UNITED STATES COMMISSION ON SECURITY AND COOPERATION IN EUROPE
(HELSINKI COMMISSION) HOLDS HEARING:
TITLE: "FREEDOM OF THE MEDIA IN THE OSCE REGION"
DATE: AUGUST 2, 2007
REP. ALCEE L. HASTINGS, D-FLA., CHAIRMAN
REP. LOUISE M. SLAUGHTER, D-N.Y.
REP. MIKE MCINTYRE, D-N.C.
REP. HILDA L. SOLIS, D-CALIF.
REP. G.K. BUTTERFIELD, D-N.C.
REP. CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, R-N.J.
REP. ROBERT B. ADERHOLT, R-ALA.
REP. MIKE PENCE, R-IND.
REP. JOSEPH R. PITTS, R-PENN.
SEN. BENJAMIN L. CARDIN, D-MD., CO-CHAIRMAN
SEN. CHRISTOPHER J. DODD, D-CONN.
SEN. RUSSELL D. FEINGOLD, D-WIS.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, D-N.Y.
SEN. JOHN F. KERRY, D-MASS.
SEN. SAM BROWNBACK, R-KAN.
SEN. GORDON H. SMITH, R-ORE.
SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS, R-GA.
SEN. RICHARD BURR, R-N.C.
RUSSIAN INDEPENDENT JOURNALIST
EUROPE AND CENTRAL ASIA PROGRAM COORDINATOR
COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS
DIRECTOR OF ADVOCACY
FREEDOM HOUSE, WASHINGTON, D.C.
The hearing was held at 2:05 p.m. in Room 340 Cannon House
Office Building, Washington, D.C., Rep.
Alcee L. Hastings, Chairman, United States Commission on Security and
Cooperation in Europe, moderating.
HASTINGS: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Our hearing will come to
I apologize, Ms. Solis and I, for having to vote.
I welcome you here to this Helsinki Commission hearing on "Freedom of the Media
in the OSCE Region."
Freedom of the media is freedom of expression at work. When the OSCE Permanent
Council created the position
of Representative on Freedom of the Media in 1997, it declared that -- and I
quote -- "Freedom of expression is a
fundamental and internationally recognized human right and a basic component of
a democratic society," and that
"free, independent and pluralistic media are essential to a free and open
society and accountable systems of
In practical terms, a free media in a democratic society keeps citizens abreast
of the decisions of their
government and gives the citizenry the opportunity to make informed choices
about the men and women who seek their
permission to govern them.
It provides a forum for both experts and average citizens to express their
opinions and exchange alternative
visions of the future. By exposing malfeasance and corruption in the corridors
of government or in corporate
boardrooms, newspapers and the electronic media help remove the cancer of
corruption from honest and productive
In its June '07 survey on media freedom in the OSCE region, the OSCE
Representative on Freedom of the Media,
Miklos Haraszti, presents a mixed picture: progress in some countries,
regression in others. It is clear that
although the window dressing of democratic elections may be preserved in
certain OSCE participating states, free
media constitute a threat to leaders who would rule their nations for their own
benefit or hold onto power long
after their political shelf life has passed.
Particularly disturbing is the ongoing media crackdown in many of the cities
and countries that will be
addressed here today.
Electronic media, while seemingly in these places, increasingly tightens
control and we find journalists in
jail, and in many of these places where journalists have openly sought
political asylum abroad to protest the
worsening conditions in the country.
In some countries, journalism is not only a difficult profession, but sometimes
a life-threatening one. It
may be, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn said recently, all too easy to take Russia to
task with a long list of omissions,
violations and mistakes.
But the unfortunate fact is, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists,
the Russian Federation has
become the third most dangerous country in the world for journalists -- after
Iraq and Algeria.
CPJ reports that since the year 2000, 14 journalists have been murdered in the
Russian Federation in
retaliation for their professional activities.
Only last month, both the board of the World Association of Newspapers and the
United States House of
Representatives passed resolutions calling on Russian authorities to
investigate these unsolved murders more
I would note that, in a few cases investigated, progress has been claimed by
law enforcement officials. And
I look forward, as do my colleagues, to any additional information our
witnesses may provide.
Today's subject is a complex and voluminous one -- and I won't claim that we'll
do it justice in just this
limited hearing, nor would I assert that the media always acts responsibly or
that journalists should be above the
law when the law is properly formulated. But I can't help but recall that
Thomas Jefferson, whose relationship with
the press was, shall we say, uneven, wrote in 1787 that, if given a choice
between having a government without
newspapers or newspapers without a government, he would not hesitate a moment
to take the latter.
I have asked two of our witnesses today to present a survey of developments
related to freedom of the media
in the OSCE participating states, with a view toward negative trends or
especially egregious cases or situations,
although we are always happy to hear good news, too.
We'll also be pleased to hear the testimony of a journalist from Russia, who
I've had the pleasure of
meeting before, whose harrowing personal experiences demonstrate the extremes
to which certain forces will go in
order to suppress the distribution of information.
Finally, I'd like to note that we had invited the OSCE Representative on
Freedom of the Media to share his
perspective with us today. But unfortunately, his schedule did not permit his
He has, however, indicated his willingness to participate in a commission
hearing, so I'm hopeful that we
will be able to have him join us on another occasion.
If time permits, I'll entertain written questions from the audience that are
submitted to staff, or during
the course of the hearing.
SOLIS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It's a real pleasure to be here. I want to
thank the witnesses for coming
This is the second time or opportunity I've had to attend one of the OSCE
hearings here in the House, and
it's a real pleasure to be able to welcome individuals who, like yourself, are
so courageous here.
Freedom of the press, as you know, is a basic value in America, and it's
outlined in our Constitution's Bill
of Rights. Media freedom is the foundation of any successful, responsive
democracy and keeps governments
accountable in challenging times, especially now.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about the challenges to media
freedom in the OSCE region. And
particularly, I'm interested in development in Russia, where threats to
journalists are real and dangerous.
The high murder rate of journalists in Russia is simply unacceptable. We must
continue to strongly urge
Russia to respect basic freedoms, such as freedom of the press, and end any
intimidation of journalists, especially
threats of violence.
Freedom of the press is especially important in countries such as Uzbekistan as
Uzbekistan faces upcoming
elections. The press plays in integral role in educating voters about the
positions candidates and parties take on
Without media freedom during the campaigns and elections of public officials in
these countries, the United
States and the Helsinki Commission are left to question the outcome of these
elections, because voters are at best
uninformed or, worse, misled.
We must also encourage states in the OSCE region to repeal any laws that make
criticism of a country's
government a crime. Azerbaijan has charged at least 60 journalists for
speech-related offenses for simply doing
their job. And as we work with countries to establish or improve freedom of
the press in countries where it is very
limited, we must also foster progress with states that have made some
improvements, but need to maintain and expand
upon freedom of the press.
