Attacks on the Press 2006: Europe and Central Asia Snapshots


• On May 25, authorities denied independent television station A1+ a broadcasting license for the 12th time. According to press reports, the National Commission on Television and Radio justified the rejection by saying that competitors submitted stronger bids. A1+ said the refusal was politically motivated and appealed to the European Court of Human Rights. The court could urge Armenia to reconsider.

• Arman Babadzhanian, editor-in-chief of the opposition daily Zhamanak Yerevan, was arrested on June 26, days after publishing an article that questioned the independence of the Yerevan prosecutor’s office, according to CPJ sources. Babadzhanian was charged with forging documents to escape military service; the journalist did not dispute the allegation but said the charge was pressed in retaliation for his work. On September 8, a district court in Yerevan sentenced Babadzhanian to four years in prison, according to the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The defense filed an appeal in September.

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• Mubarak Asani, correspondent for the Sarajevo-based public television broadcaster BHT 1, received telephone death threats in November after reporting the alleged involvement of local politicians in a prostitution ring, according to press reports. The politicians were not named in the report, which aired on the weekly political program “Javna Tajna” (Public Secret). Asani filed a complaint with police, who opened an investigation, the Association of Journalists of Bosnia-Herzegovina reported.

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• A bomb exploded April 6 outside the Sofia apartment of Vasil Ivanov, a Nova Television investigative reporter who had recently uncovered abuse of inmates in the Sofia Central Prison. No one was injured, but the explosion caused extensive damage, according to CPJ research.

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• In early 2006, the Croatian parliament enacted penal code changes to decriminalize libel and direct such complaints to civil courts, according to Dragutin Lucic Luce, president of the Croatian Journalists Association. The European Union had encouraged Balkan governments to amend laws that restrict press freedom.

• The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at The Hague decided not to prosecute Marijan Krizic, editor-in-chief of the Zagreb-based weekly Hrvatsko Slovo; Stjepan Seselj, the paper’s publisher; and Domagoj Margetic, a former editor with the newsweekly. The journalists had been charged in August 2005 with defying the tribunal’s gag orders by publishing the identity of a protected witness. Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte withdrew the indictments in mid-June, saying her office was limiting the scope of its prosecutions, Agence France-Presse reported. The court convicted Josip Jovic, former editor-in-chief of the Split daily Slobodna Dalmacija, on a charge of publishing the name and testimony of a protected witness and fined him 20,000 euros (US$26,650) on August 30.

• Ladislav Tomicic, a correspondent for the national daily Novi List, received an anonymous letter threatening to kill him and his family. The letter came in July, shortly after he wrote articles about the involvement of former intelligence agents in organized crime, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Tomicic reported the threat to police, who are investigating.

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• Turkey’s attorney general, who has jurisdiction in North Cyprus, opened a case against Serhat Incirli, correspondent for the daily Afrika, on allegations of insulting Turkey in articles that criticized the Turkish presence in Cyprus and ascribed racist elements to the Turkish national anthem and history books, according to CPJ sources and local press reports. Incirli, who is based in London, said the April announcement led to persistent police harassment.

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• The Viby-based daily Jyllands-Posten sparked worldwide protests in early 2006 with a series of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. The cartoons were published in September 2005 but drew wide international attention when they were later reproduced in other European publications. CPJ documented attacks on the press in 13 countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, most stemming from decisions by newspapers to reprint versions of one or more of the cartoons. Government reprisals ranged from issuing censorship orders and jailing editors on criminal charges, to suspending and closing newspapers, according to CPJ research. Danish embassies were attacked and set on fire by angry protesters in Damascus, Beirut, and Tehran; dozens were said to have died in worldwide protests.

• On April 27, the state prosecutor charged Michael Bjerre and Jesper Larsen of the conservative Copenhagen daily Berlingske Tidende with revealing state secrets in 2004 news reports that questioned the existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s decision to support the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, according to international press reports. A Copenhagen judge acquitted the journalists on December 4.

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• On June 26, the national German daily Die Tageszeitung published a story headlined “Young Polish Potatoes” that criticized Polish President Lech Kacynski and his brother, Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kacynski, for their conservative policies. President Kacynski demanded an apology from the German government for the article, but German officials refused. Prime Minister Kacynski warned that relations between the countries would be damaged, according to international press reports.

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• Authorities in the central Italian city of Perugia jailed veteran crime reporter Mario Spezi on April 7, just days before the publication of a book he co-authored with U.S. writer Douglas Preston about the 1968-85 “Monster of Florence” murders in the province of Tuscany. Authorities did not show a warrant when they arrested Spezi, and they did not explain why or where they were taking him. He was placed under criminal investigation for allegedly defaming Perugia prosecutors, attempting to sidetrack an official murder probe by planning to plant evidence, and allegedly taking part himself in a 1985 murder. Spezi was detained for 22 days. After CPJ advocacy sparked international attention, a three-judge appellate panel on April 29 voided the order to detain Spezi and ordered his release.

