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RFE/RL Review for November 2008

RFE/RL Services Cover U.S. Presidential Election

All RFE/RL language services devoted extensive coverage to the election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States on November 4. Each service sought to explain the potential impact of the election on the country receiving the broadcasts, including how the change in administration might affect that country’s relations with the United States. Radio Free Afghanistan, for example, laid out each candidate’s proposed policies towards the prosecution of the war in Afghanistan. In Kazakhstan, listeners called in to convey their excitement over the fact that an African-American had been elected and to express their admiration for (and envy of) the integrity of the American democratic process. Radio Farda interviewed Iranian-Americans to hear about their voting experiences and broadcast comments from well-known Iran analysts on the implications of Obama’s election for U.S.-Iran relations.

** The Executive Editor of RFE/RL, John O'Sullivan, may be reached by email at <>; RFE/RL English-language news reports can be found at

Radio Free Afghanistan Interviews Girl Attacked with Acid...

Three girls sustained severe burns in Kandahar in early November when male assailants sprayed 15 girls with acid. One of the girls might permanently lose her sight. In an exclusive interview with Radio Free Afghanistan, one of the survivors of the attack told listeners that she was walking to school with her sister and cousins on the morning of November 12 when two men riding motorcycles sprayed acid on the girls’ faces with water pistols. Although the Taliban did not claim responsibility for the attack, officials suspect that the Taliban carried it out. Under its strict interpretation of Islam, the Taliban regime forbade girls to attend school. Radio Free Afghanistan also spoke to a representative of the Education Ministry, who said that over 120 schools had come under attack, with some of them burned to the ground. Tragically, the attacks may be having the desired effect: many uneducated parents who dreamed of educating their daughters are increasingly reluctant to send their girls to school for fear that they will be maimed or killed.

...Spotlights Kidnapping of Foreigners

Throughout November, Radio Free Afghanistan reported on an epidemic of kidnappings in the country. Taliban militants and unaffiliated armed gangs have kidnapped dozens of foreigners (as well as hundreds of Afghans) in the past five years. Occasionally, the Taliban has killed their hostages. On November 2, two Bangladeshi aid workers abducted in October were released; on November 3, Taliban gunmen kidnapped a Frenchman and killed his Afghan driver when he tried to intervene; Canadian journalist Mellissa Fung was freed on November 8 after being kidnapped a month earlier near Kabul; and on November 25, three Turkish citizens were released after a month in captivity. Radio Free Afghanistan followed these stories closely, particularly since most of these foreign workers came to Afghanistan to help the Afghan people.

** 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

Russian, North Caucasus Services Cover Politkovskaya Murder Trial

Both the Russian and the North Caucasus services devoted substantial coverage in November to the Moscow trial of the suspected murderers of Anna Politkovskaya. The trial got off to a scandalous start, when the judge decided to bar journalists from attending the hearings, ostensibly because jurors feared for their lives. Members of the jury immediately denied the judge’s claim, and the trial was soon reopened to the public and to journalists. The Russian Service and the North Caucasus Service are monitoring the trial on a daily basis, interviewing lawyers, members of the victim’s family, and experts.

** 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 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

Russian Service Alone in Covering Savage Beating of Reporter

In a story that domestic Russian media ignored, Mikhail Beketov, the chief editor of a daily newspaper published in the Moscow-area town of Khimki, was severely beaten and is still in the hospital in very serious condition. The Russian Service reported on the beating and on the subsequent rally held in his honor, which was attended by journalists, politicians, and ordinary citizens. Russia remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists.

** 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

US, EU Criticize Azerbaijani Plans to Ban Foreign Radio Broadcasts

The United States and the European Union condemned Azerbaijan’s proposal to discontinue at year’s end local broadcasts of RFE/RL, its sister entity Voice of America, and other foreign broadcasters such as BBC. The State Department issued a statement expressing concern about the plan and asking for clarification from the government. In an interview with the Azerbaijani Service, Anne Derse, the U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan, told listeners that “We are deeply concerned about any implication that VOA, RFE/RL or BBC might not be able to operate in Azerbaijan. So we will certainly be working with Azerbaijan to find a way to ensure that the Azerbaijani people still have access to these important sources of independent news.” Representatives of the European Union and the Council of Europe voiced similar concerns.

** 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

RFE/RL Reporter Wins Prestigious EU Journalism Prize

On November 19, RFE/RL’s Mirjana Rakela was awarded the European Union’s prestigious 2008 Lorenzo Natali Journalism Prize for her groundbreaking report on children who fought in the Balkan Wars. In a two-part report, Rakela told the stories of some of the thousands of children who fought in the Balkans between 1991 and 1995. Although the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits the involvement of children in military operations, Rakela’s November 2007 report for the South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service revealed that the convention was widely ignored during the conflict. The Natali Prize was established by The European Commission in 1992 to recognize journalists who defend human rights, democracy, and development.

** 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

RFE/RL Gathers Eyewitness Testimony on Outbreak of Georgia-Russia Conflict

Throughout November, RFE/RL correspondents in South Ossetia gathered exclusive eyewitness reports that suggested that Russia began shelling the contested territory several days before hostilities came to the world’s attention on August 7. These findings contradicted recent media reports, most prominently a November 7 article in The New York Times, suggesting that Georgia attacked the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, unprovoked on August 7. David Phillips, a scholar with the Atlantic Council, told RFE/RL that “the events of August 7 and 8 did not occur in a vacuum. There was a consistent effort by Russia over several years to provoke an armed conflict with Georgia.”

** 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