Leaders of 20 Chechen civic and human rights organizations issued a statement on 24 February condemning the referendum scheduled for 23 March on a new Chechen draft constitution and election laws, chechenpress.org reported on 25 February. They pointed to numerous alleged violations of Russian law during the preparations for the plebiscite. They further argued that Chechnya already has a legitimately elected president and parliament. Moreover, they claim that what they consider the minimal conditions for holding a referendum -- a cease-fire, a halt to reprisals against civilians, the investigation of war crimes, freedom of movement and assembly for the population, media freedom, and the lifting of restrictions on political parties -- have not yet been established in the republic. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February)
CHECHEN PRESIDENT ADDRESSES POPULATION IN SECOND UNDERGROUND TV SPEECH. In a televised address seen days earlier by residents of dozens of villages in the Urus Martan, Achkhoi Martan, and Shali raions, Aslan Maskhadov condemned the planned 23 March referendum and called on the population to be on their guard against "provocations" by Russian forces, chechenpress.com reported on 26 February. It was Maskhadov's second such televised address this month. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February)
INDEPENDENT CAUCASUS WEBSITE SUBJECT TO 'MASSIVE' ATTACK. The Russian human rights society Memorial reported that on 19 February its Internet publication Kavkazskii uzel (http://kavkaz.memo.ru) was subject to a "massive" attack by unknown persons. They reported, however, that much of the website's database of 26,000 items -- which presents information from various viewpoints, including the government's -- has been restored. CC
REQUEST FOR NGO INTERNET DATA. The Institute of Governance, Public Policy, and Social Research of Queen's University Belfast, is researching civil society in Russia, Civil Society International reported on 26 February. It is currently conducting a survey on the significance of the Internet for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and independent institutions in Russia. The university asks that Russian NGOs and independent institutions contact email@example.com for more information about the survey. CC
UZBEKISTANJOURNALIST ARRESTED. Uzbek police arrested Tokhtomurad Toshev in his office in Tashkent on 20 February on unknown charges, ITAR-TASS reported. Since 1995, Toshev has been editor in chief of the newspaper "Adolat," which is published by the Social-Democratic Party. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February)
POLICE ALLEGEDLY BEAT ARRESTED JOURNALIST... Police arrested Ergash Bobojanov, a member of the opposition movement Birlik (Unity), at his home in the Ferghana Valley on 17 February, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on 26 February. According to local human rights activists, police were seen beating Bobojanov during his arrest. Bobojanov was taken to the Ferghana Pretrial Detention Center, where police charged him with criminal defamation. HRW is "concerned" about the journalist's health. Bobojanov, who is in his 60s, was reported a week after his arrest to be in very poor health, suffering from constant convulsions and having difficulty speaking. He is reported to be a diabetic with heart problems. The charges against Bobojonov -- criminal defamation, revealing state secrets, and making death threats -- relate to two articles he wrote in 1999 and 2001 for the Kyrgyz paper "Res Publica." The articles were critical of the Uzbek government and raised issues of local-government corruption. CC
...AND DETAIN YOUNG REPORTER INCOMMUNICADO. Tashkent police on 22-24 February detained Oleg Sarapulov, an assistant to an independent journalist who publishes on the Internet, without access to a lawyer or family and friends, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on 26 February. The young reporter told HRW that he had been questioned about two articles critical of the Uzbek government in his possession, and he was accused of distributing them. The articles were posted under the byline U. Khaknazarov on centrasia.org, which is blocked by most Uzbek Internet Service Providers. The articles are critical of corruption and interclan rivalries within the Uzbek government. Sarapulov also claimed that police planted Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets on him. Hizb ut-Tahrir is an Islamic organization -- illegal in Uzbekistan -- that calls for the establishment of a caliphate (an Islamic state) in traditionally Muslim lands. Sarapulov told HRW that the investigation could lead to criminal charges of involvement in anticonstitutional activities. CC
COURT SENTENCES JOURNALIST WHO WRITES ON RELIGION. An Uzbek court on 18 February sentenced journalist Ghairat Mekhliboev to seven years in prison after convicting him of being a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir membership, HRW reported on 26 February. Mekhliboev published articles in several Uzbek papers, including the mainstream weekly "Khurriat." He was convicted on charges of anticonstitutional activity, involvement in religious "extremist" organizations, and inciting religious hatred. The verdict focused on Mekhliboev's journalism, including an article published in "Khurriat" that allegedly contained Hizb ut-Tahrir ideas. The article was published in April 2001, when Uzbek papers were still subject to prepublication censorship and highly unlikely to publish materials contrary to government policy. Mekhliboev admitted in court that he had studied the ideas of Hizb ut-Tahrir but denied that he possessed their materials. He also stated that law enforcement authorities beat him while he was in custody. CC
TV PUBLICIZES JOURNALISTS' VISIT TO NATO HEADQUARTERS. Uzbek State Television has broadcast a 20-minute program on the visit of a group of Uzbek journalists to NATO headquarters in Brussels that focused on Uzbekistan's cooperation with NATO, uzreport.com reported on 26 February. The journalists also visited Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) and met with NATO officials, including the head of the Cooperative Security and Political Crisis Management Section, who described NATO measures for cooperating with the Central Asian states in the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February)
END NOTEIS UKRAINE ANY NEARER THE TRUTH ON GONGADZE'S KILLING?
