Senator Cardin’s Floor Statement on Ukraine

Senator Cardin’s Floor Statement on Ukraine

Hon.
Benjamin L. Cardin
United States
Senate
113th Congress
Second Session
Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mr. President, tomorrow we are going to have an opportunity to vote on S. 2124, and I am pleased to learn that it looks as if there is going to be overwhelming support in the Senate for the passage of S. 2124. This is the legislation that helps Ukraine in dealing with the invasion by Russia.

Russia's illegal actions of using its military to overtake Crimea, a part of Ukraine, violate numerous international obligations that Russia has committed to.

I have the honor of chairing the U.S. Helsinki Commission. The Helsinki Accords were entered into in 1975. Russia was one of the leading forces for forming the OSCE.

Russia's taking over of Crimea violates its commitments it made under the Helsinki Final Act. It violates the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which was signed by the United States, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, and Russia, that guaranteed basically Ukraine's integrity of its land. It violates the 1997 Ukraine-Russia bilateral treaty. It violates the U.N. Charter. The list goes on and on and on.

So I believe it is absolutely essential that we have a strong voice in standing with the people of Ukraine. There was absolutely no justification whatsoever for Russia's action. There was no threat to any of the ethnic communities in Ukraine. All the rights of the people were being protected. The country was in transition from a corrupt government to a government that respected the rights of its citizens. If there was any provocation whatsoever of any unrest, it was caused by Russia's presence in Ukraine.

We got reports from the chief rabbi in Kyiv that Russia was staging anti-Semitic provocations in Crimea, and the list goes on and on as to what Russia was doing in order to try to give some justification for its actions.

Russia's thinly veiled land grab, cloaked in the cloth of self-determination, must not go unchallenged. Here is what I think is critically important: This is a dangerous precedent. We saw Russia use a similar action in Georgia, and now in Crimea in Ukraine. There are other territorial issues involved around the world. If this goes unchecked, if we do not speak with a unified voice, it just encourages more irresponsible action by Russia in other countries.

We know that we have concerns about the South China Sea. We know we have concerns about Moldova. There are many other areas where Russia could be involved in its border areas.

So all of these issues are matters for us to speak with a strong unified voice. S. 2124 does that. It does it in two principal ways. First, it imposes the sanctions against those responsible for 
Russia's invasion into Crimea, Ukraine. It provides sanctions so that these individuals are not permitted to come to the United States. There are economic sanctions in regard to the use of our banking system. These are similar sanctions to what are now being imposed by our European allies.

We need to isolate Russia. As we all know, the G8, which included Russia, is now a G7 without Russia. Russia needs to know that there will be sanctions imposed, and they will be stronger sanctions unless they stop this aggressive action.

In addition, the legislation provides economic assistance to the new Government of Ukraine. Just 2 weeks ago the Prime Minister of Ukraine was here and met with Members of the Senate. I tell you, it was inspirational to listen to his vision for Ukraine as a democratic, independent state, with full integration into Europe. That is important. He is preparing for a May 25 election for the Presidency of Ukraine.

These are all very, very positive steps. But if Ukraine does not have the economic foothold to be able to develop the type of economy and strength in their country, it will be difficult for Ukraine to be maintained as a viable independent state.

Here is where the United States and our European allies, and I hope the global community, come together, as we have in this legislation, to provide economic help on a restructured economic plan for Ukraine that will help them move forward in a very constructive way.

Mr. President, I must tell you I am disappointed, though, that the reforms of the IMF will be eliminated from this legislation. I think that is regrettable. We are entering into a plan for Ukraine that very much depends upon the IMF's--the International Monetary Fund's--plan to make sure that the moneys we are spending, Europe is spending, and other countries are loaning and providing to Ukraine are based upon a sound economic plan that will work. That is why the IMF is there. And they will be there. But the United States needs to be a full participant in the IMF. We are out of compliance, and here is another opportunity lost for us to be in full compliance with the IMF. I am disappointed about that.

But as I said as I took the floor, we must speak with one voice--the Obama administration; the House, the Senate; the Congress--as we stand with the people of Ukraine for their integrity, for their independence, and for the adherence to international principles, which Russia has clearly violated.

