Central Europe and the Republics of the Former Soviet Union

by David Satter

Since the fall of communism, press freedom has spread throughout the former Soviet bloc. But this victory for free expression and the people's right to know has been heavily qualified nearly everywhere as governments have sought to influence the newly independent media, and journalists have been put at risk by the hazards of war and the growing pressure of organized crime.

The press is clearly the most democratic institution in Russia, but in 1995 journalists received repeated ominous reminders that they are physically and politically vulnerable and cannot rely on the protection of the law. Vladislav Listyev, perhaps the most popular television personality in the country, was murdered in the hallway of his apartment building on March 1 in what was almost certainly a contract killing. And Natalya Alyakina, a free-lance correspondent for German news outlets, was shot dead in June by a soldier after clearing a Russian checkpoint near the southern Russian city of Budyonnovsk. In both cases, there are indications that the authorities are making no serious attempt to bring those responsible to justice.

The Russian press was further threatened by government pressure and the power of commercial interests as its own economic position grew steadily worse. NTV, Russia's largest financially and editorially independent television network, was threatened with losing its license over its unflinching reporting on the Chechen conflict. A criminal case was also opened against the NTV political satire show "Kukly" (Puppets), over a program in which government leaders were depicted as mendicant tramps. In some cases, the Russian press found itself beholden to sponsors or wealthy benefactors who tried--often successfully--to "buy" positive coverage for projects in which they were financially interested.

In Central Asia, the situation for journalists was dire. In Tajikistan, a rash of murders of journalists that left 27 dead since May 1992 appeared to have ended with the last killing in November 1994. But then on Dec. 12, 1995, Mohyedin Alempour, the head of the BBC's Persian Service bureau, was killed in Dushanbe with a single shot to the head. In Uzbekistan, censors operating through the State Committee on the Press eliminated critical articles and screened newspapers for anything else that might be interpreted as anti-regime.

In the Caucasus region, the press was frequently subject to prior censorship. But even in cases where the circulation of a newspaper was so low that the publication was not censored in advance, its contents were monitored carefully. In Azerbaijan, four journalists working for Chesme, a satirical newspaper with a very limited print run, were arrested and sentenced to jail terms for "insulting the dignity" of President Geidar Aliyev by publishing caricatures of him.

Although journalists in the European republics of the former Soviet Union and in Central Europe were less likely to face physical attacks, they were often exposed to government pressure. In Belarus, for instance, newspapers continued to appear with blank spaces because of censorship, and the government deprived several independent newspapers of printing rights at state-run facilities. In Romania, criminal proceedings were started against two journalists in connection with the publication of articles in which they alleged that President Ion Iliescu was recruited as a KGB agent while he was a student in Moscow. And in Albania, publication of the monthly humor magazine Hostini was halted after the secret police learned that the magazine was preparing to publish a caricature of President Sali Berisha.

In the former Yugoslavia, both the Croatian and Serb governments tried to put pressure on newspapers and other media outlets through bureaucratic means. And in Bosnia, journalists continued to be at high risk of being killed either by land mines, in the cross fire or as a result of deliberate targeting. There were also several cases of journalists being captured and used as hostages by Bosnian Serb fighters.

David Satter is the program coordinator for Central Europe and the republics of the former Soviet Union. A former Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times of London, he has written widely on Russia and the former Soviet Union for many years and is fluent in Russian. His book, Age of Delirium: The Decline and Fall of the Soviet Union, will be published in the spring of 1996 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Amanda Onion, the research associate for Central Europe and the republics of the former Soviet Union, researched and wrote the majority of the 1995 cases for the region and several of the country summaries. Previously she worked as a free-lance journalist in Moscow and New York. She has a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and is fluent in Russian.

Leonid Zagalsky was the program coordinator for the region from October 1993 until June 1995. Yalman Onaran, a research associate until June 1995, researched and wrote several of the cases for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Yugoslavia.

CPJ's work in Central Europe and the republics of the former Soviet Union in 1995 was funded in part by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Its work in Russia was also carried out in cooperation with Globe Press Syndicate in Moscow.

