20 October 2011, 23:00

RWB: in Chechnya, journalists work in atmosphere of fear; in Dagestan, they are victims of social outbreak

Today, the international organization "Reporters without Borders" (RWB) has published its report on the investigation into the situation with the media in the Chechen Republic and the Republic of Dagestan. The document notes that since their last visit to the republics, which took place two years ago, its activists found no changes for the better. The report provides estimates of journalists themselves, human rights activists and representatives of the republics' authorities, and the RWB's recommendations concerning the situation in the region.

"Authorities should stop growth of corruption and impunity to establish favourable climate for the media"

Two years after the last trip to the North Caucasus, the RWB went there again and on September 9-13, 2011, visited Chechnya and Dagestan. These North Caucasian republics were selected due to the fact that during last trip the observers noted severity of situation with media freedom in Chechnya, situation with safety in Dagestan seriously degraded in recent time. Johann Bier and Tikhon Dzyadko, members of the RWB's mission, met journalists, local state officials and human rights activists.

"Chechnya and Dagestan are the two extreme points of the Caucasus conflict: the first republic was a witness to its germ, the second one is now in the heart of hostilities," states the report "Terror, threats, and corruption: in the toils of the Caucasus", which was published by the "Caucasian Knot".

Johann Bier and Tikhon Dzyadko note that, two years after the last trip of the RWB mission to the North Caucasus, the RWB's representatives would like to see the state of freedom of speech in these two republics, and state that "while positive information and positive news dominate in the offices of the Chechen media, relative pluralism of opinions in the Dagestan media is threatened by economic problems and increasing polarization of the society".

They emphasize that they are not going to deny the significance of challenges faced by the local authorities, deny reality of the reconstruction of Chechnya, which is actively developed in the republic, forget about violence committed in these republics by the armed groupings, some of which are uncontrollable.

"And the very authorities, including federal ones, should stop the growth of corruption and impunity, to establish a favourable climate for the media. This is a prerequisite for recognition of the tragedy which the local population suffered and for initiation of the real dialogue between all constituent parts of the Caucasian society. Without this prerequisite, the real way out of the situation, in which violence still plays a serious role, cannot be found," states the report.

The report presents comments of the authorities, journalists, human rights activists on the situation in the republics of the North Caucasus, repeatedly quotes the "Caucasian Knot" information, including the number of victims of the armed conflict in the region.

Journalists in Dagestan are occasional victims of violence outbreak in the republic

In respect of Dagestan, the report presents estimates of the "Caucasian Knot" on September 14, 2011, according to which, from the beginning of the year, 315 people were killed (including 102 civilians) and 224 people were injured. In total, 593 people were killed and 414 - injured in the North Caucasus.

The report quotes Svetlana Isaeva, the coordinator of the movement "Mothers of Dagestan", as saying that she believes "journalists did suffer in no particular way and they were not objects of any particular repressions". "They kill everybody," notes the human rights activist.

And, according to the journalist Marko Shakhbanov, general impunity encourages violence, and "the journalists and the rest of population were between two fires". On the one side - Islamic fundamentalists, who fight with the authorities, and this fight results in numerous civilian casualties; on the other side - representatives of the law enforcement agencies, who are often led by feelings of revenge and desire to get 'combat money' for disclosure of terrorist underground and who multiply kidnappings and attacks.

The representatives of the media in Dagestan also note economic difficulties of their media.

In his turn, Zubairu Zubairuev, ex-employee of the newspaper "Chernovik" (Draft), who later became the deputy director of the department of information policy and press service of President of Dagestan, believes that independent media, which entered the category of the oppositional media, at present "are engaged in ideological work, as it was performed by the professional revolutionaries in 1917". "Today, the media are working to destabilize the situation," says Zubairuev. He notes that Dagestan severely lacks the media that would deal with ideological work against radical Islam.

