20 September 2002, Volume 2, Number 36
INTERNATIONALUNESCO OPENS ONLINE FORUM ON FREE EXPRESSION AND THE NET. For the upcoming World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has launched an online discussion on free expression and the Internet. From 9 September to 21 October, people are invited to take part in the "Internet Rights Forum" (http://www.foruminternet.org/en/) and contribute ideas to be considered in a "Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action" in Geneva in December 2003. See http://portal.unesco.org/ci/ev.php?URL_ID=2411&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201&reload=1024056139. ("IFEX Communique," 18 September)
AFGHANISTANUPDATED AFGHANISTAN FIELD GUIDE. An updated edition of "Essential Field Guides To Humanitarian And Conflict Zones: Afghanistan" will be published by the Switzerland-based foundation Media Action International in January. It offers news on religion, drug trafficking, politics, media contacts, and land mines plus pointers on work and travel in the country. (IJ Net, 16 September)
AFGHANISTAN MONITOR. Updated news is provided by the "Crosslines Afghanistan Monitor." This biweekly print and Web bulletin monitors international recovery, peacekeeping, and security operations. Its pilot issue can be viewed at http://www.afghanmonitor.org. (IJ Net, 16 September)
ARMENIAOPPOSITION PARTY REVIVES NEWSPAPER. Vazgen Manukian's National Democratic Union (AZhM) will resume publication of its weekly newspaper "Ayzhm" after an interval of almost four years, Noyan Tapan reported on 14 September. The paper's new editor, National Press Club Chairwoman Narine Mkrtchian, explained the revival of "Ayzhm" in the run-up to next year's presidential and parliamentary elections as "a natural phenomenon," reasoning that it is important for any party to have its own media outlet. Vigen Sargsian was fired as "Ayzhm" editor in September 1998 following disagreements with the AZhM leadership, which, he told "Respublika Armeniya," wanted to exert the maximum control over editorial policy. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September)
AZERBAIJANNEW DIRECTIVES ON STATE SECRETS AMENDED. President Heidar Aliyev has ordered the Azerbaijani government to draft a new law on state secrets within one month, zerkalo.az reported on 13 September. Aliyev has also amended controversial directives issued last month aimed at precluding the publication of information that contains state secrets. Specifically, Aliyev shortened from seven days to 48 hours the period within which a specially created commission must respond to media outlets' queries as to whether specific information constitutes a state secret. He also abolished that commission's right to demand that editors disclose on demand the source of their information. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September)
BELARUSTELEVISION WARNS AGAINST MEDIA 'PROVOCATION' FROM RUSSIA... Quoting a telephone call from an unidentified individual from the Russian State Duma, Belarusian Television reported on 12 September that Russia's Union of Rightist Forces leader Boris Nemtsov is preparing a "new provocation against the Russia-Belarus Union" on "Russian [television] channels." According to the Belarusian Television's interlocutor, Nemtsov wants Belarusian opposition leaders to appear on television in Moscow in order to "present the situation in Belarus in an extremely negative light." "Nemtsov hates your president, therefore he is collecting all the [possible] negative information about [Alyaksandr] Lukashenka. They even want to compare him to Hitler," the anonymous interlocutor said. Earlier this month, "Sovetskaya Belorussiya" published a transcript of a telephone conversation between Nemtsov and Belarus's United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka in which they allegedly discussed how to oust Lukashenka. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September)
...AS OPPOSITION LEADER SAYS REGIME 'IS GETTING NERVOUS.' Lyabedzka told Belapan on 12 September that he is planning to appear on Russia's NTV television in the near future. "The authorities are getting nervous," he commented on Belarusian Television's warning. "I think this is the work of the special services that possibly want to impede my appointments in Moscow this week.... It is absurd to call [my planned appearance on NTV] a provocation. When Alyaksandr Lukashenka appeared on NTV [on 9 September], nobody called it a provocation. But when Lyabedzka or relatives of the disappeared [Belarusian] politicians are invited to appear there, it is called a provocation for some reason." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September)
PROSECUTOR WANTS THREE-YEAR SENTENCE FOR EDITOR... A prosecutor in the trial of "Rabochy" Editor in Chief Viktar Ivashkevich has demanded that the defendant be given a three-year sentence for libeling President Lukashenka, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 12 September. "If I am actually guilty, as the prosecutor asserted, then why did he ask the court to give me three years [in an open-type correctional institution] instead of the maximum five years in prison as stipulated by the [Criminal Code] articles relevant to my case?" Ivashkevich asked, adding that everything he published about Lukashenka is true. The incriminating article in "Rabochy" alleged that Lukashenka and his entourage may be involved in grave economic crimes. The court is expected to pronounce its verdict on 16 September. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September)
