As G8 summit nears, CPJ urges examination of Russia’s press record

New York, July 13, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists urges leaders of the Group of Eight industrialized nations to raise concerns about Russia’s press freedom record when they gather in St. Petersburg on Saturday.

CPJ is particularly alarmed by Russia’s record of impunity in the murders of a dozen journalists since 2000. In a June 28 letter, CPJ urged U.S. President George W. Bush to bring up concerns about impunity, including the government’s failure to solve the 2004 slaying in Moscow of U.S. journalist Paul Klebnikov. (See the letter.)

“G8 leaders should insist that Russia respect democratic standards, including the work of the press,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “Russian leaders should be asked to demonstrate their commitment to those standards by aggressively investigating these murders and by removing legal impediments to the exercise of independent journalism.”

The urgency of the issue is highlighted by other recent events.

On Tuesday, plainclothes FSB officers seized the camera of Boris Reitschuster, a correspondent for the German magazine Focus, as he photographed the arrests of four delegates at a conference of opposition parties and civil society groups, the independent radio station Ekho Moskvy said.

Reitschuster’s camera was later returned, but his photographs had been deleted. Interfax identified the four delegates as members of the National Bolshevik Party but said the arrests were not immediately explained.

In Parliament, Russian lawmakers are considering a bill that broadens the definition of extremism to include media criticism of public officials. The draft legislation allows for imprisonment of up to three years for journalists and the suspension or closure of their publication if convicted of extremism. (See CPJ’s June 30 alert . )

And last week, Parliament’s lower house approved a bill setting tight restrictions on news coverage of antiterrorist operations. Journalists fear it will give the military broad censorship powers.

In an interview with Canadian Television (CTV) President Vladimir Putin rejected international criticism of the Kremlin’s press freedom record. “In my view, this constant criticism on issues relating to democracy, freedom of the media and so on is being used as a tool to intervene in Russia’s domestic and foreign policy in order to exert influence,” Putin said.