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Media Matters: December 13, 2002

13 December 2002, Volume 2, Number 47
PEN ANNOUNCES CAMPAIGN AGAINST VIOLATIONS OF FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION. PEN, the worldwide association of professional writers, marked International Human Rights Day on 10 December by announcing a year-long campaign to challenge impunity for violations of the essential right to freedom of expression. The campaign, which was officially launched on 25 November in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, during a conference of the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN, will include direct actions throughout the year and will culminate with the release of a PEN report on the problem of impunity and a series of public programs during International PEN's 69th World Congress of Writers in Mexico City from 23 through 28 November 2003. While PEN is tracking scores of impunity cases worldwide, its 2002-03 campaign will focus primarily on the problem as it affects freedom of expression in the Americas, seeking to use the lessons learned from its investigation and advocacy in this region to address similar cases in other regions. (PEN Canada/IFEX, 10 December)

WOMEN STILL LACK ACCESS TO BROADCASTING. A conference was held in Kabul on 9 December to commemorate the United Nations' adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 1948, Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 9 December. A female participant of the Kabul conference identified as Palika told Radio Free Afghanistan on 9 December that "women cannot even broadcast" on radio and television stations in Kabul, which she said "is a clear violation of their human rights." Palika added that women are absent from the decision-making levels of the Afghan government, "other than one or two who have more of a symbolic value," RFE/RL's Afghan Service quoted her as saying. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

OSCE URGES GOVERNMENT TO ALLOW INDEPENDENT TV STATION TO RESUME BROADCASTING. Ambassador Roy Reeve, who heads the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) office in Yerevan, urged the Armenian authorities on 10 December to permit the A1+ television station to resume broadcasting before the presidential elections scheduled for 19 February 2003, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The station was forced off the air in early April after losing a tender for its broadcast frequency. A November tender it contested has been suspended (see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 5 April and 22 November 2002). Reeve said the OSCE has informed the Armenian leadership it would like all television companies operational before the ballot and would prefer that the tender outcome not be further delayed by court proceedings. The independent television station Noyan Tapan has appealed its disqualification from the November tender, which the government justified on the grounds that the company failed to specify which frequency it was bidding for. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December)

OFFICIAL DOWNPLAYS EDITORS' COMPLAINT OF HARASSMENT. Presidential administration official Ali Hasanov told Turan on 7 December he considers the appeals addressed by the Union of Editors to the Council of Europe and the OSCE in connection with a wave of lawsuits against opposition media outlets "a storm in a teacup." The editors appealed on 4 December to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to intervene on their behalf with the Azerbaijani authorities (see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 6 December 2002). A similar appeal was addressed to OSCE representative for media freedom Freimut Duve on 6 December, Turan reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December)

COURT IMPOSES FINE ON OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER... Baku's Sabayil District Court fined the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" 3 million manats ($615,000) on 9 December and ordered it to publish a retraction of an article printed in October that the court ruled insulted the honor and dignity and damaged the professional reputation of Saatli District Mayor Gulkhuseyn Akhmedov, Turan reported. Akhmedov had demanded 20 million manats in damages. The libel suit was the first of nine brought against "Yeni Musavat" in recent weeks. A second case is continuing in Baku's Sabail District Court, in which Deputy Defense Minister Mamed Beydullaev is demanding 300 million manats in damages, Turan reported on 9 December. Also on 9 December, journalists' and human rights organizations in Azerbaijan issued a joint statement demanding that the country's authorities stop pressuring the independent media, Turan reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

...AS EDITORS WANT DEBT RELIEF EXTENDED. The editors of seven opposition and independent newspapers -- "Azadlyg," "Tazadlar," "Yeni Musavat," "Femida," "Jumhuriyyet," "Muhalifat," and "Sharg" -- have appealed to the director of Azerbaijan's state-run publishing house to extend the 10 January 2003 deadline by which they are required to pay their debts to that organization, Turan reported on 9 December. The seven editors said that demanding they meet the deadline would be tantamount to forcing them to cease publication. They recalled that when President Heidar Aliyev issued a decree one year ago freezing newspapers' debts for one year, he mentioned the possibility of extending that moratorium (see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 28 December 2001). "Azadlyg" and "Sharg" on 4 December quoted presidential administration official Ali Hasanov as implying that Aliyev would be willing to extend the moratorium. The total debts of Azerbaijan's 170 publications to the state publishing house amount to 1.5 billion manats, according to "Yeni Musavat" on 4 December. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