Country-by-country reports of attacks on the press in this region are available at CPJ's Web site and in the print edition of this book.


Hunting for Mass Graves Behind Serb Lines

by David Rohde

The following article is Christian Science Monitor reporter David Rohde's chronicle of how he was captured by the Bosnian Serbs in October 1995 as he was investigating sites of mass executions near Zvornik. Charged with illegally entering Bosnian Serb territory and falsifying documents, Rohde was the first journalist to be tried and convicted of crimes by the Bosnian Serbs in retaliation for his reporting. After two weeks in captivity, he was pardoned and released on Nov. 8 as a result of efforts by several parties, including his family, the U.S. State Department, the Christian Science Monitor, the United Nations, the International Red Cross and CPJ's chair, Kati Marton, who met with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic three times at the Dayton, Ohio, peace talks to pressure him to secure Rohde's freedom.

This article first appeared in the December 1995 issue of the OPC Bulletin, the monthly publication of the Overseas Press Club. It has been slightly amended and is reprinted with permission.

At the first Bosnian Serb checkpoint, everything started to go wrong. The Serb soldiers who normally let foreign journalists drive on their own to the nearby military barracks and request a press accreditation insisted they ride with me.

I said I knew the way, but one young soldier circled around the car and opened the passenger side door. I shouted, "I know ... I know" in Serbian. He shrugged, shut the door and waved me through.

I had no intention of stopping at the barracks. I didn't want a new Bosnian Serb press accreditation--a small, flimsy, unlaminated cardboard card with the name and date of issue and expiration filled in with ball point pen. An old accreditation that I had changed the date of issue on was hidden in the car.

I had never doctored an accreditation before, but the Bosnian Serbs had turned down repeated requests from the United Nations, the International War Crimes Tribunal and journalists for free access to the areas around Srebrenica and Zepa since the two U.N.-declared "safe areas" fell in July. And a U.S. intelligence source told me the Bosnian Serbs had been seen tampering with--and possibly destroying evidence of--one of the mass graves I wanted to investigate. There was no other way to get to the graves and I had been told by Serb friends that I was on a Bosnian Serb "blacklist" for my past reporting and would never be allowed to enter their territory again.

In August, I visited the site of two possible mass graves near Srebrenica identified by U.S. aerial photos. I found a decomposed human leg, a diploma and personal photos with Muslim names on them and documents from Srebrenica.

In September, I'd found nine credible survivors of mass executions who had made it from Srebrenica to Muslim-held Central Bosnia. They described the mass execution of thousands of prisoners at a half-dozen locations.

A few days before my trip in October, an intelligence source had given me the exact locations of four other possible mass graves around Srebrenica identified by U.S. spy planes and satellites. Landmarks the survivors said were near the execution sites--such as dams and railroad tracks--matched the locations the intelligence source had given me.

After the problems at the first checkpoint, the three-hour drive to the sites went smoothly. I was forced at one checkpoint to give a Bosnian Serb soldier a ride for 30 miles, but made it to the first site near the village of Sahanici by early afternoon.

I found a school whose layout and surroundings exactly matched a school survivors said was used to hold prisoners before they were taken in groups of 10 to 15 to the execution site. A half-mile away, I found two large areas of fresh digging on either side of railroad tracks--exactly where my intelligence source and the survivors had said they would be.

More than 100 civilians' jackets with no bullet holes in them were hidden in the woods 100 feet away. There were no indications of a battle being fought. An ID from Srebrenica, an ID and photos with Muslim names on them and three canes were found in the pile of jackets. One of the areas of fresh digging reeked of rotting flesh.

U.S. intelligence officials said the graves I had visited in Nova Kasabs could have held approximately 600 bodies. These appeared slightly larger and held probably 800 bodies.

I took photos, hid the IDs in the car and headed for a second execution site next to a nearby earthen dam, according to two other survivors I interviewed. I fruitlessly searched an area east of the dam for 30 minutes, found nothing, and then saw an old man walking in the distance with a dog.

