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Rep. Christopher H. Smith, Chairman
Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Co-Chairman
For Immediate Release
May 24, 2000


(Washington) – Human rights in Russia are definitely in retreat under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin, according to witnesses who testified Tuesday in a hearing before the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. CSCE Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and other members of the Commission heard testimony from Igor Malashenko, First Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors of Media-Most and President of NTV in Moscow. Malashenko’s offices were the subject of the Russian Government raid, following an attack by armed government security agents on the Media-Most headquarters in Moscow. The raid sparked questions about Putin’s commitment to protecting human rights, in particular the right of free speech in a country struggling to build a democratic system. “They carted away documents, tapes, computer discs and equipment. Russian officials issued contradictory and unsatisfactory justifications for this raid. Whatever the rationale, however, it is clear that the forces involved in the operation were clearly disproportionate to any declared purpose,” according to Malashenko’s testimony. Chairman Smith expressed alarm over the Media-Most raid, suggesting the move is an indication that human rights in Russia are in retreat under Putin’s leadership. “There is growing concern, however, that Russia’s development in the area of human rights is taking a turn for the worse under recently-elected President Vladimir Putin,” Smith said. CSCE Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) expressed grave concern with recent actions taken by the authorities against independent media as well as the conduct of Russian forces in the ongoing war in Chechnya. Turning to the economic dimension, Campbell noted that remedy of Russia’s ailing economy will require President Putin to quickly get a handle on rampant corruption and continuing capital flight. “Following such a path, however, would put the Russian President on a collision course with Russia’s modern day robber barons, including some of the individuals instrumental in his rise to power,” said Campbell. “When I was in Russia last year as the Co-Chairman of the U.S. delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, I met with American companies and heard first hand about the problems they were facing with corruption, crime and bureaucracy,” Campbell added. “Russia’s new leadership needs to address these problems to foster a more conducive climate for foreign investment.” Ranking Member Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) expressed outrage that the Russian defense minster had hosted the Serbian Defense Minister, recently indicted for war crimes by the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal. Helsinki Commission Member Senator Tim Hutchinson (R-AR) also participated in the hearing expressing interest in the alleged human rights abuses under Putin’s watch. Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) called the raid against Media-Most, Corporation “a step in the wrong direction and seriously jeopardize the hope of democracy in Russia.” Former National Security Agency Director Lt. General (Ret.) William E. Odom also testified before the Commission in Tuesday’s hearing. Odom said the United States should not treat Russia as a major power, nor should the U.S. try to solve Russia’s problems through “ventriloquism.” Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) also was on hand to deliver a statement before the Commission, stressing the critical role of a free press in a truly democratic society. On Thursday, May 11, armed government security agents attacked the headquarters of Media-Most corporation and it’s subsidiary, the NTV television station, seizing what a security service spokesman claimed were illegally acquired tapes and transcripts of private conversations. NTV had criticized some members of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration, as well as the government’s conduct in the continuing war in Chechnya. As a result of his reporting from besieged Grozny last year, Radio Liberty journalist Andrei Babitsky remains in Moscow under investigation for allegedly “participating in an armed formation.” Babitsky was recently awarded the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s journalism prize for journalism. Tufts University Assistant Professor of International Politics Dr. Sarah Mendelson also testified before the Commission. Mendelson said the treatment of Andrei Babitsky and the FSB raid on Media-Most should be seen as “part of a larger pattern of harassment that has grown steadily worse over the last year and a half.” Northwestern University Sociology Professor Georgi Derluguian testified that Putin faces an “uphill battle” to refurbish Russia’s status as a world power. “The political change in Russia since Putin’s appointment last August amounts to a successful coup carried out by formally constitutional means,” Derluguian said. “In the spirit of KGB culture, Putin gives every signal of being pragmatic and professionally loyal to the idea of the Russian state rather than any ideology. He now faces the uphill battle to consolidate the new regime and use its levers to restore Russia as a respectable world power.” Human Rights Watch Deputy Director Rachel Denber testified that in Grozny, “the graffiti on the walls reads ‘Welcome to Hell: Part Two.’ The bombing campaign has turned many parts of Chechnya to a wasteland even the most experienced war reporters we have spoken to told us they have never seen anything in their careers like the destruction of the capital Grozny.” Denber also described summary executions of civilians, including the death of three generations of one family shot to death in the yard of their own home. In written testimony submitted to the Commission, Babitsky said Chechens are often refused their civil rights because of their ethnicity. “On the entire territory of Russia, the Chechens today are deprived of their civil rights simply because of their ethnic membership,” Babitsky said. “No serious positive changes in this situation can take place as long as the authorities and public opinion conceive the Chechen nation as a threat to the existence of Russia.”
Media Contact: Ben Anderson
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