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(Un)Civil Societies Report: May 18, 2000

18 May 2000, Volume 1, Number 1

This is the first issue of a new RFE/RL weekly report, "(Un)Civil Societies," on East-Central and Southeastern Europe and the countries of the former Soviet Union. This weekly report will present a summary of recent events and trends in regard to freedom of the press as well as other civil society issues.
ISLAMIC NEWS AGENCY CLOSED. On 25 April, "Islam Dun'yasi," the only Islamic news agency in Azerbaijan, was closed down by official order, even though it had been officially registered. (Azerbaijan Human Rights Committee, Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 5 May)

SEVENTEEN JOURNALISTS WERE BEATEN BY POLICE as they covered an opposition rally on 29 April in Baku, according to the Journalists' Trade Union and other sources. (Committee to Protect Journalists, 5 May press release)

TAX POLICE TARGET OPPOSITION JOURNAL. Tax officials on 8 May sealed the Baku offices of the "Monitor Weekly," accusing its editor of failing to present financial data for the first three months of the year, AP and Interfax reported. The journal's editor, Elmar Huseinov, attributed the move to official displeasure with the weekly's criticism of the president. "Monitor Weekly's" predecessor, "Monitor," ceased publication in the summer of 1998 after a Baku court fined it for insulting senior officials. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2000)

...AND CLOSE PRINTING PRESS. On the same day, the press that printed the "Monitor" and several Russian-language publications was shut down along with the newspaper "Baku Boulevard." (Azerbaijan Human Rights Committee, 10 May)

JUDGE UPHOLDS ALLEGEDLY ANTI-SEMITIC PUBLICATION. A Minsk district court judge ruled on 11 May that material in the book "The War According to Pernicious Laws," published by the Orthodox Initiative in late 1999, was scientific and dismissed a suit against it claiming it was anti-Semetic, according to the New York-based World Association of Belarusian Jews (WABJ). According to the WABJ's Yakaw Basin, the book blames 28,000 Belarusian Jews for genocide against the Slavic population of Belarus. The WABJ said the Orthodox Initiative published other books along these lines, including "About Jewish Fascism" by B. Mironaw, and the anti-Catholic work, "The Roman Catholic Church and Ecumenism," by H. Alyakseyew. (Belapan News Agency, 11 May)

NEWS WEEKLY WARNED BY PROCURACY. The Procurator General's Office has issued a warning to the private weekly "Nasha Niva" for publishing the article "Infection of Fascism (A. Lukashenko copies A. Hitler)" by Semyon Sharetsky, Supreme Soviet chairman. This is the second warning this year and gives the authorities grounds to initiate court proceedings to close the paper. (Belapan News Agency, 12 May)

OSCE PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT CRITICIZES MEDIA. At a 26 April news conference, Helle Dugn said that her organization is not satisfied with media coverage of the Georgian presidential elections. She also pointed out that during her current visit some media outlets had attributed remarks to her that she had not made. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 26 April)

TWO JOURNALISTS HELD IN SOUTH OSSETIAN JAIL. Two reporters from "Kviris palitra" were seized on 8 May in a market in Ergneti where they were gathering information on smuggled goods from Russia. They were later taken to the capital city of Tskhinvali. Charged with spying, the reporters were released two days later due to "personal contacts" with Tskhinvali police officials. (Kavkaz Information Agency, 11 May)

NAZARBAEV NAMED NUMBER SIX ON PRESS ENEMY LIST. President Nursultan Nazarbaev was listed sixth on The Committee to Protect Journalists enemies of the press list on 3 May. But only RFE/RL's Kazakh Service and a few Internet sites reported this fact inside Kazakhstan. ("Evrazia," RFE/RL Russian Service program, 12 May)

INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPER UNDER PRESSURE. Ramazan Esergepov, chief editor of "Nachniom s Ponedel'nika," told a 16 May press conference that Almaty city officials were trying to pressure the newspaper staff to move from their current offices. Since the paper ran several articles critical of Almaty Mayor Viktor Khrapunov it has faced various problems with the city administration. (RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, 16 May)

NEWSPAPER EDITOR LAMBASTS DEMOCRATS. Constantin Tanase, editor of the mass circulation "Flux"--which admittedly has Popular Christian Democratic Party leanings--claimed on 11 April that Moldovan democrats are critical of his paper's policy "to invite all politicians from Moldova and let them express their points of view so that our readers can hear information from primary sources and see how our politicians think...regardless of whether their position coincides or not with ours or our readers...That is the golden rule of democracy."

