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Russia May 26,2005
H.E. Vladimir Putin
Office of the President
Fax: ( 011.7.095) 206-6277 or 5173
We write again to protest your government’s systemic repression of the independent media in Russia , and the violence directed at journalists with no apparent attempt to punish or even control it.
In the latest outrage on May 21, three men swinging baseball bats brutally beat Dmitri Surianinov, head of Media-Samara, a chain of six dailies, one magazine, three TV stations and a distribution network in Samara in the southeast of Russia . According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Surianinov was attacked in the street near his home. He said he had received threats after the publication of a series of articles in the weekly, Samarskoe Obosrenie, and the daily, Postscriptum, about the activities of the automobile industry group, SOK. His attackers showed no interest in a large sum of money which he was carrying. He was taken to the neurosurgical unit of Samara’s Pirogov Hospital with concussion and multiple contusions. The prosecutor’s office opened an investigation for “attempted murder.”
Your Excellency, such investigations in your country have a record of futility. There have been at least 14 journalists killed for doing their jobs in Russia since you became its president, and no one has been brought to justice for any of these murders. Just two months ago, the Military Collegium of Russia’s Supreme Court upheld the acquittal in June, 2004, of six military officers accused of murdering journalist, Dmitry Kholodov, more than ten years ago. We urge you to take all necessary steps to ensure that the investigation into Surianinov’s attempted murder is active, vigorous and successful.
The Overseas Press Club of America (OPC), an independent organization that has defended press freedom around the world for more than 65 years, also condemns the recent campaign of harassment and intimidation against Pravo-Zashchita (Rights Defense), a monthly newspaper that covers human rights abuses in Chechnya . According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the newspaper is published by the non-governmental organization, Russian-Chechen Friendship Society (RCFS), and is distributed in the North Caucasus and several Russian cities. In early March, tax inspectors from the city of Nizhny Novgorod and local officials with the Main Directorate for Justice began investigating the RCFS’s activities. At the same time, Federal Security Service (FSB) agents in Chechnya questioned seven RCFS reporters and former employees about their work for the RCFS. On January 11, 2005, according to the Moscow Times, the Nizhny Novgorod regional prosecutor’s office launched a criminal investigation against Pravo-Zashchita for publishing statements made by Chechen leaders calling for peace talks, which the prosecutors consider to be calls for extremist action. Your Excellency, such statements are surely legitimate news, and the Russian people have every right to be informed of them.
Not content with harassing Russian journalists over their coverage of Chechnya , your Foreign Ministry has picked quarrels with foreign journalists trying to report on the insurrection. On March 24, the Russian Embassy in Stockholm criticized the independent Swedish news agency, TT , for publishing an interview with Chechen rebel leader, Shamil Basayev. In February, the Foreign Ministry requested that British authorities prevent the independent television station, Channel 4, from broadcasting an interview with Basayev. These attempts to suppress inconvenient news and views are simply unacceptable. They violate both the letter and the spirit of Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says that “Everyone has the right . . . to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
By the same reasoning, we deplore the persecution of Irina Petrushova , editor of the Kazakh opposition weekly, Respublika Delovoye Obozreniye . A Russian citizen who fled Kazakhstan in 2002 after threats and harassment, she continues to edit the newspaper from Russia . She was detained on April 23, 2005, and held for two days by police in the Russian city of Volokolamsk at the request of Kazakh authorities who were trying to have her extradited for alleged tax violations. A year earlier, Petrushova had been detained in St. Petersburg on similar charges.
We are encouraged by the news this week that some 1,500 protesters gathered near the Ostankino television tower in Moscow to demand more press freedom. It is a cause dear to people everywhere, and we hope you will listen to their voices.
Thank you for your attention. We would appreciate a reply.
Norman A. Schorr
Co-chairmen, Freedom of the Press Committee
Yuriy Victorovich Ushakov
Ambassador of Russia to the U.S.A.
Embassy of the Russian Federation
2650 Wisconsin Avenue, NW
Washington , DC 20007
Fax: (202) 298-5735
Ambassador Sergey Victorovich Lavrov
Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the UN
136 East 67 th Street
New York , NY 10021
Fax: (212) 628-0252
Alexander R. Vershbow
Ambassador of the U.S. to Russia
Embassy of the United States of America
8 Bolshoy Devyatinskiy Pereulok
Fax: (011.7.095) 728-5090
Glasnost Defence Foundation
Fax: (011.7095) 201-4947
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Fax: (011.7.095) 230-21
Mikhail Mikhaylovich Kasyanov
Fax: (011.7.095) 206-4622
The Moscow Times
666 Fifth Avenue, Suite 572
New York , NY 10103
Fax: (011.7.095) 937-3393
Fax: (011.7.095) 925-2161
St. Petersburg Times
Fax: (011.7.812) 325-6080