...WHILE COURT GIVES HIM TWO YEARS. A district court in Minsk on 16 September sentenced Ivashkevich to two years of "restriction of freedom" in a correctional-labor facility, Belapan reported. Ivashkevich's trial was conducted behind closed doors. "The verdict is absolutely politically motivated, because my newspaper reported on [true] facts that testified to the president's illegal activities," Ivashkevich told the news agency. "The journalist's profession is becoming dangerous in Belarus," he added. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September)
OSCE MEDIA REPRESENTATIVE PROTESTS, CALLS FOR REPEAL OF CRIMINAL LIBEL LAWS. The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Freimut Duve, expressed his concern on 17 September over Ivashkevich's sentencing. "I urge the Belarusian authorities to immediately cease its policy of criminal prosecution and intimidation of independent journalists, and to repeal the existing criminal laws on libel and defamation," Duve said. "This is not the first case of journalists in Belarus facing criminal charges for allegedly defaming the president," he noted. "On 24 June, two journalists from the Grodno-based independent newspaper 'Pagonya,' Nikolai Markevich and Pavel Mozheiko, were sentenced respectively to two and to two-and-a-half years of 'restricted freedom' on the same charge." Duve urged that "criminal libel laws...be repealed" and stressed that "heads of state should not receive undue protection from media reporting on their activities." (OSCE, 17 September)
VIOLENCE AGAINST JOURNALISTS. In the early hours of 9 September, police beat up journalist Stanislav Pochobut in Minsk, resulting in a concussion and broken cheekbones. Earlier that day, Pochobut had taken part in several protests over the campaign against "Pagonya" journalists and had spent 10 days under arrest. In another incident in Brest, unknown individuals threw stones at the windows of the independent paper "Brestsky Kuryer." ("Center for Journalists in Extreme Situations CIS Report," 9-15 September)
GEORGIARESTRICTIVE NEW ADVERTISING LAW PROPOSED. The Georgian Antimonopoly Service announced its intention to introduce significant restrictions in media advertising and pledged that a bill along these lines will be sent to parliament. Amendments to the "Communications and Postal Service Law" have taken effect, according to which television and radio companies may not advertise unlicensed products. The offending company will have its broadcasting license suspended; if the offense is repeated, the license may be annulled. ("Center for Journalists in Extreme Situations CIS Report," 9-15 September)
IRANIMPRISONED FOUNDER OF INFORMATION MINISTRY NOW ADVOCATES LIBERAL DEMOCRACY. Akbar Ganji, a leading member of the 1979 Iranian student movement and founder of its Information Ministry, has smuggled a 60-page manifesto out of prison. In a major turnaround, the manifesto, "On Republicanism," advocates the separation of religion and the state. Ganji was sentenced to a six-year prison term after attending the Berlin conference on Iran. For the complete Iranian-language text, see http://www.iranemrooz.com. CC
PRESS CLOSURES HAMPER OVERSIGHT OF GOVERNMENT. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami and members of his cabinet visited the tomb of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, father of Iran's Islamic Revolution, on the first day of Government Week (24-31 August). Speaking afterward, Khatami stressed the importance of the public's being able to supervise the government and the state via the media and its elected representatives, Tehran television reported on 24 August. "Therefore," Khatami said, "we will have to accept the principle of criticism in our society in order to make progress." Yet the continuation of press closures makes it very difficult for the media to serve as the government watchdog or the voice of public criticism. A court in Qazvin Province suspended the weekly "Hadis-yi Qazvin" on 22 August, and five days later it suspended temporarily the weekly "Nameh-yi Qazvin" for publishing "insulting materials and lies as well as instigating public opinion," IRNA reported on 27 August. The Press Court in Tehran, furthermore, banned the daily "Guzarish-i Ruz" and sentenced Editor Mohammad Mahdavi-Khorrami to 28 months in prison, IRNA reported on 27 August. The Tehran public court passed a verdict stating that "Hamshahri," the daily affiliated with the Tehran municipality, could only be distributed in Tehran, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 8 September. A 24-page daily tabloid called "Gulistan-i Iran," which recently hit the newsstands, was closed temporarily on 15 September on the orders of Press Court Judge Said Mortazavi. Managing Director Foruzan Asif-Nakhai had described it as "a newspaper by the third generation for the third generation," "Hayat-i No" reported on 31 August. Also on 15 September "Vaght" weekly was closed on the basis of publishing photographs of women and of personalities from the monarchic period, AFP reported. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 16 September)
IRANIAN BROADCASTING INTENSIFYING ARABIC PRESENCE... Al-Alam, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting's new Arabic-language satellite-television channel, transmitted its test card on 28 August, according to BBC Monitoring. The station's website is available at http://www.alalamnews.net. On 30 August, the Elaph website from London reported that Al-Alam is being produced in connection with a "Lebanese media team" and will specialize in news in Arabic and English. Moreover, IRIB intends to open a permanent office in Baghdad, according to the "Tehran Times" of 17 August, citing Baghdad's daily "Babel." This office would be used for Al-Alam and for Iran's Sahar satellite broadcasts. The IRIB officials met with Iraqi Communications Minister Muhammad Said as-Sahhaf, who gave his tentative approval pending successful completion of the legal formalities. A six-member team from the Islamic Republic News Agency is also in Baghdad to report on living conditions there. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 16 September)
