Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
Attacks on the Press 2004
Authoriatarian rulers strengthened their hold on power in many former Soviet republics in 2004. Their secretive, centralized governments aggressively suppressed all forms of independent activity, from journalism and human rights monitoring to religious activism and political opposition.
National broadcasters are the most popular and influential sources of news, but truly independent-minded stations are being eradicated in many parts of the region. A small number of independent newspapers and Web sites provide critical reporting for largely urban, educated audiences. Yet severe restrictions on independent media have enabled governments to ignore widespread problems like HIV/AIDS; environmental pollution; corruption; human rights abuses; election fraud; and trafficking in people, arms, and drugs.
Dictators in Belarus, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan have decimated the independent press, with the local media essentially functioning as propaganda machines. Taking cues from their neighbors, governments in the Caucasus republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, and in the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, aggressively harassed and obstructed newspapers and Web sites.
In Russia, a secretive and centralized Kremlin-increasingly dominated by security and military officials-used its control over the national broadcast media to help orchestrate President Vladimir Putin's re-election to a second four-year term in March. The Kremlin purged the state-dominated national television channel NTV of independent-minded news programs in midyear.
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma announced that he would not run for a third term, and his government promptly launched a campaign to muzzle independent broadcast media that balked at supporting his anointed successor, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.
However, when the country's politicized elections commission declared Yanukovych the winner of a fraudulent presidential election in November, massive street protests in the capital, Kyiv, forced another round of voting in December that opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko won. The tide turned even in the state-controlled media. Hundreds of journalists for state broadcasters went on strike to protest the manipulated November balloting and biased news coverage.
Many Balkan countries made modest progress in enforcing the rule of law and implementing reforms required for European Union and NATO membership, but financial pressure, verbal threats, and politicized lawsuits are still commonly used to discourage reporting on politically sensitive subjects. Journalists in Serbia and Kosovo, in particular, continued to endure aggressive and sometimes violent intimidation from politicians, businessmen, and government officials angered by news reports on corruption, war crimes, and various government abuses.
In Western and Central Europe, journalists worked in safer environments but sometimes faced attacks and lawsuits in retaliation for their work.
Journalists in Hungary, Italy, Poland, and Portugal received suspended prison sentences in cases seen as efforts to suppress reporting on government abuses and criticism of public figures.
Three journalists were killed for their work in the region in 2004. Adlan Khasanov, a cameraman with the news agency Reuters, was killed in May by a bomb planted by Chechen rebels in Grozny, the capital of the southern republic of Chechnya. In July, unidentified gunmen shot and killed Paul Klebnikov, editor of Forbes Russia, as he left his Moscow office. Klebnikov was the 11th journalist to be murdered in a contract-style slaying since Russian President Vladimir Putin took power in late 1999.
Impunity for murdering journalists remains the rule throughout the region. In some cases, prosecutors and police actively obstructed inquiries that might point to high-level officials. In Ukraine, Kuchma has been accused of involvement in the September 2000 abduction and murder of Georgy Gongadze, editor of the muckraking online publication Ukrayinska Pravda (Ukrainian Truth), after a presidential security officer recorded Kuchma and two subordinates discussing how to get rid of the journalist. Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko has been implicated in the July 2000 disappearance and murder of Russian cameraman Dmitry Zavadsky after two former members of an elite Special Forces unit were convicted in 2002 of kidnapping the journalist.
In Azerbaijan, the editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper Yeni Musavat (New Equality), was arrested during a broad government crackdown on opposition journalists and activists following a flawed October 2003 presidential election won by Ilham Aliyev, son of President Heydar Aliyev. Rauf Arifoglu was detained for a year before being sentenced in October to five years in prison for allegedly organizing antigovernment riots.
International developments in 2004 helped strengthen authoritarian leaders throughout the region. The Bush administration focused on fostering military and security cooperation with governments in Russia, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, pushing free expression issues to the background.
Yet developments in Georgia suggest that progress in the region will be arduous. Georgia's November 2003 "Rose Revolution"-in which protesters ousted the country's corrupt and highly unpopular president-had inspired many of the demonstrators in Kyiv. But conditions for the Georgian press remained poor in 2004, with even reform-minded politicians pressuring the media in response to critical news reports. Journalists and press freedom advocates accused Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili of using an anticorruption campaign as a cover to crack down on opponents and their media outlets. If nothing else, the development highlights the unstinting determination among many regional politicians to control the press and quell criticism.
Alex Lupis, CPJ's senior program coordinator for Europe and Central Asia, along with CPJ Research Associate Nina Ognianova, researched and wrote this section.