25 April 2003, Volume 3, Number 16
INTERNATIONALHUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS SUFFER IN FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM. Human rights defenders and journalists around the world are in greater danger as governments use the fight against international terrorism to justify a clampdown on dissidents, concludes a new report by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. "The 'New Criminals': Human Rights Defenders on the Front Line" (http://www.omct.org/displaydocument.asp?DocType=OBSAppeal&Language=&Index=3013) studied 388 cases during 2002. CC
AFGHANISTANJOURNALISTS RESORT TO SELF-CENSORSHIP OUT OF FEAR. "Despite the freedom of speech given to journalists, some of them are still self-censored. It is because they are afraid of powerful people and think that their lives could be in danger if they write the facts in a society where the gun has the first word and there is no union to support them," the Kabul daily "Anis" wrote on 16 April. The commentary called for the formation of a union of journalists to provide some mechanism to protect them and said a meeting among journalists is to be held next month to that end. "Anis" hailed the progress that has been made so far in Afghanistan with the "government's emphasis on achieving democracy." However, it noted, many problems remain, particularly in the provinces. "Enjoying the...freedom of speech that [has] been granted by the new administration over the past 1 1/2 years, journalists have been writing material that sometimes criticizes the benefits [received by] certain powerful people.... These people have also begun thinking about settling their scores and limiting the work of some journalists," according to "Anis." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April)
BAN ON CABLE TV IN KABUL ENDS. The Afghan cabinet has passed a new law that will allow cable-television broadcasts, the BBC reported on 22 April. Cable television was banned on 21 January on the order of Supreme Court Chief Justice Mawlawi Fazl Hadi Shinwari, who regarded many cable programs as offensive to Islamic values. Kabul was among several cities and provinces that decided to uphold the ban, but it will now abide by the new law and has resumed cable-television broadcasts. The new law, which has not yet been made public, is viewed as a victory by Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai over the country's conservative establishment, the BBC commented. Cable television has about 7,000 subscribers in Kabul, primarily among the middle class. The recently proposed draft constitution allows for private ownership of broadcast media as long as "no direct attacks" on Islamic values are broadcast. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April)
RADIO FREE AFGHANISTAN LAUNCHES WEBSITE. Radio Free Afghanistan's website -- http://www.azadiradio.org -- makes available up-to-date news and analysis in English, Dari, and Pashtu, according to a 23 April RFE/RL press release. It also includes Radio Free Afghanistan program highlights and reports from RFE/RL's Regional Analysis department. CC
AZERBAIJANEUROPEAN WATCHDOG ASKS FOR GREATER TOLERANCE IN MEDIA. In a report released on 15 April and summarized the following day by the Turan news agency, the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance expressed concern that direct or indirect discrimination on ethnic or religious grounds is still widespread in Azerbaijan. It called on the media in Azerbaijan to demonstrate greater tolerance and to refrain from publishing materials denigrating religious and ethnic minorities. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April)
JOURNALIST DETAINED. Rauf Arifoglu, the editor of the independent daily "Yeni Musavat," was detained on 21 April at Baku's Bina Airport on his return from Turkey for allegedly trying to smuggle religious literature into the country, Turan reported on 21 April. Arifoglu told the agency the journals in question were published by the Azerbaijani Cultural Center in Ankara and have no bearing on religion. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April)
CZECH REPUBLICRACIST AND PRO-GERMAN LEAFLETS DISTRIBUTED IN CZECH TOWNS. A police spokesman told CTK on 17 April that racist and pro-German pamphlets have turned up recently in the northern Moravian cities of Opava and Krnov, CTK reported. The leaflets in Opava attack the Romany minority, calling for a "White Opava" and for action against "Romany parasites," as well as for removing "Vietnamese businessmen from our country." The leaflets in Krnov read, "The Sudetenland will be German again." The Krnov text says: "You murdered 271,000 of our relatives and deported more than 3 million from their homes. You stole our property and destroyed our land. To this day, you sleep in our beds." A spokesman for the Silesian German Association said he believes the Krnov leaflets were distributed not by Sudeten Germans, but by someone "who is bothered by the good relations between locals and Germans." Police said the propagators could face six months to three years in prison for "supporting a movement aimed at suppressing the rights and freedoms of citizens." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April)
