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Russia27 November 2002

Reporters Without Borders repeats call for new version of anti-terrorism law

Reporters Without Borders expressed satisfaction today at President Vladimir Putin’s veto of an amended anti-terrorist law severely restricting press freedom and called on parliamentary leaders to produce a new version "that cannot be used to make new attacks on press freedom."

"The amended law’s very general terms suggest that the censorship in recent years of the war in Chechnya will be stepped up," said the organisation’s secretary-general, Robert Ménard, in a letter to Sergei Mironov, president of the upper house of parliament, and Gennady Seleznev, president of the lower house (the Duma), who were asked by Putin to jointly revise the law after he vetoed it on 25 November.

"As it stands, journalists are banned from reporting about ’extremist activities,’" Ménard said. "This wording, along with other prohibitions, needs to be urgently defined."

The amended anti-terrorist law, approved on third reading by the Duma on 1 November, bans the media from putting out news that "hinders an anti-terrorist operation or endangers people’s life and health" or "serves as propaganda or justification for extremist activities, including statements by people seeking to stop an anti-terrorist operation or promote or justify opposition to it." The law also bars journalists from reporting on the production of arms, ammunition and explosives.

Several Russian media have been punished for their coverage of the recent hostage-taking episode in Moscow. On 25 October, information minister Mikhail Lessin ordered the closure of the regional TV station Moskovia for "violating the anti-terrorist and press laws." He also threatened to shut down the Internet website of the radio station Moscow Echo for posting an interview with the kidnappers.

On 2 November, the offices of the weekly Versia were also searched by FSB secret police on the eve of its running an article about the role of the special security forces in ending the hostage-taking.

Foreign media have also been attacked for their coverage of the Chechnya war and Russian "anti-terrorist operations." On 20 November, Russian security agents seized film shot by the Norwegian public TV station NRK about Chechen refugees. On 13 November, the authorities wrote to Fritz Pleitgen, head of the German public TV station ARD, calling German media coverage of the Moscow hostage-taking "shocking, totally unacceptable and disgraceful for a public institution" and hinted they might not cooperate with ARD in future.

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