With the U.S. Department of State's recent country report on Turkey, I am also
concerned that the country
there could be regressing to limit media freedom.
Again, I want to thank our witnesses and am looking forward to hearing you
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
HASTINGS: Thank you very much, Ms. Solis.
I'd like to begin and urge the audience to realize that we have circulated the
curriculum vitae or
biographies of our witnesses already. And if they won't take it as offense,
then I would appreciate very much that
we not go into great detail with reference to their biographies.
Our first witness will be Ms. Fatima Tlisova. She is an independent Russian
journalist and has worked with
the Associated Press, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the London-based
Institute for War and Peace. And I won't go
further. She tells her story much better than her biography does.
Ms. Tlisova, you have the floor.
TLISOVA: Chairman Hastings and members of the commission, thank you for this
opportunity to talk to you
about the work conditions for journalists in Russia's North Caucasus.
More than 10 years I worked as a correspondent for different newspapers and
agencies in the North Caucasus
-- the land between the Black and Caspian Seas in southern Russia. This region
was the arena of war a hundred years
ago. It still remains an area of war.
Russia's statements about the fight against global terrorism in the North
Caucasus have nothing to do with
the truth. It is a war against nations that tried to become independent.
Russia has been using in this region
military policies that are very close to genocide. I can describe those
policies as massive and regular violations
of human rights, even the basic right to life.
This is the truth that the Russian government tries to hide. And the best way
to hide information is by
destroying the freedom of speech and the independent press. Most famous
Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, was
murdered only for one reason -- for her job in the North Caucasus, for telling
I don't need to tell you the statistics of freedom of speech in Russia. These
numbers are very familiar to
all who are interested in the situation. My personal story is also well known.
But there are dozens of stories beyond the statistics -- stories that remain
unknown. I want to tell you
only one of these stories, about a friend of mine who still lives and works in
Russia. For this reason, I can't
call him by name.
When he started to work as a correspondent for one of Russia's central
newspapers, he never used his legal
name; he used only pseudonyms. He started to write articles that were very
different from the others appearing in
the official press. His stories were full of details. They were mirrors of
what was really happening in his
region. He wrote about kidnapped young people, about murdered or tortured
civilians, who were called terrorists
after their deaths.
Then, only after a few weeks, he suddenly disappeared. I tried to call him.
His cell phone was switched
off. No one in his family had any idea where he could be.
On the second day, the news of his abduction came. Someone saw the man being
kidnapped near an Internet
cafe by masked militants. For Caucasians, it means only one thing -- his
relatives should start to collect cash to
pay for the return of the dead body.
I was on my way to his town when he called me. His voice was changed. At
first I couldn't understand who
was calling from his cell phone. He said, "Do not come, please. I will be
soon in your city."
A few hours later, in the evening, we met in a cafe in (inaudible). He was
very angry and sad. He used the
paper napkins on the table to write down for me what had happened. He could
not speak about it, because he was very
Five or six masked men kidnapped him. He had with him a cell phone, flash card
and tape recorder when they
took him. They took all this stuff from him and then pushed him inside a car.
He was brought to a neighboring town. After arriving, they left him in a small
room, and all his guards
disappeared. The door was locked. There was only one table and two chairs in
He heard men's voices screaming like wild animals. He (inaudible) they were
Then, two men came in wearing civilian clothes. They did not hide their faces,
and they showed him IDs.
Both of them were FSS officers. They asked him how he became a journalist.
Their tone was smug and superior.
"There are dozens of journalists in your region, but only a few of them were
here like you." We understand
why they asked him.
They put all his articles, signed by different pseudonyms, in front of him on
the table. Then the questions
They asked him, (inaudible) like what Western secret services was he connected
to? "You can't write
articles like you wrote if you are only a journalist. You must have someone
strong behind you," they told him.
He tried to explain, he wrote only the truth. They were laughing. "Who needs
your truth? You must write
what you must, nothing more."
These questions lasted until midnight. Then they left him alone for the night.
The next morning, he
received instructions. Every time he wrote something for the central
newspaper, he must first send it to them for
checking. Once a week he must come to meet with the officer who will work with
"We know where are you all the time. We are watching you. We are hearing
you," they told him when they
gave him back his cell phone.
They made him sign an agreement to keep silent.
And last they told him, "If you break our agreement, you will be disappeared
Two weeks after our meeting, he received access to a closed (inaudible) on the
border of Russia and
Azerbaijan. He started writing articles about the very good relationship
between the Russian security services and
I'm not afraid to make things worse for this journalist because of this
testimony, because I know dozens of
stories like his. They will not realize which one of dozens is my hero.
These official methods I described are not unusual, but the most useful (ph)
methods are much more simple.
A year ago, I had an interview with an officer from this FSB. He spoke
incognito. I asked him about methods they
used to keep under control the local press. I was interested, have they really
met with (inaudible) journalist?
"We are not interested in every journalist," he told me. "We have our people
in everyplace they are. We
know what they write about before it becomes public. If something is wrong, we
need to just call the editor.
That's all. You must truly believe. If you disagree with us, you must change
your profession, or we are strong
enough to make you much more flexible."
I can name those methods used against the journalists to make them flexible.
In my own opinion, you can do
it beatings, kidnapped, tortured, arrested. Things can be done not only to
you, but to your family, too. Even your
70-year-old father can be beaten so terribly that he will lose an eye. This is
what happened to the father of one
journalist who freelances for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Or your 16-year-old innocent son can be arrested. Your house and your parents'
house can be searched any
time they want to. Your name can appear on the pages of very flexible
newspapers with (inaudible).
You can be arrested from the list of journalists who have access to official
information, or who are allowed
to attend official press conferences. You can be barred from working for
foreign news agencies, because the Russian
Ministry of Foreign Affairs will never give you the accreditation. And without
accreditation, your work is illegal.
If you didn't become flexible after all, you can suddenly die or be publicly
executed, as happened to Anna
These are my observations after 10 years' work as a journalist in the North
Caucasus region of Russia.
HASTINGS: Thank you very much.
I would now like for our next witness from the Committee to Protect
Journalists, Ms. Nina Ognianova, to take
the floor. And thank you so much for being here.
OGNIANOVA: Chairman Hastings and members of the commission, thank you for this
opportunity to appear before
you and participate in this hearing.
My name is Nina Ognianova. I coordinate the Europe and Central Asia program at
the Committee to Protect
Journalists, an international, independently funded organization that defends
press freedom worldwide. It is an
honor to be here.
In my testimony, I will first address the issue of impunity in journalist
murders -- the gravest danger to
press freedom in the countries of the former Soviet Union. I will then focus
on the press freedom records of Russia
and Azerbaijan, where media conditions have severely deteriorated in the recent
past, according to our research.
