28 June 2002, Volume 2, Number 26
ARMENIAOSCE ON MEDIA FREEDOM IN ARMENIA. On 20 June Freimut Duve, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) representative on freedom of speech, reported on media freedom to the OSCE Permanent Council. The section on Armenia makes three recommendations: First, the Armenian government should hold a new frequency tender, "preferably this summer," and that TV stations A1+ and Noyan Tapan "be encouraged to participate." Second, the Broadcast Law should be amended with the assistance of the Council of Europe and the OSCE. Third, the current draft Media Law should be "thoroughly analyzed by international experts" before final consideration by parliament. One Armenian NGO has noted that "if the government is allowed to get away with closing down A1+, it will then start pressuring the print media." In conclusion, Duve observed: "For the sake of Armenia and human rights in that country, I hope [the NGO activist's] pessimistic prediction will not become reality. And it is up to the authorities to prove him wrong." (Yerevan Press Club, 21 June)
THREE MORE RADIO AND TV FREQUENCIES ALLOCATED. In the second of a series of controversial tenders, the presidential commission on broadcasting on 25 June formally allocated frequencies to two television stations and one radio station, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. All three broadcasters acquired the frequencies they had used prior to the tender, and thus had their broadcasting licenses renewed for a further seven years. In the first such tender in April, the independent television station A1+, which is renowned for its hard-hitting but objective political coverage, lost its frequency to a station that intends to broadcast primarily entertainment. That station has not yet begun broadcasting, but its owner said on 21 June that it plans to do so by September, RFE/RL 's Yerevan bureau reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June)
AZERBAIJANA FISHY REPORT. On 19 June, the Azerbaijan National Security Ministry admitted that on 6 June it had disseminated a false report on the activities of the Caspian Fish company. Nevertheless, the ministry accused the media of distorting the reports. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 17-23 June)
BELARUSPRISON TERMS DEMANDED FOR JOURNALISTS ACCUSED OF LIBELING LUKASHENKA. A state prosecutor called for prison sentences of 2 1/2 years for Mikola Markevich and two years for Pavel Mazheyka during their trial in Hrodna on charges of libeling President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in the weekly "Pahonya" during the 2001 presidential-election campaign, Belapan reported on 19 June. Defense lawyers Syarhey Tsurko and Alyaksandr Birylau asked the court to acquit Markevich and Mazheyka, arguing that the incriminating article never reached readers since the entire print run of the issue that carried it was confiscated by police at the printing press. The lawyers insisted that what the prosecution claimed was a printout of an Internet version of the article could not be accepted as evidence because, they argued, the process of downloading it from the web was not properly witnessed or documented. They also pointed out that Belarusian law does not recognize the Internet as a mass medium. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June)
JOURNALISTS MAKE FINAL STATEMENTS AT LIBEL TRIAL IN HRODNA... Journalists Markevich and Mazheyka made their closing statements at their trial in Hrodna on 21 June, Belapan reported. Markevich and Mazheyka are accused of libeling President Lukashenka. Markevich compared the situation in today's Belarus with Stalin's political repression in 1937. Mazheyka said their trial is politically motivated. Both journalists denied they were guilty of libeling Lukashenka. "The Lukashenka regime is succumbing to truly ruthless methods in its campaign to annihilate independent journalism," the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists commented on the Hrodna trial. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June)
...AND ARE SENTENCED TO 'RESTRICTION OF FREEDOM'... A district court in Hrodna on 24 June sentenced Markevich to 2 1/2 years and Mazheyka to two years of "restriction of freedom," finding them guilty of libeling President Lukashenka during the 2001 presidential election campaign in their weekly "Pahonya," which was closed by a court verdict in November 2001, Belarusian and international media reported. The verdict means that the journalists will not be placed in a regular prison but will have to live in guarded barracks, work at a factory or on a collective farm, and return to the barracks each day at an appointed time. Both journalists said their punishment is politically motivated and that they plan to appeal. The trial, viewed by many as another step by the Lukashenka regime to destroy the independent media and curb the freedom of expression in the country, was attended by diplomats from the U.S., British, German, French, and Polish embassies in Belarus as well as OSCE representatives. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June)
