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Russia23 February 2005

Bush asked to raise Russia’s press freedom violations at meeting with Putin in Bratislava

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Reporters Without Borders called on US President George W. Bush today to raised the issue of press freedom at his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin tomorrow in Bratislava, in particular "the Russian government’s growing control of the news media and the increasing use of violence and harassment against journalists."

The Paris-based organization said in a letter to President Bush: "No fewer than 17 journalists were physically attacked and three were threatened because of their work in 2004 alone. Violence against journalists constitutes the biggest threat to press freedom in Russia.

"We are particularly worried about the condition of Sergei Lubimov, a journalist with the regional weekly Bogatei, who was brutally attacked on 19 February outside his home in the southern city of Saratov by two thugs who broke both of his legs," the letter continued. "Alexandre Krutov of the same newspaper was badly beaten by three persons outside his home in Saratov in March 2003 as he was finishing a report likely to embarrass the local prosecutor’s office. It is unacceptable that this kind of behaviour towards journalists who are just doing their job goes unpunished.

"Several journalists have been murdered in recent years, including Paul Khlebnikov, a US citizen and editor of the Russian version of the magazine Forbes, who was gunned down as he left his office on 9 July 2004. His murder has still not been solved," the letter said.

Reporters Without Borders said it "still hopes for concrete progress" in the investigation into the murder of Alexei Sidorov. "Aged 31, this journalist was stabbed by two men in the parking lot of his apartment building in the city of Togliatti on 9 October 2003 and died moments later in his wife’s arms. He had taken over as his newspaper’s editor from Valery Ivanov, a journalist who was murdered in similar circumstances on 29 April 2002. We are also still without news of Ali Astamirov, the Agence France-Presse correspondent in Ingushetia, who was kidnapped on 4 July 2003."

The press freedom organization said it also considered that, "the Russian information ministry’s instructions on 11 January 2005 to a number of local newspapers in the Moscow, Noginsk and Pskov regions constitute a dangerous precedent for press. These directives ordered journalists not to refer to the demonstrations by tens of thousands of retired and disabled persons that began on 10 January."

Finally, Reporters Without Borders said the anti-terrorism bill that passed its first reading in the Duma on 17 December 2004 would curtail press freedom even more in Russia. "By defining ’areas of anti-terrorist operations,’ the restrictions on access to information already applied in certain regions are being extended by the authorities to the entire country.

"The obstacles to press freedom make it impossible, for example, to cover the war in Chechnya. The many human rights violations in this no-go area are for the most part unknown to the public and, as a result, have little chance of ending. Reporters Without Borders has every reason to believe that the obstacles to press coverage of events such as the Beslan tragedy in September 2004 could increase dangerously as soon as the law takes effect."

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