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RFE/RL Review for February 2008

Armenian Service Provides Exhaustive Coverage of Presidential Election
The Armenian Service delivered comprehensive coverage of Armenia's presidential campaign, which culminated in the vote on February 19 that saw Serzh Sarkisian, the current prime minister, defeat the leading opposition candidates. The Service interviewed nearly all the presidential candidates during the campaign, including opposition candidates Artur Baghdasarian and Levon Ter-Petrossian, and on several occasions landed exclusive comments from the ultimate victor, Sarkisian. The Service had reporters all over Armenia and was able to cover most of the major stops of the candidates as they campaigned across the country. Armenian news agencies repeatedly cited the Service's exclusive reports as the main sources for their own articles, and one RFE/RL report prompted the office of the General Prosecutor to launch a formal investigation into election violations at a Yerevan polling station.
** The Director of RFE/RL's Armenian Service, Hrair Tamrazian, may be reached by email at <>. The Armenian Service's website is at; English-language news about events in Armenia can be found at
Albanian-Language Programming Provides Extensive Coverage of Kosovo Independence
RFE/RL's Albanian-language program broadcast extensive coverage of Kosovo's February 17 declaration of independence from Serbia, including in-depth analysis of both past developments and the challenges that lay ahead. Zijadin Gashi prepared a feature called "The Road to Independence" that summarized the historical trajectory leading to Kosovo's independence, while Albana Isufi produced a special report on the death of Yugoslavia, in which politicians and analysts shared their thoughts on the role of Kosovo in the demise of the multiethnic state.
RFE/RL On Scene at U.S. Embassy Protests in Belgrade
The South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service broadcast live coverage of the protests that erupted in Belgrade on February 21 after Kosovo seceded from Serbia and several western nations recognized its independence. Belgrade correspondent Ljudmila Cvetkovic was on the scene and rendered a vivid portrait of the violence and the protesters' attack on the U.S. Embassy. Cvetkovic revealed that the usual security protection provided by Serbian authorities around the Embassy was absent on the day of the protest. The Service also broadcast an exclusive interview with the American ambassador to Serbia, Cameron Munter, who expressed his disappointment that the Serbian government had failed to protect the Embassy.
Croatian Correspondent Receives Death Threat
Croatian correspondent Drago Hedl received a death threat on February 12 because of his reporting about the trial of a suspected Croatian war criminal. Hedl, a veteran investigative reporter based in Osijek, has worked for RFE/RL for 13 years and is also Deputy Editor of a Croatian weekly. For the past two years, Hedl has been covering the protracted court case of Branimir Glavas, a main suspect in the murder of Serb civilians in Osijek during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Hedl has uncovered many details of the crimes, and much of his material has been introduced as evidence at the trial. In spite of the threats, Hedl told RFE/RL, "I will not give up. I will continue to tell the truth about the war crimes in Osijek and those responsible for the killings of civilians."
** The Director of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service (SSALS), Gordana Knezevic, may be reached by email at <>. The SSALS website in Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian is located at, in Albanian at and in Macedonian at; English-language news about events in Serbia and Montenegro at and in Kosovo at
Belarusian Political Prisoner Calls RFE/RL His "Air of Freedom"
On February 26, opposition leader Alyaksandr Kazulin told Belarus Service listeners, "I was able to listen to Radio Liberty in prison, and this made me feel free. You cannot imagine what it means, being behind bars, behind barbed wire, to breathe the air of freedom that is Radio Liberty." Kazulin is serving a five-year sentence for participating in the protests that followed the 2006 presidential elections, in which he ran against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. On the day of the interview with RFE/RL, Kazulin had been granted temporary leave from prison to attend the funeral of his wife, Iryna, who had died three days earlier. Kazulin was not allowed to see her before her death, and he had to threaten a hunger strike before authorities allowed him to attend the funeral. Kazulin also recounted his prison experience and discussed his grief in an on-line forum with RFE/RL listeners shortly before the funeral. He said that he has a shortwave receiver in his cell and that he begins each day with the Belarus Service's 6:00 AM program.
** The Director of RFE/RL's Belarus Service, Alexander Lukashuk, may be reached by email at <>. The Belarus Service's website is at; English-language news about events in Belarus can be found at
Radio Free Afghanistan Monitors Fate of Journalist Sentenced to Death
For months, Radio Free Afghanistan has been covering the plight of a 23-year-old Afghan journalism student who was arrested and later sentenced to death for an article the government claims he wrote. Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, a journalism student at Balk University who worked for The New World newspaper, was arrested in October for allegedly writing an article that commented on verses in the Koran about women. However, an Iranian blogger told Radio Free Afghanistan that he was the author, and Kambakhsh claims he merely showed the piece to some of his friends at the university. On January 22, a three-judge panel concluded that the article in question violated the tenets of Islam and sentenced Kambakhsh to death. Radio Free Afghanistan interviewed Kambakhsh's brother, who told listeners that the verdict was "unjust" and that his brother did not have a lawyer defending him at the hearing. Radio Free Afghanistan also spoke to Jean MacKenzie of The Institute for War and Peace Reporting, who said, "We feel very strongly that this is a complete fabrication on the part of the authorities up in Mazar, designed to put pressure on [Kambakhsh's] brother Yaqub, who has done some of the hardest-hitting pieces outlining abuses by some very powerful commanders in Balkh and the other northern provinces." Radio Free Afghanistan also interviewed many legal experts who argue that the trial was not in accordance with Afghan law, and reported on demonstrations that took place around that country in February in support of Kambaksh.