...WHICH DRAWS FIRE FROM ABROAD... The 24 June conviction of Markevich and Mazheyka for libeling President Lukashenka during the 2001 presidential campaign has drawn international condemnation, Belapan reported the next day. The OSCE media representative, Freimut Duve, said on 26 June that "journalists should not be prosecuted in a criminal court for what they write." He added that such prosecution is unacceptable in any OSCE state. Marek Butko, first secretary of the Polish Embassy in Belarus, also condemned the verdict and the trial, saying: "I cannot imagine such a trial and such a sentence in [Poland]. This means the suppression of freedom of speech." The human rights organization Amnesty International said the journalists were prosecuted for "seeking the truth." In a statement released on 25 June, the organization said that "the sentencing of these journalists yet again revealed Belarus's inability to brook dissent and allow its small independent journalist community to give voice to widely shared concerns about the fate of a series of high-profile 'disappearances' in the country." Amnesty also urged the Belarusian government to ensure that it fulfils its obligations under a number of human rights treaties, especially those concerning freedom of expression. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June)
...AND ALSO AT HOME. About 15 members of the opposition United Civic Party protested the convictions of Markevich and Mazheyka outside the Minsk headquarters of President Lukashenka on 25 June, Belapan reported. Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka condemned the sentences as politically motivated, saying: "It was not the judge who made the decision. The decision was made here, in this building [Lukashenka's headquarters]." Lyabedzka added that Belarus is in danger of completely losing its independent media. In a 24 June statement, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee also condemned the sentences, saying it viewed the trial as "the illegal persecution of journalists for an attempt to criticize one of the candidates running for the presidency in the fall of 2001.... The course of the trial showed that the judge did not intend to observe the universally recognized principles of justice, such as independence, impartiality, openness, the rule of law, the presumption of innocence, unlimited access to legal counsel, etc." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June)
ANOTHER JOURNALIST AWAITS LIBEL TRIAL IN MINSK. Prosecutors in Minsk on 20 June charged Viktar Ivashkevich, the editor in chief of the independent newspaper "Rabochy," with defaming President Lukashenka, Belapan reported. If found guilty, Ivashkevich faces up to five years in prison. Ivashkevich's prosecution followed the publication of an article called "The Thief Should Be in Prison" during the 2001 presidential election campaign, which implicated Lukashenka and his entourage in economic crimes. The incriminating issue of "Rabochy" never reached the readership, as all copies were seized by police. Ivashkevich gave a written pledge not to leave Minsk. He told the prosecution that he does not consider himself guilty because everything in the article is true. "I think...that Belarus's leadership has begun stepping up repression and behaving according to the psychological pattern characteristic of a besieged fortress," Ivashkevich told Belapan, referring to the recent Belarusian-Russian spat over integration. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June)
BULGARIAOPPOSITION DECIDES TO STOP PUBLISHING DAILY. Former Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova, the chairwoman of the conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces, announced on 25 June that the party will stop publishing its daily "Demokratsiya," Bulgarian media reported. Mihailova said the newspaper lost about $1,000 per day and the party can no longer afford to publish it. "Demokratsiya," which is owned by the Democracy Foundation, was founded in 1990. In an open letter, Mihailova said that she will seek ways to publish "Demokratsiya" again. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June)
CROATIAJOURNALISTS PROTEST TV MANAGEMENT. Members of the Forum 21 association of electronic media journalists called for a review of the process by which editors are selected for Croatian Radio and Television (HRT), RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Zagreb on 21 June. The journalists stressed that one of the reasons for the poor state of affairs in HRT is that management does not respect its own rules in appointing editors. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June)