IRANONE INTERNET JOURNALIST ARRESTED... Sina Motallebi, editor of the news website rooznegar.com and a former staff member of the banned reformist daily "Hayat-i No," was arrested on 20 April and interrogated for several hours following a 19 April summons from the moral offenses department of the Tehran police, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reported on 21 April. After the daily "Hayat-i No" was closed in January, Motallebi revived rooznegar.com and ran articles defending the paper's Alireza Eshraqi and other imprisoned journalists. Accused of "undermining national security through cultural activity," Motallebi has been summoned several times for questioning over the past four months. CC
...OTHER REPORTERS SUMMONED. Court 1410, known as Iran's press court, in mid-April summoned journalist Masumeh Alinejad of the daily "Hambastegi," Editor Mohammad Naimipur of the daily "Yas-i No," Editor Reza Monsaref of the twice-monthly "Ava-yi Maku," Managing Editor Mohammad Mirdamadi of the reformist daily "Noruz," website editor and publisher Mohsen Sazgara of the banned daily "Golestan-i Iran," and the editor in chief of the daily "Toseh," who was identified only by the last name Sajadi, according to RSF on 21 April. CC
PRESIDENT DENOUNCES UNAUTHORIZED JAMMING OF SATELLITE BROADCASTS. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami and parliament speaker Mehdi Karrubi have called a stop to a reported project in Tehran to jam satellite broadcasts, IRNA reported on 22 April. Following a discussion of the issue in parliament, the president and speaker issued a directive calling for identifying and taking action against those responsible for the jamming. At the parliament meeting, officials said that "a certain military organization," otherwise unidentified, is transmitting powerful jamming signals from several of its bases in Tehran as well as from mobile units installed on trucks. The report, which originally appeared in the 22 April edition of the reformist daily "Hambastegi," did not identify the offending broadcasts, which likely are Persian-language television programs originating from Los Angeles and other foreign cities. In an apparent effort to avoid controversy over whether the contents of the broadcasts warranted jamming, opponents of the project are stressing that the jamming transmissions are harmful to citizens' health, causing, among other things, infertility. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April)
IRAQREBUILDING FREE MEDIA. "Now that [deposed Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein's regime has been overthrown and so much damage and so many causalities have been inflicted on the country because of his dictatorial rule, Iraqis aspire to an open, democratic, and pluralistic political life," writes Iraqi journalist Hamid Ali al-Kifai, co-chairman of the International Conference on Free Media in Iraq, in an essay titled "Free Media Is a Prerequisite for a Democratic Iraq" According to al-Kifai, "We need a new media law to be incorporated in the Iraqi constitution as soon as possible in order to provide journalists with the legal protection they need to carry out their duties." His article is available to newspapers for 3 May, World Press Freedom Day, and is available for downloading in English, French, Spanish, and German at http://www.worldpressfreedomday.com. CC
KAZAKHSTANOPPOSITION NEWSPAPER EDITOR ASSAULTED. Maksim Erokhin, editor in chief of the independent Shymkent newspaper "Rabat," was assaulted during the night of 16-17 April by unknown assailants who left him unconscious in the street, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 17 April. The attack took place outside his apartment building in the middle of Shymkent, the administrative center of South Kazakhstan Oblast. Medical examination revealed that Erokhin had suffered a concussion. According to Interfax, since Erokhin founded "Rabat" two years ago, the publication has been critical of the city authorities. In the most recent issue, he attacked city officials for building an elite sports and health complex in the city's botanical garden. Yeroshin's colleagues told RSF on 19 April that the journalist was probably attacked because of an article published on 10 April about luxury villas that the president and other top officials are building illegally inside the country's nature reserves. Interfax noted that it has not yet been announced whether police will open a criminal investigation into the attack. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April)
