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RFE/RL Review for July-August 2008

RFE/RL Covers War in Georgia

For all of RFE/RL's broadcast services, the dominant story of the summer was the outbreak of military conflict between Russia and Georgia. When fighting broke out on August 8, RFE/RL's Tbilisi Bureau deployed correspondents throughout the country to report from the front lines of the battle zones. In collaboration with the BBG, the Georgian Service added a fourth hour of primetime news to its daily program clock. RFE/RL established a strong Internet component to its ongoing coverage of the conflict, with audio, photo, and video galleries. For days, special correspondent Goga Aptsiauri was one of only a handful of journalists reporting from the besieged town of Gori, in central Georgia, and he set up a special blog where he provided up-to-the-minute accounts of Russian troop movements in the town. Correspondent Tea Absaridze set up a similar blog from the occupied port city of Poti. Both the Georgian Service and the Russian Service, often working in close collaboration, have distinguished themselves throughout the conflict by remaining objective and making sure to tell all sides of the story.

** 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 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

South Slavic Service Covers Arrest of Long-Sought War Criminal

The South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service devoted extensive attention throughout the summer to the arrest of Radovan Karadzic, one of the world's most wanted men. Karadzic was indicted by the United Nations tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia for war crimes in connection with the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica, and he had been in hiding since 1996. Within 30 minutes of the announcement of his arrest on July 21, the Service had a full story up on its website, including details of his life, his arrest, and the charges against him.

** 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 the Balkans can be found at

Kyrgyz Service First to Report Deadly Plane Crash

When an Iran-bound passenger plane crashed outside the Bishkek airport on the night of August 24, killing 65 people, the Kyrgyz Service was the first media outlet to report the tragic news. By the next morning, the Service had lined up a live interview with the Kyrgyz Minister of Emergency Situations, who provided critical new information about the crash. The Service also reported that staff at the U.S. air base near the crash site were helping the Kyrgyz team working on rescue and recovery.

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

Russian Service Interviews Russians Who Protested 1968 Invasion of Czechoslovakia

On the 40th anniversary of the Soviet-sponsored invasion of Czechoslovakia, the Russian Service tracked down and interviewed the surviving participants in an extraordinary protest that took place on Red Square in Moscow on August 25, 1968. Eight brave Russians gathered that day to protest their country's flagrant disregard for the sovereignty of its neighbor, and they paid a heavy price for their stand: authorities placed them all in prison or in mental hospitals. Some of the protestors are no longer living, but three of them came to Prague, where Russian Service correspondents interviewed them.

** 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

Belarus Service First to Report Release of Prominent Dissidents

On August 16, the Belarus Service scooped all Belarusian media outlets with the news that political prisoner Alyaksandr Kazulin had been unexpectedly released from prison after serving slightly less than half of a 5.5-year sentence for organizing a demonstration. Days later, the Service reported that the two remaining dissidents in Belarus that the U.S. State Department considered political prisoners had also been released. The Service landed interviews with all three of the released prisoners. The United States had declared the release of these three prisoners to be a prerequisite for any dialogue with Belarus, and after their release Assistant Secretary of State David Merkel traveled to Minsk for two days of talks. The Service provided extensive coverage of these meetings as well.

** 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

In Exclusive Interview, Karzai Opposes Strikes on Iran from Afghanistan

In an exclusive, wide-ranging interview with Radio Free Afghanistan broadcast on July 14, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that he would oppose the use of Afghanistan for an American attack against Iran. Karzai's comments about Afghanistan's need to "balance its relations with various competing powers" came as Washington and Tehran were engaged in heated rhetoric over Iran's nuclear activities.

Radio Free Afghanistan Covers Country's First Olympic Medal

Rohullah Nekpa became a household name in Afghanistan on August 20 by becoming the first Afghan ever to win an Olympic medal—a bronze in Taekwondo. Very few Afghans were able to watch the match because cable sports channels are not widely available in Afghanistan, so Radio Afghanistan's report of his victory, which scooped all other local media, assumed special importance. In an interview with Radio Free Afghanistan conducted shortly after the match, Nekpa told listeners, "I was so happy that I was crying. I went down on my knees and I kissed the ground." Afghanistan was barred from the Olympics when the Taliban ruled because women were not allowed to participate in sports.