CZECH REPUBLICPOLICE INVESTIGATE BUGGING, HIDDEN CAMERAS AT CZECH TV. Police are investigating the discovery of hidden cameras and microphones at Czech Television studios, CTK reported on 26 June. Czech Television General Director Jiri Balvin admitted he ordered the surveillance, saying the move was necessary in order to investigate suspicion that private work is being done by journalists using the company's equipment. The Czech Television Independent Trade Union protested Balvin's conduct at a 26 June meeting of the Television Council. The unions' chairman, Antonin Dekoj, said the investigation by police was launched after the unions were advised by the Office for Data Protection and by the Prosecutor-General's Office to complain to police. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 June)
GEORGIAJOURNALISTS BEATEN DURING ELECTION CAMPAIGN. The Tbilisi-based NGO Freedom Institute held a news conference on 13 June on the situation of journalists during the 2 June municipal elections. Journalists Elga Poladishvili and Tamar Khoperiya, who covered the elections in the town of Bolnisi, told the press conference that they had been subjected to a beating on 2 June by the head of the Bolnisi administration. The two women intend to bring suit against their attackers. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 10-16 June)
NATIONAL-TV STAFF STRIKE. Some 100 employees of the first channel of Georgian Television began a strike on 26 June to protest what they termed the unfair personnel policy implemented by the channel's director Zaza Shengelia, Caucasus Press reported. They claimed that he fires employees of whom he disapproves and arbitrarily allocates widely varying salaries. A strike participant explained that journalists with the "Moambe" news program receive 700-800 laris ($317-362) per month, while others are paid a "pittance" of 30 laris. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 June)
CHECHEN JOURNALIST RELEASED. A Tbilisi district court on 25 June ordered the release of Chechen journalist Islam Saidaev and Georgian Zurab Khangoshvili, Caucasus Press reported. The two men were detained in late March on suspicion of maintaining contacts with members of Al-Qaeda. The court ruled that the prosecution had failed to produce any evidence of such contacts. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June)
HUNGARYPREMIER THREATENS TO SUE 'MAGYAR NEMZET' OVER NEW ALLEGATION. Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy said on 19 June that he intends to sue the daily "Magyar Nemzet" over yet another document it published on 19 June, which he claimed is "a forgery," Hungarian media and Reuters reported. The document was published on the front page, and "Magyar Hirlap" presented it as a 1976 list compiled by Medgyessy of people employed by the Finance Ministry and two other state-finance institutions suspected of being likely to engage in counterrevolutionary activities. Medgyessy said he received a copy of the document by fax a few months ago, adding that it was sent to him by a FIDESZ deputy who also asserted it was a forgery. "Those to whom nothing is dear, who forged the document and spread libels, should be ashamed of themselves," Medgyessy told the parliament. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June)
IRANPEN CENTERS CALL FOR RELEASE OF FOUR JAILED WRITERS AND TRANSLATORS. PEN Canada and PEN American Center on 25 June issued an urgent appeal for the release of three prominent writers -- film critic Siamak Pourzand, journalist Akbar Ganji and essayist Hojjateleslam Hassan Yousefi Eshkevari -- and translator Khalil Rostamkhani, currently imprisoned in Iran. At a joint press conference in Toronto that featured a leading Iranian writer on women's and legal issues and the former special representative of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Iran, PEN Canada also released the text of a resolution calling on the government of Canada to forcefully demonstrate its concern over the ongoing suppression of freedom of expression in Iran. Flanked by PEN Canada Founding President and Booker Prize-winning author Margaret Atwood and current President Reza Baraheni, Iranian writer and human rights lawyer Mehrangiz Kar spoke out publicly for the first time since her husband, jailed journalist and film critic Pourzand, 72, reportedly sent a message from prison urging his family to abandon its efforts on his behalf. In May of last year, Pourzand was sentenced to 11 years in prison; he reportedly has had a heart attack in detention. (PEN Canada/PEN American Center, 25 June)
KAZAKHSTANJOURNALIST CONVICTED IN PAVLODAR, BEATEN IN SHYMKENT. In the northern Kazakhstan city of Pavlodar, journalist Kanat Tusulbekov of the independent Irbis TV and radio company was sent to the city prison on 19 June. The previous day, the Pavlodar city court had sentenced him to two years in prison for hooliganism. During the trial, the journalist rejected the charges, saying that "the three victims" had beaten him up in police headquarters. Forensic medics found that Tusulbekov suffered from a concussion and two broken ribs. Meanwhile in the southern Kazakh city of Shymkent, four men beat up TV cameraman Bakhyt Tazhibaev, journalist Dinara Musaeva, and driver Konstantin Khan as they attempted to cover the story of a woman who had jumped out of a window. The attackers also tried to tear away the camera on the scene. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 17-23 June)
