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Russian Journalist Oleg Kashin Brutally Attacked in Moscow

Russian journalist Oleg Kashin, a well-known journalist for the Russian daily Kommersant, was savagely beaten outside his home at 12:40 AM on November 6 as he returned from dinner with friends. The attack, which Kommersant editor Mikhail Mikhailin insisted was related to Kashin’s work, left Kashin with a two broken jaws, a broken leg, a fractured skull, a concussion, blood in the lungs, and several broken fingers, one of which had to be amputated.

Free press organization Reporters Without Borders (RWB), among others, publicly decried the attack and called on the perpetrators to be punished. In a rare move in Russia, President Medvedev also condemned the attack and announced, via his Twitter feed, that he had ordered the interior minister and prosecutor’s office to supervise the investigation and bring the attackers to justice. Secretary-General of RWB, Jean-Francois Julliard, said that “We hold [President Medvedev] to his word and we urge the authorities to put all the necessary conditions in place for the police and judicial authorities to be able to work independently and get results.”

Reporters Without Borders – USA Director Clothilde Le Coz called Russia “one of the world’s most dangerous countries for independent journalists.” High profile murder cases, such as that of Anna Politcovskaya, remain unsolved years after their commission, despite the identity of the killers being well known to authorities. According to Julliard, “The culture of impunity has prevailed for too long. No crime of violence against journalists has been solved since the start of the past decade.”

Ilya Barabanov, deputy editor of the Russian independent weekly The New Times and
2010 Peter Mackler Award winner, told guests at the 2010 Peter Mackler Award Ceremony that “the reality is that independent media outlets are not able to feel safe in Russia.” Barabanov, however, further stated that “the enemies of independent press have yet to break down or intimidate those journalists who truly believe in honestly executing their duty before the citizens of their country.”

As the events of this past week show, detractors of a free press in Russia have not yet given up trying to shut down those independent voices exemplified by Kashin and Barabanov. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Oleg Kashin and his family.” Said Peter Mackler Award Project Director Camille Mackler. “We hope he will make a full and speedy recovery and that Russia will finally reverse its trend and bring the perpetrators of this terrible act to justice.”

Text of Remarks by Ilya Barabanov, 2010 Peter Mackler Award Winner, During This Year’s Ceremony

Dear Colleagues,

I would like to begin by giving thanks to the Peter Mackler Foundation, Reporters Without Borders, and the Global Media Forum all of whom took part in awarding me with the prestigious 2010 Peter Mackler Award. I am grateful to the director of the Peter Mackler Award, Camille J. Mackler, as well as the entire Mackler family, to the Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders, Jean-Francois Julliard, and also to David Hoffman, who voiced so many kind words today. I would never have received this award if not for my colleagues at The New Times magazine, and I would like to express special thanks to Irena Lesnevskaya, the magazine published and owner, and our Editor-in-Chief, Yevgenia Albats.

The New Times appeared on the Russian media-market four years ago, in February of 2007. Irena Lesnevskaya stated her desire to begin such a project immediately after the murder of Novaya Gazeta reporter Anna Politkovskaya back then in an interview.

Naturally, it would have been more satisfying and fulfilling for me and my colleagues to work if Russia had a more developed news media market: only in the face of lively competition can publications grow, develop and progress. However, we have to admit, that all the independent media sources can be counted on the fingers of not two, but even just one hand.

Aside from The New Times, among them is the well-known Novaya Gazeta, the radio station Echo Moskvy, as well as a number of developing internet publications. Unfortunately, just a few days ago the Russian Newsweek ceased publishing, causing the number of political journals to drop even lower.

Often times, The New Times has been mistakenly identified and referred to as an “opposition” publication. Indeed, over the past ten years, an unhelpful notion has developed that any media outlet which allows itself to write about politics, without adjusting its position to that of the Kremlin, is by definition “in opposition.” Yet this is incorrect. The position of our magazine is that we simply support the right of citizens to information. This right is guaranteed in the Russian Constitution and, in the United States, as far as I know, it is the First Amendment to the Constitution. We do not take any sides, and attempt to be equally critical of both the representatives of the ruling elite, and to those who call themselves political opponents of the regime in Russia. We are ready to provide a platform for all parties in any discussion, and, whether we are writing a political piece of conducting a financial investigation, we are always interested in both sides of the argument.

Investigative journalism, in particular, is a genre that The New Times specializes in. In our very first issue, we published an investigation of the murder of a Russian special agent, Aleksandr Litvinenko, who was murdered in the fall of 2006. The magazine is constantly publishing articles exposing corruption in various government agencies of Russia. My own most recent investigations are concerned with corruption within the Ministry of Internal Affairs – Russian police – and the Federal Security Service, a successor to the KGB.

My colleague at The New Times, and a very dear friend, Natalia Morari, was conducting for quite some time an investigation of the murder of a high ranked official of the Russian Central Bank – Andrei Kozlov. His death was linked to the struggle he led against “cash pushers” – officials and criminals engaged in money laundering. For her courageous articles, Natalia was expelled from Russia in December 2007. Natalia, who is a citizen of the Republic of Moldova, was denied entry to Russia, which declared her to be a national security threat. Any and all attempts made to challenge this decision through the legal system have been fruitless, but we continue to fight for her return.

Even with the use of such harsh methods, the enemies of independent press have yet to break down or intimidate those journalists who truly believe in honestly executing their duty before the citizens of their country.