"There is absolute lack of political rivalry in Chechnya"

According to the RWB's observers, there is absolute lack of political competition in Chechnya: lawlessness committed by law enforcement agencies and secret services, dominance of the so-called pure Islam over other religions, cult of personality.

At the same time, the authorities claim that they do not impose any restrictions on the work of journalists.

"If a journalist tells you that he or she does not dare to write on a particular topic, it is his or her own problem. If journalists feel too cowardly to carry out journalistic work, they should change their profession and become taxi drivers. No one interferes in editorial policies of the media; no one controls them or watches them. On the contrary, journalists are perfectly aware that we are always at their disposal; all journalists have the number of my mobile phone... The leader of the republic invites them all," declares Alvi Karimov, Press Secretary of the Chechen leader.

When asked about the oppositional media in Chechnya, he mentions the Moscow newspaper "Kommersant" (Businessman), the magazine "Vlast" (Power), the online edition of the "Caucasian Knot" and the newspaper "Groznensky Rabochy" (Worker of Grozny) (in this case, the RWB's observers note that when the latter publishes critical articles, these articles criticize the federal government only).

However, the RWB's observers found in the republic the local independent medium newspaper - the magazine "Dosh" (earlier, the "Caucasian Knot" correspondent had reported that in 2009 the magazine "Dosh" was awarded two diplomas of Andrei Sakharov Prize "For Journalism as an Act of Conscience". However, according to the observers, they managed to buy it only at the news stall located at the international airport of the city of Grozny.

"The magazine "Dosh" highlights the topics which other Chechen media fear to cover: continuing violence and life instability in the republic, extrajudicial executions and enforced kidnappings, total corruption, presented in all spheres of life and, in particularly, in education and public health service, cruel wounds of war that are still unhealed (mental problems, blood feud...)," the report emphasizes.

The journalists, who dare to criticize authorities in Chechnya, admit that they face a great risk. "Even during the war, during the reign of Akhmad-Hadji Kadyrov, we were freer than today," says one of these journalists, who preferred to remain anonymous, and continues: "Now I'm writing much more cautiously, since I fear that I could hurt my family [...]. The threats are so serious that it is dangerous to risk. Total impunity, remarks of the Chechen President cause fear. We live here in the territory where the law fails to apply..."

A Moscow journalist, who is well aware of the situation in the Chechen Republic, stated that "recognizing successes of the so-called 'stabilization', we should ask ourselves about the price that was paid for this achieved 'stabilization'; absence of any criticism, namely, reference to the persistent problems related to the establishment of the so-called "Kadyrov's management system", causes doubts as to the correctness of the official presentation of the situation in the republic, and, finally, this situation becomes counterproductive for the authorities themselves".

RWB's recommendations to authorities and society

In its report, the RWB presents its recommendations for improving the situation for the media in the region.

The RWB requests the Dagestani authorities to create conditions for normal competition between public and independent media; to show clear political will to stop impunity in the republic; to quit the desire to turn the media into the channel to transmit authorities' signals and to stop treating the journalists who criticize the authorities as accomplices of armed extremists; to continue and to deepen the national dialogue launched in June 2011.

The Chechen authorities are recommended by the RWB to welcome establishment of political and media pluralism, to ensure equal access to state resources for all media; to demonstrate an example of freedom of speech, allowing the journalists to highlight the most sensitive topics such as corruption, human rights violations, wounds of the war, etc.; to contribute to investigation into murders of journalists and human rights activists.

The RWB requests the Russian authorities to do everything possible to make the struggle against impunity a national priority; to begin resolute struggle against corruption and to conduct impartial investigations into kidnappings and extrajudicial executions; to encourage development of the infrastructures related to the Internet.

The international community is recommended by the RWB to continue expressing its concern about the state of freedom of speech in the North Caucasus, to discuss the issue of impunity still enjoyed by assassinators of journalists and human rights activists and to support real journalists and human rights activists in the North Caucasus.

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