11 July 2003, Volume 3, Number 26
AFGHANISTANINTERNATIONAL PRESS CENTER OPENS IN KABUL. Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai on 6 July inaugurated the International Press Center (IPC) in Kabul, according to Afghan Deputy Information and Culture Minister Abdul Hamid Mobarez, Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported the next day. Mobarez said the IPC will be used as a venue for press conferences and other media activities. The IPC will be administered by a six-member board, two from the Afghan government, two independent Afghan journalists, and two representatives of foreign journalists working in Afghanistan, Radio Afghanistan reported on 7 July. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July)
AZERBAIJANJOURNALIST PENALIZED FOR REQUESTING INFORMATION. On 7 July, Rauf Mirgadirov, a senior journalist from the daily "Zerkalo," was found guilty of hooliganism and fined by a Baku court, Internews Azerbaijan reported two days later. Mirgadirov reportedly asked the Baku mayor for the name of the contractor in charge of the repair of a Baku highway. After that, the mayor's staff called the police. Police officers, using force, took Mirgadirov to a police station where he was detained on charges of hooliganism.
BELARUSAUTHORITIES CLOSE IREX OFFICES. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has notified the Minsk office of the Washington-based International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) of its decision to deny IREX an extension on its accreditation, which expires on 7 August, Belapan reported on 9 July. The news agency was quoting an 8 July statement issued by IREX. Officials cited irregularities discovered by the State Control Committee during its inspection of the office's activities. Belarusian cabinet ministers also struck IREX off their list of government-approved U.S. assistance programs, the ministry said. The government removed IREX from the list without explanation, according to IREX representatives. The State Control Committee's findings are "wrong in their facts and wrong as a matter of law," the IREX statement charged. IREX said the ministry's decision was politically motivated and added that it should be regarded as a continuation of the government's policy of restricting access to independent and unbiased information in Belarus. IREX is a nonprofit group "specializing in higher education, independent media, Internet development, and civil-society programs" in the United States and abroad, according to its website (http://www.irex.org). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July)
MINSK MOVES AGAINST NTV FOR COVERAGE OF WRITER'S FUNERAL. On 10 July, the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) denounced the Belarusian government's closure of the Minsk office of Russian television station NTV on 8 July for allegedly slandering the government. On 27 June, the Foreign Ministry asked Pavel Selin, an Minsk-based NTV reporter, to explain his 25 June report on the funeral of late writer, Vasil Bykau (also known by his Russian name Bykov), in which he said that police had obstructed the 20,000-strong funeral procession and that the Minsk residency permit of Bykau's widow had been revoked. His report also highlighted the presence of the banned red and white Belarusian flag, now viewed as a symbol of resistance to the regime. Selin was deported on 28 June for his allegedly "biased" coverage of the funeral. The Foreign Ministry warned the station it would be banned from working in Belarus if it did not apologize on the air for its coverage of the funeral. Selin said that the Belarusian authorities were also angered over his interview with Stanislau Shushkevich, Belarus's first postindependence leader. Shushkevich said Lukashenka had been "afraid to attend the funeral." CC
INDEPENDENT PRESS IN DANGER OF 'ANNIHILATION.' Olga Tarasov of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) told an RFE/RL audience in Washington, D.C. on 2 July that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has over the last month "escalated a crackdown on the non-state media of unprecedented proportions." Tarasov, a CPJ research associate covering Europe and Central Asia, said that this most recent campaign against the independent press, which began during the September 2001 presidential election campaign and has intensified since May 2003, "threatens to annihilate the country's few remaining independent voices" and "leave the public stranded in an information vacuum." She urged Western institutions to come to the aid of the independent press in Belarus by providing financial, as well as political support. Lukashenka's regime is using both criminal libel laws and financial pressure to force the closure of newspapers and other media, Tarasov said, along with corrective labor and excessive fines to punish journalists found guilty of libel. She said that she believes that some independent publications could be revived if they had the money to reopen because there are journalists and editors willing to challenge