But I am not complaining. My colleagues and I derive great pleasure simply from the opportunity to practice investigative journalism in Russia, despite the fact that the nature of our jobs presents certain difficulties. We are not, by any means, in despair, and Natalia Morari, who, for the past three years, has not been permitted to enter Russia, has become one of the most recognizable television reporters in her home country. If any of you follow the happenings of the former Soviet Union, then you are probably aware of Natalia’s activity especially in connection with the famous Twitter-revolution which occurred in Chisinau about a year ago, and resulted in the end of the communist rule in Moldova and the commencement of clean and legitimate elections in which democratic parties were able to participate and gain support.

I would like to use this opportunity to take a moment to highlight the situation which has developed in Russia with regards to independent media. The International Press Institute demonstrated that the first nine years of the new millennium 735 journalists were killed. Thirty-five of those were in Russia. Only a month ago, at the request of The New Times, Russia’s Glasnost Defense Foundation conducted its own investigation, the results of which, I must admit, shocked us. We discovered that over the past five years in sixty-six of eighty-three regions in Russia (that is almost eighty percent) journalists were either killed or crippled. Over seventy percent of the regions (sixty-one to be exact) journalists were faced with criminal charges. In forty-three regions (fifty percent), censorship is a natural occurrence. Contrary to popular opinion, the most dangerous place for journalists to work, are not the republics of North Caucasus, but the central Russian cities – Moscow and St. Petersburg. Researchers found a complete lack of incidents of government pressure on journalists only in 5 Russian regions.

However, even these numbers are due only to the fact that in such places as Chukotka, the Magadan or Tambov regions any and all independent media were silenced earlier, and hence, in the past ten years, there simply haven’t been any journalists who would allow themselves to speak out critically against the local authorities. Unfortunately, the international journalistic community becomes aware of only the most notorious of these tragedies. This, in my opinion, is completely unacceptable. Annual human rights advocacy monitorings gather only dry statistics: The updated number of journalists killed, in jail and fired for their alternative views. But each and every one of these incidents is connection to a very real human tragedy, disastrous for our colleague, his friends and family. Today, standing here at this podium, I would like to call upon you to pay attention to all of these cases.

And lastly… yes, the reality is that independent media outlets are not able to feel safe in Russia. But of course, this is not news for any journalists working in countries with authoritarian regimes. Most importantly, of course, is that our work gives us great pleasure. Being an investigative journalist in a country whose state authorities do everything to prevent such activity, is perhaps more interesting than working in an environment free of such obstacles. Furthermore, just by the rise in our sales we see that our readers need us. Based on ratings from September, The New Times has become the most quoted Russian magazine in the country, surpassing, for the first time even Forbes, which always held a firm first place in this report due to their publications of the ratings of the richest people in Russia. Is is all the more wonderful to realize that by doing your duty, you are helping ordinary citizens who have found themselves in difficult situations as well as our society as a whole. My countrymen will inevitably realize that a normal and comfortable life is impossible in our country without the presence of independent media outlets.

Thank you.

Tunisian Journalist Taoufik Ben Brik Loses Appeal

By: Adrian Jarrett. On Saturday, Tunisian journalist Taoufik Ben Brik lost his appeal against the controversial six month sentence handed to him in November for publicly assaulting a female motorist and causing deliberate damage to her car.

Ben Brik, a co-founder of the National Council for Civil Liberties in Tunisia and a fierce critic of longtime Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was arrested on October 29th 2009 following the publication of critical articles in the French press during the build up to the 25th October Tunisian general election, which President Ben Ali won with almost 90% of the vote.

Freedom of the Press and Human Rights groups say that the charges against Ben Brik were fabricated to silence his criticism of the government. Reporters Without Borders have labeled the charges as “trumped up” and Amnesty International have described Ben Brik as a “prisoner of conscience.”

Ben Brik suffers from Cushing’s Syndrome, a hormonal condition for which treatment requires regular access to medication. Shortly before the November trial, France’s Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner expressed the concern Ben Brik’s family had for the journalist’s health and urged the Tunisian government to release Ben Brik so that he could receive medical treatment.

However, Jean-François Julliard, Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders, confirmed that after his conviction, Ben Brik had been transferred to a prison in Siliana, 130km from his family in Tunis. Julliard added that this distance has prevented Ben Brik’s family from visiting him regularly. Ben Brik’s lawyers have also expressed their frustration. One member of his counsel told the Committee to Protect Journalists that they had been prevented from seeing their client during the build up to his appeal on numerous occasions, despite having permits from judicial authorities.

Tunisian authorities deny fabricating the case against Ben Brik and have stated that his conviction “has nothing to do with freedom of the press” and insist his transfer to Siliana was a “routine measure taken by prison officials who organize the transfer of inmates based on the capacity of different prisons.”

Ben Brik was convicted in absentia during his trial but it is believed that the overwhelming global protest and the concern shown during European Parliament public debate on the Human Rights situation in Tunisia last week may have convinced the Tunisian authorities to allow him to speak at his appeal. According to Reuters, Tunisia is sensitive to European criticism due to future plans to improve upon its current EU Association Agreement and apply to the EU for Advanced Status, which would qualify Tunisia for preferential trade terms with the European Economic Area and potentially enhance its international standing.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that Ben Brik used this opportunity to highlight the political nature of the charges against him by stating, “When people want to live, destiny must surely respond. Darkness will disappear, chains will certainly break.” These words, by Tunisian poet Abou Al Kacem Echebbi, were used to spur the resistance during the country’s guerilla War of Independence against the French in 1952-54 and currently serve as the final two versus of the Tunisian national anthem.

Photo Credit: BBC