...AND IRAN MAY GET FOREIGN SATELLITE PROGRAMS. Said Ismaili, director for audio-visual production at the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance, announced on 8 September that the legislature's Cultural Committee has approved the establishment of a cable network that would make available satellite television programs that do not violate Islamic tenets, IRNA reported. After the parliament and the Guardians Council approve the legislation, Ismaili said, the Ministry of Post, Telegraph, and Telephone will set up the cable network. Private ownership of satellite dishes is currently illegal and the security forces routinely confiscate such equipment. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 16 September)
IRANIAN SATELLITE PROJECTS PROGRESSING. The managing director of Iran's Remote Sensor Center ("markaz-i sanjish az rah-i dur"), Mr. Amidian, announced that Iran is cooperating with China, Mongolia, Pakistan, and Thailand in building a multipurpose satellite that will be launched within the next three years, Iranian state television reported on 3 September. Parts of the satellite are being built by Iran's Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics and by the Ministry of Post, Telegraph, and Telephone. One day earlier, Mr. Izadi, the director of the Zohreh national satellite project, was interviewed on Iranian state radio. He said the platform of the Zohreh satellite is being manufactured in Russia. Izadi went on to say: "Its telecommunications and computer sections are being manufactured by two prominent European companies. Finally, it will be assembled in Russia and it will be launched by a Soyuz missile from Russia to the Islamic Republic's position in orbit and it will be turned over to the Islamic Republic." Izadi said that Iran is waiting for Russia's Avi export company to sign a contract, and the signing of that contract will start a 30-month timetable during which the satellite will be built and launched into orbit. Two satellite control stations would also be set up in Iran. Subsequently, Iran's television and telecommunications networks would be transferred to their own national satellite. Members of parliament have criticized the Zohreh satellite project's connection with a Russian firm of dubious reliability, and some Iranian press outlets have questioned the country's need for such a costly project. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 16 September)
KAZAKHSTANEDITOR STANDS TRIAL IN WESTERN KAZAKHSTAN. On 18 September, Saghynghaliy Khafizov, the editor of the paper "Altyn Ghasyr" in the western Kazakhstan city of Atyrau, stood trial for insulting the honor and dignity of the country's president, Nursultan Nazarbaev. Earlier this year, Khafizov refused to accept a presidential award, telling journalists that he cannot accept an award from a person who is allegedly involved in bribery. ("RFE/RL Kazakh News," 18 September)
NEWSPAPERS "INSPECTED" IN SEMIPALATINSK. The financial police accompanied by a local police inspector burst into the editorial offices of the Semipalatinsk regional papers "Ush Anyk" and "Yel Tynysy," demanding to see their licenses. When Deputy Editor in Chief Zamesh Keneskyzy refused to follow the police to the prosecutor's office, they called a police convoy. ("Center for Journalists in Extreme Situations CIS Report," 9-15 September)
PAPERS IN WESTERN KAZAKHSTAN SCRUTINIZED. In early September, the prosecution service in western Kazakhstan was reported to have ordered the regional Culture, Information, and Public Accord Directorate to check the local papers "Uralskaya Pravda" and "Talal" for allegedly offending President Nazarbaev's honor and dignity. The regional prosecutor's office has recently shown intense interest in "Uralskaya Pravda." In August, its editor in chief, Tamara Yeslyamova, was summoned and told to submit a statement about the paper's cooperation with Adil Soz, an international Freedom of Speech Protection Fund. ("Center for Journalists in Extreme Situations CIS Report," 9-15 September)
INDEPENDENT JOURNALISTS HOLD PRESS CONFERENCE. Independent journalists Sergei Duvanov and Tamara Kaleeva, along with the chairman of the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan, Amirzhan Qosanov, held press conference in Almaty on 17 September. They discussed the 9-19 September OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw, particularly their press event at which they described the situation of Kazakhstan's independent media and opposition political parties and movements. Sergei Duvanov, subjected to an assault by three unknown individuals on 28 August in Kazakhstan, flew to Warsaw directly from hospital to speak in Warsaw. During his presentation, Duvanov claimed that the attack on him was organized by Kazakh officials in retaliation for his articles critical of President Nazarbaev. ("RFE/RL Kazakh News," 17 September)