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The laws are meant to innovate the way business is done in this extremely important sector by breaking the cycle of instability and poverty in countries suffering from what is often called the “resource curse”. This innovation can help ensure that energy supplies are not disrupted, it gives citizens a tool to fight corruption, and it levels the playing field for companies. Now that the U.S. and the European Union are implementing these transparency rules, other markets with large resource extraction companies such as Australia and Canada are exploring similar requirements. And we expect that as these rules come online we will see other stock exchanges around the world follow suit. Corruption and lack of transparency in the extractive industries can fuel instability and even conflict, so it’s not hard to see why this type of transparency is catching on. The news is full of headlines on instability created by resource competition or corruption. And resource rich countries are consistently rated as some of the most difficult places to do business. In almost every case you can trace the root cause to the intractable corruption in that country. These transparency laws are the game changers that will help tilt the balance of power away from corrupt leaders. Transparency and accountability are going to make the job of extractive companies easier. They will work on a level playing field, they will work with more stable governments, and they will operate in more stable communities. And the OSCE has a role to play here as well. With the acknowledgment of the importance of combatting corruption in the Good Governance Declaration, the OSCE’s Economic and Environmental Dimension can serve as a valuable platform for increasing stability and security on energy related issues and, in particular, highlighting the link between security, energy, and the environment. As we look toward the Basel Ministerial and the Helsinki+40 process, we must build upon this work and examine how the 2nd Dimension can be further strengthened to advance solutions that build good governance. One of the ways that we can do this is to more actively engage civil society in the 2nd Dimension. We need to welcome multi-stakeholder groups, business groups and civil society leaders to the Economic and Environmental Forum and the Economic and Environmental Implementation meeting in order to generate greater awareness of good governance initiatives, develop new projects, and assess the effectiveness of participating States in implementing these commitments.    Let me close with a comment on Ukraine. I was there two weeks ago to observe the election. Despite the daily reports of violence, what we saw in the conduct of the election makes me hopeful that the newly elected government will be able to move the country forward. But what is painfully clear is that the corruption surrounding Ukraine’s energy sector was a key factor in fueling the protests that eventually led to the downfall of the government. Ukraine is not a big oil and gas producer itself, but it plays a major role as a transit country between Russia and Western Europe. Ukraine has started work on its candidacy for EITI but still has a long way to go so we are encouraging the new government to place a priority on getting that in place. The broader lesson from Ukraine is that secret deals lead to corruption. Corruption leads to economic stagnation.  Economic stagnation leads to political instability.  Political instability leads to violence and human rights abuses, and even opportunistic violations of sovereignty and territorial integrity. This is why we need to innovate the way we do business. This is why we need to focus on transparency and good governance. And this is why we need to empower civil society and media to hold their governments accountable. These are all areas where the OSCE has expertise and where the Asian Partners can provide assistance and experience. Thank you.

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on Azerbaijan

    WASHINGTON - Today the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced the following hearing: The Security, Economic and Human Rights Dimensions of US-Azerbaijan Relations Wednesday, June 11, 2014 10:00 am Russell Senate Office Building Room 432 The Republic of Azerbaijan has been an ally of the United States since its independence in 1991. It is a supplier of energy to Europe and has played an important role in assisting the U.S. and the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan through the contribution of troops and as a conduit for the Northern Distribution Network. Azerbaijan is a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and in May it assumed the rotating chairmanship of the Council of Europe (COE). Despite membership in both of Europe’s leading human rights institutions, Azerbaijan has been consistently criticized for its undemocratic elections and its use of the judicial system to punish political opponents. As the U.S. Helsinki Commission prepares to attend the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Annual Session in Baku at the end of June, this hearing will examine the U.S.-Azerbaijan relationship and the impact of regional and domestic issues in Azerbaijan on that relationship. The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Tom Melia, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Department of State Eric Rubin, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, Department of State Miriam Lanskoy, Director for Russia and Eurasia, National Endowment for Democracy Brenda Shaffer, Visiting Researcher, Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies, Georgetown University