COURT UPHOLDS EDITOR'S SENTENCE TO FORCED LABOR. Minsk City Court confirmed the sentence of Viktar Ivashkevich, editor of the newspaper "Rabochy" (Worker), to two years of forced labor for publishing an article, "The Criminal Should Go to Jail," reported on 9 December. The court found that the article slandered President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. A defense attorney failed in his attempt to get Ivashkevich's sentence reduced to one year. Ivashkevich's trial is the latest in a series of convictions of journalists in the last year for critical coverage of the president during the presidential campaign last year. (, 9 December)

PRESIDENT APPOINTS SECURITY MAN TO HEAD STATE NEWS AGENCY. President Lukashenka has appointed Aleh Pralaskouski as general director of the state-run news agency BELTA, Belapan reported on 6 December. Pralaskouski, a department chief within the Presidential Security Service, will replace Yakau Alyakseychyk, who has headed BELTA since 1988. BELTA was created in 1921 and worked in close cooperation with ITAR-TASS until 1991, when it became the official news agency of the Republic of Belarus. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December)

PRESIDENT BLASTS 'CUNNING' RUSSIAN TV. During a visit to three domestic television channels, BT, ONT, and CTV on 5 December, President Lukashenka urged producers to "win over the Belarusian audience," and wean it from Russian television production, and reported on 6 December. Commenting on strained Russian-Belarusian relations that have been reflected in media coverage, the official wire service BELTA quoted Lukashenka as saying: "Today the information space is dominated by the Russian channels, which are richer and more cunning and flexible. The last few months show how little respect they have for the Belarusian nation." Noting the right of TV channels to independently define broadcasting policy, the Belarusian leader nevertheless cautioned that it implies great responsibility, since millions view the programs. The stations' values and ideas "must correspond to the norms and values that exist in Belarusian society," BELTA quoted Lukashenka as saying. In addition to the main state television Belarusian TV, Lukashenka has recently supported two more stations in Belarus to create competition for the half-dozen stations broadcasting from Russia. The Russian stations sometimes critically cover the autocratic Belarusian leader, and show footage of demonstrations and interviews with opposition members. CAF

EDITOR DETAINED DURING POLICE SWEEP OF CHECHENS. Police detained Evgenii Jokhidze, deputy editor of the independent daily "Tribuna," after a search of his apartment, apparently in connection with his published interview with Movladi Udugov, chief of the Information Department of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's government, the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES) reported on 10 December, citing the Independent Association of Georgian Journalists. He was released the same day. (CJES, 10 December)

POLICEMAN PUNISHED FOR CONFISCATING CAMERA. Police at the Sabutalin District precinct in Tbilisi confiscated a camera from a crew from the Caucasia television station on 7 December, and scuffled with journalists, CJES reported on 9 December, citing the station. The camera was later returned to the TV station damaged, with the video cassette removed. The crew had been filming a major police roundup and interrogation of Chechens living in Georgia. Journalists were subsequently surprised to learn that on 8 December, the interior minister ordered the dismissal of a policeman who had physically attacked the camera crew. They noted that such rapid responses to the abuse of journalists' rights is usually not forthcoming from authorities, and commented that the high-profile issue had prompted more official caution with journalists. (CJES, 9 December)

POLLING-INSTITUTE TRIAL RESUMES. The second session of the trial of Ayandeh Research Institute directors Hussein Qazian, Abbas Abdi, and Ali Reza Alavi-Tabar was originally scheduled for 8 December, but postponed until 10 December, "Iran Daily" reported on 8 December. Qazian's attorney, Ramazan Haji-Mashhadi, requested the delay because he needed more time. "Due to the long list of charges laid against my client, I am not ready to defend him against all the accusations," the daily quoted him as saying. The trial's first hearing was held on 3 December. The trial relates to a poll in which the majority of Tehran respondents favored a resumption of Iranian-U.S. relations, and the accused face espionage charges because their research institutes conducted the poll in cooperation with the Washington-based Gallup Organization (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 October, 2 December, and 9 December 2002). When the hearing was held on 10 December, Ayandeh's managing director, Hussein Qazian, appeared before the court and Abbas Abdi, a member of Ayandeh's board of directors, was also present. After hearing all the charges, Qazian admitted that he made a mistake in cooperating with the Washington-based Gallup Organization but said he that he was unaware of the "intelligence-related nature of such institutions," according to state television. Qazian apologized and expressed the hope that he had not harmed Iran's national interests. He also apologized for his "contacts with universities and antirevolutionary elements." Haji-Mashhadi concurred that his client had made some mistakes, but added: "Some of the charges about having contact with academic circles and traveling abroad are, in my view, not criminal offences. They were, in fact, normal, academic exchanges." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 11 December)