Governments in several former Soviet states have strengthened their grip on
power by restricting independent
activities -- from journalism and human rights defense, to religious activity
and political dissent. In particular,
the central administrations in Russia and Azerbaijan have stepped up their
efforts to silence critical voices in the
run-up to national votes, which are scheduled in these countries over the next
Politicians, state officials, government regulators, security agencies and
pro-government businesses have
relied on a variety of methods to consolidate control of influential
broadcasters to sideline critical journalists
and to intimidate them into self-censorship.
Such methods include the selective use of bureaucratic regulations to inhibit
media outlets; the passage of
vaguely worded laws to silence independent voices; the use of politically
motivated criminal investigations against
critics; the imprisonment of independent journalists on trumped-up charges,
which is sometimes -- oftentimes, in
fact -- accompanied by the closure of the media outlets; the purchase of
controlling interest in independent news
outlets; the aggressive harassment of journalists by security services; and the
failure to bring justice in the
murders of journalists and in other physical attacks against the press.
Impunity in journalist murders remains the gravest danger to press freedom and
threatens democracy in the
transitional countries of the former Soviet Bloc. Critical, investigative
reporters, who work to uncover social
ailments such as corruption, corporate crime, human rights violations and abuse
of power, are the usual targets of
this lethal censorship.
As violence against these messengers goes unpunished, fewer journalists are
willing to risk their lives in
pursuit of these difficult stories, the press is forced to compromise its role
as the watchdog of power, and the
public is kept in the dark about important issues.
When it comes to impunity, Russia sets a sad regional standards. Like it was
mentioned in the introduction,
it is the third deadliest country in the world for journalists over the past 15
years, behind only two
conflict-ridden countries -- Iraq and Algeria -- when it was driven by civil
A total of 47 countries (ph) have been killed in Russia since 1992. The vast
majority of the killings
remain unsolved. Since the year 2000, 17 journalists have been killed in
Russia in the line of duty. And out of
these 17, 14 were murdered in direct response for their professional work.
None of the murders have been solved.
Five suspects are currently on trial in the 2000 murder of Novaya Gazeta
journalist, Igor Domnikov, but the
masterminds of this crime, though they are known to law enforcement, are still
The trial of two suspects in the 2004 murder of Forbes Russia editor, Paul
Klebnikov, is now in limbo,
because one suspect in the killing went missing in March.
Progress is being made in last year's high-profile assassination of Anna
Politkovskaya, Moscow prosecutors
tell us. But after 10 months, they have yet to report any results.
On February 1st, as a response to an international outcry over the murder of
Vladimir Putin publicly pledged to protect the press corps during his annual
news conference at the Kremlin. But
only a month later, another death shook the Russian press corps, that of
Kommersant military correspondent, Ivan
Safronov. The circumstances surrounding his death, coupled with the
sensitivity of Safronov's beat, prompted many
to suspect that he had been murdered.
Moscow prosecutors initially said that the death was a suicide. Later, they
opened a criminal investigation
into what they called "incitement to suicide," which is an article in the
Russian penal code that's defined as
provoking a suicide through threats or abusive treatment.
And most recently, in late June, authorities ruled out foul play in the case,
and said they had not found
any link between Safronov's work and his death.
The investigators' behavior in this case are hardly unusual for Russia. Local
authorities regularly reject
professional motives in the journalists' killings, and instead classify them as
street crimes or domestic disputes
or robberies gone bad.
Russia remains the political and moral force in much of the region, so its
behavior in these journalists'
investigations -- rather, murder investigations -- is widely emulated in the
In Azerbaijan, for example, President Ilham Aliyev called the March 2005
assassination of a prominent
editor, Elmar Huseynov, a provocation against the state and an act of
terrorism. But despite these strong words,
authorities have shown little intention to identify the killers.
In Belarus, two years after the 2004 murder of Veronika Cherkasova, a reporter
with the opposition newspaper
Solidarnost, who was stabbed to death in her Minsk apartment, prosecutors have
suspended the investigation for what
they have called "lack of suspects."
Authorities ignored Cherkasova's articles on surveillance by the Belarusian
state security service and her
journalism investigations that alleged arms sales by Belarus to former Iraqi
President Saddam Hussein. They said
that the killing was the result of a domestic dispute and, in reality, shelved
In Turkmenistan, even after a journalist died in official custody, authorities
refused to investigate the
case. Ogulsapar Muradova, a correspondent for RFE/RL, was arrested last June,
held incommunicado for more than two
months in an Ashgabat jail.
A day after her arrest, then-President Saparmuat Niyazov called her a traitor
to the motherland on national
television. And last August, she was convicted on a bogus charge of possessing
ammunition and sentenced to six
years in prison after a closed-door list (ph) trial without her defense counsel.
Three weeks later, authorities released Muradova's body to her family and
refused to tell them the time of
her death, the cause of death, and denied requests for autopsy. Muradova's
relatives said that the body bore a
large head wound and multiple neck bruises. But to this day, Turkmenistan has
ignored international calls for an
independent inquiry in this death.
Russia and Azerbaijan have markedly backtracked on press freedom. And so, on
World Press Freedom Day this
year, they each earned a spot on CPJ's list of the world's worst press freedom
backsliders for the past five years.
As Russia nears parliamentary and presidential elections, the Kremlin has
pushed critical journalism out of
the public space. Independent reporting is now limited to a small number of
print publications and news Web sites,
which, compared to the Kremlin-controlled national television, have only
marginal influence on public opinion.
Authorities have recently shifted attention to buying controlling interest in
print publications, as well.
Most recently, on July 26th, President Putin signed into law a package of
amendments that expand the
definition of extremism to include public discussion of such activity and give
law enforcement officials broad
authority to suspend media outlets which do not comply with these new
The bill's vague language turns "extremism" into an umbrella catch-all term
that could be used to silence
Russia's NGOs have also experienced legal pressure. In January 2006, President
Putin signed into law a
restrictive bill regulating the work of NGOs, including those dedicated to
promoting press freedom and supporting
The measure gives the Justice Ministry broad authority to shutter NGOs for
engaging in activities that are
counter to the political independence of the Russian Federation, or which are
prohibited. But the law does not
define "prohibited." Under this new law, at least one NGO has been already
In April, Moscow law enforcement also closed down the successor of Internews
Russia, called the Educated
Media Foundation. As they were checking the organization for financial
The director of the foundation was forced to flee abroad, because she feared
possible jailing. And she is
right to fear, because this year alone, Russia has jailed two journalists on
charges related to their work.
One of them is Vladimir Chugonov, who is a founder and editor of an independent
weekly in the small town
Solnechnogorsk. He was arrested in January on a charge of threatening to
murder or cause serious damage.