MOLDOVAOFFICIAL SAYS TELERADIO MOLDOVA LAW MIGHT BE AMENDED. Foreign Policy Committee Chairman Andrei Neguta said on 13 September that the law approved in July under which Teleradio Moldova was transformed into a public company might be amended, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Neguta spoke after meeting with two rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) who have criticized the law. Neguta said that although Moldova has fulfilled the 24 April PACE recommendation and Teleradio Moldova is no longer state-owned, representation on the company's managing council could be increased to include persons recommended by nongovernmental organizations and by unions of writers and artists. Under the current law, the council includes 15 members nominated by the president, the government, and the parliament. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September)
MONTENEGROMEDIA LAWS ON ICE. A planned parliamentary discussion on three media laws was postponed on 12 September --- for the eighth time -- RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September)
PINK DEFIES THE LAW. Montenegro's Union of Independent Electronic Media on 5 September complained to the Ministry of Economy that 12 frequency licenses were granted to TV Pink without public competition. The union said it will ask the Ministry to investigate the granting of the licenses by the Telecommunications Agency. ("ANEM Media Update," 31 August-6 September)
RADIO EDITOR TO BE FIRED? Radio Cetinje's editor in chief is likely to become the latest victim of the shift in power in Montenegro, B92 reported on 5 September. Speaking on air, Liberal Alliance of Montenegro spokesman Slavko Perovic said he will replace the current editor. ("ANEM Media Update," 31 August-6 September)
ROMANIASENATE REDUCES PENALTIES FOR LIBEL AND INSULTING PUBLIC OFFICIALS. On 12 September, the Senate approved a government ordinance reducing sanctions in the Penal Code for libel or for insulting a public official on duty. The ordinance has already been approved by the Chamber of Deputies and provides jail sentences of between three months and three years. The Senate-approved version makes possible the imposition of fines instead of jail sentences. Romanian journalists are unlikely to be satisfied with the amendment, which still allows for their prosecution for libel. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September)
AUTHORITIES REVOKE XENOPHOBIC TV CHANNEL'S BROADCAST LICENSE. The National Audiovisual Council (CNA) on 12 September revoked he license of the private Oglinda TV (OTV) channel, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. CNA Chairman Serban Madgearu said that OTV "has repeatedly broken the audiovisual law by broadcasting programs inciting hatred on racial, religious, ethnic, and sexual grounds." Madgearu said the decision was made independently of an appeal by Presidential Counselor Corina Cretu to revoke the license. President Ion Iliescu welcomed the decision. Greater Romania Party Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor said he "vehemently" protests the decision and added that, in a gesture of "solidarity" with Oglinda TV talk-show host Dan Diaconescu, he is "resigning in protest" from the Romanian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). Diaconescu said OTV will appeal the decision in court and threatened to trigger early elections by making public videocassettes proving high-level corruption among ruling Social Democratic Party officials. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September)
RUSSIAJOURNALIST PASKO TRANSFERRED TO LABOR CAMP... On 11 September, journalist Grigorii Pasko was to be transferred to a forced-labor camp, according to the Bellona Foundation's website (http://www.bellona.no). International PEN said it is deeply alarmed by the transfer. While serving a sentence for his work as a military journalist, Pasko edited the Bellona Foundation's St. Petersburg magazine "Environment and Rights" from prison. A Norwegian environmental organization, Bellona reported that it was contacted from Vladivostok by Pasko's wife, Gallina Morozova, with the news that he was to be transferred to a labor camp in Ussuriysk, a city 100 kilometers from Vladivostok. Pasko has been held in a pretrial detention center since December. Bellona states that the journalist could benefit from an amnesty later this year, depending on "good behavior," but it alleges that guards have threatened that they will make it appear that he broke camp rules, thus jeopardizing his early release. Bellona believes his transfer will greatly increase his isolation from his wife and lawyers. Pasko's wife will not be able to see her husband while he is in quarantine during his first three weeks at the labor camp. On 25 December, Pasko was sentenced to four years in prison, a sentence that was later reduced to 28 months to take into account the 20 months he had already served in jail. All but one of the 10 counts of espionage were again dismissed. Pasko's sentence was upheld on appeal on 25 June. CC
...AS EUROPEAN GREEN PARTY NOMINATES HIM FOR SAKHAROV PRIZE. The European Parliament Green Group will propose Pasko for the Sakharov Prize 2002. A press conference is planned for Strasbourg on 25 September. Speakers should include Petra Kelly, organized by the Green group; Aleksandr Nikitin; European Parliament Member Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Bart Staes, who is the chairman of the EU-Russia Delegation; Aleksei Simonov from the Glasnost Foundation; and Jon Gauslaa, Bellona's lawyer. (Amnesty International, 19 September)
