May 12, 2000
His Excellency Vladimir Putin
President of the Russian Federation
Via Fax: 011-7-095-206-5173/206-6277
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is alarmed by yesterday’s raid on the head office of Media-Most, the company that owns NTV Television, Ekho Moskvy radio, the daily newspaper Segodnya and the weekly news magazine Itogi.
Such a show of force, in which masked men in camouflage carrying submachine guns searched offices without warning for over 12 hours, is deeply disturbing. Coming only four days after your inauguration as president of Russia, the action raises serious questions about your commitment to a free and independent press.
CPJ believes it is no coincidence that the raid follows years of threats and warnings from Kremlin officials to Media-Most news outlets that have been critical of government policy. There is a broad consensus among Russian journalists (including many of Media-Most’s competitors) that the search was an act of political intimidation carried out in response to Media-Most’s coverage of the current military campaign in Chechnya, and investigations into corruption in the top levels of Your Excellency’s government.
Officials have given contradictory explanations for the raid. Yesterday, government sources said the operation was carried out in connection with an investigation into financial irregularities at the Ministry of Finance. Today, officials said the search was part of a criminal investigation against Media-Most. A spokesperson for the Federal Security Service has variously described that case as involving a financial offence, and as being connected with Media-Most’s alleged use of illegal listening devices.
In a democratic society, media companies should never be subjected to violence and intimidation. The Russian Constitution provides many legal remedies for alleged violations of the law, and there is no justification for the brutal show of force by police commandos on the streets of Moscow yesterday. Such tactics of intimidation have no place in a democratic country, and must not be repeated.
While we welcome your statement today that freedom of speech and freedom of the media are immutable values, we urge you to back up your words with actions by launching a thorough investigation into the sequence of events that led to the raid.
Ann K. Cooper