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Reply to the Russian Federation on Media Freedom in the U.S.

 

In response to the Russian Federation, the United States does not believe that raising concerns in the Permanent Council under Current Issues is inappropriate or meant for any political end. On the contrary, we believe it is not only an appropriate form of conflict prevention – as has been mentioned previously in our Corfu discussions – but an obligation, a commitment on all of our parts under the Helsinki Final Act. The Permanent Council, and particularly this topic of Current Issues, exists for peer review and dialogue.

With respect to the question of evenhandedness raised by the Russian Federation, the real answer is for each participating State to fulfill our media freedom commitment equally. When that is the reality, individual participating States will have no more cause to feel singled out, either by the Representative on Freedom of the Media, Mr. Haraszti’s office, or by other international watchdogs like the Committee to Protect Journalist, Reporters Without Borders and Freedom House.

Mr. Chairman, as President Obama has said, we are trying to reset our relationship with the Russian Federation and we are actively seeking out areas of agreement. In that respect, I might note that our two governments appear very close to completing a new START agreement. But, we also recognize areas where we will continue to disagree, and we will not shy away from confronting those differences in an open and forthright manner. We are not afraid of criticism by our partners. As we advance our relations with Russia, we will not abandon our principles or ignore concerns about democracy and human rights. We are willing to listen to any concern of criticism that might be made about our government during Current Issues.

My Russian colleague is correct in stating that there are ―no ideal states.‖ I would note, however, that if the United States is number 44 in the world on freedom of the press, the Russian Federation is 148th. And I would note specifically the comment that has been made by the very report he cited that ―Russia continues to be one of the deadliest countries for journalists.‖

In our statement on Freedom of the Media in the OSCE Region, we emphasized the fact that grave threats are gathering in the OSCE area, impacting on the universal right to freedom of expression. I note that in none of the incidents cited by Ambassador Azimov did he allege that: violence was perpetrated against journalists in the United States with impunity; that journalists were killed and investigations were not conducted; that overly harsh prison sentences or outrageously punitive fines were imposed; or that the U.S. Government demonstrated outright hostility towards the exercise of freedom of speech—i.e., all of the items that I referred to as areas of concern in our observations on the previous agenda item. ______________________________________________________________________________________________ Obersteinergasse 11/1 ▪ Vienna, Austria A-1190 ▪Tel: (+43-1) 31339-3201▪Fax: (+43-1) 31339-3255 pa-usosce@state.gov Page 2 of 2 http://osce.usmission.gov

With regard to the extremely rare cases in the United States where a reporter has been jailed, it is not for the content of their reporting, but for failing to comply with a subpoena in a criminal investigation – the rule of law prevails. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that in such cases, reporters enjoy no privileges that exempt them from having to provide testimony before a grand jury. Nonetheless, the Administration supports passage of a federal media shield law provided it does not undermine the government’s ability to enforce the law and protect national security.

Mr. Chairman, we would like to respond fully to the specific cases cited by Ambassador Azimov, and we will be glad to do so in writing to save time–as you would like us to be increasingly short and brief in our statements in the Permanent Council sessions. We are, of course, also willing to discuss any cases informally and in human dimension review events. We do so in the hope that we can count on the Russian Federation’s continuing commitment to fruitful conversation on media freedom – not just the Russian Federation, but all 56 of us – whether the cases under discussion be those in the United States, or Russia itself.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

 
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Car Explosion in Ingushetia Strikes Relatives of Late Human Rights Defender

 

The United States is deeply saddened by reports that four family members of late human rights defender Maksharip Aushev were victims of a car explosion in Nazran, Ingushetia. The State Department posthumously honored Mr. Aushev with its Human Rights Defenders Award earlier this month, for his work shining a spotlight on human rights abuses in Russia’s North Caucasus. We offer our condolences to Aushev’s family and his colleagues who will carry on his courageous advocacy for human rights.

We look to the Russian Government to conduct a prompt and full investigation. We remain concerned about the increasing incidence of violence in the North Caucasus.

 
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Response to the Russian Delegation re:RFOM Report

Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.

I had not intended to take the floor a second time, but I am very grateful to the Russian Ambassador for bringing us down to facts and incidents because I think that it helps to illustrate the overall problem, which is recognized in Mr. Haraszti’s report, which is the all-too-frequent attacks on journalists and the all-too-little prosecution of people for those attacks.

He raised many cases which have a little bit more historical importance, but with regard to the case raised by the Ambassador in the United States, that is, the killing of journalist Chauncey Bailey, I’m pleased to report to the Permanent Council that immediately after that murder took place, the police launched an extensive investigation. It led to the arrest of one Mr. Broussard, who confessed to the shooting. It is true he later recanted that confession, but he still remains in custody and, in fact, was scheduled to go to trial this month. According to press reports, his lawyer requested another delay in the trial date to allow him to further prepare his case. But that’s the sort of action that we believe necessary in cases of violence against journalists: an immediate and resolute investigation. Yes, it is true a case may not always be resolved, but it shows the need for full work.

Just as we saw with the attack of human rights activist Lev Ponomariov a few days ago, we were very pleased to see the immediate reaction of the authorities, with the Head of the Moscow Police in fact taking charge of the investigation into the attack. We think that’s the sort of reaction that is necessary because the series of attacks on press officials and on human rights activists has a clearly chilling effect on the development of civil society in Russia.

