Hearing :: Freedom of the Media in the OSCE Region

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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

               COMMISSIONERS:

               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.


WITNESSES/PANELISTS:

FATIMA TLISOVA
RUSSIAN INDEPENDENT JOURNALIST

NINA OGNIANOVA
EUROPE AND CENTRAL ASIA PROGRAM COORDINATOR
COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS

PAULA SCHRIEFER
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 
order.

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 

government."

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 

enterprise.

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 

vigorously.

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 
attendance.

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.

Ms. Solis?

SOLIS:  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  It's a real pleasure to be here.  I want to 
thank the witnesses for coming 

here today.

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 

various issues.

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 
testimony.

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 
the truth.

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 

afraid.

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 
this room.

He heard men's voices screaming like wild animals.  He (inaudible) they were 
being tortured.

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 

changed.

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 
him.

"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 
forever."

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 

local civilians.

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 

Politkovskaya.

These are my observations after 10 years' work as a journalist in the North 
Caucasus region of Russia.

Thank you.

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 
14 months.

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 
war.

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 
at large.

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 
Politkovskaya, President 

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 
region.

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 
this case.

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 
restrictions.

The bill's vague language turns "extremism" into an umbrella catch-all term 
that could be used to silence 

critics.

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 

independent media.

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 
shut down.

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 
improprieties.

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 

undisclosed diagnosis.

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 

ongoing conflict.

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 

years.

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 

these nations.

Thank you.

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 
well.

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 
floor.

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 

Union.

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" 

category.

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, 

incredibly damaging.

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 
professional.

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 

in 1991.

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 
coming year.

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 
Kazakhstan's dismal 

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 

2005.

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 
elections.

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 
Warsaw.

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 

questioning.

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.

Ms. Solis?

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 
OSCE organization.

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 

others?

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 

was there.

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 
that region.

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 

look at.

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 
definition?

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 
Ms. Politkovskaya.

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 
particularly troubling.

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, 
Paula.

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 

critical speech?

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 

Russia today.

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 -- 

very dangerous.

HASTINGS:  I feel like that about American television.

(LAUGHTER)

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 

extremism.

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 
material."

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 

hooliganism.

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 
House.

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 

documents.

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 
violence against 

journalists?

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 

absolutely necessary.

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.

HASTINGS:  Sure.

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 

means.

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 
backing.

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 

answer this.

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 

voter.

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 

large knows.

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 

opposition candidates.

But in the smaller areas in the provinces, it's virtually impossible.  There's 
a blockade of coverage on the 

opposition.

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 
races?

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 

resources.

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 

judgment.

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 
refine that.

And "should the OSCE put efforts to send investigation commissions to 
investigate human rights abuses in 

Circassia?"

And because of time, I will only do the one other that I would have asked, and 
appreciate the person putting 

it.

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 
lengthy one.

I'd ask our witnesses to allow staff, please, to follow up with asking those 
questions and ask one 

additional 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 

you.

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.]

END