Authorities did not disclose any details of this charge. After spending more
than four months in state custody,
during which he was shuttled between prison cell, hospital wards and
psychiatric wards, authorities conditionally
released him in May from the Butyrskaya prison in Moscow. The journalist had
been held at Butyrskaya prison on an
Chugonov said that he was given medications that were not disclosed to him,
that he had become infected with
lice and scabies during his hospital stay. He went on a 10-day hunger strike
to protest the treatment, and
authorities have not even to this day given any explanation for the release.
Fatima Tlisova, my colleague, has already given you an account of the brutality
of the methods used by
Russian authorities in suppressing news (ph) about Chechnya and other parts of
the North Caucasus. So, I'll say
briefly a few words about Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan's press freedom record also causes very serious concern. With seven
behind bars, the country now
sets the regional record for jailing journalists for their work.
Despite our calls and calls from other organizations to release the journalists
on National Press Day, July
22nd, authorities continue to hold them. Most disturbingly, in these cases
journalists are held on criminal charges
filed by public officials. Defamation remains a criminal offense in
Azerbaijan, so removing it will be an important
first step in reversing this record.
And while journalists are punished as criminals, crimes against journalists
remain unpunished. Apart from
the 2005 murder of Elmar Huseynov, which is still unsolved, so are the brutal
2006 attacks against two opposition
journalists, Fikret Huseinli and Bakhaddin Khaziyev, in Baku.
One of them was kidnapped in March. His throat was slashed by unidentified
assailants in a suburb of Baku.
The journalist had received several prior death threats by phone, warning him
to discontinue his reporting.
The other one, Bakhaddin Khaziyev, was also abducted in May on the outskirts of
Baku. His attackers beat
him for several hours and drove over his legs with a car. Khaziyev survived,
but suffered very serious leg
injuries. Shortly before the attack, he had written articles critical of
officials in the security services.
The international community, including the United States, cannot afford to be
indifferent to the
deteriorating press freedom records of Russia and Azerbaijan. Journalists
increasingly resort to self-censorship to
avoid dangerous, even deadly repercussions. As a result, the Russian and
Azerbaijani public suffers -- uninformed
about sensitive issues such as human rights abuses, corruption, high-level
crimes and, in the case of Chechnya, an
CPJ urges the Helsinki Commission to take the lead in making press freedom a
priority of U.S. foreign
policy. Eclipsed by strategic defense and energy concerns, human rights and
press freedom have suffered in recent
This sends a dangerous message to the world, that the United States is willing
to tolerate impunity in
journalist murders, the imprisonment of critical reporters and the closures of
independent news outlets in Russia
and Azerbaijan. Now more than ever, the United States should take a firm stand
against these repressive actions in
HASTINGS: Thank you very much.
Our next witness -- and as I indicated to the audience, time permitting, if you
have questions that you
would write and pass to our staff, we'll try to entertain some of those, as
But before we get to any questions, I'd like to hear from the director of
advocacy, Freedom House, Paula
Schriefer, who has a considerable amount of experience in democracy and human
rights promotion and currently
oversees Freedom House's advocacy outreach and communications activities,
including foreign policy advocacy, press
relations and coordination with international organizations.
I don't know how you keep all those balls in the air, but Paula, you have the
SCHRIEFER: Thank you, Chairman Hastings, as well as the members and staff of
the Helsinki Commission. I
really appreciate you offering Freedom House the opportunity to participate in
this important hearing.
I'm honored to be here with my colleagues, Nina Ognianova from CPJ, which does
important work for the
protection of journalists, and particularly to be here with Fatima Tlisova, who
is really an inspirational and
courageous journalist and human being.
Fatima, I think, is here to remind those of us who, from the comfort of our
Washington office, throw out
statistics about human rights and freedom. But what we're really talking
about, of course, is human beings.
It's a terrible tragedy for the Russian people that Fatima is no longer able to
do her work from within the
borders of her own country.
Freedom House has been monitoring press freedom around the world for more than
two decades now. Our annual
press freedom survey evaluates press freedom by looking at a series of
questions under three different categories
that have historically been used to limit press freedom. So we look at the
legal environment, the political
environment and the economic environment.
We're talking today about the state of media freedom in the OSCE countries, and
I have been asked to
specifically focus on four countries: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia and
Turkey. I'll focus a little bit less on
Russia and Azerbaijan, since we've heard a deal about them already.
I will start out, however, by pointing out that, among the 56 countries that
now comprise the OSCE, there is
a very stark and troubling dividing line in the state of press freedom between
those countries of the former Soviet
Union -- not including the Baltic states -- and those that have either joined
or are trying to join the European
All of the countries of Central Europe -- including the Baltic states, which
themselves needed to overcome a
decades-long legacy of Soviet media culture and control -- are assessed as
"free" in Freedom House's annual Freedom
of the Press Survey.
Likewise, the vast majority of countries in Western Europe are ranked as
"free." In fact, with the
upgrading of Italy this year, the one remaining exception is now Turkey, which
still falls in the "partly free"
By stark contrast, of the 12 post-Soviet states, 10 are ranked as "not free" by
Freedom House. This
indicates that those countries do not provide even the most basic guarantees
and protections in the legal, political
and economic spheres to enable an open and independent press.
The only two countries in the post-Soviet sphere that enjoy "partly free"
status are Georgia and Ukraine,
which have experienced recent political upheaval and democratic openings.
With this brief overview, I'm going to turn to some of the specific countries.
I'll start, again, very
briefly, with Russia.
My colleague already mentioned in the legal sphere the new registration
regulations regarding NGOs. She
also mentioned the new amendments to the law on fighting extremist activities.
Both of these are, of course,
At the same time, the government already owns outright or controls significant
stakes in the country's three
main national TV networks -- this includes Channel One, Rossiya and NTV -- and
it exerts substantial influence on
the content of news reporting.
As importantly, the government has used these powerful outlets to really
generate an atmosphere of fear
regarding threats from both terrorism and religious extremism. And this has
contributed, certainly, to Russia's
emergence, as has already been stated, as one of the world's most physically
dangerous environments for journalists.
I want to also note something that hasn't been talked about, which is the fact
that, unlike in the Soviet
days, the Russian TV, as you've seen, is incredibly professional and glossy.
And so, Russians who view it find it
entertaining and think that they're seeing something that is incredibly
I would also note that that affects many of those individuals who live in other
countries of the former
Soviet Union, who look to the Russian press as what they think as a real source
of independent information.
Nonetheless, Russians, who otherwise are enjoying a period of incredible
economic prosperity, due to the
high prices of oil, should be outraged that their country now finds itself on
par in terms of press freedom with
countries like Ethiopia, Burundi, Chad, the Gambia, Iraq, Azerbaijan and
Kazakhstan, in terms of press freedom.