We’ve heard, of course, all of the cases. The Representative from Russia seemed to think that there was some sort of focus only in one direction or another, but I think it’s the trends that are so worrying, and that have been highlighted by Mr. Haraszti in his case. We hear so much about Anna Politkovskaya and the problems of Novaya Gazeta, and they are very serious, and ones which I think the Freedom of Media Representative has rightly highlighted. But it’s very unfortunate that they are not alone. Local and regional journalists seem to be facing the similar problems of physical attacks on them and the failure — or inability — of the authorities to investigate thoroughly.

Just in the last few days, a journalist from a local paper in the outskirts of Moscow, Sergei Protazanov, was brutally beaten and later died. The  investigation into this one seems to be of mixed results, with some saying he died as a result of his beating and others saying that he died as a result of poisoning. Clearly, this is an area which needs work. Mr. Pultazonov worked for a paper Grazhdanskaya Soglasia, which was investigating charges of fraud in the local elections in Khimkhi. Unfortunately, it’s not an isolated incident.

On November 13, Mikhail Bekatov, editor of Khimkhinskaya Pravda was severely beaten. His lawyer, Stanislav Marakov, as we know because this issue was raised in the Permanent Council, was shot dead on the streets of Moscow alongside another journalist.

The editor of Grazhdanskaya Soglasia, was stabbed 10 times outside his home in February of 2008. His attackers remain at large.

On February 3, the editor in chief of Solichkoski Forum, a newspaper in the nearby city of Solichnogosk, was assaulted.

On March 12, a managing editor of Volnya Yuzhnaya Prognos Pod Moskovoi was beaten in the Moscow oblast city of Serblukov.

I raise these issues because they reveal a very disturbing trend here. We call upon all countries to realize the importance of the contribution of journalism and especially investigative journalism to the creation of a democratic society and towards valuable checks of the power of authorities. When journalists are attacked, it’s not just the person who is attacked; it is in fact the institution of freedom of expression that is under attack. It is inherent on authorities to investigate with all vigour, and we would like to encourage all countries to ensure that their authorities are taking this matter seriously and engaging seriously on it.

Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.

 


Remarks by Ambassador John Beyrle at the Reception for the Committee to Protect Journalists

Thank you for coming this evening to recognize the important work of the Committee to Protect Journalists.   It is an honor for me to welcome Paul Steiger, the Chairman of the Board of the CPJ;   Joel Simon, the  Executive Director;   and of course  Kati Marton,  a member of the board and leader of the delegation.

The Committee’s independence and impartiality is the source of its authority in the United States, in Russia, and around the world. It holds all to the same standards of accountability: the CPJ recently called on the American Secretary of Defense to conduct an independent investigation of the 19 American media workers who lost their lives during the fighting in Iraq.

In supporting the work of the Committee, the United States government makes a clear statement of its commitment to the safety of journalists around the world. As Americans, we deeply believe that a free society depends upon a free press;  and a free press cannot exist unless journalists feel safe. If journalists are afraid to report the truth, the press is not free. If those who threaten to kill journalists are not identified and brought to justice, society as a whole is weakened.

Being a jouralist has been a dangerous profession in many countries including my own. The murder of Don Bolles, an investigative reporter killed by the mafia in Arizona, is a well-known but not unique example. Russian history also has known many journalists and writers who were exiled, imprisoned or killed for criticizing injustice, for exposing corruption, or for simply telling the truth. Many of you here tonight knew Natalia Estemirova. She was one of several journalists who spoke about the murder of innocent people, and other violations of human rights in Chechnya. She was killed in July 2009, and her murder has never been solved.

American journalist Paul Khlebnikov was murdered in Moscow in July 2004. He was the author of several books and many articles about the connections between business and organized crime.His killers, and those who ordered this killing, have never been brought to justice.

In October 2006 an unknown assassin killed Anna Politkovskaya, who was widely known for her reporting about the conflict in Chechnya, and her reporting about violations of human rights.  Anna was a true voice of freedom. Her children, Vera and Ilya, are here with us tonight.

Tonight we recognize the courage and determination of journalists in all countries who seek to report the truth;  and we remember those who have lost their lives because they were not willing to be silent. And we recommit ourselves to work for the day when all journalists around the world can work without fear.

And now it’s my great honor to ask Kati Marton to say a few words.

 


Anniversary of the Death of Sergei Magnitskiy

Today we mark with sadness the one-year anniversary of the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitskiy, who died of apparent medical neglect in pre-trial detention in Moscow’s Butyrsky Prison.

We welcome President Medvedev’s statements in support of judicial reform and rule of law, but note with regret that no one has been charged in connection with this case, despite a Justice Ministry investigation. The United States continues to call for the Russian authorities to prosecute all responsible for Mr. Magnitskiy’s death and protect the fundamental rights of all, including those in prison.

For more information on the human rights situation in Russia, click here.

 


Four-Year Anniversary of Politkovskaya Murder

Today we honor the life and work of Natalya Estemirova, a brave Russian human rights defender and journalist, who was abducted and murdered in the North Caucasus region of Russia on July 15, 2009.

Ms. Estemirova devoted her career to bringing awareness and pressing for accountability for human rights abuses, particularly in Chechnya. The international community justifiably gave Ms. Estemirova a number of awards for her important work. A year has passed since her tragic death, yet those responsible for this horrible crime have yet to be brought to justice. We will continue to shine the spotlight on this case as part of our efforts to protect the brave journalists and civil society activists across the globe who, like Natalya, speak out against abuses and work to secure fundamental freedoms for their fellow citizens.

 
 

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