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International press release of World Press Freedom Committee

June 11, 2002
SOURCE: World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), Reston

The following are resolutions adopted at the recent WPFC conference on Independence of the News Media in Post-Communist countries:

Journalists attending an international conference on the Independence of the News Media in Post-Communist countries held in Moscow, June 5-8, under the sponsorship of the World Press Freedom Committee, the Russian Union of Journalists and the Glasnost Defense Foundation, adopted the following resolutions on situations which threaten press freedom in a number of countries of the former Soviet Union;

1. RESOLUTION OF THE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON INDEPENDENCE OF THE NEWS MEDIA IN POST-COMMUNIST COUNTRIES CONCERNING REPORTING ON THE WAR IN CHECHNYA

The latest war in Chechnya is in its third year but its coverage in Russia and the world media is fading. In Russia most of the media either reflect the official government position or are silent. The international media have let the disturbing situation in Chechnya disappear from public consciousness.

A precondition for achieving peace in Chechnya is an informed public opinion.

We appeal to all media to turn their attention once again to the war in Chechnya. In order for the war to be covered in a full and balanced manner, journalists from all countries must be allowed to have equal and free access to Chechnya and Ingushetia. Laws and decrees restricting

the gathering of information and reporting on the situation in Chechnya should be removed.

The intimidation of journalists and media organizations must cease.

Adopted by the participants of the conference, 8 June 2002, in Moscow.

2. RESOLUTION OF THE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON INDEPENDENCE OF THE NEWS MEDIA IN POST-COMMUNIST COUNTRIES CONCERNING THE MOSCOW NEWSPAPER, NOVAYA GAZETA

On the evening of June 7 2002 Moscow Court Bailiffs confiscated financial documents belonging to the Moscow newspaper Novaya Gazeta. This action is the first step towards confiscation of the newspaper's property in connection with the suit by the financial institution Mezhprombank, which has launched the suit to protect its honor, dignity and business reputation.

The legality of the above court decision is extremely questionable: it is enough to say that this suit demands a sum which exceeds many times the total sum that the Russian media was ordered to pay for suits in the whole of 2001. It is clear that the execution of the Moscow Court decision would result in the immediate closure of the publication. It seems evident that this suit is politically-motivated, given Novaya Gazeta's critical and independent stance. The use of high levels of fines that are punitive and go beyond demonstrable damages to a plaintiff are increasingly viewed throughout the world as illegitimate attempts to eliminate inconvenient outlets.

Further, laws that 'protect honor and dignity' are ambiguous and dangerous and should be repealed as soon as possible.

Adopted by the participants of the conference, 8 June 2002, in Moscow.

3. RESOLUTION OF THE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON INDEPENDENCE OF THE NEWS MEDIA IN POST-COMMUNIST COUNTRIES CONCERNING THE BELARUS NEWSPAPER, PAGONYA

It is the practice of the world's most prestigious courts and international organizations that the imprisonment of journalists for their writings can never be justified.

In January 2002, the Belarus Prosecutor General's office issued criminal proceedings against reporter Mikola Markevich and editor Paval Mazheika of the Hrodno-based newspaper Pagonya for libeling the Belarus president. The accusation is based on article 367, part 2 of the Belarus Criminal Code, under which the two journalists could be sentenced to up to 5 years in jail.

On September 5 2001, four days before the Belarus presidential elections, law enforcement officials stopped the presses and confiscated already printed copies of Pagonya. That same day, the office of the Hrodno prosecutor started criminal proceedings on the grounds that the newspaper had libeled the Belarus president. Law enforcement officials also raided Pagonya's editorial office and removed computers, and the Committee for Financial Investigations took away the newspaper's entire financial records. On November 12 2001, the newspaper was closed by court order. The participants of the International Conference on the Independence of the News Media in Post-Communist countries calls on the international community including the UN Human Rights Commission, the Council of Europe and the European Union to prevail upon the Belarus authorities to ensure that the independent media in Belarus be treated in accordance with international norms, and that the harassment of the newspaper Pagonya and its journalists Mikola Markevich and Paval Mazheika cease immediately.

Adopted by the participants of the conference, 8 June 2002, in Moscow.

4. RESOLUTION OF THE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON INDEPENDENCE OF THE NEWS MEDIA IN POST-COMMUNIST COUNTRIES CONCERNING THE MASS MEDIA IN UZBEKISTAN

Despite the May 12 2002 abolition of official censorship in Uzbekistan, the true situation in the mass media remains somber. The press as a whole, including the Internet, remains under absolute government control. There has been no investigation of the death of the well-known writer Emin Usman, who died last February in a cellar in the Interior Ministry building. The writer Mamadali Makhmudov and journalist Madzhid Abduraimov remain in prison. We call on all mass media to focus their attention on the press freedom situation in Uzbekistan.

Adopted by the participants of the conference, 8 June 2002, in Moscow.

5. RESOLUTION OF THE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON INDEPENDENCE OF THE NEWS MEDIA IN POST-COMMUNIST COUNTRIES CONCERNING THE MASS MEDIA IN KAZAKHSTAN

Over recent months we have seen an escalation of force against independent media outlets in Kazakhstan. In the past two months the following outlets have stopped operating: the television stations TAN, Irbis, Era, 6x6, Rika TV, the radio station Rifma, and the newspapers Soldat and Respublika. These closures bear witness to the continuing practice in Kazakhstan of applying pressure on media outlets that are not loyal to the authorities and on journalists who express disagreement with government policies.

We appeal to the following:

1. the Kazakh authorities, that they ensure that criminal acts against journalists be thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice;

2. international inter-governmental organizations (the OSCE, the Council of Europe, the European Union), that they turn their attention to the worsening freedom of speech conditions in Kazakhstan and take adequate measures to ensure that the persecution of journalists in the country ceases;

3. international NGOs, that they give greater support to persecuted journalists in Kazakhstan.

Adopted by the participants of the conference, 8 June 2002, in Moscow

For further information, contact Marilyn J. Greene at the WPFC, 11690-C Sunrise Valley Drive, Reston, Virginia 20191 U.S.A., tel: +1 703 715 9811, fax: +1 703 620 6790, e-mail: freepress@wpfc.org, <http://www.wpfc.org>

The information contained in this press release is the sole responsibility of WPFC. In citing this material for broadcast or publication, please credit WPFC.

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