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RFE/RL Media Matters Vol. 6, No. 11, 28 July 2006

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    RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC ________________________________________________________ RFE/RL MEDIA MATTERS Vol. 6, No. 11, 28 July
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      RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
      ________________________________________________________
      RFE/RL MEDIA MATTERS
      Vol. 6, No. 11, 28 July 2006

      "Freedom of information is...the touchstone of all the freedoms."
      (UN Freedom of Information Conference, 1948)

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      HEADLINES
      * FORMER AZERBAIJANI POLICE OFFICIAL CONFESSES TO
      JOURNALIST'S MURDER
      * TURKMEN RIGHTS ACTIVIST WORRIED BY JOURNALIST'S DETENTION
      * OSCE MEDIA ENVOY TALKS ABOUT CENTRAL ASIA'S CHALLENGES
      ************************************************************

      AZERBAIJAN

      FORMER POLICE OFFICIAL CONFESSES TO JOURNALIST'S MURDER

      By Liz Fuller

      Haci Mammadov, former head of the Criminal Investigation
      Department of the Azerbaijani Interior Ministry, confessed on July 25
      to having killed opposition journalist Elmar Huseynov last year at
      the behest of then Economic Development Minister Farhad Aliyev.
      Huseynov, editor of the journal "Monitor" that systematically
      investigated alleged corruption, was gunned down outside his
      apartment on March 2, 2005. Days later, police arrested some 20
      members of a gang reportedly led by Mammadov whose members are
      currently on trial for several high-profile killings and abductions
      committed over a period of 10 years.
      Aliyev was dismissed from his post in October 2005 and
      arrested on charges of embezzlement and plotting a coup against the
      Azerbaijani leadership, charges he has steadfastly denied.
      On July 26, Aliyev issued a statement to the Azerbaijani
      people, posted on day.az, in which he again asserted his innocence.
      Aliyev also said in that statement that he was recently warned that
      he would be charged with Huseynov's murder unless he agreed to
      plead guilty to the coup charge.
      The preliminary hearings in the trial of Mammadov and 26
      others accused with him opened in Baku's Court for Grave Crimes
      in early July. Lawyers for several of the accused demanded that the
      pretrial investigations be reopened, claiming that in some cases no
      evidence was available to substantiate charges.
      For example, Nishad Ismailov is charged with having committed
      a murder in Azerbaijan, although he can prove he was in Moscow at the
      time of the killing, according to the online daily zerkalo.az on July
      7. Requests by several defendants to summon senior officials to give
      evidence, including Prosecutor-General Zakir Garalov and Interior
      Minister Colonel General Ramil Usubov, were denied.
      Testifying on July 25, Mammadov admitted to six murders,
      including those of a fellow Interior Ministry official, Azer
      Ismaylov, and of Huseynov. He added that then Economic Development
      Minister Aliyev ordered Huseynov's murder, but did not provide
      any further details, and the presiding judge adjourned the session
      immediately after that revelation. During his pretrial testimony,
      Mammadov said he was approached with a contract to kill Huseynov, but
      that he personally did not commit the murder.
      In an analysis of the implications of Mammadov's claim of
      responsibility for Huseynov's murder published on July 26, the
      online daily zerkalo.az recalled that Turkish investigators asked by
      the Azerbaijani authorities last year to assist in the investigation
      of that killing raised the possibility that Mammadov was responsible,
      but the Azerbaijani authorities discounted that possibility.
      Several suspects in Huseynov's killing have been named,
      but none apprehended. Zerkalo.az further suggested that Mammadov in
      fact had nothing to do with Huseynov's killing, but for reasons
      unclear agreed to shoulder responsibility for it.
      Elton Guliyev, Aliyev's lawyer, dismissed Mammadov's
      allegation outright, and reaffirmed that during the nine months
      Aliyev has been held in pretrial detention, investigators have failed
      to produce a shred of evidence to substantiate the charges against
      him.
      Shahbaz Hudoglu, a close friend of Huseynov, commented to
      day.az on July 26 that there was no ill-feeling between Huseynov and
      Aliyev. He said Huseynov considered Aliyev corrupt, although less so
      than many other government ministers. Hudoglu added that Huseynov
      gave Aliyev credit for being one of very few senior government
      officials to invest in the Azerbaijani economy.
      Mammadov's sensational claim of responsibility for
      Huseynov's murder is likely to revive speculation, first
      expressed in January this year by a former police colonel dismissed
      from the Interior Ministry in 2001, about how his gang could have
      operated undetected over a period of 10 years without his superiors,
      including Usubov, suspecting anything. (Originally published on July
      26.)

