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Attacks on Journalists Shock Parliamentary Assembly

Russia -- Demonstration to demand media freedom, Moscow, 21Mar2008
Russia -- Demonstration to demand media freedom, Moscow, 21Mar2008

In a meticulous, methodical and bluntly worded report on media freedom in Europe, the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly expressed “shock” at the increase in attacks on journalists and media over the last several years, highlighting Russia.

Noting that at least 20 journalists have been killed in Europe since 2007, the report entitled, Respect for Media Freedom, says, “These alarming facts require the resolute reaffirmation that media freedom is a necessary condition for democracy and thus for membership with the Council of Europe.”

The report focuses on Russia in the opening paragraphs, stating, “The Assembly deplores the fact that, since the adoption of Resolution 1535 (2007), the Russian Federation has failed to conclude a proper investigation and adjudication of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya….”

Further on, it declares, “The lengthy catalogue of violent deaths among journalists in Russia is an affront to the principles of the Council of Europe, including the right to life and to freedom of expression.”

The report notes the intimate relationship between human rights advocacy and media freedom in Russia finding, “Murders and acts of violence against prominent human rights defenders, including lawyers, in Russia have further eroded the possibility for a free press to maintain itself, both because those attacks spread fear and because journalists depend on a small number of determined and authoritative individuals for reliable information from dangerous regions, including Chechnya.”

With specific reference to Russia, Azerbaijan and Turkey, the report takes a robust stance on decriminalizing defamation. It declares, “The reputation of a nation, the military, historic figures or a religion cannot and must not be protected by defamation or insult laws.” It laments a 2007 finding by the OSCE that 36 Council of Europe member states continue to criminalize defamation, and criticizes the Russian government’s “use of laws on criminal defamation, extremism and national security to intimidate and prosecute journalists.”

Another paragraph on Russia mentions RFE/RL’s loss of local affiliates as a result of political pressure from authorities. “Many media and other international organizations that promote open exchanges of all kinds with Russia are shocked that contracts with international broadcasters, including the BBC and Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe, for re-broadcasting programmes from abroad via good-quality FM frequencies have been ended, depriving Russians of an established source of information and contact beyond Russia’s borders."

Another reference to RFE/RL is made in the section on “murders, violence against journalists and the most serious violations,” noting a 2008 assault on Hrach Melkumyan, then the Armenian Service’s Yerevan bureau chief.

Azerbaijan is repeatedly cited in this same section for incidents involving murders, imprisonment, police brutality and extreme violence against journalists.

The report presents a list of recommendations to the Council’s Committee of Ministers that includes reviewing national legislation and practice to ensure that anti-terrorism measures respect media freedom; revising their defamation laws and their implementation, and pressing the Russian government to investigate and adjudicate the “high number of murders of critical journalists.”

The report, published on January 6, 2010 and covering a period extending from 2007 to mid-2009, was written by Andrew McIntosh, Rapporteur on media freedom for the Assembly’s Committee on Culture, Science and Education.