PAPERED OVER IN PAVLODAR? In effect, it is currently impossible to buy the paper "Delovoe Obozrenie-Respublika" in Pavlodar, according to local reports. Journalists of another paper, Pavlodar's "Novoye Vremya," claim that the owners of some kiosks refuse to put their paper on sale because they "do not want trouble." ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 17-23 June)
ROMANIAU.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION: 'STEP IN RIGHT DIRECTION.' U.S. Helsinki Commission co-Chairman Christopher Smith on 18 June commended the Romanian government for approving an emergency ordinance reducing the maximum prison terms for "defamation" or "insult or defamation" of civil servants, a commission press release said. Representative Smith called the decision to amend the Penal Code a "step in the right direction" but added that it is "unthinkable" that "more than 12 years after the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu" Romanians can still "be sentenced to prison for expressing their opinion about government officials." He said the ordinance's amendment "falls short of bringing Romania's Penal Code into compliance with freely undertaken international commitments." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June)
PARLIAMENT APPROVES NEW TELEVISION COUNCIL. A joint session of the Romanian parliament's two chambers on 25 June approved the new composition of the administrative council of Romanian television and appointed Valentin Nicolau as the new council's chairman, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The 42-year-old Nicolau is a former adviser to Premier Adrian Nastase and is a former director of the private Nemira publishing house. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June)
RUSSIAECO-JOURNALIST PASKO LOSES APPEAL... The Supreme Court's military collegium ruled on 25 June to uphold a lower court's sentence of four years in a maximum-security prison against a naval officer, military journalist, and environmental activist Grigorii Pasko, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Pasko was convicted by a military court last December of espionage on charges of passing classified information about the Russian Pacific Fleet to Japanese journalists; he is currently in a prison in Vladivostok. Pasko's attorneys said that they will continue to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court's presidium, and they will seek an early release, which is possible after a convict has served two-thirds of his sentence, Interfax reported. "The situation has become so far removed from the realm of the law that it is hard to predict what will happen next," Pasko's defense lawyer Ivan Pavlov told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in a telephone interview on 25 June. "We shall fight on, though the opportunities are becoming fewer. We shall not rest until Grigorii is free. This I can promise," Pavlov told CPJ. Pasko has been in police custody for two years, including his pretrial detention. Meanwhile, the first issue of "Ecology and the Law," whose chief editor is Pasko, has been issued, RFE/RL's St. Petersburg correspondent reported. The founders of the journal hope that it will help strengthen the legal basis of environmentalists' activities and expand the practice of defending citizens' ecological rights in courts, including the European Court of Human Rights. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June)
TV-STATION FOUNDER KILLED IN FAR EAST. The founder of the Vladivostok-based private television company, Novaya Volna, Oleg Sidinko, was killed by an explosive device in the entrance to his apartment on 25 June, Russian news agencies reported. Sidinko also owned a chain of movie theaters, and investigators' preliminary theory is that his murder was connected with his activities in that business, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June)
COURT ACQUITS SUSPECTS IN JOURNALIST'S MURDER. A Moscow district military court on 26 June completely exonerated Colonel Pavel Popovskikh, a unit commander in the Russian Airborne Troops, and five of his comrades who had been accused of the 1994 murder of "Moskovskii komsomolets" journalist Dmitrii Kholodov, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Kholodov died on 17 November 1994 after opening a booby-trapped briefcase that he believed contained documents relating to malfeasance in the Defense Ministry. According to the prosecution, Popovskikh and the other defendants prepared the booby trap with the encouragement of former Defense Minister Pavel Grachev. The court ruled that prosecutor Irina Aleshina failed "to present proof of the defendants' guilt or to assemble such proof during the court hearings." Aleshina and Kholodov's relatives have said that they will appeal the verdict. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 June)