OPPOSITION JOURNALISTS APPEAL TO INTERNATIONAL MEDIA FORUM. In a 21 April statement addressed to participants in the upcoming Second Eurasian Media Forum to be held in Almaty from 24-26 April, 13 opposition journalists and four members of the NGO Journalists in Adversity noted that the Kazakh leadership has systematically suppressed freedom of the press, for which it has been criticized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the European Parliament, and the U.S. Congress. The statement was posted on the opposition website forumkz.org. Consequently, the statement said, participants in the forum will have no opportunity to obtain comprehensive information about the situation of the media in Kazakhstan. The authors suggested that the aim of the organizers of the forum -- who include President Nursultan Nazarbaev's daughter, Dariga Nazarbaeva -- was to promote their image as "friends of the world press" and thus to counter criticism from international media watchdogs. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April)
FREE PRESS ADVOCATES FORM NEW CENTER. Leaders of the Adil Soz international foundation on protection of freedom of speech held a press conference in Almaty on 23 April, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Foundation President Tamara Kaleeva told journalists that a special public center for media-related issues has been established as a joint project of Adil Soz and the OSCE office in Almaty. CC
KYRGYZSTANMEDIA ASKED TO ILLUMINATE ISLAM. Kyrgyz authorities are bolstering their efforts to counter the growing influence of the extremist Islamic movement Hizb ut-Tahrir, khabar.kz reported on 22 April. First Deputy Prime Minister Kurmanbek Osmonov addressed a meeting of the Osh Oblast administration that day, focusing on the allegedly illegal nature of Hizb ut-Tahrir's activities. He called on the media to disseminate information on religious topics, particularly on traditional Islam. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April)
LITHUANIANATIONAL RADIO AND TV APPOINTS NEW GENERAL DIRECTOR. The Council of Lithuanian National Radio and Television (LRT) on 2 April appointed Kestutis Petrauskis as its new general director for a five-year term, "Kauno diena" reported the next day. Petrauskis, 39, served almost two years as the director of Lithuanian Radio and was appointed acting LRT general director after Valentinas Milaknis resigned in early March. He pledged to continue the reforms Milaknis began, although it was clear that parliamentary Education, Science, and Culture Committee Chairman Rolandas Pavilionis, whom Milaknis had named as his main reason for resigning, opposed Petrauskis's selection. ("RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 18 April)
POLANDBOARD MEMBERS RESIGN TO PROTEST POLITICIZATION AT POLISH TELEVISION. Anna Popowicz and Andrzej Liberadzki have resigned their seats on the Polish Television Supervisory Board to protest voting in which a majority blocked changes the two believe would depoliticize public television, PAP reported on 17 April. The impetus for the resignation was the rejection on 16 April of their motion to suspend Polish Television Chairman Robert Kwiatkowski. The suspension has twice been requested by the Sejm's ad hoc commission that is currently examining the "Rywingate" media-bribery case. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April)
RUSSIATELEVISION STATION CO-OWNER SHOT DEAD IN MURMANSK. Murmansk television station co-owner Dmitrii Shvets was shot dead in front of his station's office on 18 April, RSF reported on 21 April. RSF called for an immediate investigation into the killing. The unknown assailant fled after firing three shots at Shvets and dropping his weapon at the scene, according to the report. Shvets, 37, was co-owner and deputy managing director of TV-21, which he helped to launch as the region's first independent station in 1990. Shvets, who also owned local stores and a night club, was also a political adviser to Murmansk Oblast Governor Yurii Yevdokimov. The station's co-owner, Moscow-based Prof-Media, said that Shvets was a key element in the station's popularity. TV-21 recently aired material critical of the municipal administration and candidates in upcoming municipal elections, according to RSF. Station journalists reported receiving verbal threats from mayoral candidate Andrei Gorshkov, who said he would sue if the station broadcast material that he considered unflattering. On 14 March, the local journalists' union condemned Gorshkov's threat and the local prosecutor is reportedly looking into the matter. CC