I decided to check one last area--a second gravel plateau--which fit the survivors' description of where the massacre took place. I pulled up onto the plateau and saw two human femurs lying on the gravel and other small objects in the distance.

As I stepped out of the car to take a photo of them, I heard the old man--who I thought had simply walked by the dam--shout. He was on top of the dam pointing a rifle at me. I was finished.

The old man, who I then realized was guarding the dam, arrested me and called the local police. Five days of interrogation at a local police station followed, with the Bosnian Serbs convinced I was a spy sent by the Muslim-led Bosnian government or NATO to take pictures of or blow up the earthen dam.

The detailed U.N. military maps they found on me had marks indicating where the graves were. I knew carrying the maps would be dangerous but also knew being able to quickly find the graves was crucial.

I carried all of my press accreditation cards--including numerous Bosnian and Croatian government ones that angered the Serbs--but they ended up being crucial to countering the espionage suspicions. Most importantly, they bought me time.

The maps quickly became my biggest problem. The Serbs were convinced only a spy could obtain and read military maps and penetrate so deeply into their territory. Even after I admitted I was looking for mass graves and the Serbs told me they knew of my past stories, they insisted I was also on the CIA payroll.

It wasn't until after they had developed my film, found the Muslim IDs and conducted five days of interrogation--which included one night of not allowing me to sleep--that the Serbs publicly admitted they were holding me. In the end, the photos of mass graves--not of military installations as the Serbs suspected--may have saved my life.

I made many, many mistakes, but by far the biggest was going on the trip alone. I had never traveled on my own in Bosnia and deeply regret a decision that I did not fully think through.

I did not take a translator because it would be unfair to place anyone in so much danger, and I could get by with my Serbian. I also turned down an opportunity to bring a reporter from the New York Times with me for competitive reasons.

In retrospect, I should have waited and found a British or French reporter to accompany me. But Sarajevo was empty at the time, and I was eager to make the trip on Sunday, Oct. 29--the day before peace talks began in Dayton, Ohio.

I reached the graves I wanted to, and the Serbs again followed their long-running pattern of harassing, but not harming, Western civilians, as I hoped. In the end, it was a calculated risk worth taking.


Murdering with Impunity in Russia:

Authorities Fail to Prosecute the Murders of Seven Journalists

by David Satter

In post-Communist Russia, journalists are no longer threatened with long labor camp sentences for writing freely. But they risk their lives if they report on organized crime or corruption in the armed forces or if the financial interests of their media organization bring them into conflict with a corrupt group.

In the last two years, at least seven Russian journalists were deliberately murdered and six of these murders had the hallmarks of contract killings, a category of murder in which Russia now leads the entire world.

More unsettling than the killings themselves, however, has been the attitude of the Russian authorities. Despite the fact that a number of the murdered journalists have been national celebrities, there has been little effort to bring the perpetrators to justice. Instead, after a journalist is murdered, an investigation begins, sometimes with considerable fanfare, and the effort then fades amid signs that investigators are being hampered by interference at a high official level.

Presently, nearly all legitimate private business in Russia is controlled by or forced to pay extortion money to organized crime. There are an estimated 5,000 criminal gangs, 300 mob bosses and 150 illegal organizations with international ties in the country.

The prevalence of corruption and organized crime, in fact, means that investigative journalism is very necessary to Russia but little is carried out. The reason is simple, said Yevgenia Albats, a reporter for Izvestia and the author of the book A State Within a State: The KGB and Its Hold on Russia, Past, Present and Future. "If you do journalism that deals with certain sensitive issues, you can easily get killed."

According to Shod Muladjanov, editor of Moskovskaya Pravda, "We [journalists] are in a fight against the gangs. They have a hand on us wherever they are, in the Kremlin, in the government, in the television industry.... And no law enforcement body in the country protects our rights."

On Oct. 17, 1994, Dmitry Kholodov, a 27-year-old investigative reporter for Moskovski Komsomolets, Moscow's largest daily newspaper, entered the paper's offices with an attaché case left for him at the Kazan Station.