      TURKMENISTAN

      RIGHTS ACTIVIST WORRIED BY JOURNALIST'S DETENTION

      By Bruce Pannier

      Tajigul Begmedova is the chairwoman of the Bulgaria-based
      Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights. Forced to leave
      Turkmenistan in March 2002, the Turkmen authorities have harassed her
      relatives since she left. Begmedova visited Radio Free Europe/Radio
      Liberty headquarters in Prague today and expressed great concern with
      the fate of some activists and an RFE/RL journalist that are
      currently being detained by the government.
      While at RFE/RL headquarters, Begmedova touched on an issue
      that is close to the organization: the current detention of RFE/RL
      Turkmen Service correspondent Ogulsapar Muradova. "Ogulsapar
      Muradova, I think, is a very strong and capable person who chose to
      work in the difficult conditions of Turkmenistan -- and there are
      such people in Turkmenistan," she said.
      Muradova was detained on June 18, part of series of
      detentions Turkmen authorities made that also netted rights activists
      Annagurban Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khajiev. Muradova's
      children were detained one week later but released at the start of
      July. Muradova still has not been charged with committing any offense
      but state media in Turkmenistan has said she passed along "slanderous
      information" in her reporting about social conditions in the country.
      Muradova's case has received the attention of
      international rights organizations that have released a number of
      statements and appeals on behalf of Muradova and the others detained.
      Begmedova credits Muradova with providing an example to the
      people of Turkmenistan, adding that "this is a [positive] step
      because other people are also starting to raise their heads."
      But Begmedova expressed some concern for Muradova and the
      others, saying that once Turkmen authorities detain a person,
      pressure is put on the detainee. "In Turkmenistan we are all
      witnesses to the fact that the Turkmen regime -- as soon as it
      detains someone -- can force them to sign confessions and such a show
      or scenario has happened more than once," Begmedova said.
      Begmedova noted a positive development in the Muradova case,
      in that when Muradova's children were being held they were
      reportedly shown mercy not usually given to those detained in
      Turkmenistan. "There are reports that [detention officials] even
      helped [Muradova's children]," she said. "Even inside the holding
      area they helped them and what is especially interesting is that
      their guards [reportedly] told the children to speak up if they
      needed to use the toilet although [officially] it is allowed [to
      detainees] to go [to the toilet] only two times."
      Another new development that Begmedova mentioned was the
      ability of her organization to contact the children after they were
      released.
      In another departure from the usual treatment in
      Turkmenistan, authorities are considering a request from
      Begmedova's organization and others to provide funding for
      Muradova's legal defense. "We are working on this right now and
      hope that it will be decided positively," she said.
      Despite some positive signs, Begmedova said the world's
      craving for energy resources could be putting the defense of human
      rights on the back burner, as there are already examples of this in
      Turkmenistan.
      "This has happened several times and a vivid example was in
      2003 when there was the so-called gas agreement between Russia and
      Turkmenistan and more than 100,000 Russian citizens living in
      Turkmenistan were forgotten," Begmedova said. "Also, the attempts to
      reach a trade agreement that are under way between Europe and
      Turkmenistan, which rights organizations are condemning -- for
      example Human Rights Watch -- is another example."
      Many of those 100,000 Russians eventually made their way to
      Russia after Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov unilaterally
      cancelled a dual citizenship agreement with Russia and ordered his
      country's citizens to choose which country they would live in.
      The European Union is currently debating the signing of a trade
      agreement with Turkmenistan. The potential agreement has divided
      those who would see the EU promote human rights and those interested
      in buying oil and gas from resource rich Turkmenistan for use in
      Europe.
      The world's increasing need for energy has led to
      criticism that many nations are turning a blind eye to rights
      violations in countries like Turkmenistan, as these countries place a
      priority on meeting their nations' energy requirements.
      (Originally published on July 21. See
      http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2006/7/31EDF589-6B01-4FA5-BDD2-B
      70606F3E4BC.html to listen to Tajigul Begmedova's full
      presentation.)

