Attacks on the Press 2005: Europe & Central Asia Snapshots

Attacks and developments throughout the region


• Despite recommendations from the Council of Europe and other international organizations, the government in February rejected for the 10th time a broadcast license application filed by A1+, the independent television station pulled off the air in 2002. The station continued to operate a popular news Web site, publish a weekly newspaper, and produce programs for regional television stations.

• In February, the Interior Ministry closed its investigation into a 2004 arson attack on a car owned by editor Nikola Pashinian of the independent daily Haikakan Zhamanak in the capital, Yerevan. No arrests were made. Haikakan Zhamanak reported that police never interviewed a politician whom the newspaper believed to be responsible.

• Arson was used as a means of attack again on April 1, when someone burned the car of Samuel Aleksanian, editor-in-chief of the state weekly Syunyats Yerkir in the southern city of Goris, according to local press reports. Aleksanian said the attack followed his criticism of the local governor.

• Armenian politicians cited the “war on terror” as reason for passing legislation restricting press coverage of terrorism. President Robert Kocharian signed the measure on April 19, ignoring concerns over vaguely worded prohibitions on reporting of antiterror tactics, the Yerevan Press Club reported.


• Drago Hedl, editor of the weekly Feral Tribune, received an anonymous death threat by mail on December 6, according to press reports. Hedl said the letter, which also threatened a source, cited a July article about the abduction, torture, and murder of ethnic Serb civilians in Osijek in 1991 and 1992. The source implicated the current head of the Osijek municipal council, who denied responsibility. Police said that they were investigating the threat and providing Hedl with protection, the state news agency HINA reported.


• The European Court for Human Rights ruled in March that Turkish authorities conducted a flawed investigation into the 1996 murder of journalist Kutlu Adali in northern Cyprus. The court ordered the government to pay 20,000 euros (US$26,000) in damages to Adali’s wife, Ilkay. Adali, a political columnist with the leftist daily Yeni Duzen who opposed the division of Cyprus, was shot outside his home in Nicosia. The court faulted the investigation, saying there was “no real coordination or monitoring of the scene of the incident by the investigating authorities, the ballistic examination carried out by the authorities was insufficient, and the investigating authorities failed to take statements from key witnesses.”


• Mihye Kim, a reporter for the South Korean television network KBS, was beaten by a gang while she was reporting on riots in the northern Parisian suburb of Aubervilliers on November 5, Agence France-Presse reported. Four or five young men surrounded Kim and her cameraman and tried to rob them; one man kicked the reporter, rendering her unconscious. Police officers came to the defense of the journalists when they heard their cries.


• Police and prosecutors raided the Berlin home of freelance journalist Bruno Schirra on September 12 and confiscated his entire research archive. The Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) began investigating Schirra after he profiled al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in the April edition of the Potsdam monthly Cicero. Authorities claimed that al-Zarqawi’s mobile phone number, included in the story, came from a classified BKA document. Schirra said the telephone number was revealed during a 2003 terrorism trial in Germany. Prosecutors accused Schirra of aiding a BKA official in violating secrecy laws. The journalist faces up to five years in prison if convicted.


• In February, President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi pardoned Lino Jannuzzi, the 77-year-old former editor-in-chief of the Naples daily Il Giornale di Napoli. Jannuzzi was facing a 29-month prison sentence for criminal libel, stemming from articles published between 1987 and 1993 that criticized judicial authorities investigating organized crime, according to press reports.

• Six police officers searched the Milan headquarters of Corriere della Sera, Italy’s leading national daily, looking for documents that the paper had used in a report on Iraqi militants’ use of Italian-made semiautomatic Beretta pistols. Raffaele Fiengo, an editor at Corriere della Sera, told CPJ that the search was conducted after the newspaper refused to disclose its sources to authorities.


• President Vladimir Voronin and the ruling Communist Party used politicized media regulators to help ensure his re-election. In the weeks before the March election, the Broadcasting Coordination Council expanded the broadcasting range of pro-government stations such as NIT, and the Justice Ministry refused to register newspapers run by opposition parties such as the Social Democratic Party, according to local reports.