the regime's censorship. A few months ago, Lukashenka called for creating a "state ideology system" utilizing an "ideology vertical" to protect Belarusian society from "internal foes and external threats," said Tarasov. According to Tarasov, the government is at work drafting "an even more repressive new mass media law," to implement Lukashenka's strategy. The draft law calls for total state control over the media, stricter punishments for journalists and editors, and restrictions on the Internet, she said. Tarasov said that in the last month the publication of several newspapers had been suspended, including the Minsk-based daily "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta." Under the current mass media law the government can move against a publication after three warnings. Tarasov said that these suspensions will eventually close down the independent press because the newspapers will suffer from lost revenue. (RFE/RL press briefing: "Belarus's Independent Press in Danger of 'Annihilation,'" 9 July)
GEORGIAPROMINENT JOURNALIST'S MURDERER SENTENCED. A Tbilisi District Court handed down a 13-year prison sentence -- as demanded by the prosecution -- to Grigol Khurtsilava, who has confessed to killing prominent journalist Giorgi Sanaya two years ago, Georgian media reported on 9 July. Khurtsilava said he shot Sanaya after the latter made sexual advances toward him. Sanaya's widow, Khatuna Chkheidze, dismissed Khurtsilava's trial as "a farce," and claimed that her husband was murdered by an unknown person because of his investigative journalism. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July)
IRANDETAINED CANADIAN JOURNALIST REPORTEDLY IN COMA... The Iranian government has agreed to permit an independent physician to examine Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, "The Toronto Star" reported on 10 July. Her son said Kazemi is in a coma and shows signs of having been severely beaten after being taken into custody last month and accused of espionage. Kazemi's family said she was taken into custody on 23 June after photographing Evin Prison. Canadian Foreign Ministry spokesman Reynald Doiron said that as of 9 July the Iranian government had not responded to an official demand for an explanation. Canadian officials who went to Baghiatollah Hospital in Tehran were only allowed to view Kazemi through a plate-glass window, "The Globe and Mail" reported on 9 July. "We couldn't tell whether she was just plain unconscious, or in a coma, or sleeping," Doiron said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July)
...CJFE MOURNS KAZEMI, DEMANDS PROSECUTION. On 11 July, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) called on the Iranian government to punish those responsible for murdering Kazemi, after receiving news that the journalist was brain-dead. Kazemi, 54, a Canadian citizen born in Iran, was arrested late last month while taking photos of a prison in Tehran where protesters were held after a series of student demonstrations in June. While in custody, she suffered a brain hemorrhage. Doctors in Tehran have advised Canadian diplomats she will not recover. Canadian diplomats, allowed earlier this month to observe the unconscious Kazemi only from a distance, were unable to ascertain the source of her injuries. Others, including her family in Canada, charge she was beaten by her interrogators. The Iranian government has remained silent on the case. CJFE welcomed the 10 July announcement that the Canadian government had convened a meeting with Iran's ambassador to Canada to ask for an explanation. CC
HUNGER-STRIKING WIFE OF JAILED JOURNALIST HOSPITALIZED. Soheila Hamidnia, the wife of journalist Mohsen Sazgara, was hospitalized on 27 June, the "Hambastegi" daily newspaper reported on 28 June. An anonymous source said her hospitalization was the result of her hunger strike and the mental stress brought about by the jailing of her husband and her son, Vahid. Hamidnia had just visited the Prosecutor's Office at Evin Prison to inquire about her family members when she was told that she must report back to the prison in 48 hours, "Iran Daily" reported on 28 June. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 July)
REGIME IMPOSES NEWS BLACKOUT. As of 7:30 a.m. Tehran time on 10 July, domestic Iranian broadcasting carried no news of the previous night's events. Moreover, the broadcasts of Los Angeles-based Persian-language satellite-television stations, such as Pars TV, Channel 1 TV, NITV, and Azadi TV, were being jammed and could not be received in Iran. Mobile-telephone service in parts of Tehran allegedly was shut down, too. The websites of the news agencies ISNA, Baztab, Mehr, and Fars were not updated during the night, and although it was updated regularly the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) carried no news about the unrest. The reformist Iranian print media complained that it was acting on a government directive that forbade reporting about the events of the previous day. A 10 July editorial in "Yas-i No" apologized because it could not mention "a single word about the 9 July anniversary of that regrettable and criminal event." It said that "every reference to 9 July, except the date of publication, had to be removed because of the imposed restrictions." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July)
