Dagestan: Journalists face censorship, abduction

August 20, 1999

His Excellency Boris Yeltsin
President of the Russian Federation
Via Fax: 011 7 095 206 5173; 206 6277

Your Excellency,

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply troubled by official Russian, Dagestani, and Chechen efforts to restrict media coverage of the conflict in Dagestan.

On August 17, the new Russian Ministry for the Press, Television and Radio Broadcasting, and Media Affairs issued a formal warning to Russia’s national television networks barring them from broadcasting interviews with any of the Islamist rebel leaders now waging a separatist war against Russia in the Caucasus region of Dagestan. The warning was delivered to ORT Russian Public TV, the All Russia State TV and Radio Broadcasting Company, Russian TV, NTV, and TV-6.

The ministry claimed that by airing such interviews, the networks were helping the rebels wage a “massive propaganda war,” inciting ethnic and religious intolerance, and urging citizens to change the country’s borders by force.

The Russian government warning followed moves by Dagestani and Chechen leaders to restrict regional media coverage. On August 9, Dagestan’s regional executive Magomedali Magomedov imposed official censorship on the republic’s media. Print and broadcast media are now required to submit all of their reporting on the conflict to Dagestani Minister of Nationality Policy and Information Magomedsalikh Gusayev for approval before it can be printed or aired. And on August 15, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov announced a month-long ban on all local media, except for state-owned television.

As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending press freedom around the world, CPJ condemns recent efforts to censor independent journalism in Dagestan and Chechnya. These measures make a bad situation worse. Since 1996, numerous abductions of foreign, Russian and even local correspondents, chiefly by Chechen warlords seeking ransom, have turned the northern Caucasus into one of the world’s most dangerous beats. In the most recent incident, a photographer with the Itar-Tass news agency, Vladimir Yatsina, was kidnapped on July 19 in the northern Ossetian town of Nazran, near the Chechen border. His Chechen kidnappers are demanding a $2 million ransom for his release.

The press ministry’s current effort to control the content of television news coverage, and the introduction of prior censorship under any circumstances, violate all of Russia’s international obligations to guarantee press freedom. We urge that you lift the press ministry’s ban immediately, and use your authority to press the leaders of Dagestan and Chechnya to end all media censorship in both republics. We also call on you to help secure Itar-Tass photographer Vladimir Yatsina’s release from captivity.

Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters. We await your response.


Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director

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His Excellency Boris Yeltsin
President of the Russian Federation
Via Fax: 011 7 095 206 5173; 206 6277