current chair of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, has
failed to live up to its press freedom commitments, CPJ’s
Politicized imprisonments, restrictive legislation that muzzles Internet publications, defamation lawsuits that bring independent outlets to their knees, and impunity in violent attacks against journalists are all methods Kazakhstani authorities have unleashed against their critics. The current OSCE chair’s media policies threaten the very moral authority of the pan-European organization, CPJ said. Highlighting pressing concerns in the region, Suleymanov spoke of the imprisonment of Editor Ramazan Yesergepov in Kazakhstan; the arbitrary detention in a psychiatric hospital of freelance reporter Dzhamshid Karimov in Uzbekistan; and miscarriage of justice in the murder of the independent publisher Magomed Yevloyev in Russia.
Other witnesses included OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic and Sam Patten, Senior Program Manager for Eurasia at Freedom House. Here's Suleymanov's testimony:
Testimony before the Commission on Security and Cooperation in
Committee to Protect Journalists
June 9, 2010
Free Media in the
Chairmen Cardin and Hastings, members of the commission:
Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this
important hearing on the threats to press freedom in the
I will focus my testimony on the threats to press freedom in
several countries of the region, particularly in
As President Obama duly noted at the signing ceremony, journalists and bloggers worldwide put their lives at risk to deliver the news every day. To honor that risk, world leaders must declare zero tolerance of media repression and urge their counterparts elsewhere to do the same.
Such a signal is urgently needed in the
I would like to start by briefly highlighting some of those threats.
Investigative reporters in the Balkans, including in
Now I am going to focus on the press freedom records of
three regional countries of concern for CPJ. I will start with the current
The current OSCE chair is not living up to the standard that should be set by the leader of the main regional human rights monitor. Impunity in attacks against independent journalists, politically motivated prosecutions and imprisonments of government critics, and a restrictive Internet law are the main issues that taint the country’s record.
One journalist was killed with impunity and at least four became
victims of violence in
Pavlyuk had reportedly traveled to
Soon after the incident, Kazakh authorities said they had
traced suspects in the murder to neighboring
Imprisonment on fabricated charges is another form of
censorship that authorities use against their critics.
My colleague, CPJ Europe and
Central Asia Program Coordinator
Prominent human rights and press freedom defender Yevgeny
Zhovtis provided expert analysis on
The same month, Zhovtis was driving to Almaty with friends when, blinded by the lights of an approaching car, he struck a young man in the middle of the road. Zhovtis immediately reported the accident to authorities, witnesses testified about extenuating circumstances, and the victim’s family said publicly that the manslaughter charge was not justified. Nevertheless, two months later, Zhovtis was sentenced to four years in a penal colony in connection with the fatal accident.
Local press freedom advocates who attended the proceedings told CPJ that the presiding judge appeared to have composed the verdict beforehand, leaving the impression that the case was predetermined. The written verdict was altered to reconcile conflicting details. The defense’s appeals have been denied.
Other threats to press freedom in
Authorities also use civil defamation lawsuits carrying exorbitant fines as a successful tool to bring critical publications to their knees. In the last two years, government officials and state agencies filed more than 60 defamation lawsuits against independent newspapers and their staffers, seeking more than half a billion Kazakh tenge (US$3.5 million) in damages. (In comparison, the average monthly income is 66,000 Kazakh tenge (about US$450). CPJ research has shown that local courts often side with the plaintiffs.)
Free expression on the Internet is under attack in
Press freedom groups, including
CPJ, have repeatedly called on President Karimov to ease his regime’s grip
on the media by releasing imprisoned journalists, unblocking access to independent
news Web sites, allowing international broadcasters to work in
Murder is the ultimate form of censorship, and impunity in
journalist killings is the main threat to press freedom in the
in particular, impunity has regrettably become the norm, to the plight of the
independent press corps whose ranks are dwindling. Nineteen journalists have
been murdered for their work in
Although in the past two years President Dmitry Medvedev
publicly promised that his government will ensure that crimes against the press
will be solved, the brutal reality has not changed. At least three journalists
were killed in
No other case demonstrates the sharp disconnect between President Medvedev’s pledges and his subordinates’ actions than that of 37-year-old publisher Magomed Yevloyev.
Through his Web site, Ingushetiya.ru, Yevloyev
exposed high-level government corruption, disappearances and killings of
civilians in the volatile
Rather than launching a thorough investigation into the incident, both local and federal authorities swiftly sided with the shooter’s account, declaring Yevloyev’s killing inadvertent. Investigators announced that the publisher was killed accidentally when he tried to snatch a gun from one of his three arresting officers. But a CPJ investigation into the case shows a number of inconsistencies in the shooter’s account as well as in the overall official version of events. (For those interested in our investigation, please refer to our special report Anatomy of Injustice, downloadable on our Web site, www.cpj.org.)
Currently, not a single person is held accountable for the murder. The shooter—a high-ranking security officer, a nephew of Minister Medov, and the sole defendant in the case—never attended his own trial. The proceedings ended in December with a negligent homicide verdict that carried a two-year term in a low-security prison.
But even that conviction did not stand. To the outrage of Yevloyev’s family and colleagues, in March, Ingushetia’s Supreme Court released the killer by replacing his prison term with a two-year-long “restriction of freedom” sentence. Under this new legal provision, which had come into force in January, Yevloyev’s killer was placed under curfew and barred from attending mass gatherings.
CPJ calls on this commission to raise Yevloyev’s case with high-ranking officials in the Obama administration. And we urge those officials to bring up the case in bilateral meetings with their Russian counterparts. A new, independent probe is sorely needed in Yevloyev’s killing.
Mr. Chairman, CPJ commends this commission on holding this important hearing, and we urge you to make such hearings a regular practice. We recommend the commission share today’s testimony with President Barack Obama and members of the executive branch, and urge them to actively engage with their regional counterparts on the pressing issues discussed today.