DUMA GIVES FINAL APPROVAL TO ANTI-EXTREMISM BILL. The State Duma on 27 June adopted in its third and final reading a controversial bill on combating extremism that includes in its definition of extremism any actions that impede the functioning of the federal authorities by force or other illegal means, ntvru.com and other Russian news agencies reported. The bill contains prohibitions on "extremist activity" and "extremist organizations," which it defines as any organization so recognized by a court. If the bill becomes law, it will be the first time that Russia has outlawed the use of Nazi symbols, the promotion of any kind of ethnic or religious hatred, and the bankrolling of any such activity. A number of the provisions in the anti-extremism bill continue to concern human rights activists. The bill also imposes strong restrictions on Internet providers that activists feel could be easily used to restrict many forms of political expression. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 June)
MEDIA MINISTER PREDICTS HIS MINISTRY'S DEMISE. Speaking to a conference devoted to the mass media on 19 June, Media Minister Mikhail Lesin predicted that his ministry will be abolished within two or three years, having fulfilled its mission, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Lesin said that the state will continue to play a role in the national mass-media market, but claimed that that role will be minimal. He stressed, though, that there will be no "panic selling of state mass-media outlets." Lesin described the state's current policy of providing direct federal subsidies to more than 2,000 newspapers as "senseless," and predicted that after the Media Ministry is abolished, the state will continue to control "one information agency, one television channel, one radio company, and one national newspaper." In addition, state interests will continue to be protected through licensing, registration, and other media legislation, Lesin said. He also noted that the country's small advertising market is the major obstacle to developing the sector, but did not offer any suggestions for enlarging it. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June)
TELEVISION CHANNELS ACCUSED OF SUBLIMINAL ADVERTISING. Deputy Media Minister Valerii Sirozhenko accused Russian television channels of using the so-called "25th frame," a production technique that inserts momentary advertisements into programming in an attempt to influence viewers in a subliminal fashion, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 25 June. The theory behind the technique holds that the human mind can only process 24 frames per second, while an extra frame can create an impression without being consciously noticed. Some researchers believe the "25th frame" can also have a negative impact on a viewer's psychological health. Deputy Antimonopoly Minister Sergei Puservskii noted that the practice is banned by both Russian and international legislation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June)
'ASSAULT ON RUSSIA' FILM DISTRIBUTED IN PERM REGION. Liberal Russia in Perm Oblast began a program to distribute 1,500 copies of the film "Assault on Russia" initiated by oligarch Boris Berezovskii to investigate the 1999 apartments blasts in Moscow and Volgodonsk and the prevention of a similar blast in Ryazan in fall 1999, Region-Inform-Perm reported on 19 June. The agency cited members of the local branch of Liberal Russia as saying that they insist on an independent investigation of the circumstances of the bombings and propose amendments to the Russian Constitution to establish the institution of parliamentary and public supervision of executive authorities and law-enforcement bodies. ("RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Weekly Review," 21 June)
FINALLY, A HAPPY ENDING FOR AN INDEPENDENT MEDIA OUTLET? Mezhprombank announced on 21 June that it is canceling its effort to collect the 15 million rubles ($476,000) in damages that was awarded from "Novaya gazeta" in a defamation suit, Interfax-AFI reported. Mezhprombank's press service issued a statement saying that the bank does not want to create a "dangerous precedent" that might endanger free speech, although by law it is within its rights to seek the damage award. The paper's staff has claimed that paying the damages would have resulted in the weekly's closure. Late last month, "Novaya gazeta" columnist Yulia Latynina revealed that the newspaper had uncovered new information about Mezhprombank's inner workings, prompting it to ask for a new court hearing, and that law enforcement officials pursue criminal fraud charges against the bank. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June)