"Vadim," he shouted, to Vadim Poegli, the newspaper's deputy editor, "I think I've got something." Moments later, in the room where Kholodov had gone to study the contents of the briefcase, the attaché case exploded, leaving Kholodov mortally injured, the lower part of his body shattered by the force of the blast.

The death of Kholodov stunned Russian journalists, who were horrified not only by the crime itself but by the brazen way it was carried out--with a bomb obviously intended to go off in a crowded newspaper office. It was sheer chance that prevented other people from being killed.

In the aftermath of the crime, Russian President Boris Yeltsin said that he would personally supervise the investigation. More than 5,000 people attended Kholodov's funeral, where speakers, including Russia's most prominent democratic leaders, denounced the crime as an attack on free speech. But in the months since Kholodov was killed, little progress has been made in arresting those responsible for his death.

Pavel Gusev, the editor of Moskovski Komsomolets, told CPJ in November that after 13 months, the investigation of the Kholodov murder was "running in place." He said he was convinced that the investigators already had identified the thread capable of leading them to the people who ordered the journalist's killing, but further progress was being blocked by high-ranking officials.

Virtually all of the paper's staff members have been interviewed by the prosecutor, and they are prevented from discussing the case while the investigation is proceeding. That is an obligation that they say they will ignore once they are completely convinced the investigation is going nowhere.

In the meantime, Gusev said, the newspaper has carried out its own investigation, and if the official inquiry does not make progress soon, the paper is prepared to print what it knows. Gusev told CPJ that he and at least 14 other people are familiar with the results of the paper's investigation and, in the event of his untimely death, a plan is in place for the paper's findings to be published immediately.

No one, however, underestimates the difficulty of bringing the perpetrator or perpetrators to justice. "The killing was prepared for a long time," said Natalya Yefimova, the paper's deputy editor, "and the killer was someone Dima trusted. Several months before the explosion, Dima received a tip and avoided danger by hiding himself for several days. This happened after he wrote an article about corruption in the Western Group of Forces [stationed in East Germany]."

Since November 1995, there have been fewer and fewer contacts between the prosecutor and the staff of Moskovski Komsomolets, and when investigators have come to the newspaper, it has been mostly to go over old ground.

Kholodov's colleagues say that there is growing sentiment at the paper in favor of going public. Nonetheless, there are dangers in publishing the results of the paper's investigation. "It could be dangerous to reveal our cards," said Yefimova. "The people who are guilty have alibis, and the people in the special services who helped them carry out the murder know how to disappear."

On June 17, 1995, Natalya Alyakina, a free-lance correspondent for RUFA, a German radio news service, and Focus, a weekly magazine, was shot dead by a Russian soldier minutes after being waved past a Russian checkpoint outside the city of Budyonnovsk in southern Russia at the height of a hostage crisis.

As in the Kholodov murder, the investigation in this case has been slow, inconclusive and seemingly intended to shield the perpetrator rather than to solve the crime.

According to Alyakina's husband, Gisbert Mrozek, who also worked for RUFA and Focus and was riding in the car with his wife when she was killed, he and Alyakina had left Moscow on June 16 for Mineralnaya Voda to cover the hostage crisis. They were on their way to Budyonnovsk the next day in a car driven by Vladimir Martirosian when they were stopped at a Russian checkpoint about 250 meters outside the city.

Mrozek had heard reports of Russian soldiers' hostility toward the press but he and Alyakina passed through the checkpoint without incident. The soldiers on duty looked at their press documents and waved them on with the words "Happy journey."

Minutes later, however, as they were driving away in the direction of Budyonnovsk, two shots rang out, and Alyakina, bleeding heavily from a neck wound, slumped over and said to her husband, "They killed me. I'm dying. Don't leave my son, Artyem. I love you." She lost consciousness about a minute later.

Mrozek helped Alyakina out of the car and began shouting, "Why did you kill my wife?" Almost immediately, an armored car arrived from the checkpoint, and Alyakina was put in the vehicle along with Martirosian, who was also hit.

Mrozek was then driven by the police into Budyonnovsk. He was taken to a hospital where he was told that Martirosian was seriously injured and his wife was dead.