POLICE SEARCH PUBLISHER'S OFFICES. Prosecutors on 16 September searched the Moscow offices of Ad Marginem, the publisher of Vladimir Sorokin's novels, in connection with a case against the publisher and Sorokin on charges of disseminating pornography, lenta.ru reported on 17 September. Five copies of Sorokin's novel "Blue Lard" and all documentation relating to its publication were seized, according to Ad Marginem's lawyer, Aleksandr Glushenkov. He added that officers carrying out the search also presented copies of expert assessments of Sorokin's novel by the Culture Ministry and the Union of Writers. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September)
PRESIDENT, MEDIA MINISTER DISCUSS PUBLISHING INDUSTRY. President Putin met on 14 September with Media Minister Mikhail Lesin in Sochi to discuss possible modifications to the legislative framework regulating the publishing industry, ITAR-TASS reported. The two reportedly discussed tax incentives for the publication of textbooks, scientific books, and classical literature. Lesin also informed the president about planning for the 300th anniversary of the Russian press, which will be celebrated in 2003. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September)
RACISTS ALLEGEDLY VIDEOTAPED MURDER. Skinheads in St. Petersburg who allegedly beat to death an Azerbaijani watermelon trader on 13 September reportedly videotaped the murder, lenta.ru reported on 16 September, citing police sources. Magomed Magomedov, 55, was reportedly beaten to death by five young men armed with metal bars, who are allegedly members of an extremist nationalist group. Police said they recovered the videotape at the home of one of the suspects. On 14 September, another Azerbaijani citizen was beaten by several young men dressed in army fatigues, lenta.ru reported. Police do not believe the incidents are related and do not consider them race-related incidents, RosBalt reported on 16 September. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September)
ALL THE PUBLICITY MONEY CAN BUY. The Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP) will launch a multimillion-dollar campaign intended to improve the image of Russian business abroad, "Vedomosti" reported on 12 September. The union's committee on foreign affairs, headed by Yukos Chairman Mikhail Khodorkovskii, hatched the plan, which will consist of three projects. A new English-language Internet portal will inform Western investors about market trends in Russia and especially about "improvements" in the Russian business community. An advertising campaign in prominent Western media will tell the world about progress in "creating a favorable investment climate in Russia" and will also explain "the essence of the RSPP's mission." A new English-language magazine about Russian business will likewise be geared toward persuading foreigners that the Russian business community is "dynamic, transparent, and favorably disposed toward investors." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September)
COMMUNIST SLAMS FIRST ROUND OF KRASNOYARSK ELECTION. Duma Deputy Sergei Glaziev (Communist), who came in third in the first round of voting for the post of Krasnoyarsk Krai governor on 8 September, has dealt out some harsh criticism of the way the campaign was run, RosBalt reported on 12 September. Glaziev said that the campaign "was conducted without rules" and said that "the three local candidates [krai legislature Speaker Aleksandr Uss, Taimyr Autonomous Okrug Governor Aleksandr Khloponin, and Krasnoyarsk Mayor Petr Pimashkov] were able to do whatever they pleased -- use budgetary resources with impunity, manipulate the mass media -- and the local election commission just closed its eyes to everything." By contrast, Glaziev said, election authorities harassed his campaign. "It even reached the point where I was warned for using quotations from my own books in my campaign leaflets," Glaziev said. He concluded that the irregularities were sufficient "to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the vote." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September)
ORT LOOKING FOR REVENUE? "Kommersant-Vlast," No. 35, reported that Konstantin Ernst, general director of Russian Public Television (ORT), and Deputy General Director Marat Gelman recently established a special "expert council" of representatives of various political parties and movements. An unidentified but reportedly well-known public-relations specialist told the weekly that with this effort Ernst and Gelman are hinting directly "to party experts which party leader or activist needs to improve his or her image with the help of unofficial television advertising." According to the source, Russia's television channels are scared that they will lose their mega-profits from campaign advertising, since "the Kremlin, rather than television, now determines the number of votes for each party." The weekly concluded that the television channel heads and public-relations consultants have had to change their "methods" under Putin's new system and are looking for alternatives to Kremlin revenue sources among those who are seeking to "sell their faces" as effectively as possible. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September)
STATE UPS FUNDING FOR 'PATRIOTIC' FILMS. The draft 2003 budget that will soon be considered in the Duma contains a 50 percent increase in state funding for the domestic film industry, Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi announced on 13 September, polit.ru reported. Shvydkoi said that by 2006, Russia should be producing up to 100 films per year and the industry should be self-sufficient. He added that most of the funding will be used to produce films ordered by the state, including children's films and films of "a patriotic, historical, or national" nature. "Kommersant-Daily" commented that all the profitable films made in recent years were produced without state assistance and that it would have been better for the industry if the state had not last year rescinded tax incentives for investors in the film industry. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September)
SERBIAPRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE WITHDRAWS, LAMBASTS LIBERAL MEDIA. New Serbia presidential candidate Velimir Ilic said on 5 September in Nis that he was officially withdrawing his name as a candidate in the Serbian presidential elections. In his speech, Ilic referred to independent media outlet B92 as "traitor television" employing "Serb-haters." According to Ilic, B92 did not give him "a single second of attention," and it "re-broadcasts the same program every day." He also criticized BK Television and TV Soko Banja of interrupting his speech and denying him allocated airtime as a presidential candidate. ("ANEM Media Update," 31 August-6 September)
EDITOR IN POZAREVAC UNDER PRESSURE? On 6 September, the Pozarevac branch of the movement Otpor accused local authorities of exerting pressure on Miodrag Kuzmanovic, editor in chief of the paper "Rec Naroda." The local Otpor coordinator claimed that Kuzmanovic has been "under pressure from the local authorities for a year," mainly because the editor provides "regular coverage of Otpor press conferences." ("ANEM Media Update," 31 August-6 September)
DESPITE COURT ORDER, JOURNALISTS STILL UNEMPLOYED. Three journalists whom the court had ordered to be reinstated by 10 September at the Leskovac weekly "Nasa Rec" are still without work. ("ANEM Media Update," 7-13 September)
EDITOR IN CHIEF OF WEEKLY DISMISSED. On 10 September, the head of the management committee of Belgrade weekly "NIN" announced that the editor in chief of the magazine has been dismissed. ("ANEM Media Update," 7-13 September)
SECOND DEADLINE FOR BROADCAST AGENCY BOARD PASSES. A second deadline for organizing the Broadcast Agency Board (BAB) expired on 12 September. Under the new Serbian Broadcast Act, the Serbian parliament is supposed to elect nine BAB members from among nominations by various media and social sectors that were made public several weeks ago. ("ANEM Media Update," 7-13 September)
SLOVAKIAFORMER PREMIER ASSAULTS, REPORTEDLY THREATENS JOURNALIST... Former Premier Vladimir Meciar on 13 September denied he attacked a journalist from the private channel TV Joj, while television images showed Meciar grabbing the reporter by the neck after he was asked about extensive renovations to his Slovak villa, TASR and Reuters reported. Reporter Luboslav Choluj said that after he asked Meciar where he got the estimated 41 million crowns ($930,000) for the reconstruction, the former premier "grabbed my neck with his left hand and reached back with his right fist to punch my face," adding that Meciar also used vulgar language in threatening him. A Reuters journalist who saw footage of the incident confirmed Choluj's version. In a statement issued on the same day, Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) said its chairman merely "protected himself against the physical attack by the journalist." Meciar later told journalists, "If you had colleagues who behaved decently, it would be possible to talk to them politely," and added: "I neither attacked anyone nor used any vulgar language." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September)
...AND STORMS OUT OF TV DEBATE. Meciar on 15 September walked out on a live debate with Pavol Rusko, leader of the Alliance for new Citizens, CTK reported. He did so after the moderator asked him to explain again the financing of his Trencianske Teplice villa reconstruction. Meciar refused to do so, saying the issue has been debated for four years and "all that is necessary has [already] been said." He said the moderator should switch to other questions or he would walk out. When the moderator asked a related question, Meciar made good on his threat -- just five minutes into the TA3 debate. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September)
MEDIA MAGNATE SAYS HE HOPES TO BE SLOVAK PREMIER. Alliance for New Citizens (ANO) Chairman Pavol Rusko told journalists in Kosice on 16 September that he hopes ANO will be in a position to head the next Slovak coalition, TASR reported. Rusko said that if he wins a parliamentary mandate, he will transfer his shares in TV Markiza to a person outside his family. This, he opined, would be a sufficient guarantee that TV Markiza will not be drawn into politics. Asked whether he would be ready to participate in a center-right coalition with Smer (Direction), Rusko replied: "Such a coalition could not call itself center-right." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September)
UKRAINECHIEF PROSECUTOR ADMITS JOURNALIST'S MURDER WAS POLITICALLY MOTIVATED. Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun on 14 September confirmed for the first time officially that the murder of Internet journalist Gongadze in 2000 was politically motivated, Interfax reported. "This was not an ordinary murder, this was a very complex murder," Piskun said. "It is camouflaged. It was a political killing that was contracted." Piskun announced that a team of U.S. experts will arrive in Ukraine in a week to help investigate the Gongadze case. He also said the Prosecutor-General's Office will conduct an examination, with the participation of international experts, of the tape recordings made by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko's in President Leonid Kuchma's office. Piskun added that Ukrainian investigators have evidence that some of Melnychenko's tapes were doctored. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September)
