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Russia25 September 2006

Legion of Honour award for Putin condemned as “unworthy of France”

Reporters Without Borders voiced outrage today that French President Jacques Chirac bestowed the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour - one of the highest decorations awarded by a country that considers itself the birthplace of human rights - on Russian President Vladimir Putin on 22 September.

An Elysée Palace spokesman said the award, given on the penultimate day of a visit by President Putin that ended with a French - Russian - German tripartite summit on 23 September in Compiègne, was given for his contribution to friendship between Russia and France.

“The dismantling of civil liberties in Russia, the gagging of the press and the state terror and news blackout policies being implemented in Chechnya were not mentioned in any official statement issued during this visit,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The French government’s decision to award Putin the Legion of Honour is a shocking endorsement of his policies.”

The organisation added: “Elevating a press freedom predator to the rank of Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour is an insult to all those in Russia who fight for press freedom, the freedom to be informed and the survival of effective democracy in their country.”

Reporters Without Borders has registered many serious human rights violations in Russia since the start of the year. Two journalists have been murdered. Self-censorship prevails as a result of lawsuits and administrative harassment. The purchase of news media by pro-government business groups such as Gazprom, which already owns NTV and the newspaper Izvestia, is reducing the amount of independent news and information available to the public. The influential opposition daily Kommersant was sold on 31 August to a metalworking industry magnate who heads a Gazprom subsidiary.

The Internet is not excluded from this drive to gag the press, as seen in the trial of Vladimir Rakhmankov, the editor of the online newspaper Kursiv, which began on 22 September. He is accused under article 319 of the criminal code of “insulting a state official” because he headlined one of his articles: “Putin, Russia’s phallic symbol.” He could be sentenced to 12 months of hard labour.

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