In the months since Alyakina was killed, Mrozek has watched with dismay as the military prosecutor has investigated the case in a manner that demonstrates both indifference and incompetence.

Even though Alyakina was struck through the rear window of her car, the glass from the window was thrown away. The machine gun that fired the fatal shot was not fixed in place, and no photographs were taken of the scene.

In fact, there was little attempt even to begin an investigation until Sept. 7, when, under pressure from the German government (Alyakina held dual Russian-German citizenship), the authorities assigned a special prosecutor, Lt. Col. Andrei Kondratkov, to the case.

At the request of Mrozek and Alyakina's relatives, a re-enactment of the shooting took place in early October. The soldier who fired the fatal shot, Sergei Fedotov, has claimed that the shooting was inadvertent and that he accidentally activated a machine gun with his foot while climbing into an armored personnel carrier.

At the re-enactment, Fedotov showed how he climbed down into the armored vehicle and touched the trigger of the machine gun with his foot. Mrozek requested that Fedotov actually fire the weapon, which was controlled by a double lever specifically to prevent an accidental firing. But because the scene of the re-enactment was near Budyonnovsk, for safety reasons the demonstration was transferred to a nearby training field.

At the field, however, Fedotov was no longer present. Instead, a Russian officer took his place and succeeded in firing two shots from the machine gun with his foot. The demonstration, however, left open a critical question. The officer knew in advance that he was to perform the complicated maneuver, and his performance did nothing to convince Mrozek that the same thing could have been done by a young recruit by accident.

Mrozek told CPJ that he will ask for a new re-enactment of the shooting, in which Fedotov himself demonstrates how he was able to fire the machine gun. The widower said that he will also ask for a psychologist's testimony on the plausibility of the soldier's story.

"I don't think that someone wanted to kill Natalya," said Mrozek. "I think it was intended as a joke, to force journalists to hit the ground. There were other cases of shooting at cars by internal troops. Some of the passengers were killed and that was all.

"This was the result of hatred of journalists. The soldiers fired in the direction of the car not caring whether they killed someone or not."

Vladislav Listyev, the executive director of Russia's newly formed public television station ORT, and, in the opinion of many, the most popular television journalist in the country, was murdered in the hallway of his apartment building in the center of Moscow on March 1, 1995.

The murder apparently was connected to his role in the reorganization of the state-owned Ostankino television company as ORT, a joint stock venture.

In this case, too, there has been little progress in the investigation, and there are widespread fears that the authorities are not really interested in finding the killers.

At the end of 1994, Ostankino was reconstituted as ORT by a decree from Yeltsin that granted 51 percent of the shares in the new independent company to the state and 49 percent to Russian banks. Listyev was named the executive director of the station, and the transition was set to take place on April 1, 1995. The first few months of 1995 provided an opportunity for a re-examination of many aspects of the station's operation, and one of Listyev's first acts after becoming director was to order the suspension of all advertising on the station beginning April 1.

In fact, a re-evaluation of the station's advertising policies was long overdue. The advertising was being brokered through 12 mafia-controlled intermediary firms, which sold it at vastly inflated prices. The channel, capable of reaching 100 million people, was extremely attractive for advertisers, and the value of advertising time on Ostankino grew from virtually nothing in 1992 to $30 million a month today. Some time slots on the station were booked until the year 2000. Listyev's decision raised the prospect of massive losses for the nation's advertising syndicates and possible bankruptcy for some agencies.

Listyev was murdered one month before his suspension order was to take effect, and it is widely believed that an Ostankino advertising syndicate ordered his death. But even with such obvious leads to follow, official investigators have made no progress in the case.

Most people believe Listyev's killers will never be found, said Boris I. Uvarov, a senior special investigator in the Internal Affairs Ministry. Uvarov headed the group that investigated the case from March until June, when he was fired for failing to follow an order from his superiors. Higher-ups in the prosecutor's office asked Uvarov to sanction the arrest of an employee of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in connection with the Listyev killing. He refused because the employee was not, in fact, connected to the case, and it became obvious to him that the prosecutor's office wanted to use the arrest to put pressure on the FSB, which, at the time, was investigating a case involving some relatives of Alexei Ilyushenko, the general prosecutor.