Radio Free Afghanistan Covers Killing of 90 Civilians in U.S.-Led Attack

Radio Free Afghanistan provided extensive coverage of the August 22 air strike by forces of the U.S.-led coalition in which more than 90 people in Heart province were killed. Radio Free Afghanistan was the first media outlet in the country to interview an eyewitness to the attack. A survivor of the air strike who lost 11 family members in the strike explained to listeners, "The district governor [of Shindand district] has grievances with the residents of Zer Koh [where Azizabad village is located]. He gave them wrong information, and they bombed us all and spared nobody." The Afghan government initially blamed the coalition for the bombing, including in interviews given to Radio Free Afghanistan, but Afghan government investigations later revealed that Brigadier General Jalandar Shah, commander of the Afghan National Army's 207 Zafar Military Corps in Herat, and Major Abdul Jabar were at fault. A member of Parliament told Radio Free Afghanistan that "Both officials in the region have been dismissed because they transferred incorrect information to the Defense Ministry and the presidential office." Radio Free Afghanistan also provided reactions from Washington, where a spokesman for President Bush said, "We regret the loss of life among innocent Afghans, who we are committed to protect."

** 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 Assumes Sole Management of Radio Farda

As of July 7, RFE/RL assumed sole managerial oversight of Radio Farda. RFE/RL and the Voice of America had jointly operated Radio Farda since its inception in December 2002. The new structure is designed to streamline operations of Radio Farda, which will continue its broadcasts from Washington and Prague. Radio Farda's flagship program, Evening Magazine, which airs at 6:30 p.m. in Tehran, has not been affected by the changes.

** The Director of Radio Farda, Rod Shahidi, may be reached by email at <>. Radio Farda's website is at; English-language news about events in Iran can be found at

Romanian Service Closes

After nearly 60 years of providing uncensored news and information to the people of Romania, the Romanian Service ceased broadcasting to Romania on August 1. RFE/RL's Romanian-language broadcasts to Moldova and the Transdniester region continue. On July 30, Romanian President Trajan Basescu presented awards to RFE/RL and the BBC in recognition of their decades of broadcasts to Romania.

** 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

RFE/RL Journalist Wins Prestigious Azerbaijani Media Award

Azerbaijani Service reporter Babek Bekir, who recently produced a series of groundbreaking reports on the Azerbaijani drug trade, was honored on July 17 with his country's most prestigious journalism award. In a ceremony in Baku, the U.S. State Department and the Elmar Huseynov Foundation presented Bekir with the Elmar Huseynov Award, an honor handed out to investigative journalists whose "bravery to tell the truth helps the cause of freedom." The Elmar Huseynov Award is named after an Azeri journalist who was shot dead in front of his home in 2005.

RFE/RL Reporters Attacked in Azerbaijan

Incited by local police, a mob attacked two Azerbaijani Service journalists on August 27 as they were reporting from a local market in the lawless Nakhichevan province. Ilgar and Malahat Nasibov were doing a live broadcast when several local officials, urged on by police, began beating them and breaking their equipment. Then, the attackers goaded seven or eight bystanders into joining the assault. Also beaten during the attack was Elman Abbas, an official with the Institute for Reporters' Safety and Freedom, a local NGO. The incident came as 40 police officers from Nakhichevan's Babek district gathered at a market in the village of Nehram in order to enforce a new policy banning two or more people from gathering in any public space. As the Nasibovs were interviewing residents opposed to the ban, several police officers attacked them. Witnesses identified local officials, including Nehram's postmaster, among the initial attackers. Afterwards, attempts by the journalists to file a complaint with the regional police station, the local prosecutor's office, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs were all rejected.

** 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

Armenian Bureau Chief Attacked

In what appears to be a politically motivated act of violence, the Acting Chief of the Armenian Service's Yerevan bureau was attacked on the night of August 18. Hrach Melkumian had left his downtown office and was on his way home at about 9:30 pm when an unknown assailant called him by name and approached him. The assailant beat him repeatedly while cursing RFE/RL and denouncing its programs. Melkumian sustained broken teeth and bruises to his head and back.

** 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

Turkmen Service Reporter Released, Then Denied Phone Contact

Thanks to international pressure, Turkmen authorities released RFE/RL reporter Sazak Durdymuradov from captivity on July 3. For two weeks, Durdymuradov had been held against his will in two different psychiatric facilities. Shortly after his release, Durdymuradov was slated to take part in an RFE/RL roundtable broadcast on human rights in Turkmenistan along with three other local contributors, but as soon as the Prague-based host made contact with them, the phone lines of all of the participants were disabled.

** 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