By Taras Kuzio
Last July, Svyatoslav Piskun replaced Mykhaylo Potebenko as Ukraine's prosecutor-general, and one of the issues he vowed to resolve within six months was the death of Ukrainian journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Gongadze was abducted by unknown individuals on 16 September 2000, and his headless corpse was discovered in a Kyiv Oblast forest in early November 2000.
More than six months later, the case remains unresolved. Two weeks after Gongadze's body was discovered, Socialist leader Oleksandr Moroz announced in the Ukrainian parliament (Verkhovna Rada) that a portion of the tapes allegedly made illicitly in President Leonid Kuchma's office by former presidential security guard Mykola Melnychenko included a conversation about Gongadze. This was only one fragment of the hundreds of hours of tapes apparently made in 1999-2000 by Melnychenko, who defected to the United States in April 2001. The Ukrainian government has denied that the tapes are authentic. In the taped conversation, Kuchma is apparently heard ordering then-Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko to deal with Gongadze by deportation and violence. Parts of the tapes have been authenticated by a U.S. company specializing in such recordings. The FBI has also stated that a section pertaining to possible arms sales to Iraq is also authentic.
Because of the interconnection of the "Kuchmagate" tapes scandal and the Gongadze case, numerous conspiracy theories have emerged. Kuchma and many of his closest allies seem to back a theory first put forward by advisers close to Russian President Vladimir Putin that the entire Gongadze affair was a U.S. plot to replace Kuchma with then-Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko. In November, Deputy Prosecutor-General Viktor Shokin supported the view that Gongadze was murdered as part of a plot to remove Kuchma from office.
Others figures in the Ukrainian elite are less convinced that the Gongadze affair was a U.S. plot against Kuchma. Former presidential administration head and current Verkhovna Rada speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn believes it was a domestic operation, not one inspired by a foreign intelligence organization. His suspicions are close to those of former Verkhovna Rada speaker Ivan Plyushch, who has said the Gongadze affair was undertaken to remove Yushchenko, not Kuchma, from office.
Last fall, Shokin put forward the theory that opposition leaders, including Moroz, were behind Gongadze's abduction and killing. A private telephone conversation on 10 September 2002 between former RFE/RL Ukrainian Service Director Roman Kupchinsky in Prague and "Ukrayinska pravda" Internet newspaper editor Olena Prytula in Kyiv on this topic was illegally taped and reprinted on the http://www.kompromat.ru website. Gongadze was "Ukrayinska pravda" co-editor with Pritula. Shokin's statement, though, might have been a bid to discredit the political opposition when mass anti-Kuchma rallies were set to begin just four days later on 16 September.
One of the more credible theories about Gongadze's murder that has surfaced repeatedly concerns the possible involvement of the special Interior Ministry (MVS) Eagles unit. In the portion of the transcript from the Melnychenko tapes released by Moroz to the Verkhovna Rada, then-Interior Minister Kravchenko is heard bragging about the brutality of the Eagles. In August 2002, the newspaper "Segodnya," which is linked to the then-head of the State Tax Administration (DPA), Mykola Azarov, reported that officers in the MVS's Organized-Crime Directorate had cooperated with criminal gangs to form "death squads." This information was later confirmed by Piskun and MVS State Secretary Oleksandr Gapon. Piskun was deputy head of the DPA prior to his appointment as prosecutor-general.