  • Cardin Statement on Ukrainian Presidential Elections

    WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission and a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Commission, issued the following statement on the May 25 early presidential elections in Ukraine. “Sunday’s vote was a day of destiny for Ukraine and a turning point in the nation’s effort to overcome Russia’s interference in Ukraine’s democratic development.   It also offers Ukraine a chance to turn a corner on a crippling legacy of corruption. The election also was important for the OSCE which is undertaking massive efforts in Ukraine aimed at fostering stability and encouraging democracy in Ukraine.  These elections present an historic opportunity to build and independent, prosperous state based on the rule of law. “I congratulate the Ukrainian people and the interim government on the conduct of yesterday’s free and fair vote.  Along with my colleague, Sen. Rob Portman, I was pleased at the opportunity to observe the elections first-hand and witness ordinary citizens who were clearly determined to freely make their choice and be stewards of their own destiny. “At the same time, I deplore the actions of those who have deprived Ukrainians in Russian occupied Crimea and parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine their right to vote through violence, intimidation and fear. “Ukraine’s people have shown remarkable courage and perseverance over the last six months in the face of tremendous internal challenges and serious and ongoing external threats.  We will continue to stand by the people of Ukraine and their newly elected president as they work to overcome these challenges and forge a free, independent and democratic future.”

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission Criticizes Attack on Civil Society in Azerbaijan

    WASHINGTON—In response to today’s sentencing of eight youth activists associated with NIDA in Azerbaijan, and the detention of leading journalists and human rights advocates, the leadership of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) today called on the Government of Azerbaijan to respect the rule of law and its human rights commitments. Regarding the trial of the NIDA activists, Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, stated: “The entirety of the legal proceedings against these young men is troubling not only for the lack of coherence in the government’s case, but also because there are credible allegations that the arrests and the subsequent charges are politically motivated and aimed at silencing criticism of the government. I am extremely concerned at the imposition of these lengthy sentences and am anxious for the health and well-being of these young men who are on hunger strike. I call on the Government of Azerbaijan to review the cases for prosecutorial misconduct and ensure that the rule of law and justice is carried out in these cases.” The Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Representative Chris Smith (NJ-04), expressed his concern about the arrest of journalist Rauf Mirqadirov on charges of spying for Armenia, as well as the detention and investigation of Leyla Yunus and her husband, Arif Yunus. “These detentions follow a string of guilty verdicts in similar cases against critics of the government. This is a troubling pattern. I urge the government of Azerbaijan, a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, to review these proceedings with a view toward releasing the eight activists – and to recommit itself to the rule of law. The OSCE has many times demonstrated the validity of its founding idea – that respect for human rights fosters stability and security.” The young men, Shahin Novruzlu, Mammad Azizov, Bakhtiyar Guliyev, Rashad Hasanov, Uzeyir Mammadli, Rashadat Akhundov, Zaur Gurbanlı and Ilkin Rustamzada were sentenced today to prison terms ranging from six to 8 years on charges related to weapons and drug possession, charges that are widely believed to be fabricated as a means to intimidate and silence them. All eight activists have been in pre-trial detention for over one year and started a hunger strike in protest of their detention and the charges brought against them. Rauf Mirqadirov is a well-respected journalist who writes critically of many governments, including Azerbaijan. He was arrested after being deported from Turkey to Azerbaijan, and has since been charged by the Government of Azerbaijan with espionage. Leyla Yunus is the founder and director of the Peace and Democracy Institute and long-time human rights advocate who has been vocal about promoting people-to-people ties with Armenia.

  • Georgia 2008, Ukraine 2014: Is Moldova Next?

    David Killion addressed the timely issue of another situation in a list of attacks on sovereignty by Russia.  Russia’s annexation of Crimea raised concerns that a scenario whereby Russia annexes Transnistria, Moldova’s secessionist region, is a very realistic possibility. Similar to Russia’s de facto annexation of Georgia’s two secessionist regions and Ukraine’s Crimea, Russia’s aggression against Moldova would be occurring as citizens of Moldova are considering accession to the major Euro-Atlantic institutions. Witnesses Eugen Carpov, Paul Goble, and Stephen Blank examined Russia’s intentions with regard to Transnistria and Moldova. The commented on Transnistria residents’ participation in the violence in Odessa and highlighted the Transnistria “Parliament’s” call for Russia to annex. They also drew attention to President Putin’s assertion to that Transnistria remain under an economic blockade and that the residents of the region suffer severe hardships as a result. This lively discussion focused on what the ongoing insecurity and conflict in the region foreshadows in the Southern Caucasus and beyond. 