TVS ENTERS NEW PHASE OF UNCERTAINTY. In compliance with a court order, the Media Ministry on 22 April rescinded its order suspending the license of the Moscow Independent Broadcasting Company (MNVK), which owns the TV-6 television channel, Interfax reported. The court had ruled that the ministry's earlier ruling to shut down TV-6 was invalid. Media-Sotsium, which runs TVS, won the tender to broadcast on the sixth channel after the MNVK license was suspended. Commenting on the decision, Union of Journalists Secretary Mikhail Fedotov said it is hardly realistic to try to revive TV-6, polit.ru reported. However, the website concluded that while it might be impossible to restore one channel, it is possible to turn off the other -- TVS. After all, the website concluded, the government needs to control the media before the election as never before, and closing TVS would suit such a purpose. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April)
CHECHNYA, IRAQ DOMINATE RUSSIAN PUBLICATIONS. Between 20 March and 16 April, 3,880 articles about events in Iraq and 1,423 about Chechnya were run in 704 Russian regional publications, Oleg Panfilov wrote in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 April. The word "aggression" was used in 606 of the articles about Iraq, and 60 referred to "occupation." In the articles about Chechnya, 76 referred to "aggression" and nine to "occupation," Panfilov observed. In the Moscow-based print media, 4,316 articles used the word "war" to refer to Iraq, while 777 articles referred to "war" in Chechnya, Panfilov wrote. CC
TYCOON AND RADICAL LEFT EDITOR ISSUE JOINT STATEMENT. In a joint statement sent to the editors of lenta.ru, self-exiled businessman Boris Berezovskii and "Zavtra" Editor in Chief Aleksandr Prokhanov asserted that the responsibility for the 17 April slaying of Duma Deputy and Liberal Russia party co-Chairman Sergei Yushenkov (independent) lies with Russian authorities. "Professional cynics have already tried to speculate about his death, but who, besides the authorities, could eliminate a modest, irreconcilable person of the opposition? A person, who never engaged in business and was guided by nothing other than his own views and his own conscience," the statement said. Also on 22 April, Berezovskii sent documents to the Prosecutor-General's Office that he promised would shed light on the case. Deputy Prosecutor-General Kolesnikov on 23 April said his office has received nothing from Berezovskii and added that "if Berezovskii is fighting injustice, let him come openly to talk with us in the company of any number of lawyers," RosBalt reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April)
TATAR NATIONALIST LOSES APPEAL, CLAIMS POLITICAL PERSECUTION. Tatarstan's Supreme Court rejected the appeal of Rafis Kashapov, leader of the Tatar Public Center branch in Chally, who was arrested on 25 March, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 11 April. The Supreme Court left the ruling of the lower Chally City Court unchanged; that court ruled that leaflets found in Kashapov's apartment incited interethnic and interconfessional discord by featuring negative assessments of the Russian people and Russian Orthodoxy. Police searched Kashapov's residence during the investigation of an act of vandalism at the construction site of St. Tatyana's church in Chally last October. Kashapov told "Vremya novostei" last month that there were political motives behind his arrest. The deputy head of the Chally center, Geptrakhman Jeleletdinov, told RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service on 25 March that the action against Kashapov and his brother, who was also arrested, must have been ordered "from above" and is a result of several years' "political persecution" by prosecutors with the support by the Chally administration. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April)
MORE OPTIONS FOR RUSSIAN TV VIEWERS IN U.S. For more than a decade, the Russian Media Group (RMG) has been transmitting Russian-language broadcasts in the United States, "The New York Daily News" reported on 20 April. RMG announced in mid-April that it has become the sole distributor of RTR-Planeta, the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company's (VGTRK) international television channel. VGTRK has two national television stations, Kultura and RTR, and 89 affiliated stations whose programming is available to RTR-Planeta subscribers. CC
SERBIA AND MONTENEGROOSCE MISSION WELCOMES ADOPTION OF PUBLIC INFORMATION ACT. On 23 April, the head of the OSCE Mission to Serbia and Montenegro, Ambassador Maurizio Massari, "warmly congratulated" the Serbian parliament and government on the adoption of the Public Information Act, according to an OSCE press release (http://www.osce.org/news). The new act is a legal text that successfully balances freedom of expression, prohibition of censorship, responsibility in the domain of public information, a ban on monopoly, free access to information, special rights for journalists to pursue their profession, and protection of privacy, the statement said. Massari appealed to the authorities to complete the reform process, including the rapid passage of other media legislation, including the pending bill on access to information and a telecommunications bill. CC