I'll now turn to the situation, actually, in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. Unlike
Russia, actually, neither
country has broken out of the "not free" status since Freedom House began
evaluating them as independent countries
Again, I'll be brief on Azerbaijan. My colleague has already talked a great
deal about it. The media there
operate, as she said, under significant governmental and legal pressure.
Despite the draft law on defamation that
would decriminalize libel, journalists continue to be prosecuted for criminal
libel and insult charges.
Last year, the interior minister alone filed five lawsuits. And just a few
months ago, the editor of
Azerbaijan's largest independent newspaper was sentenced to 30 months in prison.
As was said, harassment and violence against journalists also remains a serious
concern, particularly as
Azerbaijan is slated to hold parliamentary and presidential elections in the
Kazakhstan, which has -- with no apparent appreciation for the irony of it --
put itself forward as a
candidate to chair the OSCE in 2009, has seen a steady monopolization of media
since Freedom House began ranking it
as an independent country.
As in a number of the former Soviet states, the broadcast media was taken
directly into the hands of members
of the presidential family or those with close ties to it. In fact, President
Nazarbayev's daughter ran several
television stations, controlled two of the nation's leading newspapers and at
one time headed the state news agency.
Journalists there face criminal charges, particularly under article 318 of the
criminal code, which imposes
penalties for "undermining the reputation and dignity of the country's
president and hindering his activities."
The level of repression against such a critical pillar of democracy, as well as
performance in other key areas, such as permitting genuine elections, are clear
proof that Kazakhstan has no
business taking over the chairmanship of the OSCE in 2009.
And now for something more bright. In Turkey -- which boasts a vibrant media,
including notably a vast
array of private television and radio stations -- unfortunately, a major
impediment remains to press freedom through
the prosecution of journalists under provisions of the new Turkish penal code,
which came into force in June of
Article 301 of the penal code allows for imprisoning journalists anywhere from
six months to three years for
the crime of denigrating Turkishness, and has been used to charge journalists
for crimes such as stating that
genocide was committed against Armenians in 1915, discussing issues like the
division of Cyprus, or writing
critically, for instance, on anything to deal with the security forces.
Last year, almost 300 journalists and writers were prosecuted for insulting
Turkishness under this
provision. Seven of them were convicted.
Although Prime Minister Erdogan declared his commitment to revising article 301
in September, he nonetheless
continued to launch defamation suits against the media, filing a total of 59
cases in 2006 alone.
Moreover, other legal impediments present great obstacles for Turkish
journalists. Article 216, for
instance, penalizes individuals for "inflaming hatred and hostility among
peoples," and has been used against
journalists who write about the Kurdish population.
Despite these concerns, however, Turkey has by and large seen an impressive
improvement in press freedom
over the past decade. In 1996, Turkey received a very low score of 74 out of a
worst possible 100 on our press
freedom survey and was ranked as "not free." By the year 2000, Turkey had
jumped to a rating of 58 and jumped into
the "partly free" category, where it has stayed. It now has a score of 48.
We hope that, despite these developments in the past year, and with scrutiny by
the OSCE and other
international organizations, Turkey will continue, will right its path once
again and continue to improve that score
and not backslide.
In summary, while there has been tremendous progress in the level of press
freedom in OSCE countries over
the past decade, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, this stands in
stark contrast to the developments in
the countries of the former Soviet Union.
The OSCE has played a vital role in supporting democratic development of its
members, not only in terms of
enhancing media freedom, but also in other key areas such as free and fair
We hope that the OSCE will continue to play an influential role towards those
countries whose journalists
and whose citizens are still denied basic rights. And the imminent decision on
OSCE leadership is an important test
of whether or not its member countries will maintain the will to do so.
For its part, the United States should be playing a leadership role in ensuring
the OSCE's effectiveness.
And I want to note that the upcoming OSCE human dimension meeting in Warsaw in
September, the OSCE ministerial
meeting that will take place in Vienna in December, provide two very important
fora during which the OSCE can
determine a plan of action to address the repression of free media, including
directing the OSCE representative on
freedom of the media to undertake an investigation into these countries.
I thank you again for allowing me to testify and look forward to any questions.
HASTINGS: Thank you very much, Ms. Schriefer.
In your remarks just then you said that the ministerial was in Vienna. I'd
just like to correct you. It's
actually in Madrid.
SCHRIEFER: I'm glad you know where it is. Thank you.
HASTINGS: That said, the responsibilities that you put forward are certainly
critical and hopefully will be
undertaken at the ministerial, as well as the human dimension conference in
We've been joined by our colleague, Joe Pitts, from Pennsylvania. And Mr.
Pitts, I don't know whether you
have any statements at this time? OK.
We will now go to questions, and I'd like to call upon my colleague from
California, Ms. Solis, to begin our
Once again, I say to the audience, if there are questions, if you would pass
them to the staff -- written
questions -- then we'll go to you.
SOLIS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And really, I want to commend Fatima Tlisova. I hope I pronounced that
correctly. I am very encouraged by
your brave statements and the fact that you feel very strongly that there's a
need to become more transparent, and
that we see that journalists there, in Russia in particular, have a cloud
around them, whatever they report.
And it's very interesting for me to hear this from you first hand. Sometimes
we don't always get that...
HASTINGS: Give the...
SOLIS: I'm sorry. I'm assuming she...
HASTINGS: He wasn't doing simultaneous.
SOLIS: I am curious also, because in this country sometimes we don't always
get the right information
through our media. But I know that in Russia it's somewhat of a very different
situation there, where lives are at
stake, and reporting for journalists is almost a life-threatening job. And
that's very hard for some of us here in
this country to imagine.
But I take your testimony at its word, that there is much that we can do as an
And I would just like to ask you a few questions, what you think that the
impact that the recent closure of
the Educated Media Foundation, what will that have -- what impact will that
have on journalists like yourself and
TLISOVA (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): This is not an isolated event. This will lead
to a series of other
consequences. This needs to be viewed in a certain context.
And I think what it leads to is more censorship, more self-censorship, less
educated journalists and less
educated people who are able to operate in a democracy.
SOLIS: I have another question, if I can, Mr. Chair.
Russian authorities have claimed that they have made progress in the
investigation of the murder of Anna
Politkovskaya. I'm sorry, I'm not pronouncing that right.
Do you think her killers will ever be apprehended or charged?
TLISOVA (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Not under this regime. Maybe under some other
regime in Russia, but not
under this regime.
I think these people have enough grounds to hide who the real killers are.
SOLIS: It's clear that Moscow has tried to put an information blockade around
Chechnya. Do you think that
this has been successful? And do you think Russian policy in Chechnya would
have changed if there had been more
reliable reporting from Chechnya?
TLISOVA (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The war in Chechnya is not an isolated war. I
believe there is a war in the
entire North Caucasus, in Circassia. I am from Circassia. I was born there
and I know what is going on.