RFE/RL Grades Afghanistan's Education System
In anticipation of the beginning of the new academic year in March, Radio Free Afghanistan and the Central Newsroom assessed the gains that Afghanistan has made in its education system since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001. Rebuilding the education system has been one of Afghanistan's post-Taliban success stories, but the gains have come at a heavy price: in the past year, militants have burned down dozens of schools and killed or wounded more than 500 teachers and students. As a result, more than 300,000 children cannot go to school.
** The Director of RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, Akbar Ayazi, may be reached by email at <>. Radio Free Afghanistan's website is located at; English-language news about events in Afghanistan can be found at
Georgian Service Explores Sudden Death of Tycoon
When the sudden death of billionaire and opposition leader Badri Patarkatsishvili prompted fevered speculation across Georgia, the Georgian Service brought reason and balance to the story. Patarkatsishvili died in his London home on February 12 at the age of 52. Some opposition leaders accused the Georgian government of orchestrating his murder, but the medical examination revealed that Patarkatsishvili suffered from severe heart disease. The Service struck a careful balance in pursuing the story by gathering input from both pro-government and opposition politicians, and by checking details with medical experts.
** The Director of RFE/RL's Georgian Service, David Kakabadze, may be reached by email at <>. The Georgian Service's website is at; English-language news about events in Georgia can be found at
Tatar-Bashkir Service Exposes New Attempts to Censor Journalists
Throughout February, the Tatar-Bashkir Service called attention to the new ways in which authorities in Russia are seeking to silence journalists. One example that the Service described is an initiative to require all websites that receive at least 1,000 views a day to be officially registered. The Service also focused on the rise of libel prosecutions, which serve to increase self-censorship among journalists, and on the Russian authorities' growing practice of placing Islamic books on an official list of "extremist literature."
** The Director of RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service, Rim Gilfanov, may be reached by email at <>. The Tatar-Bashkir Service's website is at; English-language news about events in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan can be found at
Exclusive Interview with Kazakh President's Estranged Kin Draws Interest Across Region
The Kazakh Service's interview with the Kazakh president's former son-in-law, Rakhat Aliev, attracted great attention in Kazakhstan and abroad. Aliev was tried in absentia in Almaty and received a 20-year sentence in January after being found guilty of misuse of power, kidnapping and extortion. The Kazakh Service was the only media outlet in the country to provide Aliev's reaction to the verdict. The interview was cited, and in some cases reproduced in its entirety, in a number of Kazakh opposition newspapers and websites, and many websites in Russia carried the interview as well.
** The Director of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, Merhat Sharipzhan, may be reached by email at <>. The Kazakh Service's website is at; English-language news about events in Kazakhstan can be found at
Uzbek Service Launches Special Series on Wives of Political Prisoners
The Uzbek Service launched a special series in February devoted to the wives of Uzbek political prisoners. These women spend their lives shuttling between home and prison, and often suffer just as much as their incarcerated husbands. The program is built around one-on-one interviews with the women and has become very popular among listeners and visitors to the Uzbek Service website. Each week, the Service receives more letters from women who want to share their stories.
** The Director of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, Sojida Djakhfarova, may be reached by email at <>. The Uzbek Service's website is at; English-language news about events in Uzbekistan can be found at
Ukrainian Service Launches Special Internet Projects
In February the Ukrainian Service launched several special Internet projects devoted to issues that are of particular interest to both the Ukrainian political establishment and the public, including the presidential elections in Russia and Kosovo's declaration of independence. The pages offered in-depth analysis and featured photo galleries.
** The Director of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, Irena Chalupa, may be reached by email at <>. The Ukrainian Service's website is at; English-language news about events in Ukraine can be found at
Congressional Delegation Visits RFE/RL, Discusses Russia, Iran, Iraq
On February 21, three U.S. lawmakers -- Senator John Kyl, Congresswoman Jane Harman, and Congressman Elton Gallegly -- spoke about U.S. goals and relations with Russia, the Middle East, Central Asia, and other countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region during a roundtable at RFE/RL's Prague headquarters. Senator Kyl also granted a separate interview with Radio Farda, in which he stressed that U.S.-sponsored economic sanctions against Iran are not aimed at the Iranian people but are designed to get the Iranian leadership to change its position on developing nuclear weapons and on promoting terrorism.
** The Executive Producer of RFE/RL's Central Newsroom, Ulrich Speck, may be reached by email at <>; RFE/RL English-language news reports can be found at