IRAQIFJ: BAGHDAD 'STILL DEADLY WAR ZONE' FOR JOURNALISTS. On 7 July, the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), warned that Baghdad is "still a deadly war zone where no journalist's safety can be guaranteed," after a weekend in which Richard Wild, a British freelance reporter, was shot and killed and Jeremy Little, an Australian TV soundman, died of wounds he received in a grenade attack a week ago. On 5 July, Wild was killed by a single bullet fired into his head at close range as he stood in a crowd. The assailant fled into the crowd and was not apprehended. Wild is the first journalist killed in the attacks that have recently plagued coalition forces in Iraq. He had sold footage to Britain's ITN television news, Channel 4, and Channel 5. Little, a 27-year-old soundman who worked for the U.S. network NBC, died on 6 July from injuries sustained after a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at the car in which he was travelling. He was attached as an embedded media staffer to the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division in the town of Al-Falluja. Their deaths bring the official media death toll of the war in Iraq to 19 journalists and media workers killed, with two journalists still missing. For a full list of media victims in the war in Iraq see the IFJ website: http://www.ifj.org/ CC
IRAQI AUTHORITY LAUNCHES WEBSITE. The U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) that is administering postwar Iraq has launched a website (http://www.cpa-iraq.org). The website carries transcripts of speeches by CPA administrator L. Paul Bremer and other officials, fact sheets on Iraqi ministries, public-service announcements, press releases, and official documents such as regulations and orders issued by the CPA. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July)
KAZAKHSTANPARLIAMENTARIANS CALL FOR OPENNESS ON 'KAZAKHGATE.' Three influential Kazakh parliamentarians -- Communist Party leader Serikbolsyn Abdildin, Vladislav Kosarev, and Tolen Tokhtasynov -- have written a letter to Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, calling on him to reveal the names of the high-level Kazakh functionaries allegedly involved in the bribery scandal known as "Kazakhgate," because the affair is damaging the image of the country at home and abroad, respublika.kz reported on 4 July. Tokhtasynov read the letter to the joint session of parliament held that day. Its authors point out that no official Kazakh media outlet has explained the affair, although the independent media are publishing a great deal about it and the entire country is aware of the affair. He noted that recently Nazarbaev had told London's "Financial Times" that former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin was involved in Kazakhgate. The parliamentarians added that the people of Kazakhstan would also like to know if the country will be able to recover the large sums that are believed to be sequestered in Western banks. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July)
KYRGYZSTANROUNDTABLE CALLS FOR END TO CRIMINAL LIBEL. Some of Kyrgyzstan's civil society activists have drafted a resolution based on discussions at a 3 July roundtable, at which officials and activists explored ways to work together to promote political and social stability, akipress.org reported on 7 July. The resolution includes a call for a moratorium on criminal libel cases filed by government functionaries against media outlets and journalists and that real measures -- via the media and civil society -- should be taken against corruption. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July)
POLAND'RYWINGATE' COMMISSION SEEKING TO QUESTION PROSECUTORS. The parliamentary commission probing what has been dubbed the "Rywingate" scandal wants to question prosecutors involved in the alleged bribery case, Polish Radio reported on 9 July. The commission presidium approved the proposal, the report added. Deputies Jan Rokita and Zbigniew Ziobro put forward the proposal following a 9 July report in the "Zycie Warszawy" daily suggesting that film producer Lew Rywin did not act alone. The daily, quoting prosecutor Wanda Marciniak, reported that there is pressure at the Justice Ministry to conclude the investigation as soon as possible. "If it is true that [Justice Minister and Prosecutor-General Grzegorz] Kurczuk dealt with Lew Rywin's case, this raises questions about the veracity of his statements before the investigative commission," Ziobro said. Kurczuk declared that he has not intervened in the probe. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July)