EMBATTLED IRANIAN PROFESSOR FILES LAWSUIT. Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization activist and university Professor Hashem Aghajari filed a lawsuit on 10 December with the legislature's Article 90 Committee to complain about his detention and the judiciary's methodology against him, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. Article 90 of the constitution states that anybody who has a complaint regarding the legislative, executive, or judicial branches can submit it in writing to the parliament, which must investigate the matter and, in cases where it is of public interest, make its findings public. Rudsar parliamentary representative Davud Hasanzadegan told ISNA that Aghajari filed the lawsuit from Hamedan, where he is imprisoned. Hasanzadegan said that Aghajari claims he is being held in temporary detention despite bail being set for him, and the charges mentioned in his trial are very different from what he actually said during a speech he made in Hamedan in June. Aghajari was sentenced in August to death, prison time, a flogging, and a ban from teaching for allegedly blasphemous statements during his speech. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December)

STUDENT CLASHES RESUME IN TEHRAN. A 9 December gathering of some 1,500-2,000 people at a sports hall at Tehran's Amir Kabir University turned violent when about 150 or 500 Basijis took exception to speakers' comments on behalf of individuals such as political activist and university Professor Aghajari and student leader Ali Afshari -- who is being held for his part in July 1999 demonstrations, RFE/RL and IRNA reported. Security forces had kept hard-liners and protestors apart during 7 December demonstrations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2002), thereby preventing serious violence, and they tried to keep people from storming the campus on 9 December. However, the police did not intervene when violence erupted this time, the "Financial Times" reported on 10 December. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

FOREIGN JOURNALISTS GET THE GRAND TOUR. The Iraqi government took reporters on a tour this week of what it said was an insecticide plant at Falluja that had been wrongly stamped a weapons factory, continuing a diplomatic and public relations campaign to combat allegations it is stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, AP reported on 13 December. The United Nations has said the plant is suspect, and wants trained inspectors to have full access to any site it deems suspicious. An expert on chemical and biological weapons at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Jean Pascal Zanders, told AP on 11 December that Falluja was "a name that has recurred time and time again in the context of chemical weapons in Iraq." Zanders said taking journalists to alleged weapons sites was "an exercise in trying to influence world opinion, possibly to avert U.S. military action." (AP, 13 December)

PENTAGON TO DEPLOY ARMY OF JOURNALISTS. In a departure from policy in past military actions, the Pentagon is planning to deploy hundreds of print reporters, photographers, and television journalists with front-line U.S. units if there is a war with Iraq, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on 4 December. Faced with the round-the-clock news cycle and the prospect that President Saddam Hussein will mount an effective media campaign of his own, Pentagon officials have concluded that reporters "embedded" within military units will be more credible witnesses to history than military briefers. Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke won't say yet how often, for how long, and with what units reporters might be deployed -- although she says the Pentagon is contemplating attaching them to air as well as ground troops, and in the "first wave" of any attack. "We are absolutely convinced the more news and information that comes out of Iraq -- if there's military action -- the better off we'll all be," the "Los Angeles Times" quoted Clarke as saying. Captain T. McCreary, public affairs advisor to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard B. Myers, said that Afghanistan changed many military minds about media coverage. "Afghanistan was the watershed event," he said. "We had an enemy with a strategy designed to put out false stories in the Arab media. We were always fighting to keep up. If we don't do this, we will always be losing the information game. Reacting from Washington to the enemy in theater is painful." ("Los Angeles Times," 4 December)