INDEPENDENT JOURNALIST RECEIVES OFFICIAL PROTECTION. Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) has provided personal protection for Olena Prytula, the editor in chief of the "Ukrayinska pravda" website, UNIAN reported on 12 September, quoting an SBU spokesman. Prytula appealed for official protection earlier in the week, arguing that her life could be in danger in connection with the investigation into the Gongadze murder. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September)
VIOLENCE AGAINST JOURNALISTS. In the city of Chernihov, unknown individuals assaulted Maksim Turchev, the operator of ICTV channel and Ulichnoye Televideniye, on 10 September. His wife, Anna Travintseva, described the incident as an attempt to her husband "out of action" before the planned mass 16 September protests. In another incident the same day, a reporter for the Odessa paper "Slovo" was beaten up in the staircase of her house. She believes that theft is the motivation for the attack. ("Center for Journalists in Extreme Situations CIS Report," 9-15 September)
INFORMATION BLACKOUT? On the morning of 16 September -- the day of mass protests against the government of President Leonid Kuchma -- all Ukrainian TV stations went off the air for scheduled maintenance ("profilaktika"), the telekritika.kiev.ua website announced during the stoppage. Half an hour later, the website reported that many radio stations were also off the air. It had checked with the regional media in Dnipropetrovsk, Ivano Frankivsk, Simferopol, Kyiv, Lviv. and some media outlets "have been told they're down until 15:00, some until 16:00." According to the website, "Profilaktika" is routine maintenance that is usually scheduled in advance -- although some "stations did schedule maintenance for today, but much of this seems to be unscheduled," the website reported. Telekritika said it had "yet to determine" who decided to schedule the maintenance. Since transmission towers also underwent maintenance on 16 September, "it affects everyone" and "no one in our office can remember it all being done at the same time." Telekritika concluded: "This in effect results in a nationwide information blackout."
NEW PUBLICATIONS, WEBSITES'REACHING POPULATIONS IN CRISIS.' "Lifeline Media: Reaching Populations In Crisis," published by the Switzerland-based foundation Media Action International (MAI) in 2001, is a guide to developing media projects in conflict situations. (IJ Net, 16 September)
RADIO AND HIV/AIDS. "Radio and HIV/AIDS: Making A Difference," published by the Switzerland-based foundation Media Action International in 1999, is a practical guide to producing effective radio programs on HIV/AIDS. For more, see http://www.mediaaction.org (IJ Net, 16 September)
END NOTECHRONICLES OF A HOT SUMMER IN KAZAKHSTAN
By Merhat Sharipzhan
"On 16 August, well-known Kazakhstan journalist Artur Platonov was beaten by three persons near his house in Almaty." Such information must sound extraordinary for anyone hearing it for the first time. But not in Kazakhstan. Such reports have become routine this summer. This has truly been a "hot" summer for the independent media, opposition parties and movements, and their media outlets in Kazakhstan.
The First Eurasian Media Forum was organized in March 2002 in Almaty by the Khabar Media Holding directed by Darigha Nazarbaeva -- who also happens to be the eldest daughter of the Kazakh president, Nursultan Nazarbaev. During his address to the forum, President Nazarbaev used the phrase "information war." And his martial words rang true a few months after the forum. On 3 May -- which also happens to be International Press Freedom Day -- the publishing house of the independent weekly "Aq Zhayiq" in the western Kazakh city of Atyrau was burned to the ground by unknown arsonists. During the very same week, the Kazakh Ministry of Transportation and Communications announced its decision to close the popular independent television station TAN TV in Almaty, citing "technical reasons." Before its closure, TAN's broadcast equipment had been vandalized several times by unknown attackers, who even shot at the station's technical equipment. This year, the same official body ordered the closure of two more independent TV stations: Irbis TV channel in the northern Kazakh city of Pavlodar and Era TV Channel in the Kazakh capital, Astana.
Unknown perpetrators on 23 May lobbed Molotov cocktails into the office of the Almaty-based paper "Respublika-Delovoye Obozreniye," totally destroying its offices and equipment. The day before that shocking event, four masked men had burst into the offices of the opposition "SolDat" newspaper in Almaty. The men beat two journalists who happened to be in the office at that time, tied them up, and absconded with all their equipment.
On 8 July, Muratbek Ketebaev, co-founder of the paper "Respublika-Delovoye Obozreniye," was detained by city police in Almaty and accused of having organized the Molotov cocktail attack against his own newspaper. At almost the same time, Almaty police announced that the attackers of the "SolDat" newspaper were also detained, adding that those suspects were simply drug addicts and had nothing to do with politics. On the same day in Atyrau, a city on the Caspian Sea, police forced their way into the offices of the newspaper "Altyn Orda" and confiscated all its equipment. Zhumabay Dospanov, the paper's editor in chief, has alleged that the police warrant stipulated simply that the paper's most recent edition should be confiscated.