  • Senator Cardin's Floor Statement on Deteriorating Situation in Ukraine

    Madam President, I take this time on the floor as the Chair of the U.S. Helsinki Commission. The Helsinki Commission is the operating arm of the U.S. participation in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE. It has been in the press recently because of the circumstances in Ukraine, which is what I am going to talk about. First, I will remind my colleagues that the United States, along with all the countries of Europe and Canada, formed the commission on security and cooperation in Europe in 1975. It was founded on the principle that in order to have a stable country, you need to deal not just with the direct security needs—the military needs—of a country and not just with its economic and environmental agenda, but you also need to deal with its human rights and its good governance, and all three of these are related.  Commitments were made by all the signatories to the OSCE about respecting the jurisdictions of the member states and dealing with the rights of your neighbors and dealing with the rights of your own citizens. The Soviet Union was a member of the OSCE, and now all of the countries of the former Soviet Union are members, including Russia and the countries of central Asia.  I am increasingly alarmed at the deterioration of the situation in Eastern Ukraine, particularly in the Donetsk region, where Moscow-controlled pro-Russian separatists have seized 19 buildings and 14 cities and towns.  Late last week seven members of the German-led OSCE Vienna Document inspection team, charged with observing unusual military activities, along with five of their Ukrainian escorts, were kidnapped by pro-Russian militants. One observer has been freed, and the rest continue to be held hostage. Russia, an OSCE member, has not lifted a finger to secure their release. There is no doubt in my mind that if Mr. Putin gave the word, this hostage situation would cease to exist.  This hostage-taking of unarmed international monitors must continue to be condemned in the strongest possible terms, and everything possible must be done to secure their release. In addition to the OSCE observers, 40 people—journalists, activists, police officers, and politicians—are reportedly being held captive in makeshift jails in Slovyansk.  Meanwhile, the violence in Eastern Ukraine continues. On Monday, several thousand peaceful protesters marching in favor of Ukraine’s unity were attacked by pro-Russian thugs wielding clubs and whips, resulting in 15 seriously injured. That same day, Gennady Kernes, the mayor of Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, was shot, underwent emergency surgery, and remains in serious condition. He is now in Israel for further medical treatment.  Furthermore, I am deeply dismayed at other flagrant violations of human rights by pro-Russian militants in Eastern Ukraine and in Russia’s annexed Crimea. These include attacks and threats against minority groups, particularly Jews and Roma as well as Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians in Crimea. Supporters of a united Ukraine have been targeted as well, including a local politician and university student whose tortured bodies were found dumped in a river near Slovyansk.  The joint statement on Ukraine signed in Geneva on April 17 by the EU, the United States, Russia, and Ukraine calls on all sides to lay down their arms, vacate buildings, and begin the process of dialogue and de-escalation. That was signed just 2 weeks ago. That agreement provided a basis for de-escalation. Yet, over the course of the last days and weeks, we have not seen the Russians follow through on urging separatists to stand down in Eastern Ukraine. What have we seen? Kyiv, on the one hand, is taking concrete steps and making good-faith efforts to live up to the Geneva agreement, including vacating buildings and offering dialogue. Russia has done nothing. Instead of working to de-escalate the conflict, it is doing the opposite—fueling escalation. Russia continues to violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and flagrantly flaunts its commitments under the Geneva agreement.  The Geneva agreement also calls upon the parties to refrain from any violence, intimidation, or provocative actions and condemns and rejects all expressions of extremism, racism, religious intolerance, including anti-Semitism. Clearly, both the spirit and the letter of this agreement have been breached by Russia.  In recent days we have seen troubling manifestations against ethnic and religious minority communities. The distribution of flyers in Donetsk calling for Jews to register their religion and property is a chilling reminder of an especially dark period in European history. While the perpetrators of this onerous action have not been determined, one thing is clear: Moscow, which controls the pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine, is using anti-Semitism as an ingredient in its anti-Ukrainian campaign. Perhaps even worse, among the Russian special forces and agitators operating in Ukraine are members of the neo-Nazi and other anti-Semitic groups.  Jewish communities in parts of Eastern Ukraine are not the only ones that have reason to be worried. In Slovyansk, armed separatists have invaded Romani homes and beaten and robbed men, women, and children. Ukrainian speakers—including Ukrainian-speaking journalists—have reportedly experienced intimidation in the largely Russian-speaking Donetsk area.  