Last August, the Ukrainian authorities denied that these "death squads" were the same as Kravchenko's Eagles. But in December, Hryhoriy Omelchenko, chairman of the Verkhovna Rada committee investigating Gongadze's death, announced that the Eagles squad was the same as the purported "death squads." Omelchenko added that one line of investigation that Piskun is pursuing in the Gongadze case is the possible involvement of the Eagles. Piskun denied this at the time, but two months later, in a February interview with the influential weekly "Zerkalo nedeli/Dzerkalo tyzhnya," Piskun admitted that the possible involvement of the Eagles squad was now one of the three theories he is investigating in the Gongadze case.
On 18 February, the Verkhovna Rada supported a motion by 121 deputies to further investigate the Eagles theory after a long letter reportedly from MVS officers who remain anonymous was published the day before in an abbreviated form by the http://www.grani.kiev.ua website, which is linked to Moroz's Socialist Party. A similar leak by MVS officers about alleged political murders occurred during the 1999 presidential-election campaign, when the then-anti-Kuchma candidate, Yevhen Marchuk, released a video interview with masked people claiming to be MVS officers who described how they had organized the fatal car accident of Rukh leader Vyacheslav Chornovil in March 1999. About 10 suspicious car accidents involving opposition politicians and members of the ruling elites who have run foul of the authorities have occurred in recent years in Ukraine.
The latest purported MVS letter reinforces the portion of the Melnychenko tape about Gongadze. It also endorses allegations in the 1999 video interview -- which has since been "lost" by Marchuk after he was co-opted by Kuchma in the second round of the 1999 elections -- that the MVS organized Chornovil's accident when Yuriy Smirnov was head of the MVS's Kyiv branch. Smirnov later replaced Kravchenko as interior minister when Kravchenko was forced to resign in February 2001 at the height of the "Kuchmagate" scandal.
The purported MVS letter claims that the special Falcon unit -- which are divided into subunits of 50 men that are subordinate to the regional branches of the MVS Organized-Crime Directorate -- are identical to Kravchenko's Eagles. The elite Falcon units are part of the MVS forces that are trained in antiterrorism tactics. This new evidence would seem to tie the August 2002 revelations on "death squads" to the Falcon -- or Eagles -- MVS unit. In the months prior to his abduction, Gongadze had filed an official report that he was being followed by unmarked cars whose license plates were verified as belonging to the MVS.
Where is the Gongadze investigation headed? Much circumstantial evidence points to the possible involvement of Kravchenko's Eagles in the abduction of Gongadze. An April 2002 BBC documentary called "Killing the Story" documented similar abductions seemingly intended to frighten and "warn off" other journalists, cases that have been documented in Ukraine and abroad. The portion of the Melnychenko tape released by Moroz seems to indicate that Kuchma authorized similar scare tactics against Gongadze. The recent letter by purported MVS officers alleges that Gongadze was accidentally killed during his abduction by nervous Eagles officers who shot him in the head. Gongadze's corpse might have been decapitated to hide any bullet wounds.
Piskun has admitted that the possible involvement of the Eagles is one of three lines of inquiry into the Gongadze murder. However, there is little indication that Piskun is actually investigating the alleged illegal activities of MVS special units against journalists or the possibility that they were ordered to undertake those activities by senior government officials.
If former Interior Minister Kravchenko, acting on Kuchma's orders as the Melnychenko tape seems to indicate, ordered the Eagles to abduct Gongadze, then it will certainly be very difficult for Piskun to crack the case. Kuchma reaffirmed his faith in Kravchenko's loyalty in December 2002 by appointing him DPA director. Because Kuchma will remain president until October 2004, it would seem unlikely that there will be any breaks in the Gongadze case anytime soon. As "Zerkalo nedeli/Dzerkalo tyzhnya" concluded in its 24-30 November 2001 issue, the Gongadze murder and "Kuchmagate" have "instilled a strong feeling among journalists that the police, the Security Service, and the Prosecutor-General's Office are no friends of the press."
Taras Kuzio is a resident fellow at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto.