The contrast between press freedom developments in Eastern Europe and in the former USSR countries widened further in the first four months of 2003, with a worsening of the situation in Central Asia.
The European Union states saw many attacks on press freedom last year, especially in France and Italy, but no major violation has been recorded so far this year. Progress made by the Central and Eastern European countries, 10 of which signed the EU Accession Treaty in April, remained fragile. The situation sharply deteriorated in Serbia-Montenegro with the 12 March assassination of prime minister Zoran Djindjic and declaration of a state of emergency. Several media were suspended or punished for criticising the emergency measures and commenting on Djindjic. Two journalists suspected (because of what they wrote) of being linked with a gang involved in the murder have been in prison since 7 April.
Legislative reforms in Turkey, the lifting of the state of emergency there and the change of government at the end of last year raised hopes for real progress in press freedom, but media restrictions are still numerous.
In Ukraine, an independent examination in January arranged by Reporters Without Borders at the request of the mother of journalist Georgy Gongadze, missing since September 2000, resulted in conclusive identification of his body. The investigation of his murder focused on former interior ministry officials but has reached no conclusions yet. A preliminary investigation into possible "interference in state affairs and harming the authority of the president" by five opposition newspapers that accused President Leonid Kuchma of being involved in Gongadze’s death was begun in April.
In Russia, military journalist Grigory Pasko, winner of this year’s Reporters Without Borders / Fondation de France Prize, who had been accused of high treason for exposing ecological abuses linked to the deterioration of the Russian army, was unexpectedly freed for good conduct from a far eastern labour camp where he was serving a four-year sentence. He continued a fight to clear his name.
In Kazakhstan, the authorities sentenced opposition journalist Sergei Duvanov on appeal to three and a half years in prison for alleged rape of a minor after a trial that appeared to be an attempt to discredit one of the country’s most critical voices. Foreign observers were barred from the trial, at which defence rights were not respected. Independent media reporting on official corruption continued to be seriously harassed by the authorities.
Uzbekistan saw a crackdown on the media with the closure of two papers, a seven-year prison sentence on a journalist for belonging to a banned political party, the arrest for bogus reasons of at least two reporters campaigning for human rights and physical attacks on two foreign journalists in Tashkent. The authorities severely censored journalists trying to cover demonstrations that were brutally crushed in Tashkent and Samarkand.