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10/1/03 - LACK OF PRESS FREEDOM IN EURASIA - 2003-10-02

Journalists continue to face abuses in many of the countries of the former Soviet Union. According to Lorne Craner, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, these abuses range from physical attacks and threats to legal and bureaucratic harassment.

In Belarus, authorities have not made serious efforts to account for the disappearance and presumed murder of independent journalist Dmitry Zavadsky in 2000. The regime of President Aleksandr Lukashenko has also closed independent newspapers and imprisoned journalists. IREX -- a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to independent media -- was shut down this year by the Lukashenko regime.

In Ukraine, a series of mysterious and unresolved deaths of journalists has raised the question of whether journalists have been targeted for their critical reporting. In July 2003, Volodymyr Yefremov died in a suspicious car accident. Last year, journalist Ihor Aleksandrov was murdered. And in 2000, independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze disappeared and was later found beheaded.

In Kazakhstan, independent journalist Sergei Duvanov remains in prison after being convicted in an unfair trial that did not meet international standards. In a similar case in Uzbekistan, independent journalist Ruslan Shripov was convicted in a trial full of irregularities.

The few existing independent newspapers in Kyrgyzstan are losing the struggle to remain in business. The independent publication Moya Stolitsa, an outspoken critic of the government, faced dozens of lawsuits filed by government officials alleging their dignity had been insulted. In the end, the high fines demanded as damages forced the paper to file for bankruptcy.

Media developments in Russia have also not been encouraging. The recent closure of T-V-S without due process left Russia without a national, independent television broadcaster, and the Duma’s passage of amendments to media laws restricts coverage of election campaigns.

Freedom of the press is a universal right to which the people in the countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia are entitled. Through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the governments of these countries have pledged to uphold freedom of the press. It’s time they started living up to their commitments.