Foreign Ministry accuses Swedish media of fomenting violence

New York, March 24, 2005—The Russian Foreign Ministry has strongly criticized Swedish authorities and media for independent news reporting on the conflict in Chechnya, claiming the information was fomenting violence, according to local and international press reports.

The Russian embassy in Stockholm criticized the independent Swedish news agency TT on Wednesday for publishing an interview with Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev on March 21. It claimed the agency was partly responsible for a Russian diplomat’s car being set ablaze the next day.

The diplomatic row erupted as Moscow intensifies its effort to prevent European media from publishing or broadcasting independent news about the conflict in Chechnya.

On February 3, the Russian Foreign Ministry requested that British authorities prevent the independent television station Channel 4 from broadcasting an interview with Basayev. The British Foreign Office said it could not interfere with the station’s editorial policies.

Russian diplomats and government officials have also called on Swedish authorities to shutter the server of the pro-rebel Chechen Web site KavkazCenter.

“Russian authorities have the right to criticize news reporting, but asking governments to close media outlets or block interviews is not acceptable,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said today. “Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov should not seek to suppress news reporting on the war in Chechnya.”

In Stockholm, Agence France-Presse reported, Russian embassy spokesman Sergey Petrovich said his country objected “that a Swedish news agency … allows international terrorists like Basayev to speak freely and openly in the Swedish media. In our opinion, there is a clear link between the interview and the terrorist act.”

TT Editor-in-Chief Mats Johansson rejected any link between the interview and the blaze, saying the role of the independent media was “to offer readers as comprehensive a picture as possible of a conflict,” AFP reported.

Sweden’s Ambassador in Moscow, Johan Molander, was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry over the incident but also rejected the criticism. “There is no link between freedom of the press and terrorism,” Molander told The Associated Press. “In Sweden you can interview ambassadors and terrorists. … Freedom of information is a fundamental aspect of Swedish society and way of life.”