REPORTERS' BOOT CAMP PREPARES FOR WAR COVERAGE. Many U.S. news organizations are ordering staffers to attend either private, week-long boot camps or one offered by the Pentagon, "USA Today" reported on 11 December in an article titled "Boot Camp Prepares Journalists for Iraq." The courses are designed to teach people who sit at computer terminals, shoot photos, or anchor from TV studios everything from how to blend into a crowd and how to stop a wound from bleeding to recognizing different kinds of artillery and reacting to a chemical-weapons attack. CNN anchor Aaron Brown attended CNN's war camp near Atlanta this week, "USA Today" reported, among 400 staffers who have participated in a course that the cable outlet contracted through the AKE Group, a British company staffed by former commandos. Last month, the Pentagon sponsored a safety and combat-readiness course that drew 57 journalists from 31 news organizations to the Marine Corps training base in Quantico, Virginia, and then to Norfolk Naval Base. ("USA Today," 11 December)

'THE ECONOMIST' HONORS KAZAKH JOURNALIST. "The Economist" announced in its 5 December edition that it has awarded this year's Freedom of the Press Award to Kazakh journalist Lira Baysetova, owner and editor of the opposition newspaper "Respublika." Baysetova's daughter disappeared in late May, shortly after Baysetova published an interview with Geneva prosecutor Bernard Bertossa about rumored secret Swiss bank accounts belonging to President Nursultan Nazarbaev and members of his family. Baysetova's daughter died under unclear circumstances shortly afterward. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December)

FOREIGN EXPERTS TO BE ALLOWED TO ATTEND KAZAKH JOURNALIST'S TRIAL. In a statement issued on 10 December, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry said that foreign experts will be permitted to attend the trial, for which no date has yet been set, of opposition journalist Sergei Duvanov, Reuters and Interfax reported. Duvanov faces charges, which most domestic and international observers are convinced were fabricated, of raping a 14-year-old girl at his dacha in late October. President Nazarbaev said in Brussels on 29 November that tests have established Duvanov's guilt. Reversing an earlier refusal, the Foreign Ministry also said that representatives from the Ontario coroner's office who requested the opportunity to study materials pertaining to the death under unclear circumstances of Leila Baysetova, will be allowed to do so. Baysetova's mother Lira published in the newspaper "Respublika" an interview with a Swiss prosecutor who is investigating reports that Nazarbaev and his family have accumulated millions of dollars in secret Swiss bank accounts. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December)

OFFICIAL DECLARES WAR ON INDEPENDENT PAPER. State Secretary Osmonakun Ibraimov has vowed to launch a "crusade" through the courts against "Moya stolitsa," an independent newspaper already facing a dozen lawsuits for its critical articles, the newspaper and local media reported on 10 December. In a public speech on 3 December, Ibraimov accused the paper of setting Kyrgyzstan's diverse regions against each other. Local media observers say the muck-racking publication may be forced to close soon, or its publishing house, Uchkun, may refuse to print it under official pressure. "Moya stolitsa" critically covered President Askar Akaev's visit to the U.S. in September, as well as his meetings with Western donors, and financial dealings related to the official celebration of Kyrgyzstan's 2200th anniversary of statehood in 2003, dubbed a "quasi-patriotic myth" by the paper. The costly settlement of slander suits against "Moya stolitsa" could legally force its closure. According to the editor Aleksandr Kim, on 4 December the Lenin District Court sentenced the newspaper to a fine of 500,000 soms ($10,900) and the author of an article to 10,000 soms ($220), in an action related to coverage of a U.S. firm and allegations about its evasion of taxes. CAF

SUSPENDED SENTENCE FOR PUBLISHER OF ANTI-SEMITIC MAGAZINE. The Kurzeme Regional Court in Latvia has handed Guntars Landmanis a one-year suspended sentence and imposed a fine of 600 lats, following a January 2001 judgment by a lower court that found Landmanis guilty of inciting ethnic hatred, "Bigotry Monitor" reports. Landmanis publishes the magazine "Patriots" which routinely prints anti-Semitic articles such as the one that compared Jews to ticks and called for their extermination. On 13 November, the Latvian newspaper "Diena" quoted Nils Muiznieks, director of the Latvian Center for Human Rights and Ethnic Studies, as saying that the case marks the first time that Latvia's law against inciting ethnic hatred has led to a conviction. ("Bigotry Monitor," 6 December)