Regular Russian troops conduct so-called special operations against civilians
in that region. Oftentimes,
innocent victims die, because of this special operations. And their relatives
have to collect money to buy back the
bodies of their relatives.
I believe this needs to be exposed, and I wanted to say something else.
So, I believe there was no peace in Chechnya, despite all proclamations that
there is peace in Chechnya. I
believe there is a war going on in the entire North Caucasus, and I believe we
need to address that.
The declaration that there is peace in Chechnya is just not true. I know what
I am talking about, because I
SOLIS: So, the lack of your ability or journalists to report, then gives a
misimpression, a misleading
impression to the rest of the world and, obviously, to other folks that live in
Is that something that you would agree with?
TLISOVA (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Yes, indeed. The answer is yes.
And once again I would like to stress that many of the things that I am
describing are now (ph) happening in
Chechnya. In my laptop I have pictures taken not during the Chechen war, that
are taken two or three years ago.
There are innocent victims. And some pictures are taken as we speak. And some
of these you wouldn't be able to
I have pictures of murdered people who are under 18. I am also aware of a
murder of an eight-month-old girl
during one of the special operations. And when I interviewed General Adilev
(ph) and asked him what happened to the
girl, he denied everything, and her body disappeared and I was not able to
establish the truth.
But once again, this is happening now.
SOLIS: Mr. Chairman, I just have one last question, and then I have to leave.
But I wanted to ask Paula Schriefer if you could just elaborate for me the
definition of Turkishness. You
mentioned that, and I am not clear about that. So, if you could please
elaborate on that.
SCHRIEFER: That's actually part of the problem. When you use language like
that in law, that is extremely
vague, then it leaves it up to prosecutors and judges to determine whether or
not somebody is in violation.
So, I'm not better able to define what Turkishness is than you are. And that's
part of the reason why you
had 300 different prosecutions taking place.
Now, the comforting news is that there were only seven convictions out of those
cases in the past year. But
as you can imagine, not only the stress that that imposes in terms of
self-censorship among Turkish journalists, who
don't want to fall in contradiction of this very vague wording, but it also
puts a huge stress on the legal system
in terms of clogging up the courts in these types of cases. They just have no
place in a society like Turkey today.
So, it is intentionally vague.
SOLIS: So, if there is any statement that's made negatively about Turks
period, like the Armenian genocide,
then that is viewed as a part of -- perhaps could be viewed as a part of that
SCHRIEFER: That's exactly right. And that is, then, a very frequent situation
in which people have been
held according to that particular legal provision.
Other incidences have been, for instance, people who report on the state of the
Kurdish situation. So,
they're seen as insulting Turkishness under that part of it.
There's also another separate piece of legislation under the anti-terror law,
that precludes the
dissemination of statements and propaganda by terrorist organizations. Well,
since many of the pro-Kurdish groups
are classified as terrorist organizations by the Turkish government,
journalists who even cover what these
organizations might be doing are sometimes being prosecuted under this, as well.
SOLIS: Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
HASTINGS: Thank you very much, Ms. Solis.
We've been joined also by our colleague, Mike McIntyre, from North Carolina.
Mike, do you have any statement you wanted to make?
OK. I'd like to take notice of the fact that Ms. Solis and Mr. McIntyre and I
were in Ukraine, and we had
opportunities there to talk with the press.
And I'll go now to -- and there were some interesting observations.
I would like to take just a moment of personal privilege.
The last award of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security
and Cooperation in Europe came
under the aegis of Freedom of the Media. Largely, that was instituted -- that
award was instituted by a German in
large measure, Freimut Duve. And the person that received our last award was
And it hurts me a great deal -- there is a reference that says that he and, I
gather, she who increaseth
knowledge increaseth sorrow. And to have stood on that stage and see her
receive that award, and then to later
learn of her death was shattering to me personally. I've had this happen with
others who were not journalists and a
few other journalists that I've gotten to know through the years, and it's
That said, I'd like to yield the floor to my colleague from Pennsylvania, Mr.
Pitts, for any questioning.
And Mike, I'll come to you after Joe.
PITTS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I share your thoughts on the award and what
happened to her.
I want to thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing on freedom of the
media in the OSCE region. The
freedom of the media, a free and independent news media, is a cornerstone of
democracy. And all those of us who
hold office have sort of a love-hate relationship with the Fourth Estate,
because they hold us accountable.
But they are absolutely important in upholding human rights and the principles
of freedom and rooting out
corruption and dealing with many of the issues that we deal with in the OSCE.
My question, first, I think would be for the representative of Freedom House,
The OSCE representative on freedom of the media has expressed concern about
increased attempts to label
offending or critical views as punishable extremism or hate speech.
Do you share this concern? Do you see signs that anti-terror laws are being
used to curb controversial or
SCHRIEFER: We absolutely do, even in the countries that were highlighted in
today's testimony as we talked
about in Russia. Certainly, even in a county like Turkey, but as well as in
most of the former Soviet states, but
also in other non-OSCE repressive countries around the world, this is
increasingly being used as a mechanism to
suppress not just the media, but all free forms of expression, actually.
We're a little bit lucky -- should I say lucky -- now that, so far, there is
still access to the Internet,
for instance, in a country like Russia. Although, given some of the statements
that have been made by President
Putin recently, clearly the Kremlin is looking very closely at how it might
restrict that, as well.
But this has been a major tool to impede freedom of expression.
And I just wanted, if I may, to follow on something that Chairman Hastings said
about the death of Anna
Politkovskaya, which not only was disheartening to all of us who knew her and
worked with her, but keep in mind, the
publication for which she worked, Novaya Gazeta, is probably, I would argue,
the only major -- if you call it that;
I think it's produced twice a week -- independent, somewhat independent,
remaining publication, print publication in
You know Kommersant was bought out fairly recently. There's practically
nothing left, other than the
Internet. So, we have to really keep our eyes on that and make sure that that
last remaining vestige is there.
Now, of course, keep in mind, not everybody has access to the Internet, and not
everybody who goes on the
Internet is interested in looking at news.
Again, a lot of Russians look at Russian TV, and see it as very impressive.
It's entertaining. It's
glossy. It's well done. And they think that they're getting good information
about what's going on in the world --
HASTINGS: I feel like that about American television.
SCHRIEFER: Did you watch "Good Morning America" this morning?
PITTS: I'd like the other panelists, if they wish to comment on these
attempts. Do you see attempts to
label offending comments, critical views as extremism or hate speech?
OGNIANOVA: Sure. I mean, just most recently on July 26th, President Putin
signed a second set of
amendments that expand the definition of extremism in Russia. These amendments
are to several different
legislations in Russia, but they're all connected with the term "extremism."
And even though the definition is expanded, the term itself remains very vague.