In June, the 25-year-old daughter of well-known Kazakh journalist Lira Bayseitova was detained by police, allegedly for possession of drugs. On 15 June, Leila Bayseitova was found hanged in the cell of an Almaty city police station. She was taken comatose to an Almaty clinic, where she died the next day. Leila's mother was never allowed to visit her daughter. The tragedy occurred after Bayseitova gave interviews to several independent media outlets in Almaty about her trip to Switzerland, where she had reportedly met with Swiss officials investigating a case of alleged bribery involving foreign oil companies and senior Kazakh officials, including President Nazarbaev and his former adviser, American citizen James Giffen.
On 9 July, another well-known independent journalist, Sergei Duvanov, was interrogated by Kazakhstan's National Security Committee (KNB, formerly KGB) in Almaty. During a three-hour interrogation, Duvanov was questioned about his article "The Silence of the Lambs," which appeared on the kub.kz website in May. The article detailed Swiss bank accounts allegedly either owned or controlled by Kazakhstan President Nazarbaev and his associates. On 28 August, as he tried to enter his apartment in Almaty, Duvanov was attacked by three unknown men. According to Duvanov, the three masked men beat him with rubber truncheons, saying, "You know what this is for! Next time we'll leave you paralyzed." The day following the attack on Duvanov, President Nazarbaev announced to the press in Astana that he was "deeply outraged" over the beating. Nazarbaev's press service released a statement condemning the incident as "nothing less than a provocation aimed at discrediting and undermining Kazakhstan's authority."
These and other alarming events involving independent and opposition media outlets took place in Kazakhstan as part of a political drama involving several influential political leaders. Two cofounders of the Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan movement -- Mukhtar Abliyazov (former Minister of Trade, Energy and Industry) and Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov (former Governor of Pavlodar Oblast, North Kazakhstan) -- were facing criminal charges of abuse of power and financial misdeeds while they were in office. Kazakhstan's Democratic Choice (DVK) movement, established by young Kazakh politicians in November of last year, is in open opposition to President Nazarbaev. Abliyazov and Zhaqiyanov were arrested in the spring of this year after their political views became crystal clear. All those media outlets that tried to provide extensive and balanced coverage of their trials faced problems from the government.
Kazakhstan's Supreme Court on 18 July found Abliyazov guilty of mishandling of funds and sentenced him to six years' imprisonment; his property will be subject to confiscation, and he is obliged to pay a fine of $3.6 million to the state treasury. On 2 August, Zhaqiyanov was also found guilty of abuse of power and mishandling of funds by the Pavlodar City Court and sentenced to seven years' imprisonment.
Piotr Svoik, a co-chairman of Kazakhstan's United Democratic Party, has alleged that the verdicts against the two DVK leaders were made not by courts, but rather were inspired by President Nazarbaev himself. Svoik says the trials were politically motivated, adding that political measures should be undertaken in order to free Abliyazov and Zhaqiyanov.
This long, hot summer also saw the adoption of a new law on political parties on the basis of a draft by the pro-presidential OTAN (Motherland) party. After passage by both chambers of Kazakhstan's parliament, the country's Constitutional Court held that law to be constitutional. Under the new law, any political party in Kazakhstan must have at least 50,000 members to be registered or re-registered with the Justice Ministry and thus hold legal status. Amirzhan Qosanov, executive committee chairman of the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan -- generally regarded as a key opposition political organization -- has said that this law might cause disorder or even revolution. He said the new law will prompt many political organizations in Kazakhstan to operate underground. Yet, according to Alban Balghymbaev, the chief of the OTAN party's ideology department, the new law on political parties is needed in Kazakhstan "to regulate the messy process of Kazakhstan's transformation to a real democratic country."
Only time will tell what the future holds for independent political movements in Kazakhstan. As for the media, however, some opposition media outlets have already begun underground -- or, perhaps more accurately, "aerial" -- operations.
"You are listening to Radio Dat -- Free Radio for Free Citizens of Kazakhstan!" Since 8 August, people in Kazakhstan can tune in to Radio Dat in Kazakh and Russian languages. (In Kazakh, "Dat" can be translated as, "I demand a say," and was used by Kazakh nomads when they wanted to be given the floor during public discussions.) While it is not clear which country serves as the home base for the new station, it is clear that the number of such underground media outlets may grow -- particularly if Kazakhstan's hot summer is followed by a hot autumn and a hot winter.
(Merhat Sharipzhan is a reporter for RFE/RL's Kazakh Service.)