RUSSIAJOURNALIST KIDNAPPED IN INGUSHETIA. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) expressed grave concern about the safety of Ali Astamirov, a reporter for the AFP news agency, who was abducted on 4 July by unknown armed assailants in Ingushetia, according to sources in Russia. Astamirov, who had worked for Chechnya's Grozny Television, was based in Ingushetia's capital, Nazran. According to Reporters without Borders (RSF) on 7 July, the reporter has received several anonymous threatening phone calls in recent months. The journalist was kidnapped while he and two colleagues, humanitarian worker Ruslan Musayev and RFE/RL stringer Aslambek Dadayev, were driving through Nazran and stopped for gas. Armed and masked men forced Astamirov out of the car and, according to Dadayev, he was taken away and driven toward Chechnya. As of 7 July, Astamirov's fate remains unknown; neither Astamirov's family or AFP has been contacted. Michel Viateau, AFP's Moscow bureau chief, told CPJ that the kidnapping may be related to Astamirov's journalism, but could not give specific reasons. Russian law enforcement authorities launched a criminal investigation into the incident on 6 July, according to RSF. CC
DUMA DEPUTY, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST EULOGIZED AND BURIED... State Duma Deputy and journalist Yurii Shchekochikhin (Yabloko), who died on the night of 2-3 July, was buried on 5 July at the so-called writers' cemetery in the Moscow Oblast village of Peredelkino, newsru.com reported. A memorial service was held that day at Moscow's Central Clinical Hospital, where Shchekochikhin was admitted on 23 June and where he died five days after slipping into a coma. Among those attending the service were former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, Yabloko leader Yavlinskii, and Deputy Duma Speaker Vladimir Lukin (Yabloko). Yavlinskii called Shchekochikhin's death "tragic and strange," while Lukin said the journalist died "suddenly under strange circumstances." "It seems to me that everyone, including the executive branch, should be vitally interested in seeing that the question that is hanging in the air be given a clear, distinct, complete, and unambiguous answer," Lukin added. "A nonanswer to that question is also an answer." Writing in "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 7 July, investigative reporter Aleksandr Khinshtein noted that while "hundreds of people" representing "all sorts" of professions and viewpoints attended Shchekochikhin's funeral, "only from the power structures -- the government, the presidential administration, even the Media Ministry -- there was no one." (RFE/RL Newsline, 7 July)
...WHILE MANY SUSPECT HE WAS POISONED... Shchekochikhin died after suffering what various media described as an "acute allergic reaction," the cause of which his doctors were unable to determine. Gazeta.ru on 4 July quoted Aleksandr Gurov, chairman of the State Duma's Security Committee, on which Shchekochikhin served as a deputy chairman, as saying that Shchekochikhin's condition had "advanced absolutely drastically, with catastrophically progressing speed," from peeling skin to "edemas of the respiratory system and brain." Friends of Shchekochikhin, who asked not to be identified, suggested he had been poisoned. Likewise, vesti.ru on 4 July cited rumors within Shchekochikhin's "inner circle" that he might have been poisoned by "people who knew about his allergies and other illnesses." Yabloko spokeswoman Yevgenia Dillendorf said that the results of an autopsy conducted on 4 July will be known in 10-30 days and "will show whether Shchekochikhin was poisoned," "The Moscow Times" reported on 7 July. "The suspicion that Shchekochikhin was poisoned is strengthening with each day," Aleksandr Khinshtein wrote in "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 7 July. Shchekochikhin suffered a slight stroke in April, but had recovered by the time he was hospitalized on 23 June, "The Moscow Times" reported on 4 July. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July)
...AND CITE THE THREATS HE RECEIVED... "The Moscow Times" on 4 July quoted Yabloko spokeswoman Dillendorf as saying that last year the Federal Protection Service provided Shchekochikhin's younger son, a medical student, with a bodyguard, apparently because of a threat connected to Shchekochikhin's journalistic investigations involving the Tri Kita case. In early 2002, the Prosecutor-General's Office launched a probe of the State Customs Committee after it allegedly violated procedures in investigating two Moscow furniture stores, Tri Kita and Grand, which had been accused of failing to pay millions of dollars in customs duties. The two outlets were reportedly co-owned by Yevgenii Zaostrovtsev, the father of Federal Security Service (FSB) General Yurii Zaostrovtsev, who heads the FSB's Economics Department and is a deputy to FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July)