RUSSIA WILL DEVELOP FOREIGN BROADCASTING. Russia's foreign-broadcasting service propagates Russia's cultural values and language, including its political agenda, and will continue to do so, Deputy Media Minister Mikhail Seslavinskii told journalists on 22 June, according to Russian news agencies. In addition, the service provides a vital connection to ethnic Russians living abroad and, therefore, the government intends to develop and expand its foreign-broadcast agency, Voice of Russia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June)
HACKERS CAN'T SPOIL PRESIDENT'S WEB DEBUT. An unidentified source in the presidential administration told RIA-Novosti on 20 June that President Vladimir Putin's new website -- http://www.president.kremlin.ru -- registered more than 10,000 hits in its first three hours of operation, according to strana.ru. The source was quoted as saying that there were "several dozen" hacker attacks on the site during the same period, but all of them were stymied by the Federal Agency for Government Communication and Information (FAPSI), which handles security for the site. According to Interfax, President Putin suggested that the site could be improved by adding an English-language section. In the site's photo-album section, viewers can see snapshots of a solitary, jacketless Putin walking alone down a dock on a lake in Pskov Oblast; Putin dressed in casual wear ringing a church bell in Karelia; and, of course, Putin skiing. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June)
SERBIAMILOSEVIC'S TV BOSS JAILED FOR BOMBING DEATHS. A Serbian court sentenced Dragoljub Milanovic on 21 June to 9 1/2 years in prison for failing to protect the lives of 16 employees of Radio Television Serbia (RTS) who died when NATO aircraft bombed the RTS high-rise building on 23 April 1999, Reuters reported from Belgrade. Presiding Judge Radmila Dragicevic-Dicic said that Milanovic "failed to act according to regulations governing the safety of RTS even though he was aware this could provoke danger for the lives of the people because NATO aggression had already started." Victims' families brought the lawsuit against Milanovic, who they said knew that the RTS building was likely to be a bombing target. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June)
THE HAGUE DEMANDS INQUIRY INTO PUBLICIZING IDENTITY OF PROTECTED WITNESS. The Hague Tribunal will request the Yugoslav authorities to submit a report within 30 days to clarify the circumstances under which Belgrade tabloid "Nacional" publicized the identity of a protected prosecution witness, spokesman Christian Chartier told B92 on 19 June. The witness, identified in court only as K5, was introduced in the courtroom as a Kosovo Albanian go-between with the Serbian police. Chartier said that the paper's revelation of the name of the protected witness "was the most severe violation of the tribunal's regulations to date." Dragan Vucicevic, the deputy editor of "Nacional," said that the Serbian police had already contacted the paper on this matter, but that the paper will not reveal its source for the information. The editor said that his paper had revealed the identity of K5 because they were not aware that it was "such a crime." ("ANEM Media Update," 15-21 June)
EDITOR ASSAULTED. The editor of "Ekskluziv" magazine was attacked in the Sava Club in Belgrade on 18 June by a group of young men led by Milorad Rakocevic, the son of fashion designer Verica Rakocevic. Belgrade daily "Nacional" speculated that the attack is the result of an article in the latest issue of "Ekskluziv" about Milorad Rakocevic's half-sister Elena Mijatovic. ("ANEM Media Update," 15-21 June)
MINISTER SEEKS DAMAGES. On 16 June, Serbian Agriculture Minister Dragan Veselinov sued the Novi Sad daily "Gradjanski list" for 1.5 million dinars (about $250,000), claiming emotional suffering and damage to his reputation. The daily's offending article claimed that Veselinov had abused his official position by poaching in hunting preserves. ("ANEM Media Update," 15-21 June)
SLOVAKIAZELEZNY TO BECOME SLOVAK SUBSIDIARY COMPANY'S DIRECTOR. Embattled Nova TV Director Vladimir Zelezny, who was recently dismissed from his post, is to become director general of Nova TV's Slovak subsidiary, TV Joj, CTK reported on 24 June, citing the daily "Lidove noviny." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June)
TAJIKISTANCHARGES AGAINST JOURNALIST DROPPED. The Tajik Prosecutor-General's Office has dropped the criminal case first opened in 1993 against Dododjon Atovulloev, editor of the opposition newspaper "Charoghi ruz," Interfax reported on 21 June. The original charges against Atovulloev were dropped after the civil war ended in 1997, but were revived last year in connection with his criticism of the country's present leadership. Atovulloev said he may soon return to Tajikistan from Germany, where he has been living for over a year. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June)