JOURNALISTS' STRIKE CRIPPLES DAILY. The supervisory board of Free Word Publishing House (DWWS), publisher of the nationwide daily "Zycie," has suspended the publication of the newspaper "until further notice," PAP reported on 9 December, quoting Tomasz Wolek, a co-founder of "Zycie" and member of the supervisory board. "Zycie" did not appear for the third consecutive day on 9 December because of a strike by journalists who claim the publisher owes them some 700,000 zlotys ($177,000) in back wages. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

CONTROVERSIAL CATHOLIC RADIO STATION APPLIES FOR POLISH TV LICENSE. Ultra-Catholic Radio Maryja, headed by Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, has applied to the Polish National Radio and Television Broadcasting Council (KRRiTV) for a license to launch a satellite-television channel called Trwam ("I abide" in Polish), PAP reported on 9 December. The application specifies that Trwam is to be a commercial station and, in contrast to Radio Maryja, will air advertisements. KRRiTV spokeswoman Joanna Stepien said a decision on the application should be expected no sooner than in two to three months. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

PRESIDENT RETURNS LAW ON ROMANIAN LANGUAGE TO PARLIAMENT. President Ion Iliescu returned the recently adopted Law on the Defense of Romanian Language to parliament for further debate, Mediafax reported on 10 December. The controversial law, nicknamed the "Pruteanu law," after its main proponent, Senator George Pruteanu, stipulates that foreign words displayed in public places must be accompanied by translation into Romanian. Presidential Councilor Serban Nicolae on 10 December said Iliescu asked parliament to remove from the bill the levying of fines for the incorrect use of Romanian language in advertisements, and to add to the exceptions to the law the use of foreign words in sports-related texts, as many of these words cannot be translated. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December)

IMPRISONED JOURNALIST WINS HUMAN RIGHTS PRIZE. Imprisoned military journalist Grigorii Pasko won the 2002 Reporters Without Borders Fondation de France human rights prize, Russian and Western news agencies reported on 10 December. Moreover, on 5 December Amnesty International declared Pasko, who is serving a four-year prison term for spying for Japan, a prisoner of conscience and launched a campaign for his release. In its citation, Reporters Without Borders noted Pasko's "commitment to freedom of speech" and the fact that he has "suffered for his convictions." Pasko, a former naval officer who wrote an expose in 1993 concerning Russian Navy dumping of nuclear waste in the Pacific, was sentenced last year in December. The Russian Supreme Court in June upheld the conviction against him. Pasko was working in Vladivostok as a correspondent for the newspaper "Boevaya Vakhta" when he was arrested in 1997 by the Federal Security Service. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December and "Russia: Amnesty Demands Jailed Reporter's Release,", 9 December)

RUSSIAN BOOKER PRIZEWINNER NAMED. The Russian Booker Prize for literature was awarded to 32-year-old Oleg Pavlov on 5 December for his novella "Karagandinskie devyatiny" (Karaganda Nines), Russian news agencies reported. Pavlov was quoted by RIA-Novosti as saying that the most important thing is "to remain human, not to betray oneself, to follow one's own path." The prizewinner receives $12,500. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December)

ANOTHER PIRATED-CD CACHE RAIDED. Police in Moscow have confiscated 50,000 pirated compact discs in a warehouse located on the property of an automobile-repair company, Interfax reported on 5 December. Police also found packaging and printing materials related to the illegal discs. According to a police spokesman, the discs allegedly belonged to a criminal group organized by unidentified residents of Chechnya. It was unclear from the report whether any arrests were made in connection with the seizure. Last month, Moscow police confiscated 70,000 illegal DVDs in a similar raid. "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December)

MORE COMPLAINTS ABOUT VIOLENCE ON TELEVISION. Residents of the central Russian town of Galich have addressed an open letter to first lady Lyudmila Putina expressing dismay at the violence shown on the country's main television channels and at the "negativity" of the news broadcasts, reported, citing Kostroma State Television. The letter also bemoans the lack of children's programming. Copies of the letter were sent to the State Duma, the Kostroma Oblast legislature, and the Media Ministry. In October, more than 1,000 residents of the Karelian city of Segezha signed a petition with similar complaints. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December)