...OVER INVESTIGATIONS INTO MAJOR CUSTOMS SCANDAL. Shchekochikhin wrote in the 18 February 2002 issue of "Novaya gazeta" that the Prosecutor-General's Office had closed down the investigation of Tri Kita and Grand after a criminal group paid $2 million to unidentified officials in that office. Yabloko Deputy Valerii Ostanin, who sat with Shchekochikhin on the Duma's Security Committee, told gazeta.ru on 4 July that Shchekochikhin had collected evidence implicating First Deputy Prosecutor-General Yurii Biryukov and Deputy Prosecutor-General Vasilii Kolmogorov in the Tri Kita scandal. "Novaya Gazeta" reported in its special edition on 7 July that Shchekochikhin had also obtained documents in Germany establishing "clear financial links" between the main figures in the Tri Kita scandal and those in the 1999 Bank of New York scandal. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July)
PASKO DENIED FOREIGN PASSPORT. On 9 July, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) expressed dismay that Moscow's visa and registration authorities (OVIR) have denied a foreign passport to journalist Grigory Pasko, who was released from prison in January after serving over two years in prison. Pasko told CPJ that on 8 July officials denied his application, submitted in March, on the grounds that he was released from prison in January before he had served his complete prison sentence. Pasko and his lawyer, who say there is no such provision in Russian law, have appealed the decision. Pasko was convicted of treason and sentenced to four years in prison on 25 December 2001 for planning to leak classified information to the Japanese media about the Russian Pacific Fleet's dumping of nuclear waste in the Sea of Japan. CC
MNVK WILL BE SOLD TO A CONSORTIUM. Igor Shabdurasulov, who represents the shareholders of the Moscow Independent Broadcasting Company (MNVK), announced on 7 July that an agreement-in-principle has been reached to sell the 75 percent stake in the company held by structures controlled by Boris Berezovskii to a consortium that includes advertising monopolist Video International, Vneshekonombank, Rosmediakom, Sberbank, and other companies, Interfax reported. Video International was founded by and maintains close ties to Media Minister Mikhail Lesin. State-owned Vneshekonombank holds more than $100 million in overdue debts owed by state-controlled ORT television. Shabdurasulov did not specify the terms under which the deal to sell the stake in MNVK, parent company of the now-defunct TV-6, might be concluded, but said the terms are "very complicated." The Media Ministry pulled the plug on TV-6 in early 2002 after one of MNVK's then-shareholders, the LUKOIL-Garant pension fund, successfully sued it. The license to broadcast over TV-6's frequency was then awarded to the Media-Sotsium noncommercial partnership, which set up TVS. In April, the Media Ministry, following a court ruling, rescinded its order suspending MNVK's broadcasting license. The Media Ministry shut down TVS in June, replacing it with state-owned Sport TV. Shabdurasulov said on 7 July that MNVK has officially handed its broadcasting license over to Sport TV. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July)
FEDERATION COUNCIL CHAIRMAN ADVOCATES STATE CONTROL OVER INFORMATION� Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov told journalists in Kaluga Oblast on 9 July that he considers it necessary to introduce government control over the flow of information, RBK reported. According to the agency, Mironov believes that a separate government structure should be created for this task. In Mironov's opinion, the federal airwaves carry too much news that doesn't have federal significance. On radio and television, there is "simply too much negative information, when in various regions of Russia there is much that is good," Mironov said. Mironov claimed that in the United States, strict limitations were placed on mass media outlets following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks there. However, if similar measures were adopted for the Russian media, then "a great deal of noise would be raised." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July)
...AS LEADING LIGHT IN COMMUNIST PARTY WANTS 'PATRIOTIC' TV CHANNEL. At a media forum in Moscow on 9 July, Communist Duma Deputy and co-Chairman of the National Patriotic Union of Russia Sergei Glazev called for left-patriotic forces to create their own television channel, at which journalists would be able to "work free from the pressure of oligarchic capital and bureaucratic commands," lenta.ru reported. He also expressed the hope that the "patriotic mood of entrepreneurs" will result in support for such a proposal. A number of analysts have predicted that Glazev will occupy one of the top three slots on the Communist Party's party list in the 7 December Duma elections. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July)