ROMANIAN JOURNALIST BEATEN BY POLICE. Valentin Dragan, a journalist for a Constanta-based newspaper and a Reuters correspondent, was severely beaten by police on 12 May while trying to photograph a "private party," the daily "Ziua" reported on 15 May. The party was hosted by Constanta county's police chief, Ion Carlig, who was celebrating his promotion to the rank of general. Dragan suffered several injuries, including a broken leg. According to the newspaper, Dragan received most of his injuries from press officer Major Marian Saragea. The Romanian Journalist Association has protested and asked for Carlig's suspension pending investigation, while the Interior Ministry said it has begun a probe into the matter. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May)

MEDIA-MOST OFFICE RAID SPARKS CONTROVERSY. Several dozen people, some of them armed, entered the Moscow offices of Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most Group on 11 May to carry out a search of those premises. Interfax reported that the raid was conducted by the Interior Ministry's Main Directorate for Fighting Economic Crime, the Prosecutor-General's Office, and the tax police. The news agency added that the search was part of a criminal investigation into former Finance Ministry officials suspected of abuse of office. Media-Most, for its part, denounced the action as one of "lawlessness" that was linked to recent reporting by its media outlets on government corruption, according to Reuters. NTV, Ekho Moskvy, the daily "Segodnya," and the weekly "Itogi" are all part of the Media-Most group. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May)

In a May 12 article, entitled "Machine Guns in the President's Press Service," "Segodnya" claims that the Media-Most group was preparing a series of articles on corrupt high-level law enforcement officials, including Deputy General-Procurator Sabir Kekhlerov and FSB Deputy Director Yuri Zaostrovtsev, who also heads its department for economic counterespionage. As part of its investigation, "Segodnya" claims it sent these officials letters of inquiry. Instead of responding to the journalists' questions, these officials instead decided to send armed masked men to raid the Media-Most offices. According to "Segodnya" it was Kekhlerov who signed the order to initiate criminal charges and it was Zaostrovtsev who supervised the raid.

In a 12 May letter to President Putin, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said that the action against Media-Most, coming only four days after his inauguration, "raises serious questions about his commitment to a free and independent press." The CPJ also pointed to contradictory explanations (financial irregularities, criminal investigation, and illegal eavesdropping) of the raid given by officials from various government agencies. (CPJ press release, 15 May)

In an interview with ITAR-TASS on 11 May, Aleksandr Zdanovich, a spokesman for the Federal Security Service, denounced criticism directed against his agency over the raid on the Media-Most offices. He said suggestions that the case was "political" and represented an attempt "to put pressure on the mass media" has "nothing to do with what is really taking place." Zdanovich insisted that the investigation concerns violations of tax laws. Meanwhile, the law enforcement officers told Interfax that they discovered unauthorized eavesdropping equipment in the Media-Most offices. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May)

Following criticism of the police raid on the Moscow offices of the Media-Most Group on 11 May, the presidential press service announced the next day that Putin is "firmly convinced that freedom of speech and freedom of the media are immutable values" but added that with regard to criminal investigations, "all are equal before the law no matter what business they are in." U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on 12 May that while the U.S. welcomes Putin's statement, it finds it "disturbing when actions of authority seem in contradiction to the values expressed by the president and...enshrined in the Russian constitution." Boucher said that he expects that media freedom will be raised during talks between U.S. President Bill Clinton and Putin during their June summit in Moscow. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May)

The Secretariat of the Union of Journalists published a statement in "Moskovskii Komsomolets" of 13 May appealing to the Russian president to counter the unconstitutional actions of the Federal Security Service. The statement also expressed a lack of confidence in the leadership of Media Minister Mikhail Lesin, who "has done nothing to strengthen the freedoms of the media." The previous day, Lesin told "Ekho Moskvy" that there are no grounds to believe that federal powers are trying to put pressure on the media and that the raid on the Media-Most Group will not affect the operation of that holding company's media organs. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May)