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• State security agents in September seized all 15,000 copies of the Vilnius-based semimonthly Laisvas Laikrastis (Free Newspaper) and briefly detained Editor-in-Chief Aurimas Drizius. The seized edition’s lead story cited telephone conversations between politicians and a local casino operator as evidence of corruption. The 2004 conversations had been recorded by state security agents. Transcripts were obtained by Laisvas Laikrastis through sources the paper would not disclose, according to CPJ research. Ardivas Pocius, director of the State Security Department, or VSD, said the copies were confiscated because they contained secret investigative information, the news agency ITAR-TASS reported. Agents also searched the paper’s newsroom and Drizius’ home, confiscating the hard drives of all six newsroom computers and the editor’s home computer. Drizius was released the next day on orders of Lithuania’s prosecutor general, but the seized copies and computers were not returned, the editor told CPJ. Drizius filed a civil lawsuit against the VSD, saying the arrest had tarnished his reputation.

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• Parliament amended the criminal code in May to abolish prison penalties for defamation. Prison terms had ranged up to three years. Macedonia is a candidate for membership in the European Union, which has urged the revision of laws restricting press freedom. Defamation is still subject to monetary penalties.

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• Interior Ministry officials searched the independent television station Pro-TV Chisinau and arrested the station’s sales director, Ghenadie Braghis, on bribery charges on September 7, the Chisinau-based Independent Journalism Center said. The actions came after the station aired broadcasts highly critical of Interior Minister Gheorghe Papuc, the center said. The criminal case was pending.

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• Reporters Bart Mos and Joost de Haas were jailed for three days in November for refusing to reveal their confidential sources. Mos and de Haas, of the Amsterdam-based daily De Telegraaf, had been called as witnesses in the trial of a former secret agent charged with leaking information about an organized crime gang. The reporters had written a series of articles beginning in January that detailed the local mafia’s alleged access to classified information. In jailing the reporters, Judge J.A. van Steen said knowing how the two got information for their stories could bolster or undercut the case against the agent, The New York Times reported. After an international outcry, however, van Steen said there was insufficient evidence to hold the reporters.

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• Andrzej Marek, editor-in-chief of the weekly Wiesci Polickie in the town of Police, was sentenced on January 12 to three months in prison on a charge of libeling a city council spokesman. The case stemmed from articles written in 2004 suggesting that the spokesman had used his position to promote his private advertising business, according to CPJ research. The Constitutional Tribunal, Poland’s highest court, suspended the sentence the same month after a public outcry, according to international press reports.

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• Lisbon police raided the daily 24 Horas, seizing journalists’ computers and office files, after the newspaper published several articles on a child sex abuse scandal, according to Agence France-Presse and other news organizations. According to those reports, authorities conducted the February 15 search in an effort to identify the paper’s sources. On April 26, the Lisbon Appeals Court rejected the newspaper’s bid to bar police from examining the journalists’ seized computers, according to Sindicato dos Journalistas, a Lisbon-based press organization.

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• On February 16, a Bucharest judge sentenced Marian Garleanu, correspondent for the opposition daily Romania Libera, to 10 days in jail on a charge of possessing classified military documents about coalition troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Garleanu, who did not publish the information, received the documents from former Romanian soldier Ionel Popa, who was arrested for leaking classified information to radio stations and newspapers. On February 18, the Supreme Court overturned the ruling and ordered Garleanu’s release. Romania Libera correspondents Ovidiu Ohanesian and Petre Mihai Bacanu were also investigated but not charged.

• Sebastian Oancea, Focsani correspondent for the national daily Ziua, was charged on February 22 with possession and distribution of state secrets related to military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Oancea faced seven years in prison if convicted, The Associated Press reported. Three other Ziua journalists–Bogdan Comaroni, Doru Dragomir, and Victor Roncea–were also investigated for possession of state secrets. Comaroni, Dragomir, and Roncea turned over the classified documents to police in early 2006. Ziua did not publish the contents of the documents or write a story about them. The Bucharest Daily News said the documents included encoding information for military radio transmissions, passwords and secret signals, and maps of military facilities.

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• On July 19, parliament revised the country’s broadcasting law to enable government regulators to revoke licenses unilaterally and without avenue for appeal. The broadly written bill could allow the state Republican Broadcasting Agency to act selectively, according to a report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Belgrade-based Association of Independent Electronic Media.

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• The military opened an investigation in January into editor Christoph Grenacher and reporters Sandro Brotz and Beat Jost of the Zurich weekly SonntagsBlick after the paper published the contents of a fax about a purported CIA prison in Romania. The fax from Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit was sent to the Egyptian Embassy in London. Swiss military authorities were investigating allegations of military secrets having been published, but the journalists were not immediately charged.

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