FSB EAVESDROPPING ON MOBILE PHONES. At the request of security officials, the Communications Ministry has asked Moscow's cellular-telephone operators to stop scrambling their signals in order to allow law enforcement officers to eavesdrop on mobile-phone conversations, RTR reported on 9 July. FSB agents have requested the measure as part of their investigation into the 5 July rock-concert bombing. According to investigators, the female suicide bombers in that attack spoke to someone by mobile phone seven times in the hours preceding the attack, apparently receiving instructions from an unknown accomplice. The Communications Ministry stressed that this is a temporary measure and is not likely to last more than 24 hours. The same step was taken in St. Petersburg in late May and early June in connection with the arrival of dozens of heads of state because of the celebration of that city's tercentennial. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July)
SERBIA AND MONTENEGROCONTROVERSIAL SERBIAN PRESS OFFICIAL QUITS. Vladimir "Beba" Popovic, who heads the Serbian government's Communications Department, submitted his resignation to the government on 5 July, to take effect in 10 days' time, "Vesti" reported. The government accepted the resignation, saying it had been agreed to in March, but did not name a successor, Beta reported. The exact reasons for Beba's move are not clear. He recently filed charges against several news organizations and journalists. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July)
BOMB DESTROYS CAR OF SERBIAN PUBLISHER. A bomb explosion in Belgrade on 6 July destroyed the Mercedes of Radisav Rodic, who publishes the often critical and sensationalist daily "Glas javnosti," dpa reported. Rodic was in a nearby restaurant at the time and was not injured. The explosion, for which no one has claimed responsibility, also destroyed a second car. It was not clear whether anyone was injured in the blast. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July)
MEDIA WATCHDOG CONDEMNS VIOLENCE AND THREATS AGAINST JOURNALISTS... The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO) -- a network of editors, media executives, and leading journalists in southeastern Europe, and an affiliate of the International Press Institute -- has expressed its deep concern about the media situation in Serbia. In a 10 July statement, SEEMO cited the 6 July car bomb attack on Rodic and urged the authorities to launch an immediate investigation. The statement also noted that the murders of journalists Slavko Curuvija and Milan Pantic in 1999 and 2001, respectively, are still unsolved. SEEMO said it was "appalled" by the behavior of some Serbian politicians, who have physically attacked journalists. Vladimir Jesic, a reporter for Novi Sad's Apolo TV, was attacked on 1 June by Velimir Ilic, the mayor of Cacak and leader of the New Serbia party. CC
...CALLS FOR NEW ELECTION OF SERBIAN BROADCAST COUNCIL... SEEMO noted "several irregularities" connected to the election of three Broadcasting Council members in Serbia, resulting in the resignation of two council members. SEEMO requested that the Serbian parliament repeat the procedure for the election of all nine members of the Broadcasting Council and that the council functions normally. CC
...DECRIES LIBEL LAWSUITS AGAINST THE MEDIA... According to the Independent Journalists Association of Serbia, there are 220 ongoing lawsuits against media and journalists in Serbia. Popovic, the former head of the Serbian government's Communications Department, has filed numerous such cases. SEEMO urged that libel and tort be reclassified as offenses under the civil, not criminal, code. CC
...QUESTIONS CERTAIN PUBLIC INFORMATION ACT PROVISIONS... SEEMO noted that the Serbian Public Information Act was adopted during the state of emergency called after the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, which curtailed civil rights, including the right to freedom of speech. According to SEEMO, politicians, however, adopted new articles without public discussion, particularly a provision regulating the banning of publications and a provision allowing the state to establish a news agency. These provisions should be reviewed, SEEMO said, and the Serbian government should urgently adopt legislation on freedom of information. CC
...AND URGES RAPID REFORM OF STATE MEDIA. The government should also urgently expedite the ownership transformation of state-owned media and create a telecommunications agency to allocate frequencies in order to balance the needs of local, regional, and national media, according to SEEMO. The Serbian government should also adopt laws to prevent media monopolies and ensure cross-media ownership to stimulate media pluralism. CC
SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO'S MEDIA SET UP NEW ORGANIZATION. Some 40 print and electronic-media organizations, including most of the major Serbian ones, founded the Alliance of Publishing Houses and Electronic Media of Serbia and Montenegro in Belgrade on 8 July to protect and expand the freedom of the press and the right of journalists to carry out their work without political interference, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. The alliance called on all other media organizations in Serbia and Montenegro to join it. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July)