On 15 May, Media-Most Group, accused the Federal Security Service of manufacturing incriminating evidence: "The use of open disinformation, falsification and fraud by government-controlled media and law-enforcement officials show such methods are becoming state policy," while Russia's prosecutor-general said the search was justified and was aimed at finding evidence of eavesdropping by Media-Most's security service. Deputy Prosecutor-General Vasilii Kolmogorov said "claims the media are coming under pressure are completely false," Interfax reported. "Moskovskii Komsomolets," reports "Obshchaya Gazeta," will release a special 17 May issue on the latest threat to the Russian media. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May)

REGIONS TO FIGURE PROMINENTLY ON 'ENEMIES OF THE PRESS' LIST? Igor Yakovenko, secretary-general of the Russian Journalists Union, said on 3 May that Russia's regions may be well represented on his newly-created list of "Enemies of the Russian Press." According to the Russia News Agency, the leaderships of at least two regions--Bashkortostan and Saratov Oblast--have already gained places on the list. ("RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 10 May)

MOSCOW JOURNALIST HAMMERED ON HEAD. Igor Domnenkov, a "Novaya Gazeta" reporter who writes on culture, was attacked on 12 May outside his home by an unknown assailant and was admitted to hospital with a "serious" skull and brain wound. "Novaya Gazeta" editor Dmitri Muratov said on NTV that the attack may have been aimed at another of the paper's journalists who lives in the same building and reports on corruption. The newspaper specializes in investigative journalism and alleged government misdeeds. In March, someone broke into its computer system and destroyed an entire issue of "Novaya Gazeta." (AP, Interfax, 13 May)

CITY POLICE OFFER PROTECTION FOR POZAREVAC AGENCY REPORTER. The police chief in the central Serbian town of Pozarevac, Colonel Radisa Jovic, offered full police protection on 7 May to Mile Veljkovic, Beta agency's local correspondent has received several anonymous threats. Jovic, escorted by a police patrol, yesterday visited Veljkovic and pledged that police would attempt to find the person harassing him. Veljkovic is the brother of a student (Otpor) activist arrested in the town after a conflict with the Yugoslav United Left. (ANEM Weekly Report, 6-12 May)

TV STATION OWNER'S PASSPORT CONFISCATED ON BORDER. Aleksandar Djordjevic, the owner of "TV Grk" from Prokuplje, was travelling to Ljubljana on 8 May to take part in a conference. At the border near Subotica, he was removed from the bus, his luggage searched, and, after being detained for over two hours, told there were irregularities in his passport regarding travel to Bulgaria in 1999. He was given written confirmation that his passport had been confiscated on suspicion of committing a criminal act, but no specific details were offered. Aleksandar Djordjevic has not been informed by any state body of pending charges requiring he remain in the country. (ANEM Weekly Report, 6-12 May)

JOURNALISTS PROTEST CHARGES. The Independent Association of Serbian Journalists (IASJ) protested on 9 May criminal proceedings against journalist Milovan Brkic. The IASJ statement said that Brkic, taking part in a program for TV Nemanja from Cuprija on 10 October 1999, had criticized the policies of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and had supported the Hague Tribunal. (ANEM Weekly Report, 6-12 May)

POPOVIC FILES NEW COMPLAINTS AGAINST 'KIKINDSKE NOVINE.' On 9 May, Rajko Popovic, editor of the state media network's local weekly newspaper in Kikinda, had new misdemeanor charges filed against him. Also charged are the weekly's publisher, Director Dusan Francuski, Editor-in-Chief Zeljko Bodrosic, and writer Dragomir Vlaisavljevic of the public company Dom Omladine. The charges relate to an article titled, "On the Mind's Edge," published in "Kikindske Novine" on 21 April, quoting previously published "untruths and insults." "Kikindske novine" was previously fined 200,000 dinars under the Public Information Act on 19 April. The charges are the fifth against the paper by Popovic this year, with a total fine being over a million dinars. (ANEM Weekly Report, 6-12 May)

