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U.S. Helsinki Commission Urges Greater Protection of Freedom of Expression

WASHINGTON – Ahead of tomorrow’s World Press Freedom Day, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), issued the following statement:

“As we commemorate World Press Freedom Day, we recognize the critical role freedom speech and freedom of the media play in safeguarding democracy and we are reminded of the grave challenges many journalists face while reporting, such as acts of intimidation, abduction, beatings, threats or even murder,” said Co-Chairmen Hastings and Cardin. “The assassinations of Russian investigative journalists including Anna Politikovskaya and the recent attacks on journalists in Serbia and Dagestan, Russia, illustrate just how dangerous this profession can be. We commend all in the media who put their lives on the line every single day to report the news. Furthermore, we laud Mr. Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media for his detailed, thoughtful and constructive work in this field and his commitment to protecting the right of all individuals to express themselves freely.”

Chairman Hastings further noted, “As Miklos Haraszti has observed, the ongoing media crackdown in Azerbaijan is a source of particular concern. The recent knifing of Azadlig correspondent Agil Khalil is just the latest in a series of attacks against journalists. This attack ought to be investigated and those responsible must be held accountable for their actions. Despite the December amnesty that released five journalists, other journalists remain imprisoned for their work. I urge the leaders of Azerbaijan to repeal their criminal defamation and insult laws and release their jailed journalists.”

Co-Chairman Cardin commented, “The recent law passed by the Russian Duma placing greater restrictions on the media clearly underscores state efforts to turn back the clock to a post-Soviet era. It is unfortunate that the Russian Federation created legislative penalties for anyone who fails to shape the news to their liking. I urge President-elect Medvedev to lift the restraints on journalists and allow for a greater freedom of expression by the media and to put stronger measures in place to protect the rights of journalists.”

Co-Chairmen Hastings and Cardin added, “We remain extremely troubled over broadcast monopolies controlled by the state in such countries as Belarus, whose tight control of the media limits access of information to its people. Alexander Lukashenka’s regime forces its people to struggle daily for freedom, democracy and respect for human rights. Until this dictator is out of power, the media will remain under constant attack.”

About: World Press Freedom Day was established in 1993 by the United Nations General Assembly to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and to remind all governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right of freedom of expression in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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