The Irish Times
May 4, 2004

'Predators' threaten free media

By DANIEL MCLAUGHLIN

MOSCOW

Media freedom in the former Soviet Union is under increasing
pressure, with journalists facing the threat of censorship, torture
and even murder across the region, international watchdogs said
yesterday.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) included the presidents
of Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan on its
list of "predators" - leaders whose regimes were particularly hostile
to independent media coverage last year.

"Seven journalists died in very mysterious circumstances in Ukraine,
Russia and Kyrgyzstan," RSF said, adding, "journalists investigating
political or financial corruption continued to be very frequent
targets of physical attacks, including nearly 100 in Azerbaijan,
mostly during the presidential election." The group criticised
Russia, Georgia and Armenia for restricting coverage of elections,
and said Ukraine used hostile tax laws to harass critical media,
while Belarus suspended publication of a dozen newspapers.

RSF called Turkmenistan - where Mr Saparmurat Niyazov has created a
bizarre personality cult and declared himself president for life -
the most repressive country in Central Asia. Television and all print
media are state-controlled and "defaming or insulting the president
is punishable by up to 25 years in prison." In neighbouring
Uzbekistan, a key US ally in the "war on terror", a 25-year-old
reporter was convicted of homosexuality after criticising the
authoritarian regime of Mr Islam Karimov.

The Committee to Protect Journalists marked World Press Freedom Day
by naming its 10 worst places to be a journalist: Turkmenistan and
Russia made the list.

"President Vladimir Putin's 'managed democracy' . . . is making the
practice of independent journalism in Russia more and more tenuous,"
the New York-based group said.