PAPER SELLERS DETAINED. Belgrade police detained three street vendors of the Banja Luka weekly "Nezavisne Novine" on 9 May. About 2,000 copies of the current edition and three previous editions were confiscated. The vendors were detained in the city center with the pretext that the paper's sale was banned. "Nezavisne Novine" director, Zeljko Kopanja, said sales of the Banja Luka weekly were not officially banned in Serbia. He said a possible reason for the confiscation was an article on Serbian Information Minister Aleksandar Vucic. (ANEM Weekly Report, 6-12 May)

CHARGES AGAINST BOOM 93 OWNER. Ranko Cipka, Federal Inspector for Radio Communications, recommended on 9 May that charges be brought against the Pozarevac firm, Boom 93, owner of Radio "Boom 93" and its director, Milorad Tadic. Cipka claimed Boom 93 had established a radio broadcast station and modulation link without a proper license. Tadic is charged with failing to take the necessary measures to properly implement the law. The Act on Communication Systems provides for fines of up to 75,000 dinars for these offenses. Radio "Boom 93" was closed on 8 March by the federal minister for telecommunications. (ANEM Weekly Report, 6-12 May)

STATE MEDIA NETWORK DENIES SERVICES TO FOREIGN CREWS. On 9 May, the state Radio Television Serbia informed foreign TV crews it was unable to provide its normal daily transmission services due to unspecified technical problems. (ANEM Weekly Report, 6-12 May)

'NOVINE VRANJSKE' EDITOR FINED. The editor-in-chief of "Novine Vranjske," Vukasin Obradovic, was fined 1,000 dinars in Vladicin Han Municipal Court on 9 May after being convicted of libel. Judge Nebojsa Milosevic found Obradovic guilty for publishing a text in "Novine Vranjske" on 1 August 1996 analyzing the internal affairs of the Socialist Party of Serbia and accusing the party's spokesman and local government president, Zoran Ljubisavljevic, of various misdeeds. (ANEM Weekly Report, 6-12 May)

COORDINATED REGIME RESPONSE TO 'SPECIAL SITUATION.' Two days after Miroslav Filipovic's arrest on 8 May after an extensive search of his apartment, the Kraljevo correspondent for the Belgrade daily "Danas," along with Dutch journalists David Godfro and Joel Finks and translator Dusko Tubic, were expelled from Pozarevac even though they had accreditation and valid working documents. Shortly after midnight on 11 May, the Beta agency's correspondent in Pozarevac, Mile Veljkovic, was arrested. Also detained were "Danas" journalists Natasa Bogovic and Bojan Toncic. Later on 9 May another "Danas" journalist, Veljko Popovic, was arrested, together with English journalist Gillian Sandford of the "Guardian" newspaper, as well as Imre Szabo, Branko Belic, and Dragoljub Zamurovic, photographers for "Danas" and the French agency Gamma.

Later that day, Novi Sad police detained four journalists for covering a demonstration displaying the slogan "Death to Fascism + Down with Milosevic = Freedom for the Nation". Detained journalists included "Television Montenegro" cameraman Bojan Erdeljanovic, journalists Dragan Gmizic and Zarko Bogosavljevic from Novi Sad's "Radio 021," reporter Jovan Djeric from "Radio In," and Radio Free Europe correspondent Marina Fratucan. Held by the police without explanation, the journalists spent several hours in the Novi Sad police headquarters. On the same day in Smederevo, the police arrested a cameraman from RTV Pancevo, Sergej Bibic, and a TV crew from the Mladenovac offices of Studio B -- Editor-in-Chief Milos Maslaric, journalist Jelena Petrovic, cameraman Novica Dabic, and driver Pavle Jesic. In total, 22 journalists and other media workers were arrested over two days. (ANEM Weekly Report, 6-12 May)