INTERIOR MINISTRY REMOVES CHECHEN FIGHTERS FROM THE WEB... There is not a single "Wahhabite" Internet site operating in Russia, reported on 4 December. Dmitrii Chepchugov, head of the Moscow Interior Ministry department for combating high-technology crime ("Department R"), told journalists that as part of the antiterrorism measures adopted following the 23-26 October hostage taking in Moscow, his department has identified all the Internet sites associated with Chechen fighters. An unspecified number of domestic sites have been shut down, and the Foreign Ministry has sent formal complaints to all foreign countries hosting such sites, acting on information provided by Chepchugov's office. Chepchugov said that the website Kavkaz-Tsentr was registered in Canada and was shut down following a Foreign Ministry appeal to the Canadian government, ITAR-TASS reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December)

...AND SAYS 'TERRORISTS' FUNDED BY PORN SITES. At the same press conference, Chepchugov said that the profits generated by pornographic websites worldwide play a significant role in the financing of extremist and terrorist organizations, reported on 4 December. He estimated that a child-porn site can bring in as much as $30,000 per month in illegal revenue. Since March, Chepchugov's office has been tracking 3,000 Internet sites and has launched 14 criminal cases. He said that, in addition to pornographic sites, his agency monitors sites "with extremist tendencies." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December)

DUMA DEPUTY URGES CUTTING OFF TERRORISTS FROM MEDIA. Duma Deputy Aleksei Mitrofanov (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) on 4 December told a roundtable sponsored by the Union of Journalists that one can "block 90 percent of terrorist activity by cutting off the flow of information to television and the newspapers," RosBalt reported. He said that a single terrorist act can generate more publicity than political parties are able to muster even if they spend millions of dollars on promotion. "The terrorists' goal of forcing the authorities to undertake political negotiations would be impossible to realize under conditions of an information blockade," Mitrofanov said. He added that even if the law on the mass media is revised, the government will continue using "informal methods" to close down "inconvenient" media outlets. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December)

NEW BILL COULD TRANSFORM RTR INTO SUBSCRIPTION-BASED PUBLIC TELEVISION. Former State Press Committee Chairman Mikhail Fedotov, who is a co-author of the media law adopted in 1990, has submitted to the Duma a bill that would transform RTR television, which is currently part of the VGTRK state broadcasting corporation, into an advertising-free public television channel, Ekho Moskvy reported on 3 December. Under the bill, the station would be funded by public subscription fees, private donations, and federal grants. Fedotov told the radio station that the subscription fee would be minimal -- about 9 rubles ($0.30) per month per household. The bill would ban the channel from broadcasting advertising and authorize the creation of a board of trustees comprising prominent public figures. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December)

PRESIDENT INVESTIGATES PROSECUTOR'S LIBEL ALLEGATIONS AGAINST JOURNALIST. Slovak President Rudolf Schuster is studying a prosecutor's threat to sue newspaper reporter Vanda Vavrova, TASR reported in 5 December. A prosecutor has said he is considering charging Vavrova, a journalist for the daily newspaper "Pravo," for criminal libel over a series of stories she wrote on alleged corruption within the judiciary. If convicted, Vavrova could face up to five years in jail and be fined and banned from working as a journalist. The Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI), which sees the threat as an assault on free press, has asked Schuster to look into the matter. "Although it has not been activated, the threat is seen as an attempt to subdue the local media and prevent them from reporting on judicial matters," the IPI wrote in a letter to Schuster on 4 December. The IPI noted that many other countries have removed criminal defamation laws from their books and urged Slovakia to do the same. "If the objections are justified, the president is willing to do his best to help the journalist," Schuster's spokesman, Jan Fule, said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December)

DOCUMENTARY ON KIDNAPPING STIRS CONTROVERSY. An effort to produce a documentary film about the 1995 abduction of Michal Kovac Jr., son of the former Slovak president, is already creating controversy, "Sme" reported on 4 December. Film director Mario Homolka and the editor of the weekly "Plus 7 Dni," Luba Lesna, are producing the film about the kidnapping, which some believe was carried out by allies of former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar within the SIS secret service. For the project, Homolka and Lesna filmed the home of one of the accused, identified only as "Lubos K." The same suspect called Homolka and forbade usage of the tape, Homolka alleged. Twelve people were charged in connection with Kovac Jr.'s abduction -- which occurred amid a continuing power struggle between his father and Meciar -- although the charges were dismissed in June 2002 by a court that cited amnesties issued by Meciar while he was temporarily executing the duties of the Slovak president. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December)