TURKMENISTANJOURNALIST: 'DELIBERATE ATTEMPT TO LOWER EDUCATIONAL STANDARDS.' As part of a broad reform of higher education, beginning in 2003, students will have to pay to study at Turkmenistan's 16 state universities, Deutsche Welle's Russian Service reported on 19 June. Entrance examinations will focus on the student's proposed discipline and the biography and writings of President Saparmurat Niyazov. After two years' study, students will be required to work in the economy for two years before completing their studies. A Turkmen journalist characterized the innovations as part of Nizyazov's deliberate attempt to lower educational standards, along with the abolition of Russian language teaching in schools that will deprive students of the opportunity to study in Russia or other CIS states. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June)
UKRAINECAR OF RADIO STATION OWNER BOMBED. In Zhytomir, a car owned by Ihor Ivanytskiy, head of the local Krok radio station, has been bombed; this is the second such effort after this year's parliamentary elections. According to local law-enforcement agencies, the car bombing is the work of professionals. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 10-16 June)
REPORTERS BANNED FROM MURDER TRIAL. As of 12 June, reporters have not been allowed to cover the trial about the murder of parliamentarians Yevhen Shcherban and Vadym Hetman. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 10-16 June)
STORM OVER BROADCAST COUNCIL. The staff of the YuTAR TV company on 18 June picketed the Ukrainian Broadcast Council (UBC) to protest the UBC failure to comply with the Kyiv Economic Court's order suspending the council's decision to revoke the YuTAR TV license. YuTAR, Kyiv, and Kontinent -- whose broadcast licenses were all revoked -- accuse the UBC of legal violations on the reinstatement of broadcast licenses. On 21 June, the council ordered the closure of YuTAR programs on Kyiv's 37 channel; three days earlier, Hromandsko Radio station brought suit against the UBC for barring the station from a frequency tender for Kyiv in what it claims was a violation of the law. Also on 21 June, in a report to the parliament, UBC Chairman Boris Kholod called for a more careful approach to the issuance of TV licenses. After hearing the UBC report, the parliamentary Freedom of Speech and Information Committee proposed that Kholod be removed and expressed a lack of confidence in the UBC. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 17-23 June)
CRIMEAN PAPER FACES CONTINUED PRESSURE. The Crimean authorities continue to pressure the paper "Bakhchisaraisky Vestnik." According to the Committee for Monitoring Freedom of Press in Crimea, the heads of the district executive and legislative have illegally rejected its registration requests. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 10-16 June)
ZAPOROZHYE PAPER THREATENED WITH CLOSURE. On 11 June, the staff of the paper "Industrialnoye Zaporozhye" issued a statement that the paper may be forced to shut down due to heavy court fines. After the paper ran an article alleging that the state-run Zaporizhzhyarynok enterprise uses funds in an unauthorized way, its managers demanded that court fine the paper nearly $15,000 in compensation. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 10-16 June)
NEW PUBLICATIONS, WEBSITESKNIGHT INTERNATIONAL PRESS FELLOWSHIPS LAUNCH NEW WEBSITE. The Knight International Press Fellowships recently launched a new website at http://www.knight-international.org. The site contains detailed program news, online versions of its biannual magazine, "KnightLine International," and fellowship applications. The program sends U.S. journalists abroad for up to nine months to hold training sessions for colleagues with local partner organizations, such as media institutes, universities, and news outlets. Application deadlines are 15 February and 15 August each year. (IJ Net, 24 June)
WOMEN'S FREE-SPEECH GROUP LAUNCHES WEBSITE. Women's World Organization for Rights, Literature, and Development (Women's World), a global free-speech network of feminist writers, has launched its website (http://www.wworld.org). The New York-based organization defends women writers attacked or threatened due to their views on gender, and supports the development of women-run publications and presses around the world. It also educates the public about gender-based censorship, and facilitates international links among women writers. For more information, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NEW MANUALS FOR CHRISTIAN MAGAZINE EDITORS. Some 95 staff members of 45 Christian magazines from 13 countries, mostly from Eastern Europe, attended publishing courses offered in Bulgaria in June by the Magazine Training Institute (MTI). There is an updated business manual plus two special courses for design editors, and a new 106-page manual for general editors available in English, Bulgarian, and Romanian plus 12 other editions in various languages. MTI also offers audio tapes and a website. For more information, see http://www.magazinetraining.com.