At the same time in Crimea, which Russia forcibly annexed, Crimean Tatars continue to be threatened with deportation and attacked for speaking their own language in their ancestral homeland. Moreover, the longtime leader of the Crimean Tatar community and former Soviet political prisoner Mustafa Dzhemilev has been banned from returning to Crimea.  It is important to underscore that Crimea is the ancestral home of the Crimean Tatars, who in 1944 were forcibly and brutally evicted by Stalin to central Asia and only allowed to return to their home in the early 1990s. Additionally, the separatist Crimean authorities have gone after the Ukrainian community, announcing that Ukrainian literature and history will no longer be offered in Crimean schools.  These attacks and threats underscore the importance of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission and other OSCE institutions in Ukraine in assessing the situation on the ground and helping to de-escalate tensions. They need to be permitted to operate unhindered—and most certainly not held hostage—in Eastern Ukraine and to be allowed access into Crimea, which Russia continues to block. The actions against pro-Ukrainian activists and minorities are the direct result of Russia’s unfounded and illegal aggression against Ukraine—first in Crimea and then in Eastern Ukraine. There is no doubt as to who pulls the strings. The Kremlin has been relentlessly flaunting their Geneva promises and has done nothing to rein in the militants they control. Mr. Putin needs to get Russian soldiers and other as-sorted military and intelligence operatives out of Ukraine.  We must not forget Crimea. We must never recognize Russia’s forcible, illegal annexation of the Ukrainian territory, which violates every single one of the 10 core OSCE Helsinki principles. We must build on the punitive measures already undertaken against the Russian and Ukrainian individuals who so blatantly violated the international agreements in the Ukrainian and Cri-mean Constitutions. Violations of another nation’s territorial integrity and sovereignty must not be tolerated. Russia’s flagrant land grab of Crimea has set a horrible precedent for those countries harboring illegal territorial ambitions around the globe. I welcome the President’s stepping up of economic sanctions on seven Russian officials, including members of President Putin’s inner circle and 17 companies linked to Mr. Putin. I also welcome the State Department and Commerce Department tightening pol-icy to deny export license applications for any high-technology items that could contribute to Russia’s military capabilities. I am confident Russia will feel the impact of these sanctions. These, along with the further targeted sanctions announced by the EU earlier this week, will only continue to have a growing impact.  Nevertheless, if the situation in eastern Ukraine continues to deteriorate, or even should the status quo persist, the United States needs to ratchet up these sanctions, and soon, including several sectoral sanctions against Russia’s industries such as banking, mining, energy, and defense.  Of equal importance, we need to remain steadfast in helping Ukraine become a stronger democratic state and foster its political and economic stability. The millions of men, women, and children who demonstrated for months for human rights and human dignity spoke loudly and clearly, expressing the wishes of the vast majority of the Ukrainian citizens. The interim government has been working hard under exceedingly difficult circumstances to move Ukraine further on the path of economic and political reforms. We and our international partners need to keep making this progress our focal point. Ukraine needs a lot of help after the devastation wreaked on their economy by the in-credibly corrupt and dysfunctional Yanukovych regime.  Ukraine has so many pressing needs. Among the most important are stabilizing the economy and preparing for the most important May 25 Presidential elections. Others include judicial reform, reform of the police and military, seeking justice and rehabilitation for the victims of the violence, including those suffering now at the hands of the pro-Russian militants, helping internally displaced people who are fleeing Crimea, and working to recover the billions in assets stolen by the previous regime.  I am pleased Ukraine’s civil society, including Western-educated young people, is firmly committed to the rule of law and democracy and is playing a critical role in helping the Ukrainian Government work toward these ends. NGOs and think tanks have worked with the Parliament to pass a law on the independence of public broadcasting, a bill on public procurement, and one on how judges are appointed— all critical in fighting the scourge of corruption.  The United States is providing concrete assistance through a U.S. crisis support package for Ukraine, which includes support for the integrity of the May elections and constitutional reform, substantial economic assistance, energy security technical expertise, help to recover proceeds of corruptions stolen by the former regime, and other anticorruption assistance, and fostering greater people-to-people contacts. We need to be willing to provide more resources to the Ukrainians as they actively work to fulfill their aspirations.  Ultimately, these choices will lead to a more secure, democratic, and peaceful world, and that is something that reflects both American interests and American values.