IFJ ASKS PARLIAMENT TO RECONSIDER APPOINTMENTS TO BROADCAST AGENCY COUNCIL. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) on 23 April supported journalists' groups in Serbia that are protesting alleged "irregularities" in the National Assembly appointments to the Broadcast Agency Council. The Broadcast Act provides that the parliament should publish at least 30 days in advance of the day of selection of council members all lists of nominees. The Serbian parliament elected eight members on 11 April, but one nomination was published only three days before and another was announced on the day of the election. The IFJ asked the Serbian parliament to reconsider the nominations of the two candidates to the Broadcast Agency Council. CC
TURKMENISTANAUTHORITIES CLAMP DOWN ON INTERNET USE. Turkmen authorities continue to exercise strict control over Internet access, and the country has just one Internet provider, the state-run Turkmentelekom, Forum 18 news service reported on 22 April. Forum 18 has been informed that, in the crackdown after the purported assassination attempt on President Saparmurat Niyazov in November, all Internet cafes were closed. Almost all nonofficial Turkmen websites have also been shut down. By relying on special computer programs that seek out "code words," Turkmen authorities are successfully controlling private Internet correspondence. Even a private letter employing religious terminology will probably not reach its addressee, Forum 18 reported. CC
UZBEKISTANGOVERNMENT HAS LIBERAL VIEWS ON ACCESS TO FOREIGN RELIGIOUS WEBSITES. In Uzbekistan, only a small segment of the Westernized (and usually secularized) intelligentsia regularly uses the Internet and the Uzbek government may believe that Internet access to religious literature is beyond the reach of the country's ordinary believer, the Forum 18 news service reported on 22 April. Internet users in Uzbekistan can obtain almost any information on religion, including news about the persecution of believers. Uzbekistan does bar access to the London-based website of Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir, though not to its Pakistan-related site, according to Forum 18. In several Uzbek Internet cafes, there was the notice: "Viewing of religious and pornographic sites is forbidden," but cafe owners told Forum 18 that they had put up these announcements to protect themselves against the authorities. CC
REGIONALLIMITED CENSORSHIP OF RELIGIOUS WEBSITES IN CENTRAL ASIA. Most Central Asian governments have enacted only limited censorship over access to religious websites based outside the region, Forum 18 reported on 22 April. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan seem to be free of such censorship, while Internet access in Turkmenistan is tightly controlled. In Uzbekistan, only the London-based website of the Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir is barred. Otherwise, foreign information on religion seems readily accessible on the Internet. But with low Internet use in Central Asia and a population too poor to afford access to the Internet, Central Asian governments might believe they do not need to impose censorship on religious materials on the Internet. CC
MEDIA AND POLITICS INSEPARABLE IN CENTRAL ASIA. The speakers at a recent RFE/RL conference entitled "Media Challenges in Central Asia" agreed that the state of the media cannot be assessed without reference to political realities, according to an RFE/RL press release on 17 April. The conference revealed that Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, as well as Afghanistan, are still at the very beginning of the path toward a free press. "Not one of [the countries of Central Asia] is a democracy," noted RFE/RL President Thomas Dine. "Not one of them has a free press, and not one of them is building a genuine market economy, nor even prospering.... It is therefore incumbent upon us, as people who care about democracy, to pay attention." OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Freimut Duve echoed Dine's comments concerning the media. "I am extremely critical about the structure of free media in these countries," Duve said. "I have great respect for [journalists'] courage if they do something against the power structure. And the power structure is former leading communist dictators that have taken over democracy.... We are entering a phase of feudalism." CC
NEW PUBLICATIONS AND WEBSITESNEW STUDY OF MINORITY-LANGUAGE BROADCASTS. A policy paper entitled "Media Legislation, Minority Issues, and Implications for Latvia" has been published, providing a comparative overview of law and practice in the sphere of minority-language broadcasting in Latvia. See http://www.policy.hu/raihman/PolicyPaper.htm. CC
CONFERENCES AND WORKSHOPSMEDIA GROUP OFFERS COURSES FOR BROADCASTERS IN SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO. The Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM), an association of radio and television stations in Serbia and Montenegro, has announced its training schedule for the rest of 2003. See http://www.anem.org.yu/eng. CC
