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Russia - Kabardino-Balkaria26 June 2002

Government cracks down on independent newspaper

Reporters Without Borders protested today against extensive official pressure and obstruction aimed at staff of the independent weekly paper Adige Heku, its distribution network and its chief editor and founder, Valery Hataschukov.

" Kabardino-Balkaria cannot not escape the rule that a free and independent media is a basic condition for democracy," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to the Russian Federation’s information minister, Mikhail Lessin.

"We call on you to see that censorship and official pressure on the paper stops and that the right to inform the public is respected in Kabardino-Balkaria," he said.

image 90 x 101 (JPEG)    Since Adige Heku was launched early last year in the small Caucasian republic of 800,000 people, it has battled constant official efforts to block its printing and distribution. Since it is excluded from the government-controlled distribution network, it is sold by independent street vendors but copies of it are continually seized.

In January, outgoing President Valery Kokov stood for reelection despite a two-term limit stipulated in the Russian Federation’s constitution. Hatschukov was arrested several times after the paper ran articles about the views of opposition candidates and denounced Kokov’s candidacy as illegal. Police repeatedly asked him who was funding the paper. The paper stopped appearing early this year, after its journalists and the owners of the offices it rents received a number of threats.

Journalist Nur Dolay, who works for the weekly Courrier International, was recently attacked while doing a story in the capital, Nalchik, about a government opponent and friend of Hatschukov. Two armed men broke into Hatschukov’s apartment, where Dolay was staying during the night of 29-30 May, gagged and bound her and then searched her possessions in vain for cassettes of reporting she had done. She was only released the next morning by someone who arrived for an appointment with her.

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