The staff of the investigative group in the Listyev case has now been changed three times, hampering the effectiveness of the probe.

There have also been repeated rumors about arrests, many of them printed in newspaper articles quoting "competent sources." Many investigators, however, believe the rumors originate in the prosecutor's office and are intended to distract attention from the lack of progress in the case. They believe that the authorities are not really interested in finding the killers and do everything possible to muddle the investigation.

In addition to the well-known cases, there have been a number of murders of less well-known journalists, sometimes outside of Moscow, and these, too, show every sign of not having been seriously investigated.

On Feb. 13, 1995, Viatcheslav Rudnev, a free-lance reporter who had written stories for the local press in Kaluga about corruption and the criminal underworld, was found with a fractured skull in the entryway to the apartment building where he had lived for years. He died four days later.

Although it had been established that Rudnev had not been drinking that evening, after a brief investigation the local police ruled that his death was an accident and that Rudnev fell on the stairway and hit his head.

This version of events leaves several unanswered questions. Before his death, Rudnev told friends that his life had been threatened, but no attempt was made to learn the source of these threats either at the time he reported them or after he died.

Journalists in Kaluga believe that Rudnev was struck on the head and then left at the bottom of the stairwell to make it look as if he had fallen.

On Feb. 1, 1994, Sergei Dubov, the publisher of the advertising newspaper Vsyo Dlya Vas, was shot dead in front of his apartment building. Since his murder, which was preceded by weeks of death threats, no one has been arrested or charged.

Dubov, who was the first publisher of the complete works of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, had also created a publishing house in association with the Russian weekly magazine New Times. The affiliation allowed him to use the magazine's name, building, correspondents and infrastructure for a variety of commercial and publishing ventures.

In the months before his death, he had obvious financial difficulties and was unable to pay either rent or salaries. In December 1993, Dubov began to tell colleagues that he thought he might be killed, and before his death the vice presidents of his publishing house cashed in their shares in the company.

Despite possible leads to the identity of the killer in Dubov's tangled financial affairs, there has been no progress in solving the case.

Alexander Pumpiansky, the editor of New Times and a friend of Dubov's, said that Dubov's deputy was briefly arrested and accused of financial manipulations but then freed.

On June 12, 1994, Yuri Soltis, a crime reporter for the Interfax News Agency, was found beaten to death at a train station in the Stroitel district on the outskirts of Moscow. He was so badly beaten that it took the police three days to identify him. Soltis' colleagues told CPJ that his murder was linked to his investigations of Moscow's criminal underworld but no suspects have ever been identified.

On Dec. 27, 1995, Vadim Alferyev, a crime reporter with Segodnyashnyaya Gazeta in the Siberian industrial city of Krasnoyarsk, was beaten to death in the entrance to his apartment building. Alferyev was writing about economic crimes in the region and had received repeated threats. At this writing, no suspects have been arrested, and there is no reported progress in the investigation.

The failure of Russian authorities to vigorously investigate the murder of journalists is now part of the reality of the post-Communist epoch. Just as in the past, when investigators were forced to desist once a crime probe led to a high-ranking party official, they now find themselves restrained when they uncover the trail of high-ranking military figures or leaders of organized crime.

In fact, however, the murderers of journalists can be found and prosecuted. Gangsters in Russia and the rest of the former Soviet Union are so convinced of their invulnerability that they do little to disguise their identities. The authorities in Lithuania this year arrested and convicted the killers of Vitas Lingis, a reporter for the newspaper Respublika who had written about the activities of the Lithuanian mob. One of his murderers has been sentenced to death.

But bringing those who kill journalists to justice requires a commitment to the rule of law. So far, there is no such commitment in Russia. And ultimately, it is only with the protection of the law that a free press can hope to survive.

David Satter is the program coordinator for Central Europe and the republics of the former Soviet Union. A former Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times of London, he has written widely on Russia and the former Soviet Union.
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