It could be selectively
interpreted to target critical voices.
I'll just mention several of the amendments that were just signed into law.
A law on fighting extremist activity requires that all news outlets can label
as extremist in their reports
any organization that has been banned as extremist.
Another amendment expands the definition of extremist activity to include
public justification of extremism
or another terrorist activity. The bill does not define what exactly is meant
by "justification of extremism." So,
pretty much any public debate or mention of terrorist activity or of extremism
could now be construed to mean
An amendment to Russia's administrative code would regulate the production and
distribution of extremist
material. But the amendment does not specify what is meant by "extremist
Another amendment to the criminal code expands the definition of extremism as a
crime motivated by hatred or
hostility toward a certain social group. "Social group" is never defined. It
could mean business people. It could
mean oligarchs. It could mean politicians. It could really mean anything.
And another amendment, for example, on the law on surveillance is now giving
broader grounds to tap
telephones. Under the amendment, a court can approve for phone tapping any
suspect of a minor crime, such as
Critics say that this new bill will give legal carte blanche to eavesdrop on
critics, including critical
journalists which are inconvenient to the administration. And just in recent
history, the record shows how Russian
officials can and do use such measures.
A media law on institutes -- a Moscow-based law and institute -- said that a
government regulator has issued
32 warnings to Russian media outlets only in 2006, that concern coverage of
reported extremist activity.
The independent radio station, Ekho Moskvy -- which is really the only
independent broadcaster on the
Russian media market -- received 15 warning letters by the FSB officials and
prosecutors that questioned the station
for interviews that they have taken from Gary Kasparov and Eduard Limonov,
which are two opposition leaders of the
Other Russia coalition.
So, yes. To cut a long story short, this could be very widely or selectively
arbitrated and used to target
critics of this government.
PITTS: Thank you.
TLISOVA (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I can explain how this works in practice against
the journalists in Russia.
I used to carry in all my things, in all my possessions and all the things that
I used in my work, notebooks
and laptops, article 29 from the constitution that was written under Boris
Yeltsin. The article guarantees the
freedom of speech.
This would help me in the situations when police would try to stop some of my
reporting. They would try to
raise barriers in what I did professionally.
Today, the Russian constitution has five new amendments that effectively make
article 29 null and void.
PITTS: Thank you.
I have a question, also, those of us on the Helsinki Commission know we're, I
guess, sometimes lobbied.
Kazakhstan is currently seeking to serve as chair in office of the OSCE in the
year 2009. And I would be
interested, because this would affect the OSCE, the chair position.
How do you view the free media trends in that country? I'll start with Freedom
SCHRIEFER: Freedom House has very clearly come out against the chairmanship of
Kazakhstan for the OSCE.
Looking at, for instance, the Charter of Paris and other documents that all
OSCE members have agreed to. Even
though it was the Soviet Union at that point when Kazakhstan came in, it
obviously agrees to that, as well.
Human rights, respect for democracy, respect for freedom of speech are clearly
prioritized in all of these
It would be absurd to have a country, which not only has problems in these
areas, but, in fact, is getting
increasingly worse from what was already bad.
You know, looking back to the other chair positions of the OSCE, you've had
some countries, like Romania,
for instance, when Minister Geoana held the chair position, that certainly had
some issues with press freedom and
ownership issues, et cetera, at the time. But nonetheless, it was a country
that was committed, I think, to trying
to move forward and improve in those areas.
The same cannot be said, clearly, of Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is really near the
bottom. I don't know if you
have a copy of it, but we produced a chart of all of the 56 OSCE participating
countries. And I think the only
country that actually ranks worse is Turkmenistan in terms of press freedom of
those particular countries. And
Uzbekistan is worse, as well.
Anyway, it's bad. So we don't support it, and we think that it simply makes a
mockery of the principles
upon which the OSCE was founded.
PITTS: And does your overview take into consideration efforts to intimidate or
SCHRIEFER: Absolutely. It looks at three different areas.
We're looking at the political environment, and often that is an enabling
environment for violence against
journalists, which certainly is the case in a country like Kazakhstan. We're
looking at the legal environment and
we're looking at the economic environment.
In all three of those areas Kazakhstan fares very, very poorly.
PITTS: I don't know if anyone else wants to comment. You don't have to. OK.
Let me -- just one more question, Mr. Chairman.
The U.S. government has supported financially an independent printing press in
Kyrgyzstan, which has helped
independent and opposition newspapers to continue functioning.
Do you think our government should try to establish such printing presses in
other former Soviet republics?
If it could be arranged in other countries, would it likely be effective? Nina?
OGNIANOVA: Yes. In fact, I just had the pleasure to meet with several
Azerbaijani journalists who came to
CPJ last week. And we talked about exactly that.
And I'm basically passing their work view (ph). They think that this is the
only way that independent media
could be preserved in countries, especially the transitional democracies.
Because oftentimes, print houses -- there's a pressure on print houses to not
print opposition newspapers,
to refuse ink, to refuse distribution of opposition and independent outlets.
And this is the only way that they can
survive, through having their own presses. So, yes, very much so.
PITTS: Thank you.
TLISOVA (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I believe that in the North Caucasus, such a
program would be essential and
I believe that one way to make things better is to establish a U.S. program
where young journalists could
come train in the United States. They could bring back Western standards,
Western understanding about what quality
media is. And I think this program would help a great deal.
PITTS: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
HASTINGS: Thank you very much...
SCHRIEFER: If I could just comment on the printing press.
SCHRIEFER: Freedom House actually worked with the State Department to help set
up the printing press to
which you're referring, in Kyrgyzstan. And I agree with my colleagues that
that kind of thing can be useful in
other countries. But I also just want to lay out a caution.
When we were debating on whether or not we would undertake this tremendous task
-- and it was a tremendous
task to get this up and running in that country -- we were well aware that
printing and the ability to print is just
one of the many constraints that a country can put in terms of restricting the
press. So, there are certainly other
And so, people need to be realistic that an independent printing press is not
going to be the solution to
all of the problems.
I also want to note that it required tremendous political will on the part of
the U.S. government to support
us in getting that press up and going. As an NGO, we would never have been
able to do it without tremendous
diplomatic work behind the scenes and backing.
We would never endeavor to do so in another country without that kind of
And so, I think Azerbaijan would be a very excellent candidate to do something
like that. But we have to
make sure that our embassy there on the ground is 100 percent behind such an
effort, because it will take that level
of backing to make it work.
PITTS: Thank you very much.
HASTINGS: Mr. McIntyre? And then we'll go call for a vote.
MCINTYRE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Ms. Ognianova, if I can ask you -- I know we're getting ready to go to a vote,
so I'll ask you if you can
You mentioned in your testimony that, regarding Russia, as the country nears
parliamentary elections slated
for December and the presidential vote is expected in March of 2008, the
Kremlin has pushed critical journalism out
of the public space.