JOURNALISTS SNUB PROSECUTOR-GENERAL'S OFFICE IN SOLIDARITY PROTEST. A dozen journalists from several Ukrainian television channels and newspapers left a news conference by Deputy Prosecutor-General Vasyl Prysyazhnyuk in Kyiv on 4 December to protest the refusal of the Prosecutor-General's Office to accredit a journalist from the Internet publication "Ukrayinska pravda" for the event, UNIAN reported. "Because you present the position of the Prosecutor-General's Office and use the information obtained at news conferences in a biased manner, we think that our further cooperation is inexpedient," the "Ukrayinska pravda" website quoted a representative of the Prosecutor-General's Office as saying to justify the rejection. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December)

JOURNALIST ACCUSES PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION OF STIFLING MEDIA... Addressing a parliamentary hearing on the freedom of expression on 4 December, the nascent Independent Trade Union of Journalists' Kyivan leader Andriy Shevchenko described a policy whereby the presidential administration effectively dictates news coverage through unsigned cues sent to media outlets, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported. He said such prompts, or "temnyky," detail what news and in what manner the presidential administration wishes to see information reported in newspapers and on radio and television. "In actual fact, television news coverage in Ukraine is made in a remote-control mode. Someone else, not journalists, edits news programs, shoots and disseminates videos, writes texts, and selects comments by governors, which are subsequently sent to all channels," Shevchenko said. "Let us admit honestly: Instead of news coverage, Ukraine gets lies. Because every half-truth is a lie, and there should be no illusions about that." Shevchenko proposed that media legislation be amended to broaden the definition of illegal interference in journalistic activities and toughen sanctions for such interference. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December)

...AND NEWS AGENCY'S EDITOR PROVIDES MORE DETAILS. Oleksandr Kharchenko, editor in chief of the UNIAN news agency, said at the same hearing that authorities have recently begun "taming" Ukrainian news agencies to encourage a certain manner of reportage, UNIAN reported. According to Kharchenko, UNIAN's pluralistic information policy has undergone change since the appointment of Executive Director Vasyl Yurychko earlier this year. Kharchenko said Yurychko has limited journalists' opportunities to present differing points of view in their news coverage and initiated a policy of publication that can be construed as politically biased. Deputy Prime Minister Dmytro Tabachnyk proposed setting up a working group comprising lawmakers, government officials, and journalists to propose amendments to media legislation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December)

JOURNALIST MISSING. Mutabar Tajibaeva, a journalist in Ferghana Province, has been missing since 6 December, according to Ozod Ovoz (Free Voice), a newly established free-speech organization, the Journalists' Trade Union of Azerbaijan (JuHI) reported in a statement distributed by, the freedom of expression clearing house. Tajibaeva was summoned to the Altyaryk District Court on 6 December but never turned up at the court. The next day, the Ferghana Provincial Office of Internal Affairs announced a search was launched to locate the journalist. Tajibaeva and her daughter's whereabouts are currently unknown. Colleagues fear that she may have been forcibly detained by police. According to other sources, including the organization International Media Support, Tajibaeva has been involved in monitoring human rights violations in Ferghana Province. She is also a contributor to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting's publications, reporting on issues such as women's rights violations and the increasing number of suicides by women in Uzbekistan. She also heads the Ferghana-based human rights group Ut uraklar (Fiery Hearts), an unregistered organization. Tajibaeva had planned to organize a public demonstration in front of the Uzbek parliament building on 8 December to protest constitutional rights violations, but officials summoned her to the Altyaryk District Court to face an accusation of disturbing public order. She was also accused of establishing an illegal organization and that if she did not voluntarily appear in court she could be brought by force. (JuHI/IFEX, 12 December)

FIRST-EVER YUGOSLAV TOLERANCE PRIZE AWARDED. Dragoljub Micunovic, speaker of the Yugoslav parliament, leader of the small Democratic Center, and a veteran moderate politician, received the country's first prize for tolerance on 11 December, AP reported from Belgrade. The independent radio station B-92 was also singled out for recognition. The prize is sponsored by the government ministry for ethnic minorities and the U.S. and British embassies. President Vojislav Kostunica and many other dignitaries attended the ceremony. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December)


By Askold Krushelnycky

Ukrainian journalists, civic activists, and politicians complain that the government of President Leonid Kuchma is trying to curb freedom of speech and control the media in the country. Western governments, the Council of Europe, and various human rights organizations who have investigated the allegations largely support the accusations.

