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RFE/RL Review for May 2008

Former RFE/RL Journalist Arrested on Third Anniversary of Uzbek Crackdown

Authorities in Uzbekistan accused former RFE/RL journalist Nosir Zokirov of "violating public order" in May, holding him in custody for two days and levying a fine. In 2005, Zokirov was the first journalist to report on the events in Andijon, where troops loyal to President Islam Karimov opened fire on a crowd of protestors, killing around 700 people, including women and children. Zokirov was soon arrested by the Uzbek government and spent six months in prison; since then, he has been repeatedly harassed by police.

Uzbek Service Remembers Andijon Massacre

May 13 was the third anniversary of the massacre in Andijon in which government troops killed hundreds of protestors, and the Uzbek Service aired special programming in remembrance of the tragedy. The Service broadcast interviews with EU officials on the suspension of sanctions against Uzbekistan and the softening posture of the West towards the Karimov regime. There has still been no independent inquiry into the massacre, and the exact death toll remains unknown.

** 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

Russian Service Covers Medvedev Inauguration, Putin's Assumption of PM Role

The dominant story for the Russian Service in May was the inauguration of Dmitry Medvedev as the new President of Russia and Vladimir Putin's assumption of the office of Prime Minister. The Service devoted extensive commentary and analysis to the question of where the true center of power in the country will now reside, and which constituencies benefit most from the new distribution of power.

** The Director of RFE/RL's Russian Service, Maria Klein, may be reached by email at <>. The Russian Service's website is at; English-language news about events in Russia can be found at

North Caucasus Service Spotlights Kidnapping of Brides

Timed with the arrival of the spring wedding season, the North Caucasus Service broadcast a report in May on the kidnapping of brides, a practice that is still widespread in the region. Young women are snatched from bus stops, on their way home from school, and sometimes out of their own yards. The report featured startling testimony from several victims of "bridenapping," including the following from a woman named Zareta: "I walked into a shop to buy food but I didn't have time to take anything. Two young men grabbed me by the elbows; they were holding me so tightly that I couldn't even move. I asked passers-by for help but nobody said a word, nobody helped me." Zareta was then taken to a forest and told she would be abandoned to die if she continued to resist. She ultimately was able to return to her family when, according to custom, her parents came to visit her in her new home and Zareta admitted to them that she had accepted the marriage proposal against her will. Authorities so far have been reluctant to crack down on the practice--just two months ago, Russia's State Duma rejected a bill proposing measures to punish perpetrators of "bridenapping."

** The Director of RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, Aslan Doukaev, may be reached by email at <>. English-language news about events in the North Caucasus region can be found at

Turkmen Service Assesses Cracks in Turkmenistan's Isolation

In May the Turkmen Service followed two important news stories that indicate a desire on the part of the Turkmen government to reduce its international isolation. The Service interviewed Michael Laubsch, the head of the Germany-based group Eurasia Transition Group, who discussed NATO's growing reliance on Turkmen air bases in connection with its mission in Afghanistan. Laubsch theorized that the increase in NATO flights is a direct result of recent talks between NATO and Turkmenistan. The Service also focused in May on the first visit of President Berdymukhammedov to Azerbaijan. The visit represents an apparent thaw in the relationship between the two Caspian energy powers, which were not on good terms during the long reign of the late Turkmen autocrat Saparmurat Niyazov.

** The Director of RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, Oguljamal Yazliyeva, may be reached by email at <>. English-language news about events in Turkmenistan can be found at

Romania-Moldova Service Analyzes Moldova's Foreign Policy

Throughout May the Romania-Moldova Service broadcast interviews that shed light on an important issue for the region: whether the government of Moldova will ultimately orient.its foreign policy eastward, towards Russia, or westward, towards the European Union Among those interviewed were Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan, Minister of Reintegration Vasili Sova, former president Petru Lucinschi, and experts from London, Moscow, Washington, and Bucharest. The Service also spoke with several members of the Russian parliament on the closer relations between Moscow and Chisinau. RFE/RL is the only media outlet in Moldova that broadcasts such a wide range of perspectives. The majority of the interviews were republished in Moldovan and Romanian newspapers.

** The Director of RFE/RL's Moldova Service, Oana Serafim, may be reached by email at <>. The Moldova Service's website is at; English-language news about events in Moldova can be found at

Ukrainian Service Scrutinizes Cancellation of Oil Deal with Texas Company

The Ukrainian Service devoted extensive coverage in May to the decision by Ukraine to cancel a contract with a subsidiary of Texas-based Vanco Energy Co. to explore for oil and gas on the Black Sea underwater shelf. U.S. Ambassador William Taylor called on Ukraine to reverse the decision, but the Ukrainian government says that the agreement, which was signed in 2006, is "plundering Ukraine's mineral reserves." In addition, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko accused President Viktor Yushchenko of lobbying for the U.S. firm. In an interview with the Service, William Morgan, the President of the Ukrainian-American Business Council, warned that "the government of Ukraine is giving negative signals to international private business," but energy expert and former RFE/RL analyst Roman Kupchinsky told listeners that the government's decision was "appropriate because of [Vanco's] shady and secretive Ukrainian subsidiary."

** 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

Radio Free Afghanistan Explores Possible Prisoner Swap with Militants in Pakistan

With cross-border terrorism plaguing the border provinces of Afghanistan, Radio Free Afghanistan continues to provide its listeners with in-depth reporting on Pakistani affairs. In May, Radio Free Afghanistan explored whether or not the Pakistani government had swapped prisoners with the Taliban in order to gain the release of Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan, who was taken hostage in February. The Pakistani prime minister's adviser on interior affairs, Rahman Malik, told Radio Free Afghanistan that there had been no such swap and that no ransom had been paid, but two other experts interviewed said they were convinced that Pakistan was covering up both a ransom payment and a substantial release of prisoners.

** 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

RFE/RL Wins Awards on World Press Freedom Day

RFE/RL journalists were honored in two countries on May 3, a day designated "World Press Freedom Day" by the United Nations to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press. The Azerbaijani Service was named "Most Successful Media Organization of the Year," by Women's Media Watch, an organization of female journalists in Baku. In the citation, the group lauded RFE/RL for "providing exceptional services in promotion of public discussion in Azerbaijan." On the same day, the National Union of Journalists of Afghanistan gave Brishna Nazari, a Kabul-based journalist for Radio Free Afghanistan, an award for aiding the reconstruction of Afghan society through balanced and objective reporting. Nazari is Current Affairs Editor of the Dari section in RFE/RL's Kabul bureau and is well-known to listeners as a news anchor and moderator of several current affairs programs.

** 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 The Director of RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, Kenan Aliyev, may be reached by email at <>; the Azerbaijani Service's website is at; English-language news about events in Azerbaijan can be found at