As Mr. Hastings alluded to, he and Ms. Solis and I were at the meeting in
Ukraine recently. And we met with
the Russian delegation at the OSCE meeting and talked with them about the
elections coming up.
And there was a sense, not only in the formal meeting, but afterward when we
got to talk some with some of
the delegates there, that the candidates were pretty much hand-picked by Mr.
Putin, and that only those who were
favored towards his position would be the ones that would have an opportunity
really to be known by the average
So, I want to ask you. Assuming that the press and electronic media will be
disinclined to criticize Mr.
Putin's political allies, do you think the average voter will be able to at
least acquaint themselves with the
candidates in their positions and understand who the opposition candidates are?
OGNIANOVA: Let me just say that above 80 percent of voters at large get their
news from national
television. We're not talking about Moscow or St. Petersburg or the big urban
centers. We're talking about the
country at large.
In some regions, in some local villages and settlements, television is the
only, the only left medium. So,
when President Putin, who is a television president, is the only candidate
whose speeches, whose platforms are
heard, that's the only thing that the public at large is acquainted with.
That's the only thing that the public at
So, in urban centers, it is possible for those who have access to the Internet,
for those who have access to
more print editions with a variety of coverage -- or at least more varied
coverage -- to get access to the
But in the smaller areas in the provinces, it's virtually impossible. There's
a blockade of coverage on the
MCINTYRE: Do you think the press would at least make a pretense of covering
contested elections? Or do you
think there would be a hesitation on the press' part to cover those contested
OGNIANOVA: I think there will be some very scripted and very limited coverage
of the faces. But they will
not be given a real chance to present their platforms and to get a chance to
lay them out for voters, no.
MCINTYRE: All right. Thank you, ma'am.
And if I can, since our time is squeezed because of having to go to votes, let
me switch gears and ask any
witness that feels they can answer.
We also had concerns at the OSCE meeting in July, when we were in the Ukraine,
about some issues involving
Belarus, and there were many different concerns that were raised at that.
One of the concerns that I had raised was a concern about religious freedom.
And just that prior week,
several Protestants and Catholics had been arrested, and we know that many
other minority religious groups have been
oppressed there, as well.
I want to ask you, with regard to the energy situation and energy prices, we
also had a discussion about
energy independence and freedom at OSCE.
And I wonder if there are any signs of change in the media situation in Belarus
since the beginning of this
year, in light of the fact that Russia has put a squeeze on Belarus by sharply
increasing energy prices, if there's
a freedom to discuss that, if you see any openness in that in the Belarus press
-- Belarusian press.
SCHRIEFER: I don't know how that particular issue has been covered in the
press in Belarus.
I can tell you that Belarus is, remains ranked extremely low on our press
freedom survey. It's an 89 out of
a worst possible 100.
I don't see that improving any time soon.
I would certainly say in regard to the oil issue more broadly, certainly,
looking at the former Soviet Union
and the lack of democratic development there, the fact that many of these
countries are extremely oil-wealthy has
exacerbated the lack of democracy, because it creates, obviously, tremendous
resources through which a government
that in most cases has not been competitively elected can maintain a certain
economic level in society, and
ultimately have its citizens feel like things are getting better, even though
they're controlling a number of those
MCINTYRE: All right. And let me -- because time's running out -- let me just
ask you along that line, I
mentioned the concern about religious freedom and oppression in Belarus. Do
you feel like the press gives that
adequate coverage when those types of incidents occur?
OGNIANOVA: Well, I mean, again, I can answer this more broadly. I haven't
really looked into the energy
issue and how it's covered.
But very broadly speaking, the press in Belarus is functioning as an extension
to the government -- at least
the state-licensed press.
And the independent press, the handful of beleaguered newspapers and magazines
which are left over, are
functioning basically on the basis of samizdat. They have to distribute --
their editors and publishers have to
distribute them in a set-up way.
And the issues that are discussed in these papers, again, only get to a limited
number of people who manage
to get these distributed copies.
MCINTYRE: All right, thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
HASTINGS: Thank you, Mike. If you would go and vote, and if you would let
them know in the cloakroom I'm
hurrying right behind you.
I would say, though, just shortly before you leave, Russia cut off, or
threatened to cut off, Belarusian oil
day before yesterday, because, allegedly, Belarus owes $458 million to them.
My experience reading at least three newspapers on that subject is one carried
nothing here in the United
States, and two others carried limited information -- regrettably.
Although we have a free media, many is the time that we learn a great deal more
about Lindsay Lohan and
Michael Vick than we do about matters of critical import to this nation.
Thank you very much.
I'd like to do something a little bit different, and I'm going to try to take
three minutes to do it.
First, I'd like to thank all of our witnesses. I would hope that it hasn't
gone unnoticed that all of our
witnesses are women. I make some of those decisions, and too often we have too
many gray suits here, from my
Ms. Ismayilova from Voice of America Azerbaijan -- as well as all of the
questions, every one that was put
was different. So, I'm going to challenge my staff to take these questions,
put all of them on the Internet from
our Web site, and then answer them to the best extent we can and follow-up with
our witnesses. I would like to
publish them as best I can.
Her question was, "Were there any attempts to create international
investigation of groups of journalists to
investigate such cases as" -- and she identified several of them. "The FBI
participated in an earlier investigation
of this case. Did CPJ or any other group ask for their findings?"
And another of our audience participants asked, "Can you describe the level of
public concern regarding
declining press freedoms? Is it just the media versus the government? Or do
average citizens somehow resist the
worsening media situation?
And for Ms. Ognianova, you said, according to this person, "the United States
cannot be indifferent and
should do something about the situation with the press in Russia. What should
the United States do? And what of
these can be done in Russia and in the North Caucasus, particularly?"
And for Ms. Tlisova, "Are human rights abuses in northwestern Caucasus related
to native people of the
Caucasus, or a desire to regain Circassian national identity?" I would need to
And "should the OSCE put efforts to send investigation commissions to
investigate human rights abuses in
And because of time, I will only do the one other that I would have asked, and
appreciate the person putting
What role can the OSCE Freedom of Media representative play, given the apparent
desire of some former Soviet
states to restrict the free flow of information? And there's another more
I'd ask our witnesses to allow staff, please, to follow up with asking those
questions and ask one
What specific steps -- and I heard a few here -- can the United States take --
under the aegis of the OSCE
or otherwise -- to encourage countries to move further along?
If you all would be so kind as to just take a few minutes to make sure you have
the questions. And then I'd
like to see them up on the Web site and answers, in (inaudible) to those in the
audience that they will available to
One of my favorite expressions here is, it's hard to apologize for working, but
I do have to go and vote.
I thank you all so very much.
[Whereupon the hearing ended at 3:32 p.m.]