END NOTEMILITARY JOURNALIST PASKO LOSES APPEAL
By Jeremy Bransten
Russian military journalist Grigorii Pasko lost his appeal before the military branch of Russia's Supreme Court on 25 June, when judges confirmed his four-year prison sentence for spying. The judgment closes another chapter in Pasko's so far unsuccessful battle to clear his name, which has continued since his original arrest in 1997. But his lawyers say they will not give up and will pursue the case with the Supreme Court's Presidium, which could still overturn the conviction, and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Pasko's case has garnered so much attention, both in Russia and abroad, because it is seen as a litmus test for freedom of speech, the freedom of journalists to pursue their work, and the independence of the Russian judiciary.
In 1997, agents of the Federal Security Service (FSB) originally arrested Pasko on treason charges. They accused him of taking notes at a meeting of naval officers, allegedly regarding secret maneuvers, with the intention of passing them to the Japanese media. His lawyers said the treason charge was only a pretext. As a journalist, Pasko had collected information about the Russian Pacific Fleet's illegal dumping of nuclear waste at sea, information publicized by the Japanese media, angering Moscow.
After 20 months of preventive detention, Pasko was sentenced to three years in prison on a lesser charge of "abuse of office." Russia's Supreme Court subsequently amnestied Pasko, but he appealed to clear his name. The result was new treason charges, which earned him a four-year prison sentence, which he is currently serving in a Vladivostok jail. In their rejection of Pasko's appeal on 25 June, military Supreme Court judges did strike down two of the main charges against him. Judges found that Pasko did not illegally attend a naval command meeting. They also struck down charges that he had illegal contact with foreigners.
Aleksei Simonov, head of the Glasnost Defense Fund, a prominent Moscow-based human-rights organization, told RFE/RL this should have prompted judges to overturn Pasko's conviction immediately, since as a result, the guilty verdict, and Pasko's four-year prison sentence, rests only on supposition. "Pasko has been convicted for having the alleged intention of handing over notes he had taken to some foreign agents. To convict someone on the basis of intentions is a crime against common sense and the law because there is a presumption of innocence, and therefore intentions cannot be a basis for conviction, especially because no proof of any intentions has ever been presented in this case," Simonov said.
Simonov, who attended the 25 June court session, said the fact that the military judges kept Pasko's conviction intact, despite striking down much of its underpinning, only proves that Russia's system of military justice lacks impartiality. "Military justice is a power structure ruled from the top that existed long before [President Vladimir] Putin came to power. It has nothing to do with justice. It is the fulfilling of military orders by a military court. In this case, the military order was to convict Pasko. The Supreme Court's Military Collegium fulfilled it, just as it fulfilled orders the two previous times when I had occasion to attend their proceedings," Simonov said.
Aleksandr Petrov, deputy director of the Moscow chapter of Human Rights Watch, agreed. He told RFE/RL the judges' decision lacks sense and fairness. "I consider the court's decision to be unlawful. It contradicts the law, fairness, and simply common sense, and I wouldn't be surprised if Pasko's lawyers will go further, by turning to the Presidium of the Supreme Court. And I think the case can very well end up before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg," Petrov said.
Several months ago, Pasko's lawyers filed a petition before the European Court of Human Rights. Now that Pasko's appeal has been rejected by the Russian judges, they hope the case will be taken up in Strasbourg. The European court does not deal in questions of guilt or innocence, but it does rule on whether a defendant has received a fair trial. A judgment in favor of Pasko would put the Russian justice system's ability to provide fair trials under international scrutiny.
Simonov of the Glasnost Defense Fund said it is time for the international community to reconsider its involvement and investment in Russian judicial reform. "International organizations have invested millions of dollars in Russian judicial reform. But in whom are they investing these millions of dollars? Who are they dealing with if the Supreme Court, with which they have been holding talks on reform, negates justice through its own practice?" Simonov said.
The Presidium of the Russian Supreme Court, which has no ties to the military, can still overturn Pasko's conviction. Presidium judges confirmed the acquittal, in 2000, of Aleksandr Nikitin. Nikitin was another journalist with a military past and links to foreign environmentalists who was repeatedly tried and imprisoned on charges of treason, but who ultimately did find justice in Russia's courts.
Jeremy Bransten is an RFE/RL correspondent.