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission Cites Deterioration of Media Freedoms across OSCE Region

    WASHINGTON—In advance of World Press Freedom Day, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and U.S. Representative Chris Smith (NJ), Co-Chairman of the Commission, addressed the deterioration of media freedom in Ukraine, and the continued presence of criminal defamation:  On the situation in Ukraine, Chairman Cardin stated: “I am deeply concerned by the rapidly degenerating state of media freedom precipitated by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Pro-Russian militias continue to harass, intimidate, and censor both Ukrainian and foreign journalists reporting on the situation in an attempt to quell criticism of separatist-instigated violence and upheaval. Free and independent media is a crucial component of the commitments adopted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), of which Russia and Ukraine are participating States. I urge Russia to respect media independence and freedom in its own territory as well as in Ukraine.” “Many countries in the OSCE region continue to limit speech to an extraordinary degree,” said Co-Chairman Smith. “I’m particularly concerned by the rise of criminal defamation laws which make it increasingly difficult, and even dangerous, to criticize those in power. These libel and insult laws have an absolutely chilling effect on robust inquiry and the ability to hold politicians and others accountable. I commend the efforts of the OSCE and other organizations to call attention to these and other attacks against freedom of press. A strong and independent media, free from political pressure and censorship, is fundamental to sustainable and accountable democracy.” The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media reports regularly to the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna, including on developments in Ukraine. In advance of World Press Freedom Day, the Commission also noted concern about media freedom in the following countries: UKRAINE: In the town of Slavyansk, over 40 individuals, including many reporters, have been abducted by separatists and held hostage in various makeshift prisons. In the Donbas region, pro-Russian armed forces discontinued digital broadcasting of Ukrainian TV channels and replaced them with Russian ones, mirroring the disruption of Ukrainian press by Russian forces in Crimea. There have been several accounts of journalists being physically intimidated while reporting both in the field and within their offices. TURKEY: Turkey imprisoned more journalists in 2013 than any other country. Currently, legislation is going into effect in Turkey that expands the powers of secret services and stipulates 10 year prison sentences for journalists who publish leaked information. In the last few months, Turkey undertook an immense crackdown on social media, particularly by banning access to Twitter and YouTube. MACEDONIA: In Macedonia, media coverage, largely unbalanced in favor of the ruling party and against the opposition, was a leading criticism of the conduct of last week’s presidential and parliamentary elections. This bias is symptomatic of the great regression in media freedom noted in Macedonia in recent years. Journalists and news sources not allied with the government tend to face increased scrutiny and legal hurdles. KAZAKHSTAN: Recent changes to Kazakhstan’s legislation are likely to further restrict media and access to the Internet. New rules control what the media can report during a state of emergency; a new code criminalizes “dissemination of false information” that harms “interests of society or of the state”; and pending legislation would allow the government to shut websites and other communication networks if they disseminate “harmful” information or call for “extremist” activities. Kazakhstan also has closed virtually all independent newspapers for minor infractions of publishing regulations or on charges of extremism. CROATIA: In Croatia, where the legal definition of “insult” is vague and open to arbitrary enforcement, there are currently over 40 pending criminal insult cases against journalists. This situation, whether or not the cases result in convictions, could lead to increased self-censorship in the media. AZERBAIJAN: The status of press and media in Azerbaijan is decidedly not free. Criminal defamation is still punishable with up to three years in prison. Media and NGO movements that aim to create space for media freedom have been checked at every turn, through various techniques ranging from ignoring lawsuits seeking access to information, to pressing criminal charges on journalists. Most recently, Azerbaijani journalist Rauf Mirkadyrov was arrested and charged with espionage. 

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