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France / Russia17 November 2006

As Chirac opens Legion of Honour museum, activists outside sport its insignia in protest against its award to Putin

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As President Jacques Chirac today inaugurated the newly-refurbished Legion of Honour museum in Paris, around 20 Reporters Without Borders activists gathered outside wearing the order’s ribbons in protest against Chirac’s decision to award it to Russian leader Vladimir Putin in September.

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They also brandished banners and placards calling Putin a “press freedom predator” and referring to the 7 October murder of Anna Politkovskaya, the latest victim of violence against journalists in Russia. The museum, which was closed for five years for renovations, is dedicated to the history of the medal and the men and women who have worn it.

“As French citizens, we are appalled by the decision to bestoy France’s highest award on someone like Putin,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The Legion of Honour is given to foreign citizens for services to France or the causes it supports. But 21 journalists, including Anna Politkovskaya, Paul Klebnikov, Valeri Ivanov and Alexei Sidorov, have been killed in Russia because of their work, with alarming impunity, since Putin became president in March 2000.”

The organisation added: “It is a scandal that this award has gone to a man whose words and deeds display complete disdain for freedom of expression and human rights in general. We think we are worthier than Mr. Putin to receive this medal and, to protest against the decision to give it to a ‘press freedom predator,’ we chose to wear its insignia, knowing we were violating article 433-7 of the criminal code.”

On 20 October, Reporters Without Borders asked the French Council of State and Chirac, as Grand Master of the Order of the Legion of Honour, to strip Putin of the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour, its highest rank, which he was given on 22 September.

Among his many outrageous comments to the press in the past, Putin has said he wanted “to wipe out Chechen terrorists in the shit-house,” described the independent press as “means of mass disinformation and tools for combatting the state,” and told a French journalist who asked about Chechnya to come for “a circumcision in Moscow so nothing grows back




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