In the past, most of the complaints have dealt with newspapers, television, and radio. Now, however, the owner of a publishing company called Taki Spravy says that his case shows that books are not exempt from the Ukrainian government's desire to control freedom of speech.

Serhiy Danylov says that more than 30 raids by Ukrainian tax police have occurred since Taki Spravy published a biography of one of Kuchma's fiercest critics, former Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, last February.

Some 900,000 copies of the book, "Unfulfilled Orders," have been sold, making it one of the most successful books printed since Ukrainian independence. Danylov said he has no doubt that the tax raids are a direct result of the book's publication. "The commissioning of the publishing of the book that is called 'Unfulfilled Orders' -- nothing else interested [the tax police]. That's the only thing that interested them. Who had the audacity to publish such a book?"

Danylov started Taki Spravy in 1988 and later registered it in Lithuania with a Lithuanian partner, believing the move would give his company -- one of Ukraine' top three publishing firms -- greater protection from government interference.

Danylov said the tax police accuse him of being involved in money laundering and have tried to take court action that would force the sale of his business at auction. He said that despite handing over audits and documents demanded by the tax police, they continue to carry out military-style raids intended to intimidate him and his employees. He described one such raid: "On 6 March, there was a search. Fifteen men suddenly appeared at our business premises with two men at the doors of each office that interested them and two inside without warrants, without anything. There were armed men at the entrance and a busload of men armed with machine guns outside. The search was illegal, and they were immediately told that. They replied that if they were not immediately allowed in to search, then in five minutes every employee of the business would be lying on the ground."

Observers say investigations by the tax police have become a routine method to harass media seen as unfriendly to the government. Ukraine's complex and muddled tax and business regulations mean that almost any business can be accused of not following regulations. Danylov denies any wrongdoing. "I've got all the documents to prove that I am a publisher and printer and not somebody involved in money laundering. And they have no proof, and they can't have any proof because I have never taken part in such activities."

Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun denies that the investigation against Taki Spravy is politically motivated and said that none of the investigating authorities has infringed the law.

Ivan Lozowy is the director of an independent think tank based in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. Lozowy said the Taki Spravy case has attracted widespread interest. He says Ukrainian politicians have condemned the authorities' actions against Taki Spravy and that the European Union recently informed the Ukrainian government of its interest in the case.

Lozowy said most observers have no doubt the case is politically motivated and is an example of a "nayizd" -- the popular term for government pressure against a company or group that has displeased it. "It's pretty apparent that the authorities are lying through their teeth when they say that the case has nothing to do with politics or Tymoshenko's book."

Lozowy said that former Justice Minister Serhiy Holovatiy and another former deputy prime minister, Viktor Penzenyk, are among those who have championed Taki Spravy's case in the Ukrainian parliament, and that the parliamentary Committee on Freedom of Speech plans to investigate the matter. "Members of the parliamentary Committee on Freedom of Speech are sufficiently interested in such a well-known case in Ukraine that a special parliamentary committee will be set up to investigate it. Particularly in the light that this case has been dragging on and on with no end or resolution in sight because the tax authorities are simply interested -- in the view of most observers, including prominent lawyers -- in basically bringing the enterprise, the company, to its knees -- [that is] destroying it. And that's the whole political nature of this 'nayizd' or rollover or pressure brought to bear on the publishing house Taki Spravy. It's inconvenient as an independent, a truly independent, publishing house in Ukraine, and the task has been set to destroy it."

Danylov this week gave evidence at a Ukrainian parliamentary hearing on the press and censorship in the country.

Danylov said that because of the authorities' actions, his business has suffered and may be ruined. He has, therefore, begun his own court action against the tax police and is suing them for 15 million euros in compensation.

He said he is not confident of success in Ukraine so has started proceedings before a U.S. court in Washington, D.C., which arbitrates on international business disputes and can enforce payment of monetary awards against a government by impounding its assets, such as ships or aircraft. "But the court that we can directly turn to, in accordance with an agreement between Lithuania and Ukraine, is the court in Washington created by the Washington Convention of 1965 called the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes. And if Ukraine does not comply with the decision of this court, it will regret not doing so for a long, long time."

Danylov said his life may be in danger because of his actions and that he is taking precautions for his safety. He said his best protection -- and the best hope for saving his company -- is publicity from the international media about his case.

Askold Krushelnycky is an RFE/RL correspondent.