Mr. President, as Chairman of the Commission on Security on Cooperation in Europe, I have a keen interest in the fight against organized crime and corruption in the 55-nation OSCE region. I have raised this issue at the meetings of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, at Commission hearings, and in meetings with United States Government and foreign officials.
The impact of organized crime in the OSCE region is not limited to some far-off land. Organized crime and corruption directly bear on United States security, economic, and political interests at home and abroad. And at the OSCE Summit held in Istanbul in 1999, the Heads of State and Government of the participating States recognized that corruption poses a serious and great threat to OSCE shared values, cutting across security, economic, and human dimensions of the OSCE. One of the best tools at our disposal in advancing the fight against corruption is a free and independent press that can both investigate and report on possible corruption.
Unfortunately, it is no surprise that journalists who report on issues related to corruption sometimes find themselves the victims of harassment and, in extreme cases, violence. Accordingly, I am disturbed by reports that the Czech Cabinet, led by Prime Minister Zeman, is seeking to have criminal charges brought against a political weekly, Respekt. Threats by the Prime Minister to shut down this publication followed the newspaper’s coverage of the release of Transparency International’s most recent report, Global Corruption Report 2001, in which the Czech Republic compared unfavorably to other former Communist countries in the region. In fact, Peter Holub, the editor of Respekt, is not the only Czech journalist to get into hot water for trying to report on corruption. In January 1998, journalist Zdenek Zukal was arrested in connection with his reporting on alleged corruption in the locality of Olomouc and charged with “spreading alarming information.” His case has dragged on for some four years without resolution.
I understand the government’s desire to get its message out. But trying to achieve that goal by muzzling journalists and threatening them with jail time is not the way to do it. More to the point, it violates the OSCE commitments the Czech Republic has freely undertaken.