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Russia20 January 2005

Concern over government control of media on eve of French foreign minister’s visit

Reporters Without Borders expressed concern today about growing press freedom violations in Russia since President Vladimir Putin came to power. The statement came as French foreign minister Michel Barnier prepared to make an official visit to Moscow on 20 and 21 January.

"We ask you to raise with the president his government’s control of the media and harsher measures that have been taken against journalists," the worldwide press freedom organisation said in a letter to Barnier. "The information ministry sent written orders to several local media outlets in Moscow, Noginsk and Pskov on 11 January banning them from reporting the demonstrations by tens of thousands of retired people and invalids that began the day before.

"We are also worried about the ’anti-terrorist’ bill going through parliament and which is a new curb on freedom of expression. It designates "anti-terrorist operation zones", thus expanding nationwide the news restrictions already in force in some parts of the country.

"These measures make it impossible to cover the war in Chechnya, for example, where the many human rights violations remain largely hidden from public view and are therefore likely to continue. We have every reason to believe the blocks to reporting events such as the school hostage-taking in Beslan last September will increase as soon as this law comes into effect," the organisation said.

"We also deplore the many physical attacks on journalists, two of whom were murdered last year for doing their job. The 9 July killing of Paul Khlebnikov, editor of the Russian edition of the US magazine Forbes, has still not been cleared up and the investigation into it does not seem serious.

Seventeen journalists were physically attacked and three others threatened last year. There is also still no news of Ali Astamirov, an Agence France-Presse (AFP) correspondent in Ingushetia, who was kidnapped on 4 July 2003."

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