TURKMENISTANFOREIGN MINISTRY ATTACKS RUSSIAN BROADCAST. The Turkmen Foreign Ministry has attacked the Russian media for seeking to sow distrust of a joint Russian-Turkmen commission that is trying to resolve the problems resulting from the revocation of dual citizenship, turkmenistan.ru reported on 8 July, quoting a ministry press release. The target of the ministry's wrath was a 6 July broadcast on Russia's RTR, that, according to the Turkmen Foreign Ministry, included gross misrepresentations of the situation in Turkmenistan. The ministry noted that it has repeatedly complained to Russian authorities about similar materials in the Russian media. The ministry claimed to have been particularly disturbed by the broadcast because it was shown just at the bilateral commission is beginning its work. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July)
UZBEKISTANPRESIDENT PROPOSES CENTRAL ASIAN INFORMATION INTEGRATION. Uzbek President Islam Karimov has proposed what he calls the "information integration" of the member states of the Central Asian Cooperation Organization (CACO), uzreport.com reported on 7 July. He told journalists that he raised the issue at the CACO meeting on 5 July, explaining that the Central Asian states lack information about one another. Karimov said that the CACO presidents agreed to organize the broadcasting of television programs about each other's countries, starting with two hours of such programming each week. Moreover, the CACO states are planning to launch a communications satellite that would serve the Central Asian region. Karimov was pointing out a problem that was quite noticeable in the Central Asian media in the early years of independence, but which has improved considerably with the development of independent media, at least in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July)
REGIONALFORMER RUSSIAN PREMIER SAYS CEAUSESCU REQUESTED SOVIET UNION'S HELP IN DECEMBER 1989. Romanian President Ion Iliescu on 3 July visited the Institute of International Relations in Moscow to launch the Russian-language version of his book "Romania -- Hope Reborn," Romanian Radio reported. The book primarily focuses on the events of 1989 that resulted in political transformation in Eastern and Central Europe and on the subsequent transition period. Former Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov praised Iliescu and his book and spoke about the events of December 1989 that led to the overturn of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's regime. In a surprise statement, Primakov, who was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in December 1989, said Ceausescu asked then-USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev to send Soviet troops to quell the revolt. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July)
U.S. ARRESTS IRAQI NEWSPAPER EDITOR IN CHICAGO. U.S. authorities arrested a Chicago-area newspaper editor on 9 July on charges that he worked as an unregistered agent of the Iraqi government under deposed President Saddam Hussein, "The Washington Post" reported on 10 July. Prosecutors said that Khalid Abd al-Latif Dumaysi, 60, produced bogus press passes for Iraqi intelligence agents and reported to Hussein's government on the activities of Iraqi opposition leaders in the United States. He also reportedly traveled to Iraq to attend birthday celebrations for the deposed leader and received thousands of dollars for his assistance. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said that while Dumaysi's actions did not constitute espionage against the United States, "Those who gather information in the United States about people living in America for the purpose of providing the information to hostile governments should understand that the FBI will pursue them vigorously. We cannot tolerate people doing that." Court documents related to a citizenship application filed by Dumaysi in December 2001 indicate that he holds Jordanian citizenship, according to "The Washington Post." His application for U.S. citizenship was denied due to a lack of proper documentation, the daily reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July)
END NOTEUN PROMOTES WIRELESS INTERNET FOR DEVELOPING WORLD
By Nikola Krastev
The United Nations is stepping up efforts to promote the wireless Internet, known as Wi-Fi, as an important emerging technology for developing nations. Many states lack the infrastructure and funds for traditional copper-based networks. Wi-Fi, on the other hand, provides an opportunity for them to bridge the digital divide. But so far, many of the developing nations are taking a conservative approach with regard to their Wi-Fi policies.
Hoping to bridge the so-called "digital divide," a number of public- and private-sector officials are promoting the wireless Internet for developing nations. At a UN conference in New York last week, many of the more than 200 participants agreed that the wireless Internet, or Wi-Fi, must become a priority for policymakers in the developing world. They cited its cost-effectiveness, worldwide standards, potential for growth, and its deregulated nature.