TRAINING PROGRAM IN AFGHANISTAN. On 20 April, six students completed the first module of a six-month radio-journalism program offered by RFE/RL in Kabul, according to an RFE/RL press release on 21 April. This program is part of a U.S. Congress-funded effort to train young Afghans for that country's radio market. Since about 90 percent of the Afghan population cannot read and very few can afford televisions, radio is the country's primary information source. This year's program will train a total of 24 journalists not affiliated with RFE/RL. CC
AWARDSBAYEUX WAR CORRESPONDENT AWARD. War correspondents, independent journalists, and photographers are invited to apply by 15 June for the Bayeux War Correspondent Award. See http://www.prixbayeux.org. CC
END NOTETURKMEN MEDIA DEVOTED TO THE INTEREST OF THE STATE AND ITS LEADER
By Naz Nazar
Among all the countries of the former Soviet Union, Turkmenistan has the most repressive climate for journalists. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) placed Turkmenistan among the worst -- on a par with North Korea, China, and Burma -- on its 2002 worldwide index on media freedom. The near-total lack of media freedom in Turkmenistan is unique in the post-Soviet space and is simply one reflection of the increasingly dictatorial policies of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov.
While the Turkmen Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and of the press, in practice the government does not tolerate political dissent or freedom of expression. No law establishing media freedom exists in Turkmenistan. The constitution states, "Citizens have the right to freedom of expression and also to obtain information unless it is a state, official, or commercial secret." However, people who express views critical of or at variance with the positions of the government risk arrest on criminal charges.
In democratic countries, the role of the media should be to report information as objectively as possible and to inform the citizenry about developments both within their country and abroad. Turkmenistan, however, is a country with total censorship, where the role of the media has been reduced to glorifying Niyazov, around whom a cult of personality has arisen that exceeds even the Soviet-era worship of Lenin and Stalin.
In one observer's words, Turkmen newspapers look like a promotional campaign for Niyazov and state-run television has been turned into Niyazov's personal program. Every issue of every newspaper carries the oath of loyalty to Niyazov, and his head appears continuously on the upper-right corner of the television screen.
Almost all print media is funded by the government, and there are no private or opposition media. Niyazov is the formal founder of all state-owned newspapers, and he personally appoints all editors who, in turn, must report to him, in addition to reporting for him. The evening news on state television must be approved by the president's office before it can be broadcast.
This draconian media policy has two main objectives. The first is to limit information provided by the media to the local population both about developments within the country and about developments abroad, in order to promote the myth of the president as a wise, enlightened, benevolent ruler who is profoundly respected by his counterparts abroad. The second is to restrict the amount of information about developments in Turkmenistan that is disseminated abroad and that could filter back into the country, thereby undermining that carefully crafted myth.
In order to achieve the first objective, state control over print and broadcast media is virtually absolute, and criticism of the president and his policies is taboo. Critical remarks in speeches by visiting state leaders are carefully cut out of the text by censors at the Turkmen State News Agency before the speeches are broadcast on Turkmen state television. The content of broadcast programming and newspapers consist almost exclusively of reports on the president's activities and extracts from his book "Rukhnama," which is a discourse on Turkmen history and the national character as Niyazov sees it.
The government also maintains a strict monopoly over the Internet. In 2001, the Communications Ministry stripped private Internet providers of their licenses. This move has left the state-owned Turkmentelecom as the monopoly provider of Internet services. Private Internet providers were serving about 1,000 clients in Ashgabat, while Turkmentelecom had about 100 subscribers. Electronic mail is believed to be routinely intercepted by the security services, which thus controls and blocks the flow of information. The list of blocked Internet sites grows every week, and opposition sites cannot be accessed.
