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For immediate release: Aug. 8, 1997
Contact: Catherine Fitzpatrick

Russian, Chechen Leaders Urged To Help Free Journalists; Russian TV Crew Held Three Months

New York, N.Y., Aug. 8, 1997 -- The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) appealed to Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov to step up their efforts to secure the release of a three-person film crew from Russia's independent NTV, kidnapped May 10 by unidentified assailants in Chechnya. The two leaders will be meeting in Moscow within the next week. Yesterday, President Maskhadov offered an amnesty to any kidnappers who come forward by Aug. 10 to release their victims; otherwise, they will face the death penalty or life imprisonment. The breakaway republic has been racked by dozens of hostage-taking incidents since a ceasefire in the 21-month war was declared last August.

No definitive word has been received on the whereabouts of NTV's Yelena Masyuk, a seasoned Russian war correspondent famous for her hard-hitting coverage of Russian atrocities in Chechnya and her exclusive interviews with Chechen field commanders. Accompanied by cameraman Ilya Mordyukov and sound engineer Dmitry Olchev, on the morning of May 10 Masyuk had filmed Chechen rebel leaders at a rally in the capital of Grozny. The crew was on its way out of the republic when they were seized near the town of Samashki. No ransom has been demanded publicly. Russian and Chechen authorities have given contradictory reports about the crew's location and status, repeatedly claiming throughout the last 90 days that they are alive and would be freed soon. The abduction, one of a string of kidnappings of Russian and other foreign journalists in the region this year, prompted many Russian news bureaus to stop featuring Chechnya. The Chechen government has imposed stringent restrictions on reporters, requiring them to enter the republic only by air, accept the state's body-guards and stay in government compounds.

In the spring of 1996, after the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) put pressure on Masyuk for her coverage of Chechnya and warned her that her life was in danger there, Masyuk was sent on other assignments for a year. Then in May, on the eve of a new peace treaty between Moscow and Grozny, Masyuk, a 1995 Media Fellow of Duke University and an award-winning journalist, reluctantly decided to travel again to the region. The crew bypassed government restrictions, driving to Grozny from Nazran in neighboring Ingushetia and encountered no difficulties until six masked men halted their car, allowing the driver to escape.

CPJ has repeatedly come to the defense of Masyuk over the years when she was interrogated by Russian authorities to reveal information about her sources. In May 1996, Masyuk and Catherine Fitzpatrick, CPJ's program coordinator for the former Soviet Union, testified together before the U.S. Congress about the dangers to journalists in the Chechen war zone. Ten journalists were killed in the war, including several who were assassinated for their work. To date, five Russian journalists kidnapped in 1997 are believed to be alive; seven missing since 1995 and 1996 are feared dead.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists is an independent, nonprofit organization that documents and responds to violations of press freedom worldwide. CPJ's Web site is .

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists is an independent, nonprofit organization that documents and responds to violations of press freedom worldwide. CPJ’s Web site is http://www.cpj.org.

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