• In February, Moldovan authorities stationed on the de facto border with the Trans-Dniester region prohibited newspaper deliveries going in either direction. The media has been a pawn in political tensions between the central government in the capital, Chisinau, and the separatist Trans-Dniester region.

• In June, financial police officers searched the offices of the Russian-language Chisinau weekly Kommersant PLUS, according to local reports. Editor-in-Chief Artyom Varenitsa said police confiscated documents and computer disks. Voronin’s government often uses police to harass news outlets that criticize the government.


• In a notable step forward for press freedom, libel is no longer a crime under criminal code amendments that took effect in June. Slander, while still a felony, is no longer punishable by prison.

• Journalists in the capital, Bucharest, strongly criticized the government in January for the widespread practice of wiretapping journalists’ phones. The scandal emerged after security officials confirmed they had sought permission to wiretap the AM Press and Mediafax news agencies to identify a supposed media source in the Interior Ministry. Officials also acknowledged tapping the phones of two Romanian journalists working for foreign media, according to international press reports.

• A government ethics panel confirmed in January that managers for TVR state television and SRR state radio censored news reports and tried to discredit an opposition candidate during the November 2004 presidential and parliamentary elections, according to international news reports. Romania’s new president, Traian Basescu, promised greater respect for press freedom, but he was criticized in February for seeking to replace TVR’s director, an appointment ordinarily handled by Parliament.

• In May, the government adopted reforms to make its secretive advertising distribution more transparent and less political. The new law is a first step toward preventing bureaucrats from channeling state advertising revenue to politically loyal media outlets.


• In March, posters and graffiti appeared in downtown Belgrade calling for a boycott of the Belgrade-based radio and television station B92. The posters–which included the B92 logo inside the Star of David and proclaimed “Serbia for Serbs”–criticized the station’s “anti-Serb influence,” along with its “dangerous influence on Serbian youth” and its alleged support of drug use and “other Western sicknesses.”

• Investment Minister Velimir Ilic and his press secretary, Petar Lazarevic, threatened B92 journalist Ana Veljkovic at an August press conference. The reporter had asked why Ilic had taken steps to quash a criminal case against the son of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. Lazarevic said he would “kill” B92’s top editor, Veran Matic. Ilic told Veljkovic she was “sick” and “in need of psychiatric help” and he warned her not to get “in our way.”

• About 600 journalists and supporters of the political opposition held a rally in the capital, Podgorica, on May 27, marking the first anniversary of the murder of Dusko Jovanovic, owner and editor-in-chief of the opposition daily Dan. Jovanovic was killed in a drive-by shooting outside the Dan office. One suspect went to trial, and Serbian authorities handed over a second suspect to Montenegrin authorities in May. Jovanovic’s colleagues and lawyers have criticized police and prosecutors for the slow pace of the inquiry.

• On June 11, an anonymous death threat was made against Grujica Spasovic, editor-in-chief of the Belgrade daily Danas. The day before, Danas had reported that the Serbian government had identified the town where indicted war criminal Ratko Mladic was hiding. A man characterizing himself as “personal security of General Ratko Mladic from Republika Srpska” called the Danas newsroom and said: “Pass [Spasovic] the message: From today on, he is dead. We will kill him, cut off his head, legs, and arms, for what he wrote [and] published about General Mladic.” The police waited a week before meeting with Spasovic to discuss the threat.

• Bardhyl Ajeti, a 28-year-old reporter for the Albanian-language daily Bota Sot, died in a Milan hospital on June 25, three weeks after being shot in Kosovo and evacuated to a hospital in Italy, Agence France-Presse reported. Unidentified assailants shot the journalist from a passing car on June 3. Ajeti had written editorials criticizing opposition politicians.


• British authorities issued a gag order on November 23, threatening legal action against news outlets if they reported further from a leaked government document alleging U.S. President George W. Bush had considered bombing the Qatar headquarters of the satellite-TV station Al-Jazeera in April 2004. After London’s Daily Mirror broke the story on November 22, Attorney General Peter Goldsmith warned three newspapers–the Daily Mirror, The Guardian, and The Times–that they would be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act if they published further details from a classified transcript of a conversation between Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.