There is a tough Internet-user application procedure, and many people simply cannot afford to buy computers or pay the monthly access fees.
The only reliable information sources that the people in Turkmenistan have are those they can get from abroad. Russian and other foreign newspapers are no longer allowed, however. Subscribing to foreign newspapers has been complicated by state-imposed formalities and subscription fees payable in foreign currency. Only a handful of five-star hotels in Ashgabat that cater to foreigners stock some foreign newspapers in limited numbers. At border crossings, written materials are checked, and anything potentially damaging to the government is confiscated.
Television and radio programs from Russia are scrutinized and censored and are broadcast only after a 24-hour delay. Lately, programs from Russia have been reduced to children's cartoons and entertainment shows with occasional interruptions in transmission.
Satellite-dish antennas are also a problem for the Turkmen government, but they apparently are still tolerated in some places. In urban areas, if people can afford $150 to buy a satellite dish, they can watch Russia's ORT, RTR, and NTV and some Eurasian and Turkish channels.
In order to further restrict the public's access to foreign media, the Turkmen authorities disconnected the cable network following transmission of a Russian television program that was highly critical of Turkmenistan. Cable television was one of the country's few independent sources of information and proved popular, as it allowed viewers to tune in relatively cheaply.
Russia's Radio Mayak is retransmitted in Turkmenistan, and people can listen to it on their car radios, but it has no specific programs for Turkmen audiences. The only international broadcasting to Turkmenistan in Turkmen is RFE/RL's Turkmen Service.
The political climate has deteriorated since the purported attempt to assassinate Niyazov on 25 November 2002, and this deterioration has been reflected in the vicious media coverage of the trials of people arrested on suspicion of complicity in the attack. OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Freimut Duve has compared these trials with the Stalin-era show trials. Turkmen state television used the most primitive and obscene language to describe the accused and showed crowds calling for them and members of their families to be put to death.
A controversial law on treason adopted in February is so vaguely worded that almost any Turkmen citizen could be accused of treason and jailed for life. Although this legislation is not purely a media issue, it has an impact on the media in that even fewer people are now willing to speak openly. Many journalists are afraid of imprisonment, torture, intimidation, and persecution and have either found a compromise with the government or they have abandoned careers in journalism or fled the country. Journalists can write freely only in foreign publications under pseudonyms.
In December, a person who had given an interview to an RFE/RL Turkmen Service correspondent in Ashgabat was detained by authorities, and although he begged the authorities for clemency and explicitly denied that he had criticized Niyazov personally, he was locked in a psychological hospital for two months.
As for the second objective -- limiting the amount of reporting on Turkmenistan by foreign journalists -- the government requires that all foreign correspondents be accredited. The accreditation of some international correspondents has not been renewed in the past two years. RFE/RL's correspondents' applications for registration have been routinely turned down. Now the accreditation procedure is more complicated because it requires clearance from not only the Foreign Ministry and the presidential press service, but also from the National Security Ministry.
As part of the regime's isolationist policy, visa-application procedures for foreign journalists have been further tightened since the alleged attempt on President Niyazov's life. At state border-crossing points there is a long list of foreign journalists who are not allowed to enter Turkmenistan. Once a journalist is in the country, he or she will be questioned by the authorities concerned about the visit's purpose and duration. The journalist is allowed to leave the capital city only with special official permission and in the company of a National Security Ministry official.
Obstacles are often created to prevent foreign journalists from interviewing officials, and the government routinely ignores foreign journalists' attempts to pose questions at press conferences. Government officials are also reluctant to answer questions from foreign journalists over the telephone. When RFE/RL's Turkmen Service calls ministries in Ashgabat, whoever answers promptly hangs up as soon as Radio Liberty is mentioned.
As Ambassador Duve's staff has demonstrated in its report on the media in Turkmenistan, the situation has deteriorated markedly in recent years. As long as Niyazov remains in power, a shift toward liberalization in Turkmenistan's official media policy is highly unlikely, to say the least.
Naz Nazar is the director of RFE/RL's Turkmen Service.