How political leaders in former Soviet states threaten press freedom
Другата преса |
Граждански и човешки права |
Thursday, 26 July 2012, 12:01 by The Guardian
That absurd but sinister arrest in Belarus of a website editor for publishing pictures of teddy bears is just one example of the way in which the former Soviet satellites, and related east European communist states, have failed to allow freedom of the press to flourish.
The South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), which keeps a watching brief on affairs in many of the countries, has now registered a "growing concern" about the treatment meted out to journalists by the authorities.
Though nominally "republics", few of them are truly democratic. Several are nothing more than autocracies without any respect for human rights for their citizens let alone press freedom.
Political leaders constrain an emergent media by arresting journalists on trumped-up charges, ignoring physical attacks on reporters - which are never investigated - and denying licences to radio and TV stations.
They also resort to crude propaganda to deny the authenticity of the journalism practised by foreign media. Verbal attacks on internal and external media are routine. SEEMO, an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), has listed several recent examples of criticism by politicians. I have added other kinds of attack.
In Romania, the interim president, Crin Antonescu, labelled the Washington Post and France's Le Monde as "contaminated publications", which he blamed for the country's deteriorating international image.
A week earlier, a senior politician accused the Brussels correspondent of the Romania's public radio of "intoxicating the international public opinion and foreign officials by transmitting false information."
In Bulgaria, the prime minister, Boyko Borisov, attacked the media for sceptical reporting about the interior ministry by saying: "Whoever criticises the ministry of the interior serves the mafia."
In Montenegro, political leader Milo Djukanovic, who has dominated the country's political scene for two decades as either prime minister or president, said the objective of the daily papers, Vijesti and Dan, and the weekly Monitor, was to "destroy and smear Montenegro" and him personally.
In Serbia, the president, Tomislav Nikolic, said during his election campaign in May that once in power he would call Serbia's public broadcaster, RTS, and say: "I am coming to the television tonight. You will inform about everything I do. I am the president of Serbia."
And Velimir Ilic, leader of the New Serbia party and a potential minister in the upcoming government, has a record of insulting journalists. In 2003, he hit one. Last week, he told reporter and talk show host with the B92 broadcaster, Olja Beckovic, that he would find someone to re-educate her. He said: "Is she normal, is she healthy? I am asking those responsible people at B92 to send her to analysis."
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Molorad Dodik, president of its Serb-governed territory, Republika Srpska, accused Ljiljana Kovacevic, the local correspondent of the Belgrade-based Beta news agency, of being a liar and expelled her from a press conference, telling her not to return.
Also in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Stefica Galic, editor-in-chief of a website, was beaten last week (18 July) by a group of men and women. It happened two days after the screening of a documentary film dedicated to her late husband, Nedeljko Nedjo Galic, who helped Muslims escape deportation to a concentration camp during the civil war in the 1990s. Galic and her children had been threatened by nationalists before the film's screening.
In Kosovo, Halil Matoshi a journalist with the Koha Ditore daily, was beaten by three unidentified men on 10 July as he returned home in Pristina.
In Belarus, Iryna Khalip, the Minsk correspondent of the Moscow-based daily, Novaya Gazeta, found a chicken's head in a plastic bag in her mailbox. Seen as a threat on her life, it follows previous beatings and threats.
Khalip, the wife of Belarusian politician Andrei Sannikov, who challenged Alexander Lukashenko in the 2010 election, was sentenced in May to a suspended two-year prison term.
In Ukraine, Mykola Knyazhitsky, head of the privately-owned national television station TVi, is being investigated on a criminal charge of "tax evasion" that is viewed by press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders as a form harassment.
Harassment of media in Asian 'republics'
Similarly, further east in the post-Soviet Asian "republics", there are regular reports of press freedom violations. Some snapshot examples:
In Kyrgyzstan, investigative journalist Azimjon Askarov is serving a life sentence for charges linked to his reporting of a violent conflict between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in June 2010.
He was accused of inciting the crowd to kill a police officer, inciting a crowd to take a local mayor hostage (which never happened) and possessing ammunition (10 bullets). He denied all charges and the evidence against him was regarded as thin.
In Kazakhstan, journalist Janbolat Mamai was held for nearly a month over his coverage of labour unrest. He was freed 10 days ago under a section of the criminal code about "repentance" - but, once released, he denied repenting of anything.
In Azerbaijan, two journalists - Khayal TV director-general Vugar Gonagov and editor-in-chief Zaur Guliyev - have been detained since 13 March for allegedly causing a riot. They face charges of "organising public disorder" and "intentional destruction of property".
In Armenia, a series of libel actions have been launched against newspapers in what is called "judicial harassment of the media."
Independent newspapers are the leading targets, with politicians suing four independent titles and demanding huge damages for alleged defamation. The real of goal of such suits is to bankrupt media outlets.
In Tajikistan, internet service providers received orders in March to block access to Facebook and four independent news websites.
And so it goes on... but it is sobering to reflect also on the state of affairs in Russia, the country that once ruled these "republics" directly and often continues to do so covertly. Its own press freedom record is a disgrace.
I note that the tireless press freedom campaigner, SEEMO's secretary general, Oliver Vujovic, has called on politicians in east European countries to stop naming and shaming journalists. He says: "Politicians have to understand that press freedom is the basis of democracy."
He is right, of course. Democracy and press freedom go hand in hand. You cannot have one without the other.
Sources: SEEMO/IPI/CPJ/Reporters Without Borders
Може ли Брюксел да спре путинизацията на Източна Европа