      CENTRAL ASIA

      OSCE MEDIA ENVOY TALKS ABOUT REGION'S CHALLENGES

      By Bruce Pannier

      Media freedom in Central Asia has long been a thorny problem
      for Western organizations dealing with the region. The post-Soviet
      administrations there have proven resistant to allowing the sort of
      freedoms that would allow for criticism of government policies or
      officials. That presents a number of challenges for the Organization
      for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) representative on
      freedom of the media, Miklos Haraszti, a Hungarian writer,
      journalist, and human rights defender. Haraszti talked to RFE/RL
      about the challenges for media in Central Asia and areas where the
      OSCE has tried to help to improve the media climate.
      Haraszti says the media situation in Central Asia is
      characterized by multiple print and Internet outlets. But, he adds,
      control over television and other broadcast media remains in a few
      select hands.
      "It is basically a slope of pluralism which is higher in the
      case of the print press but a bit lower in the case of the broadcast
      media," Haraszti says. "Pluralism is quite confined in the whole
      region to the print media and actually toward the Internet, [and
      among] the different media types that the Internet is hosting. But in
      the broadcast field -- even in countries where there is privately
      owned broadcast media, [and] even in countries where there is a kind
      of a readiness for a transformation of state-owned media into
      public-service media to be found -- the actual content of broadcast
      media is quite monopolized and not really covering the whole of
      political life in a fair and objective fashion."
      Haraszti says he sees a discernable trend among Central Asian
      governments to tighten legislation to keep media outlets silent --
      especially independent media outlets that question state policy or
      official conduct.
      "We observe a sadly growing trend of administrative
      discrimination vis-a-vis the fragile and economically weak
      independent print media -- different types of new regulations,
      registration, re-registration regimes, accreditation problems, all of
      them in the form of a seemingly objective regulatory framework,"
      Haraszti says. "But, in fact, [such measures] somehow always [are]
      hitting at the independent press and almost never at the official,
      state-owned press -- which is a form of discrimination."
      Haraszti notes that all five Central Asian republics -- all
      of them OSCE member states -- inherited a Soviet mentality with
      respect to the media. He says that, as a result, it will be some time
      before anyone can expect media laws in the region to conform to those
      in Western democracies. But Haraszti says that-- in keeping with his
      OSCE mandate -- his office does contact Central Asian authorities to
      alert them to regulations that contradict those in other parts of the
      OSCE.
      "We have set medium-range goals for media democratization,
      which we always do," Haraszti says. "So these are decriminalization
      of all types of punitive laws that penalize speech offenses in a
      criminal way, [that is, to] criminalize them. We ask all
      participating states to put all of those offenses into the domain of
      civil law, [that is] civil court, instead of criminalizing
      journalists for what they do even if they do it in a way that has to
      be sanctioned somehow."
      Such laws have silenced or jailed journalists in several
      Central Asian states.
      Haraszti says there have been times when it was necessary to
      stage what he terms an "intervention." He points to Kazakhstan, where
      the government complained of too many media outlets and introduced
      amendments that simply made it more difficult for media and
      journalists.
      "They introduced these amendments, and now these amendments
      are actually making fines higher," Haraszti says. "They reintroduce
      registration, [or rather] they introduce re-registration, at any
      given occasion when business data -- like the office address -- has
      changed in a given outlet. And fees are introduced for registration.
      And a very important and actually very restrictive provision, [or]
      draft provision, is that the persons who have worked for any media
      outlet that has earlier been closed by a court ruling cannot apply to
      be editors with newly registered media, cannot register a media
      [outlet]. And that, I think, is something that probably
      constitutionally is a questionable requirement because it puts
      another punishment on top of what the courts at that time have
      ruled."
      Haraszti expresses hope that Kazakh President Nursultan
      Nazarbaev might veto the draft law. But earlier this week, Nazarbaev
      signed the media amendments into law despite objections from rights
      groups inside and outside Kazakhstan.
      Haraszti indicates there are some countries with which the
      OSCE's level of cooperation is still not good. "I still
      couldn't visit Uzbekistan," he says. "Otherwise, I was able to
      visit all other four countries in the region. And I hope very much
      that the level of cooperation with Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan will
      improve in the future."
      Haraszti says that an annual OSCE-sponsored event dedicated
      to the region's journalists might provide a possible avenue to
      improving ties with Central Asian states.
      "We will be having a Central Asian media gathering in October
      in Bishkek, in Kyrgyzstan, where we will be discussing the
      sustainability of media -- both privatized and new media start-ups,"
      Haraszti says. "[We will discuss] how to make them compatible with
      the market [and] how to help their freedom by sane policy of the
      publisher and of the editor on the market. And we are having a first
      day of deliberations and a second day of training for the
      participants. This will be in October in Bishkek. Last year...we had
      participants from all five [Central Asian states], which was a very
      happy circumstance, and we hope to repeat it this year."
      Haraszti also says he hopes to be making another tour through
      the region soon. (Originally published on July 7.)

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