SERBIAN CORRESPONDENT HANDED TO MILITARY COURT... Kraljevo reporter for AFP and "Danas," Miroslav Filipovic, appeared before the Nis military court on 11 May. Court president, Colonel Vukadin Milojevic, said he had received criminal charges for Filipovic from the District Court in Kraljevo where Filipovic had been sentenced to 30 days in prison. Milojevic added he had not yet seen the charges because the military prosecutor still had the documents, but that Filipovic had been accused of espionage, which carries a sentence of three to 15 year's imprisonment. (ANEM Weekly Report, 6-12 May)

...AND THEN FREED. A military court in Nis freed Miroslav Filipovic on 12 May. His lawyers told the private news agency Beta the "actions of the military prosecutor and court were very correct. The military judicial system proved efficient." Filipovic denied he had been involved in espionage and pointed out that he signed every article he published. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May)

JOURNALISTS RELEASED FROM CUSTODY. Mile Velijkovic's (Beta correspondent) release from custody marks the release of all the arrested journalists detained earlier in the week in Pozarevac, Novi Sad, Belgrade, Nis, and Kraljevo. Veljkovic was released from custody at about 10 p.m. on the night of 9 May. He had been held in the village of Malo Crnice, about fifteen kilometers from Pozarevac. (ANEM Weekly Report, 6-12 May)

CRIMINAL CHARGES TO BE BROUGHT OVER ARREST OF 29 JOURNALISTS. The Yugoslav Committee for Human Rights said on 11 May that it will file charges against all those responsible for the arrest of 29 journalists in Pozarevac and other towns in Serbia. (ANEM Weekly Report, 6-12 May)

BELGRADE CITY ASSEMBLY REQUESTS MINISTRY TO FACILITATE STUDIO B OPERATION. The Executive Committee of the Belgrade City Assembly demanded on 11 May that the Federal Ministry of Telecommunications facilitate the unhindered broadcasting of RTV Studio B's program and assist in discovering those responsible for disrupting the station's signal. A statement from the city government reiterated the allegation that the jamming of Studio B had been carried out for several months under orders from the regime, adding that in the past few days a program on the broadcaster's radio frequency had also become a target. (ANEM Weekly Report, 6-12 May)

TV JOURNALIST INTERROGATED. Belgrade journalist Milovan Brkic, accused of damaging Milosevic's reputation on a TV program last October, was interrogated on 10 May in the Jagodina District Court on charges of spreading false information. Brkic said he stood by everything he had said on the program. In a separate case, Brkic was questioned on 9 May in the First Belgrade Municipal Court on charges by eight lawyers against the paper "Srpska Rec." The charges relate to Brkic's 1995 article alleging the lawyers had been ordered by Milosevic to see that Serbian prisoners in The Hague not make accusations against Serbian authorities. The lawyers are seeking $1 million in compensation. (ANEM Weekly Report, 6-12 May)

PRINTER CENSORS MAGAZINE FRONT PAGE. The Belgrade weekly "Blic" news magazine appeared on 12 May, two days late, after the Borba printing house refused to print a front page featuring the clenched-fist symbol of the Otpor student movement. "Blic" had earlier advertised the weekly magazine showing the original cover. The new front page features a photograph of soccer player Sinisa Mihajlovic. (ANEM Weekly Report, 6-12 May)

TRIAL OF HUMORIST CONTINUES. The hearing of charges against writer Boban Bapsi Miletic continued on May 11 in the Zajecar District Court. The charges allege that Miletic, during a book promotion for "Weep, Mother Serbia," committed the criminal offense of ridiculing the state and the president. The allegedly offensive slogans named in the indictment are "Milosescu, you'll end up like Ceausescu," "Comrade leader, don't be afraid, your pole has been prepared," etc. The trial is scheduled to resume on 31 May. (ANEM Weeklky Report, 6-12 May)

FREE B92 PUBLISHES IMPRISONED ALBANIAN POET. As part of the campaign for the release of Flora Brovina, founder of the League of Albanian Women in Kosovo, Samizdat-Free B92 has published a collection of Brovina's poems, translated into Serbian for the first time. Brovina, a pediatrician, poet, and humanitarian worker, was sentenced in Pozarevac District Court in December 1999 to 12 years in prison on charges of terrorism. (ANEM Weekly Report, 6-12 May)