Sarbuland Khan, a former Pakistani diplomat, is the director of the division of support and coordination for the UN's Economic and Social Council. He spelled out the importance of Wi-Fi implementation. "Wi-Fi could possibly be, probably offers the opportunity of great equalizer, to try and deliver some of the content to the developing world which we are lacking at this point. If high-speed wireless access is available, then video streaming, distance education, health information, etc, will become much easier. The investment is not the same as it was in the fiber optics but it's still costly. And the cost of putting it up is not that much but the cost of operating it is probably a fair amount. We recognize that, so the challenge is to find a creative solution using multinationals, using foundations, using governments' capacity to try and build public-private partnership to try to achieve that," Khan said.
Wi-Fi transmitters use unlicensed sections of the radio-wave spectrum used to send any kind of data, which is then accessed by computers and other devices with infrared receiver ports.
Patrick Gelsinger, the chief technology officer at Intel Corporation, stressed in his address to the UN conference the advantages of Wi-Fi. "It's unlicensed, it's unregulated, its industry and worldwide standard, and it's delivering broadband Internet access. Those four attributes result in a very cost-effective technology that makes it uniquely valuable worldwide. We encourage nations, particularly developing nations, to take aggressive policy stances that enable this within their own countries. We see many of the actions of developing nations to be scarcity-mentality -- meaning to minimize the amount of unlicensed spectrum to maximize the regulatory position for a few dollars of regulation or licensing benefits. And that's exactly what's limiting the growth of this technology in emerging nations," Gelsinger said.
According to a recent report by Boston Consulting, an Internet research company, 30 new customers are subscribing each minute for Wi-Fi services in the United States. The technology is becoming ubiquitous in large urban areas and is embraced by young professionals and business executives.
Mohsen Khalil, the director of information and communication technologies at the World Bank, was another participant at the conference. He said that the real potential of Wi-Fi will be tested in the developing world where it is considered to be the most promising broadband Internet technology. "Why is wireless [technology] particularly of interest? Because it is very promising. We have experiences and data [in the developed world] that show that the advances that have been achieved in the wireless technology over the past 10 years or so are very dramatic, much more than has been achieved in the previous 50 years," Khalil said.
The UN Wi-Fi conference, the first major international gathering of its kind, aimed to spread awareness about the technology and spell out the challenges facing developing states. It was also seen as an opportunity for possible public-private partners to share views and work to develop broadband wireless Internet policies.
Amir Hasson, who is an executive in First Mile Solutions, a Wi-Fi provider in India, cited one example in which a bus shuttling between villages in India was equipped with the technology. Those villages where residents -- usually a small number -- had proper computers had instant access to the Internet. The project, he said, cost less than $300.
But Hasson also stressed the challenges of providing Wi-Fi to poor rural areas. "The hardware requirements for rural access devices, rural infrastructure need to be extremely rugged and able to sustain and withstand the kind of maintenance that may not be at equal levels to urban areas, [as well as] heat and other factors. The most significant challenge in implementing these [Wi-Fi] networks that I found in developing countries is [poor access] to the equipment required, in that you can get it but oftentimes you will pay 30 to 50 percent duties. You also have to give yourself three to four months lead time on ordering them because of holdups at customs offices," he said.
Summarizing the benefits of Wi-Fi technology for the developing world, Gelsinger of Intel said that his company is convinced that the time for copper networks is long over.
Gelsinger said it's time to end investments in copper infrastructure and instead to develop fiber-optic networks. Fiber is renewable, follows the advances in technology, and has the ability to deliver increasing amount of bandwidth, Gelsinger said.
"We are just stunned, as we go to developing nations, for their excitement with technology as providing a meal ticket to them, [allowing them to] become first-class world citizens. When you are on the Internet, I can't tell if you're in a hut outside of Beijing or if in fact you are in a high-rise in Manhattan. The anonymity, the global access allows the developing nations to be seen as first-world citizens in this exciting new interconnected world of the Internet. And that's what we think the [proper] spectrum policies will in fact allow," Gelsinger said.
The Wireless Internet Institute, the co-organizer of the UN conference, is an international think tank that brings wireless Internet stakeholders together to foster universal connectivity in support of economic, social, and educational development around the world.
Nikola Krastev is a New York-based RFE/RL correspondent.