Anatomy of Injustice: Who Needs Your Truth?

A veteran reporter in the region describes how authorities censor the news through intimidation.

Anatomy of Injustice: The Unsolved Killings of Journalists in Russia

Fatima Tlisova, former North Caucasus correspondent for The Associated Press, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and other news outlets, knows well the grave risks facing reporters in the region. In August 2007, she offered this gripping testimony to the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe:

“More than 10 years I worked as a correspondent for different newspapers and agencies in the North Caucasus, the land between the Black and Caspian seas in southern Russia. …. Russia has been using in this region military policies that are very close to genocide. I can describe those policies as massive and regular violations of human rights, even the basic right to life.

“This is the truth that the Russian government tries to hide. And the best way to hide information is by destroying the freedom of speech and the independent press. The most famous Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, was murdered only for one reason—for her job in the North Caucasus, for telling the truth.

“I don’t need to tell you the statistics of freedom of speech in Russia. These numbers are very familiar to all who are interested in the situation. … There are dozens of stories beyond the statistics, stories that remain unknown. I want to tell you only one of these stories, about a friend of mine. …

“When he started to work as a correspondent for one of Russia’s central newspapers, he never used his legal name; he used only pseudonyms. He started to write articles that were very different from the others appearing in the official press. His stories were full of details. They were mirrors of what was really happening in his region. He wrote about kidnapped young people, about murdered or tortured civilians who were called terrorists after their deaths.

“Then, only after a few weeks, he suddenly disappeared. I tried to call him. His cell phone was switched off. No one in his family had any idea where he could be. On the second day, the news of his abduction came. Someone saw the man being kidnapped near an Internet café by masked militants. …

“I was on my way to his town when he called me. His voice was changed. At first I couldn’t understand who was calling from his cell phone. He said, ‘Do not come, please. I will be soon in your city.’ A few hours later, in the evening, we met in a café. He was very angry and sad. He used the paper napkins on the table to write down for me what had happened. He could not speak about it because he was very afraid. Five or six masked men kidnapped him. …

“He was brought to a neighboring town. After arriving, they left him in a small room, and all his guards disappeared. The door was locked. There was only one table and two chairs in this room. He heard men’s voices screaming like wild animals. …

“Then, two men came in wearing civilian clothes. They did not hide their faces, and they showed him IDs. Both of them were FSB officers. They asked him how he became a journalist. Their tone was smug and superior. ‘There are dozens of journalists in your region, but only a few of them were here like you.’ … They put all his articles, signed by different pseudonyms, in front of him on the table. …

“He tried to explain he wrote only the truth. They were laughing. ‘Who needs your truth? You must write what you must, nothing more.’ These questions lasted until midnight. Then they left him alone for the night. The next morning, he received instructions. Every time he wrote something for the central newspaper, he must first send it to them for checking. Once a week he must come to meet with the officer who will work with him. …

“These official methods I described are not unusual, but the most useful methods are much more simple. … Your 16-year-old innocent son can be arrested. Your house and your parents’ house can be searched any time they want to. … You can be [removed] from the list of journalists who have access to official information, or who are allowed to attend official press conferences. You can be barred from working for foreign news agencies because the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs will never give you the accreditation. And without accreditation, your work is illegal.

“If you didn’t become flexible after all, you can suddenly die or be publicly executed, as happened to Anna Politkovskaya. These are my observations after 10 years’ work as a journalist in the North Caucasus region of Russia.”

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