MOBILE PHONES BANNED IN YUGOSLAV GOVERNMENT OFFICES. The use of mobile phones in government offices was banned by order of the government, Radio B-92 reported from Belgrade on 11 May. The move is designed to protect official secrets against "foreign spies and their local agents," the broadcast added. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May)

INDEPENDENT MEDIA DEVELOPS SLOWLY. Many [Slovak politicians] think that the main task of journalists, especially in the so-called "public radio" and "public TV" sector is to support the government. Private TV, radio and newspapers, are free but far from being independent, since they depend to a major degree on their sponsors and on ads. Economics and politics in Slovakia are closely intertwined, and so it is debatable how freely and independently the Slovak media can or will treat cronyism or corruption cases involving their sponsors or advertisers. In this media environment, the RFE/RL Slovak program has a unique role; its programs may not be loved, but they are respected. Several newspapers and TV Markiza--with about 60 percent of market share--quote the RFE/RL Slovak Service on a frequent basis. (RFE/RL Slovak Service, 16 May editorial)

RFE/RL REPORTER STABBED. Uniformed, armed military men, claiming "a general had ordered" that people be searched for weapons, set upon Sayfadin Dostiev outside his Dushanbe home. Dostiev, who was on his way to buy ice cream with his son, was badly beaten up and received knife wounds on his arm and head. While he does not believe this attack was politically motivated, once the military were told that he is a journalist, they dragged him to his house and told Dostiev they now know where he lives and if he "makes any fuss" they know what to do with him. (RFE/RL Tajik Service, 14 May)

INTERNET SERVICE FUNCTIONS NORMALLY. According to Andrei Zatoka, press secretary of the Dashauz Ekoclub and the chairman of the Socio-Ecological Union, he has encountered no government interference in Internet operations in his capacity as server administrator. He explains there are two basic Internet providers, the state-run Turkmentelekom and the private "Ariana" service. The only role the government has played so far is to require that government agencies use Turkmentelekom. Zatoka also points out that at present Internet service is free of cost. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 29 April)

HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST'S MAIL CONFISCATED. Mikhail Ardzinov, head of an independent human rights organization, received a registered letter from the state customs agency informing him that on 8 May correspondence he had received after attending a conference organized by the Moscow Helsinki Group had been confiscated. Among other stated reasons for this action, Ardzinov was informed he had violated an Uzbekistan law on "Import and Export of Objects of Cultural Value." (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 15 May)


By Catherine Cosman

(Washington, 15 May, 2000) -- RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine rejected as "unfounded, inappropriate and disappointing" a Russian official's suggestion that Radio Liberty is somehow "hostile" to the Russian state.

"Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty remains committed to the free flow of information," Dine said, noting that "only enemies of media freedom and all the other freedoms which depend on it could see that as something hostile."

Dine was responding to a statement made today by Andrei Romanchenko, the Russian Federation's deputy minister for the mass media. Speaking to a Moscow conference on "The Concentration of the Mass Media and Pluralism," Romanchenko said, "the position of radio station Liberty is hostile to our state."

Romanchenko's comments were rejected by other speakers at the session as well. Mikhail Fedotov, who served as media minister in the early years of former President Boris Yeltsin's administration, said for example that in his time, "the ministry could not make such pronouncements, not because we had a special relationship with Radio Liberty but because such statements were anti-constitutional."

Unfortunately, Dine pointed out, Romanchenko's remarks appear to reflect the views of current Russian President Vladimir Putin and his regime. In January, Russian officials arrested RFE/RL correspondent Andrei Babitsky for his coverage of the Chechen war. Charges against Babitsky are still pending, Dine noted, and he is not able to leave Moscow.

Even more unfortunately, Dine concluded, Putin's animus toward the press goes far beyond RFE/RL. Since Putin took office, numerous journalists have been harassed, and last week, tax police staged a raid against the offices of Media-MOST, the owner of media outlets that have criticized Putin and his policies.

"These statements and actions," Dine said, "are designed to intimidate the media." He pledged "they will not intimidate us at RFE/RL," adding "they only highlight the continuing importance of our broadcasts."